FBI agent airs allegations about Moussaoui case, prompting internal probe

Thursday, May 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The FBI has requested an internal investigation into an agent's allegations that the agency mishandled the pre-Sept. 11 terrorism investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui, officials said.

Agent Coleen Rowley, who works as a lawyer in the Minnesota office that first arrested Moussaoui last August, made the allegations in a letter Tuesday to FBI Director Robert Mueller and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, officials said.

Mueller said Thursday he has referred the matter for investigation by the Justice Department inspector general, which independently investigates allegations of internal wrongdoing.

Separately, the Senate Intelligence Committee has begun investigating the agent's claims.

``I immediately referred this matter out of the FBI to the inspector general for investigation,'' Mueller said in a statement. ``I respect that process and all the independence and protections it affords.''

Mueller declined to discuss the agent's allegations but said, ``I am convinced that a different approach is required.''

``New strategies, new technologies, new analytical capacities and a different culture makes us an agency that is changing post-Sept. 11,'' the director said. ``There is no room after the attacks for the types of problems and attitudes that could inhibit our efforts.''

Officials familiar with Rowley's allegations said the agent alleged the bureau made mistakes last summer when agents became suspicious of Moussaoui and arrested him after he sought flight training at a Minnesota flight school.

The officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said some of the allegations involve how the bureau handled efforts to get a special national security warrant and a regular search warrant to gather evidence against Moussaoui.

Those warrants were not granted before Sept. 11, but afterward FBI agents found evidence allegedly linking Moussaoui to the suicide hijackings. Moussaoui, a French citizen or Moroccan descent, has become the only person charged as an accomplice with Osama bin Laden and the 19 hijackers in the suicide hijackings.

One official familiar with the allegations said they also suggest FBI headquarters in Washington hampered the efforts. The official declined to be more specific.

As the chief principal legal assistant in the Minnesota FBI office, Rowley would have been privy to the discussions around the warrants, the officials said.

Law enforcement officials have said previously that information that came into law enforcement before Sept. 11 _ including intelligence from France suggesting Moussaoui had terrorist ties _ was insufficient to show he was an agent of a foreign power and eligible to be monitored under a national security warrant.

After Sept. 11, FBI agents found evidence on Moussaoui's computer and elsewhere that linked him to the hijacking plot, according to court documents.

The agent's allegations are the latest in a flurry over what law enforcement, U.S. intelligence and the U.S. administration knew and did before Sept. 11 to ward off terrorist attacks.