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Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 22:26 GMT 23:26 UK
Coleen Rowley's letter
Coleen Rowley
Mrs Rowley (centre) is now testifying to Congress
FBI agent Coleen Rowley shocked America when she wrote to bureau director Robert Mueller accusing FBI headquarters of setting up a "roadblock" to investigations prior to 11 September.

Her letter centred on the handling of information regarding Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged "20th hijacker". The following are extracts from her letter.

Dear Director Mueller

I feel at this point that I have to put my concerns in writing.

The issues are fundamentally ones of integrity and go to the heart of the FBI's law enforcement mission and mandate.

To get to the point, I have deep concerns that a delicate and subtle shading/skewing of facts by you and others at the highest levels of FBI management has occurred and is occurring.

I base my concerns on my relatively small, peripheral but unique role in the Moussaoui investigation in the Minneapolis Division prior to, during and after 11 September.

The Minneapolis agents who responded to the call about Moussaoui's flight training identified him as a terrorist threat from a very early point.

As the Minneapolis agents' reasonable suspicions quickly ripened into probable cause... they became desperate to search the computer laptop that had been taken from Moussaoui.

The Minneapolis agents' initial thought was to obtain a criminal search warrant, but in order to do so, they needed to get FBI headquarters' [FBIHQ's] approval.

Prior to and even after receipt of [further] information, FBIHQ personnel disputed with the Minneapolis agents the existence of probable cause to believe that a criminal violation had occurred.

The fact is that key FBIHQ personnel... continued to, almost inexplicably, throw up roadblocks and undermine Minneapolis' by-now desperate efforts to obtain a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] search warrant.

When, in a desperate 11th hour measure to bypass the FBIHQ roadblock, the Minneapolis Division undertook to directly notify the CIA's Counter Terrorist Center, FBIHQ personnel actually chastised the Minneapolis agents for making the direct notification without their approval!

To say then, as has been iterated numerous times, that probable cause did not exist until after the disastrous event occurred, is really to acknowledge that the missing piece of probable cause was only the FBI's failure to appreciate that such an event could occur.

This is not a case of everyone in the FBI failing to appreciate the potential consequences.

It is obvious, from my firsthand knowledge of the events and the detailed documentation that exists, that the agents in Minneapolis who were closest to the action... did fully appreciate the terrorist risk posed by Moussaoui and his possible co-conspirators even prior to 11 September.

The truth is, as with most predictions into the future, no one will ever know what impact, if any, the FBI's following up on those requests would have had.

Although I agree that it's very doubtful that the full scope of the tragedy could have been prevented, it's at least possible we could have gotten lucky and uncovered one or two more of the terrorists in flight training prior to 11 September, just as Moussaoui was discovered after making contact with his flight instructors.

Mr Director, I hope my observations can be taken in a constructive vein. They are from the heart and intended to be completely apolitical.

Hopefully, with our nation's security on the line, you and our nation's other elected and appointed officials can rise above the petty politics that often plague other discussions and do the right thing.

Yours sincerely

Coleen M Rowley

Special Agent and Minneapolis Chief Division Counsel

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See also:

06 Jun 02 | Americas
03 Jun 02 | Americas
17 May 02 | Americas
16 May 02 | Americas
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