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Candid FBI Agent Warns on Readiness

March 07, 2003|From Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minneapolis FBI agent who exposed Sept. 11-related intelligence failures has told her boss she doesn't think the agency will be able to handle terrorism that could follow a possible war with Iraq.

Agent Coleen Rowley outlined her concerns in a seven-page letter sent to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III last month.

The nation's internal security "has been weakened by the diversion of attention from Al Qaeda to our government's plan to invade Iraq, a step that will, in all likelihood, bring an exponential increase in the terrorist threat to the U.S., both at home and abroad," Rowley wrote.

She added: "The bottom line is this. We should be deluding neither ourselves nor the American people that there is any way the FBI, despite the various improvements you are implementing, will be able to stem the flood of terrorism that will likely head our way in the wake of an attack on Iraq."

The letter is wide-ranging, variously questioning what evidence there is to link Al Qaeda to Iraq and the veracity of a statement that there are 5,000 terrorists in the country. It also questions why the FBI has not investigated links between Zacarias Moussaoui, the man arrested in Minnesota and accused of conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers, and Richard C. Reid, convicted of trying to blow up a plane by igniting explosives in his shoes.

Rowley was not at home Thursday and didn't immediately return a call to her office or respond to an e-mail.

"Special Agent Rowley's comments and views are not representative of the Minneapolis division of the FBI," spokesman Paul McCabe said Thursday. "Those views are strictly her own personal opinions."

McCabe said he couldn't comment on whether Rowley's outspokenness threatens her job.

When she came forward with her Sept. 11-related criticism, senators demanded that Mueller protect her from retaliation inside the FBI.

Rowley is a 22-year agent who came to national prominence when she accused headquarters of removing important details from a search warrant application that was later rejected, a gaffe she said may have kept the government from learning more about Moussaoui before the attacks.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer discounted Rowley's latest letter, saying the administration heard the same warning about attacking Afghanistan and the Taliban.

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