WASHINGTON — The removal of souvenir debris from the scenes of the Sept. 11 attacks reached the highest levels of government, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III's chief of anti-terrorism, a Justice Department investigation has found.
The practice was so widespread inside the FBI that it even forced prosecutors in Minnesota to drop plans to prosecute a company that had taken a fire truck door from the World Trade Center, according to a report obtained by Associated Press.
The report said the Justice Department inspector general confirmed that Rumsfeld "has a piece of the airplane that flew into the Pentagon" inside his Defense Department office.
Chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said Friday that Rumsfeld has a shard of metal from the jetliner that struck the Pentagon on a table in his office and shows it to people as a reminder of the tragedy Pentagon workers shared on Sept. 11, 2001.
"He doesn't consider it his own," Di Rita said. "We are mindful of the fact that if somebody has an evidentiary requirement to have this shard of metal, we will provide it to them."
Asked whether Rumsfeld's possession of the shard was similar to FBI agents who have been criticized for taking mementos from the World Trade Center, Di Rita said: "It was never that kind of thing. It seemed perfectly appropriate."
The Justice Department investigation also collected testimony that Pasquale D'Amuro, Mueller's executive assistant director for terrorism until last summer, asked a supervisory agent to "obtain a half dozen items from the WTC debris."
D'Amuro told investigators that he asked for pieces of the building for himself and possibly others who worked the investigation "as a memento."
He added that he knew agents had taken mementos from other terrorist crime scenes over the years.
D'Amuro left FBI headquarters last July to become an assistant director in charge of the New York office. Joe Valiquette, a spokesman for the New York FBI office, declined comment Friday.
The report also disclosed that the FBI supervisor for evidence recovery at the landfill where World Trade Center debris was taken failed a lie detector test and that agents' removal of items like a Tiffany crystal globe gutted a criminal case the bureau was building against a Minnesota contractor that had taken a fire truck door from the same rubble.
Prosecutors told the FBI they "might not indict the crime regarding the fire truck door" because of governmental misconduct involving the Tiffany globe, the report said.
The FBI said it has banned agents from taking items from crimes scenes, but no agents were charged with crimes because the bureau did not have such a policy during the Sept. 11 investigation.