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Justice report critical of Rowley, others in Moussaoui probe

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Coleen Rowley
Coleen Rowley, FBI whistleblower who raised concerns about the agency's investigation of terrorism before the Sept. 11 attacks, is now being criticized for her own role in the case.
MPR file photo

(AP) - The former FBI whistleblower who urged the agency to probe terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks was criticized Monday in a government report for her own role in the case.

Coleen Rowley, a former lawyer in the FBI's Minneapolis field office who is now running for Congress, received both praise and criticism in the report prepared by the Justice Department's inspector general.

Zacarias Moussaoui
A federal jury sentenced Zacarias Moussaoui to life in prison Wednesday for his role as a co-conspirator in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Moussaoui could have been sentenced to death.
Photo courtesy of the Sherburne County Sheriff/Getty Images

The report credits Rowley overall for blowing the whistle on mistakes at FBI headquarters in its failure to aggressively investigate Moussaoui. "Her complaints resulted in an important reassessment of how the FBI handled this matter," it said.

But the report faults Rowley for failing to pursue investigative avenues, such as a traditional criminal search warrant. Her focus instead was on obtaining a search warrant from a special intelligence court that operates in secret.

"At the outset, she assumed that (the U.S. Attorney's Office) would not support a criminal warrant," the report states. "Contrary to the implication in her letter, which placed the blame for failing to seek a warrant solely on FBI headquarters, she advised the field agents not to seek a criminal warrant."

Rowley, in an interview with The Associated Press, said Monday that she simply advised that seeking a warrant through the intelligence court was a better option. She said agents eventually came up with another idea: deporting Moussaoui, which would have allowed immigration agents to search his belongings.

Moussaoui was already scheduled for deportation when the attacks occurred.

I will stand by that to the day I die.

Rowley maintained that, in a pre 9/11 environment, prosecutors demanded an exceedingly high standard before they would ask a judge for a warrant.

"I will stand by that to the day I die," Rowley said.

Moussaoui was arrested in Minnesota on Aug. 15, 2001, on immigration violations after his efforts to obtain flight training drew suspicion. A search warrant of his belongings was not obtained until Sept. 11, after the suicide attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

At Moussaoui's trial earlier this year, prosecutors convinced a jury that a full investigation of Moussaoui prior to Sept. 11 could have yielded the investigative clues necessary for federal agents to thwart or at least minimize the attacks.

Rowley said she is proud that her memo resulted in the 450-page inspector general report, which provides in many places a stinging assessment of the FBI's handling of terror investigations prior to 9/11.

Most of the inspector general's report was publicly released last year, but the chapter about Moussaoui was redacted in an effort to protect Moussaoui's right to a fair trial.

Moussaoui was convicted earlier this year of aiding the Sept. 11 plot and sentenced to life in prison. He jurors on the witness stand that he was to have piloted a fifth plane on Sept. 11 and fly it into the White House.

The report singles out other individuals at FBI headquarters for sharper criticism than Rowley, including David Frasca, then head of the FBI's radical fundamentalist unit, and his subordinate, Michael Maltbie. The failure of Frasca and Maltbie to heed the Minneapolis bureau's concerns about Moussaoui were a major issue at Moussaoui's trial.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)