Whistleblower: FBI Overwhelmed and Can't Handle the Load

Whistleblower: FBI Overwhelmed and Can't Handle the Load
Mon Sep 13, 2004 18:57

Whistleblower: FBI Overwhelmed and Can't Handle the Load
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Sep 10, 2004, 07:38

Outspoken Minneapolis FBI agent Coleen Rowley, appearing on a panel for the nonpartisan Eisenhower Foundation on Wednesday, warned that counter-terrorism agents now are swamped with intelligence data and have "too many dots" to connect.

Continuing to press her concerns publicly in her last months as an active agent, Rowley also questioned the need for an intelligence "czar," a central recommendation of the 9/11 commission.

She said the bureau's dramatic shift to focus its resources on terrorism has resulted in "a huge pendulum swing . . . from the mistakes of overcomplacency before Sept. 11. Now we're perhaps embarking on what I call the uncharted waters of massive intelligence collection.

"That changes the problem, and it also changes the mistakes and the errors that are being made now," she said.

In an interview, Rowley said she notified her superiors this week that she would retire from the bureau at the end of the year. A veteran agent of nearly 24 years who is her family's prime wage earner, she becomes fully eligible for her pension when she turns 50 on Dec. 20.

Rowley said she advised FBI officials that, while she believes "in the mission of catching the bad guys," she wants to do it "in a more effective way."

"I want to talk about integrity and ethics and, hopefully, dissuade people from being the bad guys," she said.

"Civilizations fall not because of external attack, but because of internal rot," Rowley said. "We have seen a lot of internal rot."

She cited Americans "trying to get away with it . . . on every level.

"Look at Paul Hamm and the Olympics," she said, contending the American gold medal gymnast should have pressed for the award of a second gold medal to the South Korean rival he edged due to a judging error.

Rowley gained fame in 2002 with her bold accusations that FBI headquarters bungled a chance to thwart the Sept. 11 attacks when it blocked Minneapolis agents from obtaining a warrant to search the possessions of jailed terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui. For her "whistle-blowing," Time Magazine later named her one of its "Persons of the Year."

FBI Director Robert Mueller promised she would face no retaliation, and Rowley has obtained FBI clearances to speak and publish articles about civil liberties, ethics and integrity. She has traversed the country, talking to the American Civil Liberties Union, nuclear power-plant security officials, accountants, health-care compliance officers, church groups, college students and officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Not everyone has welcomed her comments. She provoked harsh criticism from former FBI agents for a 2003 letter to Mueller warning that the pending U.S. invasion of Iraq could heighten the threat of terrorist attacks in the United States.

But Ray McGovern, a retired CIA officer who joined her on Wednesday's panel, said: "If it weren't for Coleen Rowley, there would be no 9/11 commission . . . The whole thing would have been covered up."

Rowley praised many of the commission's recommendations, but said its call for a national intelligence chief is "not really a solution. . . . Tell me the last time a czar stopped anything."

She said most acts of terrorism have been thwarted by "a lowly customs inspector or a New Jersey trooper," or flight attendants and passengers who overpowered attempted shoe-bomber Richard Reid.

While a czar could "set the right tone and enable the people at the bottom to do their jobs," she said, she worries about a "group think" approach that might impede investigations.

Rowley said the FBI and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies now share information effectively - maybe too much.

She noted that FBI switchboards light up each time the government issues a terrorism alert, bringing a flood of "information and dots that should be looked at."

"But everyone is afraid that we might miss that one lead," she said. "So we are no longer allowed to exercise discretion at all with regard to what we look into. We didn't have very many dots before 9/11. Now, if anything, the problem may be too many dots."

Rowley's appearance was timed with the release of an Eisenhower Foundation book chronicling alleged U.S. failures in domestic and foreign policy. She contributed a chapter on civil liberties in which she warned that "the dangers of a 1984 future for America cannot be overstated" given the government's ongoing and proposed surveillance efforts aimed at stemming terrorism.

McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years who now is on the steering committee of a group known as "Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity," said creation of a czar "would make things much worse than they are now."

He criticized the politicization of the agency, including President Bush's choice of a member of Congress _ Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla. _ to serve as the new intelligence chief. McGovern also said senior CIA managers should have stood up and refused to sign off on flimsy intelligence reports supporting the war in Iraq.

Copyright 2004 by Capitol Hill Blue

FBI's Rowley To Retire
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RE: 9/11
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