Why, asked New York Times columnist Bill Safire, did FBI Director Robert Mueller "desperately stamp 'classified' on last week's memo to him from the Minneapolis agent and counsel Coleen Rowley?"
In a scathing column in today's Times, Safire answers his own question: "Because he is protecting the bureau's crats who ignored warnings from the field before Sept. 11, and because he is trying to cover his own posterior for misleading the public and failing to inform the president in the eight months since."
Those are serious charges, but they are backed up by the contents of Rowley's 6,000-word memo, now available on NewsMax.com.
In that memo, Rowley, a 21-year veteran of the FBI stationed in Minneapolis, wrote that Mueller's insistence that even had the bureau acted on information in the so-called Phoenix memo and the information forwarded to Washington from her field office, it could not have prevented 9-11 is flat-out wrong.
She wrote that Mueller's excuse was "an apparent effort to protect the FBI from embarrassment and the relevant FBI officials from scrutiny."
In the now-celebrated Phoenix memo, the FBI's Washington headquarters was alerted by the Phoenix field office of the presence of radical Islamists attending flight schools, with the field office recommending that the bureau take a hard look at flight schools all around the nation for potential terrorists. Nothing happened as a result of that memo.
In the case of the Minneapolis field office, bureau headquarters was told that agents had arrested one Zacarias Moussaoui, for overstaying his visa, and was asked for permission to examine his laptop computer. In spite of the fact that the bureau had information from French intelligence agents that the man was involved in terrorism, the agents were refused permission to check the computer.
Had they been able to look at the laptop, they would have discovered that it contained the telephone number of 9-11 terrorist Mohamed Atta's roommate, a fact not learned until after 9-11.
In her memo, Rowley charges that "discovery of other terrorist pilots prior to September 11th may have limited the attacks and resulting loss of life" and "your statements demonstrate a rush to judgment to protect the FBI at all costs."
Wrote Safire, "This is an unprecedented indictment not only of the time-servers at Justice and FBI headquarters last summer, but also of the director who has been insisting that the bureau is blameless ever since."
He wrote that he was "struck by déjà vu in [Rowley's] account of headquarters' dismissal of the warning from French intelligence about the suspect detained in Minneapolis."
Incredibly, Washington FBI officials told the Minneapolis field agents that "maybe it was another Zacarias Moussaoui - just as the spooks at CIA told reporters that the Arab photographed meeting an Iraqi spymaster in Prague was another man with the name of Mohamed Atta."
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