WASHINGTON -- The former FBI agent who spoke out about the bureau's failings in its pre-Sept. 11 inquiry on Zacarias Moussaoui, the admitted Al Qaeda operative, was criticized yesterday 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 as a Democrat, received both praise and criticism in the report, which was prepared by an office in the Justice Department.
The report credited Rowley overall for speaking of mistakes at FBI headquarters in the agency's failure to aggressively investigate Moussaoui. ``Her complaints resulted in an important reassessment of how the FBI handled this matter," it said.
But the report also faulted Rowley, saying she had not pursued other investigative avenues, such as a traditional criminal search warrant. Her focus instead was on obtaining a search warrant from a special intelligence court.
``She assumed that [the US attorney's office] would not support a criminal warrant," the report stated. ``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, said yesterday that she had 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 had been scheduled for deportation when the attacks occurred.
Rowley said that in the environment before Sept. 11, prosecutors demanded an exceedingly high standard before they asked 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 after the suicide attacks, which claimed almost 3,000 lives.
At Moussaoui's trial this spring, prosecutors convinced a jury that a full investigation of Moussaoui before Sept. 11 could have yielded the investigative clues necessary for federal agents to thwart or at least minimize the extent of the attacks.
Rowley expressed pride that her memo resulted in the 450-page report by the inspector general, which provides a stinging assessment of the FBI's handling of terror investigations before Sept. 11, 2001.
She disagreed with the report, however, when it concluded that FBI headquarters had a basis to question a search warrant on Moussaoui. Rowley said the Minneapolis office had laid out probable cause and that officials at headquarters had been unwilling to stick their necks out.
Most of the inspector general's report was publicly released last year, but the chapter about Moussaoui was edited to protect his right to a fair trial.
Moussaoui was convicted in May of aiding the Sept. 11 plot and was sentenced to life in prison. He told jurors on the witness stand that he was to have piloted a fifth plane on Sept. 11 and fly it into the White House. After the jury decided to spare his life, Moussaoui recanted his testimony and denied any role in the Sept. 11 attacks.