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FBI: Unlikely 9-11 Terror Attacks Could Have Been Prevented - 2002-05-31

FBI Director Robert Mueller says his agency most likely could not have prevented the September 11 terrorist attacks. These comments come one day after he publicly acknowledged that the FBI might have been able to partially uncover last September's plot if it had properly pieced together all of the clues it had at the time.

FBI Director Mueller stressed that he does not believe the agency would have been able to stop last fall's terrorist attacks. "Let me be clear that, while I do not believe that it is at all likely that we could have prevented September 11, nonetheless, our reforms of the FBI will and must strengthen our ability to prevent future terrorist attacks," he said.

The FBI director's comments come amid criticism of the agency from the inside. The most publicized critic is Minneapolis FBI agent Colleen Rowley who, in a 13-page letter to Mr. Mueller, accused FBI headquarters of hampering the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui, the man accused of helping the September 11 hijackers.

Another discordant note was sounded Thursday by Chicago FBI agent Robert Wright, who has accused FBI management of repeatedly thwarting and obstructing his terrorism investigation efforts.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Mr. Wright issued an emotional apology on behalf of himself and two other FBI field agents for not preventing the attacks.

"To the families and victims of September 11, on behalf of John Vincent, Barry Carmody and myself, we're sorry," he said. In comments from the White House, President Bush acknowledged that the FBI is overdue for reform. "The FBI needed to change. It was an organization full of fine people, it loved America, but the organization didn't meet the times," he said.

One of the main aims of the re-organization is to give more autonomy to FBI agents outside of Washington. Attorney General John Ashcroft underscored that point.

"Among the things that we want to do is to be more sensitive to our capacity to respond to the field," he said. "That's why, as I've described today, we want to enhance our analytic and coordinating, correlating capacity for all the information that comes in. We want to enhance the ability of people out in the field to get the information."

More information on U.S. intelligence efforts is expected to come to light when congressional hearings on the issue start next week.