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Congress Hears Testimony From FBI Agent Critical of Agency Terror Probe - 2002-06-07

An agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation who accuses her agency of impeding a probe of an alleged terrorist told Congress Thursday more must be done to reform the beleaguered bureau.

Coleen Rowley, a lawyer in the Minneapolis office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, believes her agency could have done more to prevent the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Ms. Rowley, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the bureau is weighed down by bureaucracy, paperwork and a culture that discourages risk-taking. She said reforms are urgently needed. "The bureaucracy has been a problem, hitting roadblocks internally and externally in criminal cases as well can be a problem," she said. "I think we need to think in creative ways of trying to remedy this."

Ms. Rowley sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller last month questioning his handling of the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. In the letter, Ms. Rowley said FBI headquarters hampered field agents from fully investigating the suspected terrorist, who is a Moroccan-born French citizen.

Mr. Moussaoui was in custody on immigration-related charges on September 11, but has since been charged as an accomplice in the attacks. Ms. Rowley declined to discuss details of the case before the Senate panel.

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Mueller appeared before the committee and reviewed previously-announced plans to reorganize the bureau to transform its mission from reacting to terrorism to preventing terrorism. "An honest and comprehensive examination of the pre-September 11 FBI reflects an agency that must evolve and that must change if our mission, our priorities, our priorities, our structure, our workforce and our technologies are to revolve around our one central paramount premise of preventing the next attack," he said.

Mr. Mueller assured lawmakers that Ms. Rowley would not be subject to any retaliation as a result of her challenging bureau headquarters' handling of the Moussaoui case.

The testimony came as President Bush proposed reorganizing homeland security, and as a joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee continued closed hearings into intelligence lapses prior to September 11.