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Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 02:01 GMT 03:01 UK
FBI's 'missed terror clues' investigated
Robert Mueller, FBI director
Mueller: "Different approach to fighting terror needed"
A United States congressional inquiry into intelligence failures in the run-up to 11 September is to give high priority to allegations that the FBI hindered an investigation of a terrorism suspect.

Coleen Rowley, an FBI agent based in Minnesota, has sent a letter to the head of the FBI and key congressmen, accusing the bureau's headquarters of setting up a "roadblock" to the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui ahead of the terror attacks on New York and Washington.

A French citizen of Moroccan origin, Mr Moussaoui has been accused of conspiring to carry out the 11 September attacks.

Zacarias Moussaoui
Moussaoui: Minnesota agents suspected "terrorist links"
Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the allegations showed there was a "lack of aggressive follow-through" over the Moussaoui case.

These concerns "deserved to have gotten greater attention," the Florida Democrat said.

Senator Graham will co-chair a congressional inquiry examining the US intelligence system, including any failures leading up to the 11 September attacks.

The inquiry, set up by a joint committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives, will begin its hearings on 4 June, he announced on Friday.

Classified letter

In a highly unusual step for an FBI agent, Ms Rowley sent a 13-page classified letter to FBI headquarters.

It said the bureau should have approved a request from her office for a search warrant for Mr Moussaoui, who was detained in August after arousing suspicions at a local flight school.

Ms Rowley's letter marks the first known time an FBI agent has formally complained about the agency's failure to pursue warnings before the 11 September attacks.

In the letter, she reportedly complained about a lack of co-ordination, mix-ups and even obstacles put in the way of her office's investigations from FBI headquarters.

The Minnesota office asked FBI headquarters to issue a warrant to search Mr Moussaoui's computer hard drive in August, but were told there was "insufficient probable cause" to grant the request at the time.

But according to the Washington Post, Minneapolis investigators believed there was significant evidence of Mr Moussaoui's links to terrorists.

When the request for a warrant was denied, the office tried to bypass FBI headquarters and notify the CIA's counter-terrorist operation directly. Minnesota agents were reprimanded, according to Ms Rowley's letter.

After receiving the letter on Tuesday, FBI director Robert Mueller acknowledged that his agency needed a "different approach" to fighting terror threats.

Closed-door hearing

The directors of the CIA and the FBI will both be asked to attend the closed-door session of the congressional inquiry. There are plans for public hearings to take place later in the summer.

Senator Graham said the process was designed to inform Congress and the American public about what happened before, on and after 11 September, specifically as it related to the performance of the intelligence agencies.

The senator said the 23 member panel had already interviewed 175 people and gathered more than 30,000 documents.

The White House is hoping that this will be the only inquiry into intelligence issues surrounding 11 September.

But there are a significant number of influential voices calling for a much wider inquiry, conducted by a group of respected people from outside the intelligence world.

BBC Washington correspondent Justin Webb says it is already plain that the US intelligence agencies did not talk to each other as often as they should have done before 11 September, and the committee will almost certainly concentrate on the need for much better co-ordination in the future.

Key stories

European probe


See also:

22 May 02 | Americas
23 May 02 | Americas
12 Dec 01 | Americas
11 Dec 01 | Americas
18 Dec 01 | South Asia
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