Skip to main content /POLITICS

'Breakdowns' in war on terror worry senators

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said federal authorities may have made mistakes prior to the September 11 attacks, but he warned against using the snafus for political gain.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, cited the handling of the FBI "Phoenix memo" and a letter of complaint sent from a Minneapolis field office as examples of errors.

The Phoenix memo, written July 10, 2001, by FBI agent Kenneth Williams, cited supporters of Osama bin Laden "attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona," Fortune magazine reported.

The letter was sent by Special Agent Coleen Rowley to FBI Director Robert Mueller complaining about the FBI's investigation of accused would-be hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui, who now faces terrorism charges in federal court. Copies were addressed to Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee; and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, another committee member.

The letter says agents in Minnesota who bypassed the FBI and contacted the CIA to learn more about Moussaoui were reprimanded by FBI headquarters for doing so.

"The very agencies that we're counting on to protect America didn't do their job before September 11," Durbin said on CNN's "Saturday Edition."

"The FBI Phoenix memo, the Moussaoui arrest and investigation, all of those have now come to light. And we understand that, in Phoenix, the FBI office might as well have taken that memo, put it in a bottle and tossed it in the sea, because, frankly, no one paid any attention to it when they should have."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, expressed concern about U.S. terrorism defense policies and the frequency of terrorism warnings.

In an interview broadcast Saturday on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields," McCain -- a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- was asked to comment on recent warnings from Washington about the possibility of attacks on New York landmarks and terrorists staging attacks on apartments buildings.

"How would I do it any different? I don't know, but I worry that, over time, with so many warnings, with so much frequency, Americans will begin not to take them seriously," McCain said.

"I am concerned -- and I think most people are concerned -- about the lack of coordination between agencies," McCain said. "The failure to work together to share information -- they're doing that now, in fact. As we know, the CIA director and the FBI director are briefing the president every morning, so there were obviously breakdowns -- particularly in coordinating and sharing information."




Back to the top