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In the Crossfire

Tough questions for FBI about pre-9/11 events

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI faces increasing scrutiny for its failure to piece together clues before September 11, and new questions have been raised about whether a more agressive bureau could have thwarted the terrorist attacks.

Last week, Minnesota agent Coleen Rowley sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller and key members of Congress complaining about the way FBI headquarters handled information on suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui and other terrorism-related investigations. Moussaoui is a French-born flight school student who faces conspiracy charges in the September 11 attacks.

Rowley's letter said that FBI bureaucrats hindered efforts of field agents in the Moussaoui investigation and even chastised them for turning to the CIA for help.

Former FBI Special Agent Don Clark steps into the "Crossfire" with hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson to discuss the latest revelations.

BEGALA: Don't you think that this woman ought to be given some kind of a gold star for standing up and speaking the truth to powers like that? It's probably not going to help her career very much, is it?

CLARK: Well, I don't agree that the organization has just been totally in a state of disarray and that all of the agents out there have been let down because the FBI has done some tremendous things here, Paul.

Let's look back even at 1994, right here in New York City, where information was developed by that organization. That was solid, actionable information which thwarted terrorist attacks against harbor tunnels -- which we're talking about today, against the United Nations, FBI buildings and other symbols in New York City. Those people were arrested. That terrorist attack was put to bed, and it even resulted in a subsequent prosecution of the blind sheik [Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, who was convicted as part of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing], which was a part of a major terrorist network.

So when you say that even under [former FBI Director] Louis Freeh -- or any other director -- that the organization has just come apart, I don't agree with that, because I think the organization has done some fine things here. There have been some black marks, and, yes, there's always an opportunity to really get yourself improved and to work on strengthening some areas. But this organization is still strong, and I think if we look at those structures that are there and really make sure that they work properly, they will work properly.

CARLSON: Mr. Clark, let's talk quickly about the "Phoenix memo" -- the now famous memo written last summer by an FBI agent who noticed that there were Osama bin Laden supporters in flight schools in Arizona. This memo now, we know, went basically nowhere. Why did this happen?

The current FBI director was asked that [question] when he came up to the Hill to testify earlier this month. His explanation? He said, "Look, there are 2,000 flight schools in the United States -- probably 20,000 flight students." The bureau did not have the manpower to find these Osama bin Laden supporters.

I want to read you a quick quote: Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard. Here's his response to that: "Any small-town newspaper reporter could have narrowed down that 20,000 to under 100 in an afternoon. Whoever got Williams' memo would understand that there is one common-sensical way to implement it: Look for Arabs."

Isn't that true? And wasn't it concerns about racial profiling that prevented the bureau from doing that?

CLARK: You know, Tucker, a newspaper reporter operates on a totally different set of standards than an FBI agent has to operate. There's a set of department objectives, policies and rules and regulations that must be followed strictly. And if -- when these policies are violated -- agents are brought to task and managers are brought to task, careers are destroyed, and further things happen when they don't do this.

Now, having said that, an agent goes out and collects information like they did down in Phoenix -- and something happens to that information. Well, the something is that it moves itself up through a system that is well-established and works its way to FBI headquarters. And in the memo -- or the portions of it that I've been privy to see through the media or other activities -- I've not seen one thing in that memorandum that was actionable, [or] caused somebody to have to take some action on [it].




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