FBI whistleblower to speak
CNN Congressional Correspondent
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear Thursday from FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley, the Minneapolis-based agent who accused bureau headquarters of hindering efforts to investigate a suspected terrorist before September 11.
Rowley, the chief legal adviser in the FBI's Minneapolis field office, met behind closed doors Wednesday with congressional investigators from a joint House-Senate inquiry into apparent intelligence failures before the attacks on New York and Washington.
"She is a very courageous woman to have come forward the way she has and an experienced FBI professional," Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat and leader of the joint intelligence panel, told CNN. "I think she can give us some insight into the culture of the agency. Why was there this sort of standoff between the field office in Minneapolis and the headquarters in Washington when most of Americans think the FBI works as a cohesive team?"
Rowley is scheduled to appear before the Judiciary Committee in a separate session Thursday.
"She has a lot of information," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the Judiciary Committee. "I want her to tell me as best she can what is wrong at headquarters."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's chairman, said the "thrust" of Thursday's open hearing -- which is also to feature testimony from FBI Director Robert Mueller -- will be "Did people connect the dots, did people put two and two together and if they did, why did this ever happen?"
The White House has said it wants investigations of reported pre-September 11 intelligence failures confined to the congressional intelligence committees, which began their joint inquiry Tuesday. Those 37 lawmakers are holding their session in private, but expect to open them later this summer.
But both Leahy and Grassley defended the need for hearings in the Judiciary Committee. Leahy, D-Vermont, said the Senate Judiciary Committee has an important oversight function as the FBI reorganizes itself in the face of widespread criticism that it failed to act on a series of clues and signals that might have pointed to the deadly hijacking plot before it unfolded.
"We're doing our job," Grassley agreed.
In a scathing letter to Mueller and congressional staff, Rowley said top bureau officials stymied a wider investigation into suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, then held in Minnesota on immigration charges. She also accused FBI officials of acting to "circle the wagons" after the attacks on New York and Washington.
Moussaoui was later charged as a conspirator in those attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people.
Committee staff questions Rowley about letter
Rowley's blistering letter reverberated throughout Washington, and she figures to be the star witness at Thursday's Judiciary Committee hearing. She flew to Washington on Tuesday night and had breakfast Wednesday morning with Grassley, a longtime critic of the FBI.
Meanwhile, investigators from the intelligence committees began questioning Rowley under oath at FBI headquarters Wednesday afternoon. Staff members have spoken with her before, but that was before she sent her now-famous letter.
"Today's questioning will focus on the letter, some of the facts that she presented in the letter and why she reached the conclusions that she did," Graham said.
While the events of September 11 are a focus of the inquiry, lawmakers say the hearings -- expected to last until the fall -- will examine U.S. counterterrorism efforts dating back to 1986. Graham said committee members were warned at the meeting Tuesday to avoid leaking any information to news outlets.
On Thursday, the joint inquiry may hear from its first official witness, again behind closed doors: Graham said it was "possible" that lawmakers would call former counterterrorism chief Cofer Black as their first witness.
Black was the director of the U.S. Counterterrorism Center at the CIA until two weeks ago and was in charge of the center on September 11. Officials have said his departure was routine after serving the assignment for more than three years.
"We want to initially call people who can give us the broad picture of what was happening before September 11," Graham said. "Then, when we get into our public hearings, (we) begin to put the pieces together.
"This is a situation like an artist," he said. "You want to know what the whole painting is going to look like before you put the first brush of paint on the canvas."
The hearings are being held in a soundproof room under the Capitol dome. They opened following revelations that the CIA tracked two suspected terrorists -- who wound up on the plane that hit the Pentagon -- for about 18 months before putting them on a border watch list about three weeks before the attacks.
CIA officials said late Monday that they had told the FBI in January 2000 that one of the eventual hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, was expected to attend an upcoming al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia and merited scrutiny. The FBI said it would not "engage in finger-pointing."
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