Skip to main content /POLITICS

FBI whistleblower describes 'roadblocks'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI is a bureaucracy rife with "risk aversion," "roadblocks" to investigations and "endless, needless paperwork," FBI agent Coleen Rowley told a Senate panel Thursday.

Rowley testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, her appearance greeted with an explosion of camera flashes. Her blistering letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller about the bureau's headquarters has become a focal point of congressional probes into apparent intelligence failures preceding the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"I never really anticipated this kind of impact when I wrote this letter to Director Mueller two weeks ago," Rowley said.

Rowley brought a paper statement in which she outlined her concerns, but she spoke extemporaneously before indicating she was open to questions.

"I do really care about the FBI. I've invested half my life in it," she said.

FBI Re-organization
 CNN NewsPass Video 
  •  FBI whistleblower testifies in Congress
  •  Lawmakers promise 'fact-driven' 9-11 probe
  •  Lawmakers promise 'fact-driven' 9/11 probe
  •  Bush: No evidence attacks were preventable
  •  FBI probe: Key Players
  •  FBI Timeline
  •  Rebuilding the bureau
  •  Bio: FBI Director Robert Mueller
  •  Bio: FBI agent Coleen Rowley
  •  Who knew what and when?
  • Bombshell memo

Rowley, the chief legal adviser in the FBI's Minneapolis field office, said she wrote her letter because she was concerned that after September 11 the FBI was moving in the direction of more bureaucracy and micromanagement from headquarters.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, who has been highly critical of the FBI, praised her as a "patriotic American."

Mueller: FBI 'must change'

Rowley spoke after lawmakers heard from Mueller, who said the beleaguered agency will evolve to meet its new mission of protecting the country from further attacks.

At that earlier session, Grassley pressed Mueller for assurance that Rowley's career would not suffer because of her critical letter. "Absolutely," Mueller responded.

As he did last week, Mueller conceded FBI headquarters did not adequately respond to some internal memos and clues about terrorism prior to September 11. Mueller said that his agency "must change" and needs more resources, points he said are underscored by the devastating attacks of September 11.

"When we looked back, we saw things that we should have done better and things that we should have done differently, but we also saw things that were done well and things that we should do more," Mueller said.

His testimony was the first public hearing in the investigation into the performance of the FBI in the months leading up to September 11 and afterward.

While several lawmakers endorsed Mueller's continue tenure at the helm of the FBI -- a job he took just one week before the attacks -- some also expressed frustration that the agency does not have the computer technology and analytical expertise to sift through tips and leads developed by its field offices.

"How was it we were so far behind the curve that it was almost laughable," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York. "It just makes my jaw drop to think that on 9/11 or 9/10 the kind of technology that is available to most school kids and certainly every small business in this country, why isn't it available to the FBI?"

Meanwhile, President Bush will address the nation tonight on the creation of a new Center for Intelligence designed to improve coordination of homeland security, the White House said. (Full Story)

Longtime counterterror efforts under scrutiny

Rowley also met behind closed doors Wednesday with congressional investigators from a separate joint House-Senate inquiry into apparent intelligence failures before the attacks on New York and Washington.

"We're not out to hang people on the wall."
— Sen. Patrick Leahy, member of the Judiciary Committee

While the events of September 11 are a focus of the joint intelligence committee inquiry as well, lawmakers say the hearings -- expected to last until the fall -- will examine U.S. counterterrorism efforts dating back to 1986. Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, 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 ounterterrorism 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.

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 have so far held their sessions in secret, but expect to open them to the public later this summer.

The intelligence committee 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."

-- CNN Congressional Correspondent Kate Snow contributed to this report.




Back to the top