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FBI agent: Agency unprepared for 'flood of terrorism'

From Kevin Bohn

FBI agent Coleen Rowley
FBI agent Coleen Rowley

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- FBI agent Coleen Rowley has sent a letter to the FBI's director saying the bureau will be unable to deal with the large amount of terrorism that might occur if the United States attacks Iraq without a second U.N. resolution.

Rowley attracted much attention last year when a scathing memo that she wrote about the FBI became public. In it, she criticized the FBI for what she called the mishandling of the investigation of terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui before the September 11, 2001, attacks.

In the new letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller, Rowley wrote, "We should be deluding neither ourselves nor the American people that there is any way the FBI, despite the various improvements you are implementing, will be able to stem the flood of terrorism that will likely head our way in the wake of an attack on Iraq.

"What troubles me most is that I have no assurance that you have made that clear to the president," said the letter, which was dated February 26.

In a phone interview with CNN, Rowley said she went public with the letter, first to The New York Times and then elsewhere, because she did not get a response from Mueller.

The FBI did not have an immediate response to the letter.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday that it's "an entirely mistaken notion" that President Bush would be unaware of any terror threats.

"The president -- because he meets every morning with senior FBI officials who are diligently doing their job and doing it well -- is very well-versed," Fleischer said.

Bush takes terrorist warnings "seriously and he is confident that every step is being taken to protect the homeland," Fleischer said.

FBI officials previously have said it is possible more terror attacks -- executed either by Iraqi agents or by al Qaeda using the war as a rallying cry -- could come in the wake of an attack on Iraq. The officials also have said they are working hard to prepare for such a possibility.

Surveillance of some Iraqis in the United States is among the precautions being taken, officials said.

Rowley, chief counsel in the FBI's Minneapolis, Minnesota, field office, is not a counterterrorism agent and does not have access to the latest intelligence about al Qaeda and the bureau's responses.

In her letter, Rowley raised questions about the FBI's handling of some terrorism issues, such as the cases of Moussaoui and Richard Reid, who pleaded guilty to trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet by hiding explosives in his shoes in December 2001.

Nevertheless, Rowley said overall that "we are doing a darned good job" of tracking al Qaeda and other terrorists and pointed to the many arrests made in the United States of suspected operatives.

She said she was moved to write the letter because a war with Iraq could come soon. She also said she has a "strong conviction" that if the United States attacks Iraq without a second U.N. resolution or some other international mandate, many of the nation's enemies will unite and bring on more terrorism.

In addition, she said, such a move would violate international law.

While admitting she does not have any specialty on the Iraq issue in her job, she said she does have a background in international law.

Aware the letter probably would not be well-received by FBI management, she said she decided to e-mail it after not speaking up in August 2001 about her concerns of how the bureau did not move forcefully enough to investigate Moussaoui, who was detained then on immigration charges.

Moussaoui later was charged as a co-conspirator in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"Since that fateful day of September 11, 2001, however, I have not ceased to regret that perhaps I did not do all that I might have done," Rowley wrote.

She told CNN she considered resigning before sending the letter because she worried about its effect but decided against it.

Rowley was one of three whistle-blowers featured as Time magazine's Persons of the Year in December.

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