Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXVIII, Nos. 589, 590 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY December 15/31, 2002

[LEN Home] - [Masthead] - [Past Issues] SUBSCRIBE

In this issue:

Don’t tell New York City, but the nationwide crime rate is going up.
Once again, it’s a year for serial killers.
Child-snatchings are big news, but are they a big problem?
Amber Alert is getting nationwide green light.
Police wipe a smile from mailbox bomber’s face.
Beltway snipers continue to confound police expectations.
Legislative probes point to FBI, CIA lapses.
Police catch terrorist “sleepers” napping.
Homeland security is demanding still more of local police agencies.
The courts are wrestling with anti-terror issues in various forms.
Is there a new federal perspective on consent decrees?
Agencies try harder to fill depleted ranks.
Bottom lines will get worse before getting better.
The Cabinet is about to get a new anti-terror look.
Justice by the Numbers: A numerical profile of criminal justice in the United States in 2002.
Around The Nation: A coast-to-coast roundup of police news.

 
Continued from page 1

The 2002 Person of the Year:
Coleen Rowley — FBI agent cast in the role of Cassandra

     with terrorist links – were enrolled in local flight schools. While not the primary focus of the memo, a Saudi national who was among those that trained in Phoenix, Hani Hanjour, later flew a Boeing 757 into the Pentagon.

     It was apparently the third time that the FBI had rejected similar warnings. In 1998, an Oklahoma City agent wrote a superior that such training could be linked to “planned terrorist activity.” The bureau received further information that “a terrorist organization might be planning to bring students to the U.S. for training at a flight school.” And in 1999, when a third tip was received, the bureau did send a communiqué to its 24 field offices requesting an all-out investigation, but none were ever conducted, according to a report issued in September by Eleanor Hill, staff director of the Congressional hearings into pre-9/11 activities.

     “[Rowley’s] letter is a very good letter, and I infer from its content that it was needed,” Edwin J. DeLattre, a resident scholar at Boston University and an expert on law enforcement ethics, told Law Enforcement News. “I infer this as well from the experience of my dear friend John O’Neill, who was a leading anti-terrorism expert.”

     O’Neill, who had led the bureau’s investigation into the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, retired from the FBI in August 2001. He was killed on Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center, his first day at his new job as head of security for the Twin Towers.

     Said DeLattre: “O’Neill should have been given much more room to complete his investigations than he had, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when I read Coleen Rowley’s letter.”

     Richard Gallo, the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, believes that Rowley did what she felt she had to do, but no one has yet posed the question of why she was put in that position. “The reason why is because our payment classification system is broken,” he told LEN.

     A law signed in 1990 by then-President George Bush stated that federal law enforcement salaries shall be separated from the general schedule, the payment classification system for employees of the federal government. Failure to do so by the Office of Personnel Management over the past 13 years has led to a recruitment and retention crisis in federal law enforcement, Gallo asserted. Salaries for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are approximately two-thirds those of many municipal law enforcement positions. A first-year salary for a federal law officer, he noted, is $36,000, whereas a starting salary for a Chicago police detective is $63,000.

     “When we go into the supervisory positions, we get zero applicants for first-line supervisory positions in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, and sometimes at headquarters,” said Gallo, an investigator with the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General.

     Too often, top-notch agents will turn down a promotion if it means being assigned to Washington, D.C., where depressed salaries and inflated housing costs make it a difficult transition, he said.

     “You’re going to get more headaches because this is a promotion. Your commute is going to be doubled. And it’s not any more pay. So why do you go? You don’t go,” said Gallo. “So headquarters’ first choice to take over that position isn’t there. Not their second choice, their third choice, more like their eighth or ninth choice, or more like someone who is just going there to punch their ticket and get the hell out of Dodge.”

     Rowley, 48, has served with the bureau for more than two decades, having joined after earning her law degree from the University of Iowa. While assigned to the New York field office in the 1980s, Rowley worked on organized-crime cases. In 1984, she escorted mobster Gennaro Langella on his “perp walk” before the cameras. Later, she worked on the investigation of Andrew Cunanan, the serial killer responsible for the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace in Miami Beach in 1997. Rowley won an FBI award for her efforts. She was also involved in the case of Kathleen Soliah, a fugitive member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, who was captured by Minneapolis agents in 1999 while living under the name Sarah Jane Olson.

     While neither Rowley, nor any of the Congressional investigative committees, have concluded that the Sept. 11 attacks could have been prevented, Rowley was quick to point out in her letter that “…it’s at least possible we could have gotten lucky and uncovered one or two more of the terrorists in flight training prior to September 11th.”

     Her involvement began with Zacarias Moussaoui, a French-Moroccan who was arrested by federal agents on Aug. 16, 2001, after he is reported to have acted suspiciously while training at a flight school. Those suspicions ripened into probable cause, Rowley wrote, after French intelligence services confirmed his links to radical Islamic causes and Osama bin Laden. While Moussaoui was being held on a visa violation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Rowley and other agents from the Minneapolis office sought a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to search his laptop. Officials at FBI headquarters rebuffed the request, deeming the evidence insufficient. A warrant was finally granted on Sept. 11. The only difference, she noted, was that, by then, three jetliners had crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Moussaoui’s computer revealed data on the cockpit layouts of commercial jets. It also contained the phone number in Germany for the roommate of Mohammed Atta, the attack’s ringleader.

     In the ensuing months, the notion that “hindsight is 20/20” has been amply bandied about, but DeLattre maintains that the past is highly subject to interpretation. “People disagree about how to understand the past so it’s not possible for everybody’s vision to be 20/20,” he said. “Her argument is that a search warrant should have been sought by the FBI, and that argument seems to me irrefutable.”

     In her letter, Rowley states that her office was continually thwarted by a supervisory agent who seemed to deliberately throw up roadblocks and obstacles. FISA warrants are approved by a special court of rotating judges. Prior to a change in policy said to have been directly related to the Moussaoui case, the FBI director signed off on all such applications, but did not review those that had been rejected inside headquarters. Now, all applications for FISA warrants related to terrorism investigations will be routed to the bureau’s chief of counterterrorism and counterintelligence, and then to Mueller for review if it is rejected by a mid-level supervisor, according to a report by The Washington Post.

     Rowley was thrust into the spotlight on June 6 when she became a star witness before the Senate Judiciary Committee. For nearly five hours, she reiterated much of what was in her letter, describing a pecking order within the bureau that discouraged agents from questioning decisions on which cases to pursue, and how to conduct investigations. Lawmakers sat stunned as she told them of computer technology so primitive that it was impossible to enter phrases such as “flight school.” Searching by entering single words, such as aviation, produced unworkably long lists of documents, said Rowley.

     Testifying after Mueller had appeared before the panel, Rowley said she was encouraged by the director’s remarks “because I think many of his ideas so seem to go in the right direction and actually are quite consistent with the various items I had in my letter to him.” Mueller, she said, had an “extremely difficult job…”

     Rowley has been assured that her position with the bureau is safe, but she nonetheless applied for protection under the federal whistleblower statute. Some two years away from retirement, she is her family’s sole breadwinner. Her husband, Ross, is a stay-at-home father for the couple’s four children.

     While there are many in law enforcement who applauded Rowley’s actions this year, others viewed her decision to go outside the bureau with her criticisms as reprehensible. After dropping off her letter to Mueller, Rowley also left copies for two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

     “I don’t know the lady, from what I know she is extremely competent and well-liked in the Minneapolis office,” Tom Tierney, president of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, told LEN. “I would have preferred her to stay within the bureau with this information, simply because I think it does some damage to our reputation which isn’t really deserved.”

     According to Tierney, an informal poll of members on the group’s computer network came up just about evenly split for and against Rowley’s course of action.

     “She probably acted in good faith, but I just don’t think you could have everyone in an organization running outside every time they have a disagreement with the boss,” he said. “It wouldn’t work for any organization, any corporation. I just think it should have been kept in-house.”

     Jim Roth, former chief counsel for the bureau’s New York office, was much more emphatic in his criticism of Rowley. In a letter to The Wall Street Journal dated June 3, 2002, Roth argued that there was no indication that agents at the Minneapolis office made any effort “to sell their case to FBIHQ and fight for it prior to 9/11.”

     Describing how his office had gone about pushing requests up the line in the past, Roth noted: “At every point along the way, we were willing to work with FBIHQ and the DOJ to resolve the issues, rather than content ourselves with arguing and firing back at HQ. When we disagreed with FBIHQ officials we did not make it personal and question their motives and integrity.”

     Roth told LEN that he believed Rowley exercised poor judgment and that her letter was “intemperate in tone.” It was her obligation as legal counsel to reach out to National Security Law Unit and make sure they heard from Minneapolis, he said. “I don’t mean you have to be a pitch man, but when someone gives you a bad time on your case, and you think they’re wrong, if you’re on to something, you have to go to bat for it.” Nothing in the public record indicates that the office did that, said Roth.

     Others, however, believe just as firmly that Rowley showed a lot of guts in exposing the bureau’s shortcomings.

     “The issues raised by Ms. Rowley needed to be raised,” insisted Capt. Ty Blocker of the Pennsylvania State Police, who is president of the Society of Police Futurists International. “She did it within an organization where, traditionally, one does not step out of school. I think she is tremendously courageous and set an example for all law enforcement officials about speaking out on issues and circumstances that are not correct,” he told LEN.

     FLEOA’s Gallo agreed. “It’s very brave for a person in the crowd to shout out, ‘The emperor has no clothes on,’ ” he said. Rowley’s action could trigger real change in the FBI if backed up by policy and legislative initiatives, said Gallo. “With a change in culture, you’re talking about from one generation to another, almost,” he said

     “It will still have an effect, over time.”


The bombshell

     (Excerpts from Special Agent Coleen Rowley’s May 21 memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller.)

     “I have deep concerns that a delicate and subtle shading/skewing of facts by you and others at the highest levels of FBI management has occurred and is occurring….
      I feel that certain facts…have, up to now, been omitted, downplayed, glossed over and/or mis-characterized in an effort to avoid or minimize personal and/or institutional embarrassment on the part of the FBI and/or perhaps even for improper political reasons….”

     “The Minneapolis agents who responded to the call about Moussaoui’s flight training identified him as a terrorist threat from a very early point.
     The decision to take him into custody on August 15, 2001, on the INS ‘overstay’ charge was a deliberate one to counter that threat and was based on the agents’ reasonable suspicions….”

      “It is obvious, from my firsthand knowledge of the events and the detailed documentation that exists, that agents in Minneapolis who were closest to the action and in the best position to gauge the situation locally, did fully appreciate the terrorist risk/danger posed by Moussaoui
     and his possible co-conspirators even prior to September 11th. Even without knowledge of the Phoenix communication (and any number of other additional intelligence communications that FBIHQ personnel were privy to in their central coordination roles), the Minneapolis agents appreciated the risk….”

     “Key FBIHQ personnel whose job it was to assist and coordinate with field division agents on terrorism investigations… (and who theoretically were privy to many more sources of intelligence information than field division agents), continued to, almost inexplicably, throw up roadblocks
     and undermine Minneapolis’ by-now desperate efforts to obtain a…search warrant…. HQ personnel never disclosed to the Minneapolis agents that the Phoenix Division had, only approximately three weeks earlier, warned of Al Qaeda operatives in flight schools seeking flight training for terrorist purposes….”

     “Although the last thing the FBI or the country needs now is a witch hunt, I do find it odd that (to my knowledge) no inquiry whatsoever was launched
     of the relevant FBIHQ personnel’s actions a long time ago…. It’s true we all make mistakes and I’m not suggesting that HQ personnel in question ought to be burned at the stake, but we all need to be held accountable for serious mistakes….”

     “Mr. Director…you do have some good ideas for change in the FBI but I think you have also not been completely honest about some of the true reasons for the FBI’s pre-September 11th failures.
     Until we come clean and deal with the root causes, the Department of Justice will continue to experience problems fighting terrorism and fighting crime in general….”

      “An honest assessment of the FBI’s mistakes in this and other cases should not lead to increasing the Headquarters bureaucracy and approval levels of investigative actions as the answer.
     Most often, field office agents and field office management on the scene will be better suited to the timely and effective solution of crimes and, in some lucky instances, to the effective prevention of crimes, including terrorism incidents…. Although FBIHQ personnel have, no doubt, been of immeasurable assistance to the field over the years, I’m hard pressed to think of any case which has been solved by FBIHQ personnel and I can name several that have been screwed up! Decision-making is inherently more effective and timely when decentralized instead of concentrated….”

      “If prevention rather than prosecution is to be our new main goal (an objective I totally agree with), we need more guidance on when we can apply the Quarles ‘public safety’ exception to Miranda’s 5th Amendment requirements.
     We were prevented from even attempting to question Moussaoui on the day of the attacks when, in theory, he could have possessed further information about other co-conspirators. (Apparently, no government attorney believes there is a ‘public safety’ exception in a situation like this?!)”

      “I have been an FBI agent for over 21 years and, for what it’s worth, have never received any form of disciplinary action throughout my career….
     Due to the frankness with which I have expressed myself and my deep feelings on these issues…I hope my continued employment with the FBI is not somehow placed in jeopardy. I have never written to an FBI Director in my life on any topic. Although I would hope it is not necessary, I would therefore wish to take advantage of the federal ‘Whistleblower Protection’ provisions by so characterizing my remarks.”