WASHINGTON – A top congressman said Sunday he will examine whether concern the FBI would appear to be using "racial profiling" led it to remove key details from a search warrant request whose rejection kept the FBI from learning more about a terrorism suspect before Sept. 11.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss also said he doesn't think the FBI is capable at this point of the intelligence work needed to combat domestic terrorism and needs to reorganize. Goss's comments came as the Senate's leader disclosed that President Bush asked him not to seek an outside commission to investigate pre-Sept. 11 intelligence failures.
Goss, whose committee has an investigation under way, said on CBS' Face the Nation that the handling of the Minneapolis FBI office's application for a warrant to search terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui's computer troubled him.
"Because that basically is hampering an investigative tool which we need very badly right now," said Goss, R-Fla.
The Minneapolis office, after arresting Moussaoui at a Minnesota flight school last August, was concerned that he was seeking to hurt Americans and wanted to gather more information.
Goss, whose committee is joining with its Senate counterpart to investigate what the government knew and did to fight terrorism before the Sept. 11 attacks, referred to a letter Minneapolis FBI counsel Coleen Rowley wrote May 21 to FBI Director Robert Mueller about the Moussaoui case.
The letter alleged that terrorism supervisors at FBI headquarters rewrote the Minnesota office's warrant applications and affidavit and removed key information about Moussaoui before sending them to a legal office that then rejected the paperwork as insufficient.
Rowley wrote that some of the revisions "downplayed" the significance of intelligence linking Moussaoui to Islamic extremists, and blamed the changes on a flawed communication process.
Goss said problems with the warrant application worried him most, adding that if the letter is accurate, "that people were reluctant — there was a culture in Washington that said, 'No, we don't want to rock the boat. We want to — we're too worried about profiling, those kind of things.' We've got to know about that and figure out as a society how we are going to react."
Asked if he meant one reason the FBI may have rejected a warrant request was concern about racial profiling, Goss replied: "I don't know the answer to that. But I'm surely going to ask the question, because it has been suggested."
The FBI declined to comment.
Also Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle continued to press for an independent commission to investigate intelligence failures leading up to the September attacks.
Daschle, D-S.D., said Bush asked him on Jan. 28 not to seek an outside commission. He said previously that Vice President Dick Cheney made a similar request Jan. 24.
"They were concerned about the diversion of resources," Daschle said on NBC's Meet the Press, adding that the request was repeated on other dates.
Bush and Cheney said last week that Congress' intelligence committees — which can keep secret the classified information supplied by the administration — are the proper panels for an investigation.
Bush national security adviser Condoleezza Rice reinforced that position Sunday, saying the administration worries "about anything that would take place outside of the intelligence committees."
Ongoing FBI investigations shouldn't be jeopardized by information "spread to the first pages of the newspapers," Rice said on Fox News Sunday.
The first House-Senate intelligence committee hearing into the attacks will take place June 4. It will be closed to the public because classified information will be discussed.
FBI Director Mueller, meanwhile, is preparing to announce an overhaul of the agency to better fight terrorism. He plans to create a new team in Washington to centralize terrorism fighting and ensure all intelligence is evaluated thoroughly, officials have said.
Goss, speaking earlier on Fox, said he thinks the FBI is currently incapable of doing the intelligence work needed to fight domestic terrorism.
"I think they've got to go through a big learning curve, a lot of readjustment," Goss said.
CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said Sunday that more than two dozen agency analysts and at least one senior manager from its Directorate of Intelligence will assist Mueller's reorganization.
In addition, CIA analysts will be sent to several major U.S. cities to review FBI terrorism cases and examine information in the larger context of international terrorism, Harlow said.
"The FBI's focus in the past has been on fighting crime. Analysts at the CIA have probably got a broader experience in dealing with international terrorism," he said.