WASHINGTON – What the FBI knew before Sept. 11 regarding terrorism will be called into question once again next week when an agent is called before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify.
Minneapolis FBI agent Coleen Rowley has been critical of the bureau headquarters' handling of a terrorism investigation before the Sept. 11 attacks.
The New York Times reported Saturday that a top-secret internal document warned the FBI director in the months before Sept. 11 that the bureau faced significant terrorist threats from Middle Eastern groups but lacked the resources to deal with them.
Despite the assessment, Attorney General John Ashcroft rejected a proposed $58 million increase in financing for the bureau's counterterrorism program last Sept. 10. The Times quoted an unidentified Justice Department official as saying the document, known as the Director's Report on Terrorism, was not provided to Ashcroft's budget staff.
Senior Justice Dept officials have told Fox News it was all part of the budget process in which federal agencies typically angle for more money. The Director's Report on Terrorism comes out every year and was not a massive statement on the bureau's vulnerabilities, but rather the Counter-Terrorism Division's wish list during the budget process.
What the Times has described as the Director's Report on Terrorism is now being characterized to Fox News by senior Dept of Justice officials as a "Capacity Estimate."
This would be what they assessed as their strengths, weaknesses and needs, particularly related to the budget, which is an annual process.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Rowley can help the Senate Judiciary Committee improve FBI operations and restore public confidence in the bureau by appearing next Thursday.
Rowley wrote a letter last week to FBI Director Robert Mueller criticizing Washington headquarters for refusing to allow Minneapolis agents to step up their investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was in custody in the weeks leading up to the attacks.
Moussaoui is under indictment on charges of being a conspirator in the attacks. The FBI was suspicious of his flight-training activities last August and he was picked up on an immigration violation.
Rowley has pledged not to discuss the Moussaoui case, so Grassley said national security concerns should not stand in the way of her testifying.
Minneapolis FBI spokesman Paul McCabe declined to comment on Grassley's request.
The office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chairman, will determine whether to call Rowley as a witness.
While the Senate Judiciary Committee meets in open session, the Senate and House intelligence committees will begin joint closed-door hearings on the attacks next Tuesday.
Those hearings will begin with presentations by staffers summarizing what they have learned in their probe of the events leading up to the attacks. Witnesses will appear in open sessions later in June.
Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet are expected to appear in some of the open hearings, which begin June 25.
Ashcroft said he fully supports the FBI director. "Bob Mueller is reforming the FBI" and "Mueller's going to get that done," he said Friday.
"He's grabbed the agency" and "he has begun to shift the culture," Ashcroft added.