ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minneapolis FBI agent who exposed Sept. 11-related intelligence failures has told her boss she doesn't think the agency will be able to handle terrorism that could follow a war with Iraq.
Agent Coleen Rowley outlined her concerns in a seven-page letter sent to FBI Director Robert Mueller last month.
The nation's internal security "has been weakened by the diversion of attention from Al Qaeda to our government's plan to invade Iraq, a step that will, in all likelihood, bring an exponential increase in the terrorist threat to the U.S., both at home and abroad," Rowley wrote.
She added: "The bottom line is this. 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."
Rowley said Thursday night that she wrote out of concern about the effects of war.
"I sent it to Mueller, but I sent it as a person, not as an agent," Rowley said.
She criticized a possible pre-emptive strike against Iraq as "not a wise move," and said that her letter was "motivated by conscience."
The letter is wide-ranging, variously questioning what evidence there is to link Al Qaeda to Iraq and the veracity of a statement that there are 5,000 terrorists in the country. It also questions why the FBI has not investigated links between Zacarias Moussaoui, the person arrested in Minnesota and accused of conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers, and Richard Reid, convicted of trying to blow up a plane by igniting explosives in his shoes.
"Special Agent Rowley's comments and views are not representative of the Minneapolis division of the FBI," spokesman Paul McCabe said Thursday. "Those views are strictly her own personal opinions."
Rowley said her letter wasn't meant to criticize the FBI. Instead, she wanted to point out that it's impossible to thwart terrorist attacks when "your terrorist threat level goes up so high."
McCabe said he couldn't comment on whether Rowley's outspokenness threatens her job. When she came forward with her Sept. 11-related criticism, senators demanded that Mueller protect her from retaliation.
Rowley is a 22-year agent who came to national prominence when she accused headquarters of removing important details from a search warrant application that was later rejected, a gaffe she said may have kept the government from learning more about Moussaoui before the attacks.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer discounted Rowley's latest letter, saying the administration heard the same warning about attacking Afghanistan and the Taliban.
"The president takes all such warnings seriously. And he is confident that every step is being taken to protect the homeland," Fleischer told reporters in Washington. "The president believes one of the best ways to protect the homeland is to go out and prevent any attacks from taking place in the first place."
In testimony Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mueller said the FBI has taken several steps to improve analysis since the Sept. 11 attacks, increasing the number of counterterrorism analysts by 61 percent and creating an analytical college to provide increased training.
"We have made significant strides toward enhancing our operations," Mueller said. "While we have come a long way in the past 18 months, we have a long way yet to go."
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said much of Rowley's letter was "nothing new." But he said he appreciated her speaking out.
"I would rather see too much whistleblowing than not enough," he told National Public Radio.