FBI Honors Aide Who Stalled Probe

Critics question bonus for lawyer

by Ted Bridis
The Associated Press
January 10, 2003

WASHINGTON - An FBI supervisor whose headquarters unit denied a pre-Sept. 11 search warrant against Zacarias Moussaoui has won a presidential citation and large cash bonus, incentives the agency's congressional critics say reward incompetence.

The FBI's deputy general counsel, Marion ''Spike'' Bowman, was among nine current and former FBI officials who last month received a Presidential Rank Award for career senior executives, which carries with it a cash bonus of 20 percent to 30 percent of an annual salary.

Bowman, head of the FBI's National Security Law Unit, was praised for efforts to attract within the FBI ''a staff of attorneys to examine diverse and highly complex issues for which little or no formal legal education has been available.'' FBI director Robert Mueller III recommended to the White House that Bowman receive the award.

The decision roiled FBI critics who say they believe Bowman's lawyers improperly rejected a search warrant request by FBI agents in Minnesota investigating Moussaoui in August 2001. Bowman, who declined to comment yesterday, maintains there never was enough evidence for such a warrant under the guidelines of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

An FBI spokesman also declined yesterday to comment on Bowman's selection for the award, or specify the amount of Bowman's cash bonus.

Senator Charles ''Chuck'' Grassley, an Iowa Republican, complained in a letter to the FBI director, ''You are sending the wrong signal to those agents who fought - sometimes against senior FBI bureaucrats at headquarters - to prevent the attacks.''

Grassley asked Mueller to explain in writing his decision to nominate Bowman. He told Mueller that Senate testimony by Bowman during a closed Judiciary Committee hearing in July raised serious questions about the competence of lawyers in the unit.

Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Intelligence Committee during its oversight investigation of the FBI, complained last month - just days before Bowman won the award - that Bowman's law unit provided ''inexcusably confused and inaccurate information'' to FBI investigators in Minneapolis during the Moussaoui case.

Shelby said in an 84-page report that the FBI unit's advice turned out to be ''patently false'' and led agents in Minnesota on a ''wild goose chase for nearly three weeks.''

Yesterday, Shelby said the award showed ''no accountability for poor performance at the bureau. ... They continue to reward bad behavior, and the results speak for themselves.''

The Senate investigation also criticized Bowman's unit for blocking an urgent request on Aug. 29, 2001, by FBI agents in New York to begin searching for Khalid Almihdar, one of the hijackers on the American Airlines flight that crashed into the Pentagon.

An FBI agent, who wasn't identified publicly, testified that Bowman's lawyers decided information tying Almihdar to terrorism had been obtained through intelligence channels and thus could not legally be used in a criminal investigation.

''Some day, someone will die ... and the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain problems,'' the agent wrote in a hauntingly prescient e-mail to FBI headquarters. He said he hoped that Bowman's law unit ''will stand behind their decisions then.''

Although the US indictment of Moussaoui does not directly tie him to the 19 hijackers, prosecutors disclosed months ago that Moussaoui had called a phone number written on a business card recovered from the wreckage of one of the hijacked flights.

Bowman's law unit employs about 15 specialized lawyers to offer advice for FBI agents about applying the powerful 1978 surveillance law during terrorism and espionage investigations. The unit approves or rejects requests for secret surveillance warrants in such cases, then forwards its approvals to the Justice Department. Lawyers there review the FBI requests and can deny them outright or seek final approval for a warrant from a US judge.

Bowman also headed the law unit in early 2000, when the FBI acknowledged serious blunders in surveillance it conducted during sensitive terrorism and espionage investigations. Among the problems, outlined in an April 2000 memorandum, were agents who illegally videotaped suspects, intercepted e-mails without court permission, and recorded the wrong phone conversations.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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