FBI Lawyer At Center Of September 11 Flap
Wins White House Award
by Ted Bridis, Associated Press Writer, January 10, 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) — Some congressional critics of the FBI are questioning a presidential citation and large cash bonus awarded to an FBI supervisor whose headquarters unit denied a pre-Sept. 11 search warrant against terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui.
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 recommended to the White House that Bowman receive the award.
The decision roiled FBI critics who believe Bowman’s lawyers improperly rejected a search warrant request by FBI agents in Minnesota investigating Moussaoui in August 2001. Moussaoui, the only person charged in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, was in custody the following month when hijackers steered planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Bowman, who declined to comment Thursday, 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 to comment on Bowman’s selection for the award, or specify the amount of his cash bonus.
The former chief of the National Security Law Unit under Bowman said Friday that his former boss deserved the award, noting that successful efforts by the unit to prevent terrorist attacks or detect spies are almost never made public.
“If they work, nothing happens and it looks like you’re not doing anything,” said Michael Woods, who left the FBI last year. “The lawyers at the NSLU are an unseen component in a lot of these operations. They don’t get credit when something is successful.”
Woods said Bowman’s award “reflects a long history of very successful work and very significant contributions to cases that no one is discussing.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, 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 his unit.
Sen. 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.”
On Thursday, Shelby said the award showed “no accountability for poor performance at the bureau.”
The Senate investigation last fall 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 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 prescient e-mail to FBI headquarters. He said he hoped that Bowman’s law unit “will stand behind their decisions then.”
Although the U.S. 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 the warrants from a special U.S. court that meets secretly.
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.
Those mistakes extended beyond those criticized in a rare public decision last summer by the secretive U.S. court that oversees the surveillance warrants. The court’s decision was later overturned, but it admonished the FBI for providing inaccurate information in warrant applications.
The law unit also has acknowledged, in a separate internal memo, that FBI agents mistakenly intercepted e-mails of innocent citizens during an investigation in Denver by its Osama bin Laden Unit and International Terrorism Operations Section.
It indicated the FBI incorrectly used its “Carnivore” Internet surveillance software, now called “DCS-1000,” and captured too many e-mails. That memo’s author wrote to Bowman that describing an oversight official at the Justice Department as unhappy about the incident “would be an understatement of incredible proportions.”