A Zeal to Defend Secrecy

Saturday, December 24, 2005

In their zeal to defend President Bush for ordering the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on communications of American citizens, William Kristol and Gary Schmitt got key things wrong regarding the FBI's terrorism investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui ["Vital Presidential Power," op-ed, Dec. 20].

They are wrong about Moussaoui being a "U.S. person" who required a higher standard of probable cause under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Moussaoui was a French citizen in the United States with an expired temporary visa, which means that the higher FISA standard did not apply.

More important, and contrary to Kristol and Schmitt's assertion that "the Justice Department decided there was not sufficient evidence to get a FISA warrant to allow the inspection of his computer files," no evidence of Moussaoui's suspicious flight training and ties with terrorism was presented to the Justice Department. The department was never contacted and so did not decide anything; therefore, no decision was ever made regarding the given evidence and its subsequent application to FISA standards.

That means the FISA procedures were not the reason the FBI failed to inspect Moussaoui's computer files. Rather, the FBI's failure to share and analyze intelligence sufficiently is what enabled Moussaoui to escape further investigation.

-- Coleen Rowley

Apple Valley, Minn.

The writer is a retired FBI agent who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2002 about the problems the FBI faces in investigating terrorists.

For years conservatives have argued that liberals have modified the Constitution without formally amending it. The line goes that Democrats have taken advantage of the general-welfare and commerce clauses to pass just about anything they want; they see no limit regarding what the federal government can do.

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