The FBI's Shifting Story

"To fabricate an alibi for his nonfeasance, and to cover up his department's embarrassing cut of the counterterrorism budget last year, Attorney General John Ashcroft - working with his hand-picked aide, F.B.I. Director 'J. Edgar' Mueller III - has gutted guidelines put in place a generation ago to prevent the abuse of police power by the federal government," writes conservative pundit William Safire. Mueller's nonfeasance is detailed with dry wit in a bombshell whistleblower memo from Colleen Rowley, legal counsel for the FBI's Minneapolis field office, which arrested terrorist suspect Zaccarias Moussaoui and was desperately trying to alert the national FBI office to the terrorist threat in the weeks prior to September 11. According to Rowley, the FBI headquarter's pattern of false statements following September 11 suggests that "someone ... had decided to circle the wagons at FBI HQ in an apparent effort to protect the FBI from embarrassment and the relevant FBI officials from scrutiny." Jane Hall calls Mueller's recent mea culpa a "classic example of public relations 'crisis management.'" Boston Globe columnist Thomas Oliphant points out that Mueller's new position marks the director's third public position on the FBI's relationship to the tragedy, not exactly a credibility booster."