Jewish World Review June 6, 2002/ 25 Sivan, 5762

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

Where was Agent Rowley when the FBI needed her? | No one loves a good whistleblower more than I, but "good" is the operative word. Glancing through FBI agent Coleen Rowley's memo has me wondering on what and whom she is blowing the whistle. She paints the FBI as a bureaucratic behemoth incapable of response, coordination or foresight.

She's right.

For full disclosure purposes that also verify Ms. Rowley's observations, I did training for an FBI division in October 2000. My bemused assistant followed paperwork around the Bureau like Harry Potter in a Quidditch match, ricocheting about in search of someone to cut a check. Payment in May 2001 netted me some tidy federal penalties.

Inefficiencies are not the issue. Agent Rowley never addresses and director Robert Mueller is afraid to discuss the root causes of this Keystone Kops madness. For Ms. Rowley and the chattering classes condemning an organization ex ante, I have 8 words and one acronym: Waco, Ruby Ridge, Wen Ho Lee, Richard Jewell, and ACLU.

The hesitancy Ms. Rowley outlines in her memo is the result of a gun-shy, as it were, FBI, battered by the media and public. Time broke the Rowley story and slapped it on its cover, but it spent the last decade indicting the agency's zeal, e.g. "Botching the Big Case," and "'Oh, my G-d, they're killing themselves,' - FBI agent Bob Ricks."

Relentless pressure has hog-tied a fine agency. Having worked with FBI agents during a stint in the U.S. Attorney's office and again in 2000, I have high regard for them as dedicated public servants with an aura of professionalism ignored in the current finger pointing. But commentaries on the agency's debacles, both honest and those with Oliver Stone flavor, have a point.

Law enforcement agents are cursed with hunches not consistent with Fourth Amendment standards. The Warren court outlawed hunch searches. Come to think of it, the Warren court outlawed most searches. Ms. Rowley was offended at FBIHQs' denial of a warrant application for Zacarias Moussaoui's (the so-called 20th hijacker) computer.

Rightly so. Prior to September 11, the Minneapolis office did not have probable cause for a warrant. Ms. Rowley acknowledges in her memo that reasonable minds could differ because the probable cause she alleges was a tip from the notoriously inept French Intelligence Service that Mr. Moussaoui was "part of a radical fundamentalist group."

Dear citizens, were membership in fundamentalist groups probable cause for searching computers, agents would be surfing the hard drives of Mormons and right-to-lifers, activities the FBI's new authority may permit. Fear of terrorist attacks tests our ability to honor the Constitution. The FBI's nay saying was checks and balances, not roadblocks, as Agent Rowley asserts. FBIHQ was curbing the "Yeehaw factor," the overzealous conduct of agents that results in those Wild West cases noted.

Law enforcement officers, if left to their own devices and autonomy, will produce a Branch Davidian standoff, burned children, prison for a government scientist, innocent bombing suspects, and dead survivalists. In their quests for bringing the sinister and diabolical to justice, agents' perspective and our constitution can suffer.

But the FBI hesitancy is not just from the Yeehaw factor. Agent Rowley fails to explore all causes of FBIHQ's self-imposed restraints. During the Clinton/Reno era, the FBI was emasculated. That derring duo of liberalism's anti-pig attitude placed the FBI under a cloud of suspicion, with a tentativeness that created freedom for terrorists.

Post-Waco, Reno wanted no controversy. Her refusals to appoint special counsels became laughable. She had agents investigating Ken Starr. The clear message to the Bureau was one of corruption and, "Hold back." A once fine agency that toppled organized crime was reduced to conducting DNA tests on the blue Gap dress of the president's mistress, or whatever you call someone with whom you did not have sex.

Janet Reno was a graham-crackers-and-milk-morning-breaks-administrator as terrorists ran rampant through flight schools. FBIHQ's likely hesitation was the powerful raised PC eyebrow for searching the computer of an Arab male fundamentalist picked up on an INS violation or targeting Arab males at flight schools, pre 9-11. Profiling anyone?

Agent Rowley whines now with media and public support. Where was her memo when agents were rebuked for their work with Linda Tripp? When Wen Ho Lee languished in prison? Rowley had the same fears that permeated the agency. That she can write her memo now with praise from the new director evidences a new culture. When blowing the whistle, be certain to blow it on the right people.

Agent Rowley enjoys kudos for courage because we are in the mood for a freewheeling FBI, thinking that 9-11 could have been prevented. We swallow unfettered access because of terrorist paranoia. We will rue the day we heeded Agent Rowley's demand for agent autonomy. When privacy is invaded and liberty abridged, I trust her mea culpa will be as lengthy.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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04/18/02: Claire's life
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03/31/02: Oscars' subtle bigotry was embarrassing
03/22/02: Blame Oprah, Rosie, Sally, Ted, David
03/14/02: The costs of women's feeble choices
03/08/02: Botoxic faces
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02/25/02: Don't take the gold
02/14/02: Ease up on the brothers and sisters
02/11/02: Because I was courted
02/05/02: Fat fault
01/24/02: Tolerance does not mean stupidity
01/17/02: Too old too soon
01/10/02: Ethically challenged firms
01/03/02: The year that was
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09/20/01: No tinhorn terrorists can frighten us
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06/29/01: There is no excuse
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05/18/01: Clothes make the woman
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05/04/01: Grades: Equality of students, by students, for the students
04/27/01: The Horowitz revelations as seen by a college professor
04/20/01: First, let's kill all the tests
04/13/01: The continuing mistake of underpricing electricity
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04/11/00: The monsters we're raising with the ergo proposition
04/05/00: Endowing the Hooters Chair for Literature Appreciation
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06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2002, Marianne M. Jennings