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Jewish World Review May 30, 2002 / 19 Sivan, 5762

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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FBI saga gets more depressing | You thought the FBI hit bottom in the 1990s with the killing of innocents at Ruby Ridge and Waco and the discovery that one of its own agents had been merrily spying for the Commies for decades.

You thought the 21st-century FBI had sobered up and the crime-busting agency we once so naively adored was back in the sacred business of protecting America from crooks and spies again.

You thought the worst of the FBI Follies were behind us.

Silly you.

What little is left of the FBI's good reputation is being ground into the dust of Sept. 11, an event articles in Time and the New Yorker indicate might have been a lot more preventable than our "intelligence" bureaucracies have led us to believe.

Time magazine's cover story, "How the FBI Blew the Case," details how FBI higher-ups in Washington blocked efforts by agents in Minneapolis that could have foiled all or some of the terrorist hijackings.

Its "inside story" of the scathing memo written by FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley, who accuses her FBI bosses of ignoring warnings of coming terrorist attacks, pulls no punches in its thrashing of the hapless FBI.

Like no other document to emerge so far from "the current firestorm over the mistakes and missed signals that led to Sept. 11," Time says, "the Rowley memo casts a searing light into the depths of government ineptitude."

If Rowley's memo is true, and there's no reason to believe it is not, Time says it "amounts to a colossal indictment of our chief law-enforcement agency's neglect in the face of the biggest terrorist operation ever mounted on U.S. soil."

As Time is careful to note, and Rowley's memo admits, the FBI could have done everything right before Sept. 11 and still not have been able to stop the attacks.

But after reading her memo, and learning how ineptly - and untruthfully - the FBI operates, it's easy to agree with Time's conclusion that "the FBI's sprawling bureaucracy is hopeless."

Meanwhile, it's lucky for the terrorists that the FBI was an even bigger joke than they were.

In a relatively free society, even the best security agencies can't prevent dedicated bad guys such as Timothy McVeigh or Mohamed Atta from planning and carrying out a lot of seriously nasty stuff.

But investigative reporter Seymour Hersh reports in the New Yorker that the terrorists of 9/11 were not as sophisticated, disciplined or well-organized as we've been led to believe by those who missed the many signs they were planning something horrible.

Not only did swarms of future terrorists matriculate at America's finest flight schools, but foursomes of the terrorists - dressed like geeks in bad suits, carrying no luggage and raising suspicions from passengers and flight crews - apparently made many test runs on commercial airliners before Sept. 11.

Hersh is a professional hater of the FBI who blames its pre-Sept. 11 failings on its secretive corporate culture. But after reading his article and Time, you'll have no doubt FBI director Robert Mueller is telling the truth when he says it's "inevitable" there will be another terrorist attack and "we will not be able to stop it."

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald