Those Wacky Justice Dept. Women

Coleen Rowley in person proved to be exactly the sort who would have fired off a 13-page rambling rant at her boss and been totally shocked when people paid attention.

She was impossible not to like, so sincere and so naïve, with her big glasses and unfashionable hair and loud plaid jacket, not to mention that loud flat voice — but also impossible to take totally seriously. After the furor of the past two weeks, maybe it was too much to ask that her testimony be riveting — but it certainly felt anti-climactic. Some reporters were downright let down.

Like a dutiful employee, Rowley had carefully watched all of FBI Director Robert Mueller's testimony in the first part of the hearing, and demonstrated it by constantly referring approvingly to it.

In fact, she praised the director so many times I became suspicious that perhaps his top aides had orchestrated this entire dustup. Maybe her private meeting with him on Wednesday had helped in assuaging any lingering concerns she might have been harboring, even after he had last week publicly praised her and thanked her for her letter and promised there would be no retaliation.

There was also a certain aspect to Rowley's testimony that was reminiscent of Emily Litella, Saturday Night Live's crotchety news commentator played by Gilda Radner. She had to admit, when asked about risk-averse behavior at FBI headquarters, that she's "never actually served at headquarters."

Her involvement in the accused "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui case had been "peripheral." She has "not had that much personal experience working with the FISA process."

And the reason she originally wrote her angry letter to the director was based on press reports about a "super squad" and she was worried about a "whole contingent from headquarters" coming out to micromanage the field. But from listening to the director's testimony she now understands better that he intends for his "flying squads" to assist the field and she thinks they're "a very good idea." Never mind!

She praised the changes he has begun implementing, and, when asked about his insistence that he will now personally review any secret national security, or FISA, warrant application turned down at mid-levels — the central example in her letter of headquarters' abysmal failures — she allowed as how "maybe it could even be lower than him, because he's a busy man."

A couple of agents were disdainful of some of the senators' questions, which seemed to endow her with pure omniscience. 'She's a field agent in Minneapolis, the office counsel, for crying out loud!' was the agents' attitude.

Yet here were these solons solemnly asking her what advice she'd offer President Bush (she wisely declined to answer) or what should be done about the FBI computer system, or how to amend the FISA law, even after she'd declared her lack of expertise.

Yes, she did have some good points to make — but in a modest way. A little perspective here, please.

The Never-Sick Secretary

It's not every day that an FBI field office puts out a press release about the retirement of a secretary. But Millie Parsons is retiring from the FBI on June 28 after a career of almost 63 years — without ever having taken even one hour of sick leave.

Millie (as she's universally known) will be 89 in August and has finally decided that maybe she needs to slow down just a little. But she will continue to pursue her hobby of competitive ballroom dancing, for which she has received national renown. Former co-worker and FBI Special Agent Susan Lloyd said that Millie travels to several national competitions each year and "always gets at least one gold medal or blue ribbon."

Millie was from Frederick, Md., and came to Washington as a 17-year-old to work at the former department store Woodward & Lothrop's. She worked at Woodie's as a secretary from 1930 to 1939 — and never took any sick leave there, either.

She left Woodie's on a Friday and "entered on duty" as a secretary at FBI Headquarters the following Monday, Sept. 25, 1939. In early 1940, she moved to the Washington field office, where she has remained ever since, outlasting at least 30 Special Agents in Charge.

The current head of the office, Assistant Director in Charge Van Harp, praised Millie's dedication as a "hallmark for those who will follow in her path."

Millie will have accumulated nearly 6,000 hours of sick leave when she retires. And it wasn't always easy. One night when her husband Harry was still alive (he died in 1967), she fell and broke her arm. Harry took her to the hospital, they set the arm, and the next day she was at work as usual.

Susan Lloyd recalled that Millie had another mishap in either 1997 or 1998, when she missed a step coming out of a restaurant during a downpour. She was rushed to George Washington Hospital, her broken wrist was set — and she was back at her desk that afternoon.

One time a mischievous co-worker decided to play a trick on Millie. He got hold of her paystub and whited out the "zero" for sick leave taken, substituting a "4." He then faked a call from a bean-counter explaining that even though the entry was mistaken it could not be corrected. But Millie became so distraught about her "record" that the trickster was forced to confess.

Award for the Most Inappropriate Metaphor Goes to ...

Last Sunday the Washington Post ran a piece entitled "Mueller May Be Stronger After Tough Week." It was frankly a bit of a thumb-sucker and so it's likely the vast majority of readers didn't even reach the end.

So many probably missed a fairly astounding quote from the Justice Department's director of public affairs. The piece was pointing out that Mueller had only been sworn in as director a week before Sept. 11. Then:

" 'After Sept. 11,' said Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock, 'Mueller had to take ahold of a broken plane, try to land it while taking incoming fire and simultaneously try to rebuild it in midair."

The reactions of those who saw it could be summed up in the words of one FBI guy: "dumbfounded." Others found it in "poor taste" and "offensive." And several FBI agents were angry that she was suggesting the bureau had been in such poor shape before Mueller's arrival that it could be likened to a crashing plane. But most just shook their heads.

Beverley Lumpkin has covered the Justice Department for 16 years for ABCNEWS. Halls of Justice appears every Saturday.