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.

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