WASHINGTON — Responding to a mini-tempest over payment of a $5 million reward to a witness against Zacarias Moussaoui, FBI and State Department officials assured Minnesota's senators Tuesday that the two men who led federal agents to the al Qaida operative also will be considered for recognition.
"We received a clear and firm assurance that other individuals will be considered'' under the State Department's Rewards for Justice program, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman said after he and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar met with the officials in his office.
In a private ceremony on Jan. 25, State Department officials presented a $5 million check to Clarence Prevost, who taught Moussaoui for two days in August 2001 when he took lessons in a Boeing 747 jumbo jet at a flight school in Eagan, Minn.
But the officials passed over the roles of Tim Nelson and Hugh Sims, program managers at the Pan Am International Flight Academy who separately called the FBI's Minneapolis office on Aug. 15, 2001, without approval from their supervisors, to express misgivings about Moussaoui. Federal agents arrested Moussaoui the next day.
Administration officials, who declined to speak publicly because of the program's secretive nature, initially said that Prevost urged his supervisors to alert the FBI to Moussaoui's suspicious behavior, prompting the phone calls. Nelson, Sims and former top managers at the school contradicted that, however, saying they didn't recall Prevost pressing them to alert law enforcement agents.
At Tuesday's meeting, Klobuchar said, the representatives said Prevost was singled out because "he had worked so closely with the assistant U.S. attorney on the case and he was the one who testified'' at Moussaoui's 2006 death-penalty trial.
She said it was an assistant U.S. attorney in Alexandria, Va., who nominated Prevost under the program, which offers hefty cash awards to people whose information helps thwart terrorism or leads to the arrests and prosecutions of terrorists.
But, she said, the officials "said they were agreeable to further nominations.''
Nelson said he was disappointed that the reward was dispensed ``based on such skewed information.'' But he said he was ``glad to see that the Justice Department is willing to take a fresh look at it.''
Sims, who was flying home from Taiwan Tuesday, said shortly before the meeting that he wasn't angry but thought that the matter was so mishandled that it ``gives a black eye to the Rewards for Justice'' program.
Coleman said that he and Klobuchar urged the two representatives from the FBI and State Department ``to avoid situations like this arising again by really doing a very complete review of the record so that it's clearly understood who was involved in bringing information to the Justice Department. I think they took that to heart.''