An FBI counter-terrorism agent claims he is being silenced by his agency to cover up its mishandling of a pre-Sept. 11 probe into alleged supporters of Osama bin Laden.
Chicago-based Special Agent Robert Wright received a rejection letter yesterday from the head of the FBI’s public affairs office in response to his request to disclose details of his charges. One of Wright’s claims is that the FBI allowed a Muslim agent to hinder an investigation due to religious loyalties and sensitivities, reflecting a pattern of conduct by the agency that has harmed the nation’s security.
Wright said he also discovered later that this same agent hindered a probe of University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian, who was arrested last month on terror-related charges.
WorldNetDaily obtained a copy of the letter from FBI public affairs chief Michael P. Kortan, which argues that the information Wright wants to make public includes sensitive and classified material related to pending cases.
“That’s nonsense,” Wright’s attorney David Schippers told WorldNetDaily. “Everything Bob’s got is public. He’s got it documented with public sources.”
Wright claims his investigation in 1999 of Yassin Qadi – later named by the government as a key financial backer of al-Qaida – ran into a roadblock when Special Agent Gamal Abdel-Hafiz refused to wear a wire to record a meeting with a Muslim businessman connected to Qadi.
According to Wright, Abdel-Hafiz stated in his defense, “A Muslim does not record another Muslim.”
Wright says Qadi, a wealthy Saudi businessman, helped fund the 1998 al-Qaida bombings of two American embassies in Africa.
The FBI claimed in a statement last December that Abdel-Hafiz objected to the wire because the meeting was to have taken place in a mosque, though the agency now says only that the Muslim agent’s supervisors were responsible for the decision.
Schippers claims that the FBI changed its story because it “found out everybody involved was ready to testify.”
FBI spokesman Ed Cogswell insists that the initial statement was a misunderstanding.
“It may have been an area sensitive to [Muslims], but it wasn’t technically a mosque,” Cogswell told WorldNetDaily. “My understanding was that it was a convention facility, and they were to meet in the area reserved for prayer.”
But Schippers insists the FBI essentially has made Wright out to be a liar and contends that the agency gives the appearance it has something to hide.
“If there is nothing there, fine, make it open, lay it out; or lay it out to a grand jury,” Schippers said. “But don’t hide it and tell everybody who knows about it that they can’t say anything.”
The FBI’s Cogswell maintains, “We’re not hiding anything.”
“The decision as to whether he should wear the wire was made by managers in consulation with the Chicago office, not by the agent,” he said.
In its December statement, the FBI said Abdel-Hafiz has been working since February 2001 in Riyadh, handling liaison with authorities in Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, and “has met all FBI performance and security standards.”
No place to turn
In his letter, Kortan noted that the federal whistleblower statute allows FBI employees to disclose sensitive information to the attorney general, FBI director, deputy FBI director and the Office of Professional Responsibility.
Schippers said Wright filed a formal complaint with the inspector general of the Justice Department in October 2001, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, but was told he should take his case to Congress.
“When I asked them why they weren’t going to do it, they told me that it was because they didn’t have the facilities to conduct such an investigation,” said Schippers, who headed the U.S. House of Representatives’ 1998 impeachment inquiry of President Bill Clinton.
‘This whole thing is insanity,” Schippers said. “There is some reason the FBI doesn’t want Bob to talk.”
Schippers is working in conjunction with the legal watchdog group Judicial Watch, which has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington to allow Wright to publish a manuscript entitled “Fatal Betrayals of the Intelligence Mission.” The document is Wright’s assessment of the FBI’s anti-terror failures and his ideas about how to restructure the agency.
“It’s well-documented that their incompetence, recklessness and neglect contributed significantly to 9-11, and that’s what [Wright’s case] is all about,” Judicial Watch chairman and general counsel Larry Klayman told WND. “It’s also quite clear that they have not cleaned their act up since 9-11.”
Klayman says that Wright’s complaints have resulted in a demotion to “paper pusher” and “chief dishwasher” in the Chicago field office.
Wright gave his version of events in an affidavit filed in a civil rights lawsuit Abdel-Hafiz brought against him, which claimed discrimination on the basis of national origin and religion.
Wright said that while working with the international terrorist squad at the Chicago office in 1999, he learned that Qadi – who had become the subject of an investigation – had asked Abdel-Hafiz to meet for a discussion about the probe. Qadi’s connection with Abdel-Hafiz came about through the businessman’s accountant, who was a personal friend of the Muslim agent.
The U.S. Attorney’s office agreed that it would be valuable for Abdel-Hafez to wear a wire to record the meeting, but the Muslim agent objected.
In a telephone conference that included Wright, a fellow FBI special agent, three U.S. attorneys and the Dallas office supervisor, Abdel-Hafiz explained why he would not wear the wire or meet in a specially equipped room, according to Wright.
Abdel-Hafiz first said he feared for his safety, the affidavit said.
When told that the FBI would give protection, Abdel-Hafiz said he did not trust the agency to protect him, according to Wright.
After a U.S. attorney continued to press for an answer, Abdel-Hafiz stated: “A Muslim does not record another Muslim.”
Wright said that after the discussion, which was ended by Abdel-Hafiz’s Dallas supervisor, he telephoned FBI headquarters in Washington and spoke with Acting Unit Chief Christopher Hamilton, who “told me I would have to understand” the Muslim agent’s “perspective.”
According to Wright, the U.S. attorneys documented the events, believing the case would be re-visited.
Wright later learned that an agent in Florida had a similar experience with Abdel-Hafiz, who refused to record a Muslim in his investigation. Schippers said that probe involved the Florida professor, Al-Arian.
Schippers says Wright continues to try to get his story out, but “at every step they refuse to let him talk.”
“He’s going to have to take his job in his hands to assert his First Amendment rights,” Schippers said.
Another FBI whistleblower has warned of the bureau’s purported counter-terror shortcomings.
Veteran agent Colleen Rowley sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller last week, warning that the bureau is not prepared to deal with new terrorist strikes that could result from a U.S. war with Iraq.
Rowley, a 22-year veteran of the bureau’s Minneapolis field office, said that Mueller had a responsibility to warn the White House that the bureau would not be able to “stem the flood of terrorism that will likely head our way in the wake of an attack on Iraq.”