Tearful FBI Agent Apologizes To Sept. 11 Families and Victims
Thursday, May 30, 2002
By Ian Christopher McCaleb
By Jeff Johnson
CNSNews.com Congressional Bureau Chief
May 30, 2002
Editor's note: Corrects length of investigation to four years rather than ten.
Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - In a memorandum written 91 days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, an FBI agent warned that Americans would die as a result of the bureau's failure to adequately pursue investigations of terrorists living in the country.
FBI Special Agent Robert Wright, Jr., who wrote the memo, led a four-year investigation into terrorist money laundering in the United States.
Wright began crying as he concluded his remarks at a Washington press conference Thursday.
"To the families and victims of September 11th - on behalf of [FBI Special Agents] John Vincent, Barry Carmody, and myself - we're sorry," Wright said before walking out of the room. Vincent and Carmody have also expressed a desire to expose information regarding alleged FBI missteps prior to Sept. 11.
Wright's June 9, 2001 "Mission Statement" memo warned that, "Knowing what I know, I can confidently say that until the investigative responsibilities for terrorism are transferred from the FBI, I will not feel safe.
"The FBI has proven for the past decade it cannot identify and prevent acts of terrorism against the United States and its citizens at home and abroad," he continued. "Even worse, there is virtually no effort on the part of the FBI's International Terrorism Unit to neutralize known and suspected international terrorists living in the United States."
The summary of Wright's attempts to expose the alleged failures of the FBI's anti-terrorism efforts ended with a solemn conclusion.
"Unfortunately, more terrorist attacks against American interests - coupled with the loss of American lives - will have to occur before those in power give this matter the urgent attention it deserves," he wrote.
Wright had written a manuscript, entitled "Fatal Betrayals of the Intelligence Mission," for presentation to Congress.
"The manuscript outlines, in very specific detail, what I believe allowed September 11th to happen," he explained.
Wright spearheaded the investigation code-named "Vulgar Betrayal," which led to the 1998 seizure of $1.4 million of U.S. funds "destined for terrorist activities."
The investigation determined that U.S.-based Hamas terrorists were using not-for-profit organizations "to recruit and train terrorists and fund terrorist activities in the United States and abroad, including the extortion, kidnapping, and murder of Israeli citizens."
The criminal investigations were initiated over the objections of FBI intelligence officers, who Wright charges did not want their probes of terrorist suspects interrupted or ended by the suspects' arrests for criminal activities.
"Vulgar Betrayal" was the first operation that culminated with the use of civil forfeiture laws to seize the U.S. assets of terrorist groups. The confiscated funds were directly linked to Saudi Arabian businessman Yassin Kadi, also known as Yassin al-Qadi, who has since been identified as one of the "chief money launderers" for Osama bin Laden.
Investigators believe he provided as much as $3 billion to the al Qaeda terrorist network before Wright's investigation closed his operations.
Wright says that FBI management "intentionally and repeatedly thwarted and obstructed" his attempts to expand the investigation to arrest other terrorists and seize their assets.
On August 4, 1999, the FBI removed Wright from the "Vulgar Betrayal" operation, which was terminated shortly thereafter. All but the final three pages of his manuscript were completed in the following months. Those pages were added after Sept. 11.
"As a direct result of the incompetence and, at times, intentional obstruction of justice by FBI management to prevent me from bringing the terrorists to justice, Americans have unknowingly been exposed to potential terrorist attacks for years," he charged.
Nine factors entered into the FBI failures alleged in Wright's manuscript, including:
- Incompetent managers who are not held accountable for mistakes;
- Lack of independent oversight of the bureau;
- Bias on the part of the FBI's internal affairs unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility;
- Antiquated computer technology; and
- Overlapping investigative jurisdictions of other federal law enforcement agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
In a May 29 letter to Wright's attorneys, John Collingwood, assistant director of the FBI's office of public and congressional affairs, forbid Wright to disclose the contents of the manuscript - in writing or orally - to anyone not approved by the bureau.
"Pursuant to [Wright's] employment agreement and FBI procedures, he is still not authorized to publicly disseminate information we have previously advised is prohibited from disclosure at this time," Collingwood wrote.
The letter also contained what Wright and his attorneys considered a threat, meant to intimidate them.
"We feel obliged to inform you [that] breach of an employee's employment obligations may be grounds for disciplinary action, a civil suit, or both," Collingwood warned. "In some instances, unauthorized disclosure may also constitute cause for revocation of a security clearance or be a criminal offense."
Those warnings seem to directly contradict the statements of FBI Director Robert Mueller Wednesday while announcing a "wartime reorganization" of his agency.
"It is critically important that I hear criticisms of the organization including criticisms of me in order to improve the organization, to improve the FBI," he said. "Because our focus is on preventing terrorist attacks, more so than in the past, we must be open to new ideas, to criticism from within and from without, and to admitting and learning from our mistakes."
Collingwood claimed in his letter that the opposition to Wright's public comments was not "solely" because Wright's comments might be "critical or disparaging of the FBI, the government, or its employees."
But Larry Klayman, chairman and general counsel of Judicial Watch, says Collingwood's "threats" prove that Mueller's words are meaningless.
"This new policy of the FBI was not sincere," Klayman said, "because at 5 p.m. [after Mueller's press conference] we got [Collingwood's] letter."
Judicial Watch, along with former House Judiciary Committee Special Counsel David Shippers, is representing Wright in a lawsuit against the FBI and five "unknown officials" for violation of his First Amendment free speech rights.
Wright has also filed complaints with the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility and the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, and wants his manuscript and testimony subpoenaed by Congress.
"I truly believe I would be derelict in my duty as an American if I did not do my best to bring the FBI's dereliction of duty to the attention of others," he said. "I have made it my mission ... to legally expose the problems of the FBI to the President of the United States, the U.S. Congress, and the American people."
Whistleblower Complains of FBI Obstruction
WASHINGTON A government watchdog and FBI counter-terrorism agent are accusing the agency of prohibiting him from conducting his probe into terror financing activities because he complained about obstruction by bureau superiors.
Chicago-based FBI Special Agent Robert Wright, who worked in counterterrorism from 1993-1999, said the recent trajectory of his FBI career has taken a downward spiral since he complained about two incidents that inhibited his ability to continue terror funding and money laundering probes of members of Islamic terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
Wright, who is filing a complaint through his counsel Judicial Watch, said in documents that the FBI would not provide him decent computer equipment, a problem that has been acknowledged by the FBI as being a bureau-wide problem.
He also said that he was prevented from pursuing an investigation after an unnamed Muslim special agent refused to wear a wire during a probe because, as the Muslim agent allegedly said, "Muslims don't record other Muslims."
The complaint comes the same week that the attorney general and FBI director announced a series of changes at the Federal Bureau of Investigation aimed at beefing up the bureau's ability to move from a law enforcement agency to a domestic intelligence agency whose primary goal is to prevent terrorism.
The Justice Department also unveiled a series of draft guidelines that will encourage aggressive pre-emptive investigative techniques and analysis by field agents, a dramatic change from the practice of investigating and prosecuting crimes after they have been committed.
"We have to do a better job at collaborating with others," FBI Director Robert Mueller said in his Wednesday announcement. "And as critically important, we have to do a better job managing, analyzing and sharing information. In essence, we need a different approach that puts prevention above all else."
The FBI has been under fire since it was revealed that FBI field alerts to Washington of Middle Eastern men training at U.S. flight schools during the summer of 2001 were buried in paperwork, and agents in Minneapolis who circumvented normal channels to contact the CIA about suspected "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui were reprimanded.
During his announcement Wednesday, Mueller thanked Coleen Rowley, the Minneapolis agent who wrote Mueller to describe the congestion at headquarters that was hindering the investigation into Moussaoui.
Judicial Watch Chairman Larry Klayman, who is filing Wright's petition to get permission to publish a transcript on FBI mismanagement, called Mueller's recognition of Rowley "a cover your derriere, PR maneuver."
Agents who have complained about bureaucratic barriers in the past have been punished, and Wright said that he is one of them. Klayman said Wright has been demoted to "paper pusher" and "chief dishwasher" at the Chicago field office since he complained about the wrenches thrown into his probe.
Klayman blamed Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Michael Chertoff for refusing to consider Wright's concerns prior to Sept. 11.
Wright has written a manuscript entitled "Fatal Betrayals of the Intelligence Mission," which he says exposes the FBI's inabilities to conduct anti-terror intelligence operations. The manuscript also provides guidelines for how Wright believes the entire FBI needs to be restructured.
He is seeking permission from the FBI to publish the manuscript, but Klayman suggested that could be a long wait, especially since Wright is under threat of retribution should he talk to members of Congress about what he knows.
Wright said throughout his six-year posting in counter-terrorism, he was involved in probes of Hamas and Hezbollah. His most successful 'get' netted $1.4 million in terrorist money in 1998, money that he said today was linked to Saudi businessman and financier Yassin Kadi, who was identified late last year as a close associate of Usama Bin Laden.
An FBI agent in Phoenix noted in a July 2001 memo to his superiors that Middle Eastern men at an Arizona flight school didn't seem to belong there. A Minneapolis agent worried that French Moroccan flight student Zacarias Moussaoui might be part of a plan to "fly something into the World Trade Center."
There is also Chicago agent Robert G. Wright Jr., who believes the bureau was more interested in keeping intelligence flowing from radical Muslim groups operating inside the U.S. than in arresting their members. A First Amendment lawsuit filed byWright, who wants to publish a book called Fatal Betrayals of the Intelligence Mission, claims "FBI management intentionally and repeatedly thwarted and obstructed Wright's attempts to launch a more comprehensive investigation that would identify terrorists, their sources and methods of funding before they attacked additional U.S. interests, killing more U.S. citizens. "
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