FBI agent Robert Wright has a compelling story to tell: his account of how the FBI allegedly shut down a criminal investigation into the operation of terror-training camps in Chicago and Kansas City, years before the 911 attacks. But so far, he can‘t tell the public what he says happened — because the bureau has threatened to discipline or fire him if he does.
Instead, Wright went to the Inspector General’s Office of the Justice Department, which probes agency wrongdoing and mistakes. When Wright submitted a formal complaint, amazingly, he was turned away.
”Mr. Wright raises serious charges concerning the FBI‘s handling of a criminal matter relating to suspected terrorists,“ wrote Howard Sribnick, general counsel for the inspector general, in a May 5 letter to Wright’s attorneys. But instead of opening an investigation, Sribnick asked for permission to refer the matter to Congress.
David Schippers, Wright‘s attorney, said he finally told the I.G.’s Office to do what it wanted, but ”I also said I expected them to investigate it, too.“ Schippers said he was stunned by the response. He also alleges that a staffer told him that the I.G. ”did not have the resources to conduct an investigation of this anticipated size and scope.“ This position would be a distinct departure from past practice in other cases. The inspector general, for example, conducted a full-blown investigation into the FBI‘s alleged mishandling of evidence in the probe of Timothy McVeigh, the convicted Oklahoma City bomber.
The Inspector General’s Office would not comment on the incident. ”But I can say that we have conducted a number of very large investigations,“ said spokesman Paul Martin. ”And sometimes our resources have been stretched by those demands. However, I don‘t know anything about this alleged conversation one of our employees supposedly had with Mr. Schippers. It sounds surprising. But I would still have no comment.“
Schippers scoffed at Martin’s comments. ”The truth is, they don‘t want to investigate FBI dereliction of duty,“ said Schippers, a Chicago attorney best known for being lead counsel in the impeachment hearing of President Bill Clinton. ”They just want to pass the buck . . . I am sick of the I.G.’s excuses. Look at Sribnick‘s letter. They didn’t say, ‘We need to postpone looking into Robert’s allegations because our resources are tied up.‘ They said, ’We want to give it to Congress.‘“
Last week, the Weekly published its own account of Wright’s subject matter (”Another FBI Agent Blows the Whistle,“ August 2–8, 2002). The Weekly version was researched through public records and interviews with sources other than Wright. In addition to faulting the FBI investigation of terrorist-training camps, Wright has complained about the FBI removing him from another investigation, one that examines international fund-raising and money laundering on behalf of Hamas, an armed group based in the West Bank.
Investigators for the congressional committee investigating 911 intelligence failures have finally interviewed Wright. What this FBI agent told them, however, remains confidential.