-- • New Details From French Al Qaeda Bust • U.S. Operation in Somalia Denied
FBI Agent Probed After Criticizing Bureau
By Vic Walter, Brian Ross, and Maddy Sauer
June 12 — A 12-year veteran FBI agent is under investigation for alleged insubordination following his appearances on ABCNEWS programs and a recent press conference in Washington, D.C., in which he criticized the bureau's efforts to combat terrorism, according to the agent's attorney.
Special Agent Robert Wright first went public last year on PrimeTime Thursday and told ABCNEWS Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross that he believes the FBI has failed to safeguard the United States from terrorist attacks.
"Sept. 11 is a direct result of the incompetence of the FBI's International Terrorism Unit," Wright said. "No doubt about that. Absolutely no doubt about that."
Wright began tracking terrorists in the Chicago area in the mid-1990s for the Terrorism Task Force. He says he soon became frustrated when he was ordered by his superiors at the FBI Intelligence Division not to make any arrests of suspected terrorists.
According to Wright, he was ordered to drop his investigation into a suspected terror financier whose name had arisen during the investigation into the bombings of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998, in which at least 224 people were killed.
Wright and his partner John Vincent, who has since retired from the FBI, said that the money trail uncovered in the embassy bombing probe led to, among others, a powerful Saudi Arabian businessman, Yassin Qadi, who had extensive business and financial ties in Chicago.
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"Two months after the embassies are hit in Africa they want to shut down the criminal investigation. They wanted to kill it," Wright said on PrimeTime.
The decision to close the investigation into Qadi outraged the federal prosecutor in Chicago, Mark Flessner, who said that Wright and Vincent were in the midst of helping him build a strong criminal case against Qadi.
Qadi has repeatedly denied any connection to Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda or any terrorist groups. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, however, Qadi was placed on the U.S. Treasury Department's watch list, which names people whose assets have been frozen because they are suspected of having terror links.
"There were powers bigger than I was in the Justice Department and within the FBI that simply were not going to let it happen. And it didn't happen," Flessner said.
Just last week, Wright appeared on World News Tonight and Good Morning America and after ABCNEWS discovered that two men allegedly linked to the terrorist group Hamas were living in the United States.
One of the men, Mohammed Salah, who had been placed on a U.S. watch list of specially designated terrorists, had since last year been employed by the city college system of Chicago. Federal officials fear he had unfettered access to the school's computer system and Internet. Salah was put on the watch list in 1995 for his alleged role in supporting suicide bombings in Israel.
"He and a number of others should have been arrested. Should have been behind bars," said Wright.
The city of Chicago college system dismissed Salah following the ABCNEWS report.
Wright is represented by Chicago attorney Dave Schippers and attorneys for Judicial Watch in Washington, D.C. Judicial Watch issued a statement Wednesday saying that "Wright exposed FBI corruption and terrorist fund raising in America, which the FBI ignored to this day. Rather than going after terrorists, the FBI is seeking to destroy one of its loyal agents."
The FBI said Wednesday they would not comment on the Wright case, but confirmed that he is under investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility.
Wright is being interviewed by the OPR today, according to his attorney.
Some members of Congress are keeping close tabs on the Wright investigation, including Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who sent a joint letter today to FBI Director Robert Mueller urging the director to proceed with caution and to not act hastily whenever an agent speaks openly about problems at the bureau.
"This sort of knee-jerk reaction manifests an insecurity and weakness that is dangerous for such an important agency in the war on terrorism, and is certain to have a chilling effect on other FBI employees who want to fix problems, or even make their supervisors aware of problems, within the FBI," the letter says. The Senators also note that previous OPR investigations into Wright, which were launched after he spoke out about the problems, were closed after it was determined that he had not acted improperly.
Last year, Sens. Grassley and Leahy co-wrote a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft after another FBI agent, Colleen Rowley, criticized the bureau.
Rowley wrote a letter to Mueller in which she denounced the handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui investigation. Moussaoui was arrested just prior to the September 11th attacks and is the only person in the United States who has been charged in connection with the attacks.
Last year, Wright told ABCNEWS that he had more to say about the failures of the Terrorism Task Force. "There's so much more," he said. "God, there's so much more."
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Reports of U.S. Operation in Somalia Denied
By Brian Hartman and Cuyler Mayer
June 12 — Reports appearing recently on a Somalian Web site that American troops landed in Somalia last week are false, U.S. military officials in eastern Africa told ABCNEWS.
On Sunday, a Somali-language Web site reported that on June 7 U.S. and Ethiopian forces landed in central Somalia in three helicopters. The Web site, which cites eyewitness accounts from residents in the Baled Weyne District, reported that the troops traveled to Somalia to investigate fundamentalist groups associated with al Qaeda.
An officer from the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, the U.S.-led anti-terrorism military operation based in Djibouti, told ABCNEWS the task force has never operated in Somalia.
Somalia has been cited as a possible haven for terrorists since the Sept. 11 attacks and there have been some concerns the politically unstable country may be home to active terrorist cells. In May, U.S. officials said they believed terrorists based in Somalia were travelling to Kenya to plot attacks there. Citing a "heightened security situation" in the region, U.S. officials closed the American Embassy in Kenya on May 27.
Task force commander, Maj. Gen. John Sattler told reporters last month CJTF is increasing pressure inside Somalia through the governments of Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. And one U.S. military official told ABCNEWS that CJTF forces have been training with Ethiopian troops within 60 kilometers of the Somalian-Ethiopian border.
There are currently about 1,800 U.S. troops based at Camp Lemonier, the task force headquarters, in Djibouti.