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Context of 'April 1998: FBI Agent Stifles Investigation into Ptech Figures'

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Vulgar Betrayal, the most significant US government investigation into terrorist financing before 9/11, is launched. This investigation grows out of investigations Chicago FBI agent Robert Wright had begun in 1993 (see After January 1993), and Wright appears to be the driving force behind Vulgar Betrayal. He later will say, “I named the case Vulgar Betrayal because of the many gross betrayals many Arab terrorists and their supporters” committed against the US, but the name will later prove to be bitterly ironic for him. Over a dozen FBI agents are assigned it and a grand jury is empanelled to hear evidence. Wright will be removed from the investigation in late 1999 (see August 3, 1999), and it will be completely shut down in early 2000 (see August 2000). [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003; Chicago Tribune, 8/22/2004; LA Weekly, 8/25/2004; Judicial Watch, 12/15/2004] The investigation will first identify suspected terrorism financier Yassin al-Qadi as a target in 1997, but it will run into many obstacles in investigating him and others. Assistant US attorney Mark Flessner, the lead prosecutor for Vulgar Betrayal, will later claim that supervisors at the Justice Department’s headquarters obstructed the investigation because it appeared to trace terrorism financing to important figures in Saudi Arabia, a key US ally. Wright will later state that had the leads into al-Qadi and others been fully investigated, “I believe the FBI could have identified other significant links to Osama bin Laden, links which may have been addressed to prevent future attacks against the United States by bin Laden and his terrorist trainees.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003; Chicago Tribune, 8/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Mark Flessner, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Vulgar Betrayal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

John Vincent.John Vincent. [Source: Patriot TV]FBI agent Robert Wright will later recall that at this time, he is pleasantly surprised when FBI management provides his Vulgar Betrayal investigation with a 10 year veteran agent to assist with his efforts. According to Wright, the unnamed agent is assigned to “investigate a company and its 20-plus subsidiaries which were linked to a major financer of international terrorism.” However, Wright and fellow agent John Vincent will soon become dismayed when they realize the agent is not actually doing any work. He merely shuffles papers to look busy when people walk by. He will continue to do no work on this important assignment until the Vulgar Betrayal investigation is effectively shut down one year later (see August 3, 1999). Wright will claim in 2003, “The important assignment he was given involved both the founder and the financier of Ptech.” Presumably these could be references to Oussama Ziade, the president and chief founder of Ptech, and Yassin al-Qadi, apparently Ptech’s largest investor. [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003]

Entity Tags: Oussama Ziade, Yassin al-Qadi, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Vulgar Betrayal, Ptech Inc., Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Vincent

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Gamal Abdel-Hafiz.Gamal Abdel-Hafiz. [Source: Charles Ommanney]Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, one of only a few Muslim FBI agents in the years just prior to 9/11, becomes involved in FBI agent Robert Wright’s Vulgar Betrayal investigation in early 1999. An accountant working for BMI Inc., an investment firm with connections to many suspected terrorism financiers (see 1986-October 1999), tells Abdel-Hafiz that he is worried that BMI funds had helped fund the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). BMI president Soliman Biheiri hears that Abdel-Hafiz had been told about this, and wants to meet with him to discuss it (apparently without realizing that Abdel-Hafiz is an undercover FBI agent). Wrights asks Abdel-Hafiz to wear a wire to the meeting, but Abdel-Hafiz refuses to do so. This leads to infighting within the FBI. On July 6, 1999, Abdel-Hafiz files a religious discrimination complaint, accusing Wright of making derogatory comments to fellow agents. [Frontline, 10/16/2003] On March 21, 2000, Wright makes a formal internal complaint about Abdel-Hafiz. FBI agent Barry Carmody seconds Wright’s complaint. Wright and Carmody accuse Abdel-Hafiz of hindering investigations by openly refusing to record other Muslims. In an affidavit, Wright claims that Abdel-Hafiz refused to wear the wire “based on religious reasons saying, ‘A Muslim doesn’t record another Muslim.’” Abdel-Hafiz does not deny the quote, but claims it was taken out of context. [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2002; ABC News, 12/19/2002; Frontline, 10/16/2003] Federal prosecutor Mark Flessner and other FBI agents back up the allegations against Abdel-Hafiz. [ABC News, 12/19/2002] Carmody will also claim that, in a different investigation, Abdel-Hafiz hindered an inquiry into the possible ties to Islamic militants of fired University of South Florida Professor Sami al-Arian by refusing to record a conversation with the professor in 1998. [Tampa Tribune, 3/4/2003] Complaints to superiors and headquarters about Abdel-Hafiz never get a response. [Fox News, 3/6/2003] “Far from being reprimanded, in February 2001 Abdel-Hafiz [is] promoted to one of the FBI’s most important anti-terrorism posts, the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia, to handle investigations for the FBI in that Muslim country.” [ABC News, 12/19/2002; Frontline, 10/16/2003] In 2003, FBI agent John Vincent will complain, “Five different FBI field divisions complained of this agent’s activities, and the FBI headquarters response was to promote him to a sensitive position in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] Abdel-Hafiz will be suspended in February 2003 over charges that he faked a break-in of his own house in order to collect $25,000 in insurance benefits and then failed an FBI polygraph test when asked about it. In January 2004, the FBI’s Disciplinary Review Board will reinstate him after deciding there was insufficient evidence in the case. [Tampa Tribune, 3/4/2003; Frontline, 10/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Mark Flessner, Sami Al-Arian, John Vincent, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Vulgar Betrayal, Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Barry Carmody

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Chicago FBI agent Robert Wright is abruptly removed from the Vulgar Betrayal investigation into terrorism financing (see 1996). The entire investigation apparently winds down without his involvement, and will shut down altogether in 2000 (see August 2000). A New York Post article will state, “[T]he official reason was a fear that Wright’s work would disrupt FBI intelligence-gathering. My sources find this dubious: After years of monitoring these individuals, the bureau had likely learned all it could.… [But] conversations with FBI personnel indicate that he was told informally that his work was too embarrassing to the Saudis. In support of this is the fact that Wright was shut down as he seemed to be closing in on Yassin al-Qadi.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2002; New York Post, 7/14/2004] Wright later will claim that a reason he is given for being taken off the investigation is a recent dispute he is having with a Muslim FBI agent who refuses to wear a wire (see Early 1999-March 21, 2000). [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] He is also accused of sexually harassing a female FBI agent. This charge is investigated and later dropped. [Chicago Tribune, 8/22/2004] Wright is removed from counterterrorism work altogether and remains that way at least through early 2002. [Associated Press, 3/15/2002] In September 1999, he will hire Chicago lawyer David Schippers, famed as House investigative counsel in the Clinton impeachment, to help fight the closure of the investigation. Although Schippers is known as an enemy of President Clinton, Wright will say, “I’m confident President Clinton had absolutely nothing to do with the lack of support and eventual closure of the Vulgar Betrayal investigation.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003; CNN, 6/19/2003]

Entity Tags: International Terrorism Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Vulgar Betrayal, Robert G. Wright, Jr., David Schippers, Yassin al-Qadi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Frances Townsend.
Frances Townsend. [Source: White House]Vulgar Betrayal, the most significant US government investigation into terrorist financing before 9/11, shuts down. FBI agent Robert Wright launched the investigation in 1996 (see 1996) and was removed from the investigation in late 1999 (see August 3, 1999). Apparently the investigation accomplished little after Wright’s departure. [LA Weekly, 8/25/2004; Judicial Watch, 12/15/2004; Robert G. Wright, Jr., v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/16/2005] A March 2000 affidavit named Yassin al-Qadi as a source of terrorist funds in Chicago, but no charges are brought against him. [ABC News, 12/19/2002] Mark Flessner, an assistant US attorney assigned to Vulgar Betrayal in 1996, later will recall, “Vulgar Betrayal was a case where the FBI’s intelligence agents would not cooperate with the criminal agents trying to put these guys in jail. They refused to let us arrest them. They only wanted to watch them conduct their business.” He will also claim that Frances Townsend, a Justice Department official working a variety of posts, helps close down the investigation. He will say Townsend did not share information but “deliberately obstructed it. And I found that very disconcerting.” He will claim that she completely supports FBI intelligence agents and refuses to share their information with the Vulgar Betrayal investigation. A federal grand jury was impaneled in 1996 to support Vulgar Betrayal, but without the information from FBI intelligence, Flessner did not have enough evidence to return indictments. “I couldn’t even get permission to do the basic things you do, such as collecting phone numbers from their targets’ incoming and outgoing calls, and addresses from their mail.” With the shut down of the investigation in 2000, Flessner will resign from the Justice Department in frustration. After 9/11, Townsend will be appointed President Bush’s Homeland Security Adviser and counterterrorism director for the National Security Council. [LA Weekly, 8/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Mark Flessner, Frances Townsend, Vulgar Betrayal, Federal Bureau of Investigation, International Terrorism Unit, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In September 1999, FBI agent Robert Wright hired David Schippers as his lawyer to represent him in his troubles with the FBI (see August 3, 1999). Schippers was the House Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial. Schippers later will claim that at this time he begins contacting congresspeople that he knows from the impeachment trial with concerns about terrorism. He later recalls, “I was talking primarily about the infiltration of Hamas [inside the US]—how they’re moving the money. I have evidence on that. I have all kinds of material.” In an obvious reference to the Vulgar Betrayal investigation, he also will assert that he knew US intelligence had “established the sources of the money flow of bin Laden” as early as 1996, but by 1999 had faced high-level obstructions into investigating these matters. But he will claim, “I couldn’t get anybody to talk to me.” [WorldNetDaily, 10/21/2001; Ahmed, 2004, pp. 258-260] Schippers later claims he will continue to warn politicians about terrorism funding in the US, while also warning them about a potential al-Qaeda attack on lower Manhattan based on information he will receive in May 2001 (see May 2001; July-Late August 2001).

Entity Tags: US Congress, Hamas, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Schippers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

David Schippers, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial, was hired to represent FBI agent Robert Wright in September 1999 (see August 3, 1999). After 9/11, Schippers will claim that he began privately informing congresspeople about Wright’s investigation into terrorism financing in the US in early 2001, but found little interest (see February-March 2001). Schippers appears to have had different sources than Wright who began telling him about attack warnings. Supposedly, the first warning was based on a secret February 1995 report which stated that bin Laden was planning three attacks on the US: the bombing of a federal building in the heartland of the US, shooting down or blowing up an airplane, and a massive attack in lower Manhattan. Schippers believes the first warning was a prediction of the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the second was a prediction of the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800 (see July 17, 1996-September 1996). In some versions of this warning, the Manhattan attack was meant to be caused by a “dirty bomb” - explosives mixed with radioactive materials - but other accounts described the use of planes as weapons instead. He says one of his sources for this early warning was Yossef Bodansky, director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. Schippers will claim that his sources continued to uncover further information. The Manhattan warning “had started out just a general threat, but they narrowed it and narrowed it, more and more with time,” until the “same people who came out with the first warning” tell him in May 2001 that “an attack on lower Manhattan is imminent.” Schippers speaks to several FBI agents directly, and hears that “there are [other agents] all over the country who are frustrated and just waiting to come out.” They are frustrated by “a bureaucratic elite in Washington short-stopping information,” which gives “terrorism a free reign in the United States.” Schippers later claims that some FBI agents later told him that before 9/11, “they had [Mohamed] Atta in their sights.” They also had attempted to “check out” the names and activities of “very strange characters training at flight schools.” He will claim that “FBI agents in Chicago and Minnesota” tell him “there [is] going to be an attack on lower Manhattan.” Schippers will later claim that he will attempt to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft and other politicians about this warning in coming months, but that they will show little interest (see July-Late August 2001). [WorldNetDaily, 10/21/2001; Indianapolis Star, 5/18/2002; Ahmed, 2004, pp. 258-260]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Yossef Bodansky, Al-Qaeda, David Schippers, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, John Ashcroft, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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