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Context of 'May 9, 2002: FBI Agent Wright Sues FBI for Blocking Book Criticizing FBI Failures'

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FBI agent Robert Wright gives the FBI a mission statement he wrote that outlines his complaints against his agency. It reads, in part, “Knowing what I know, I can confidently say that until the investigative responsibilities for terrorism are removed 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. Even worse, there is virtually no effort on the part of the FBI’s International Terrorism Unit to neutralize known and suspected terrorists residing within the United States. 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.” Wright asks the FBI for permission to make his complaints public. Larry Klayman, chairman of the public-interest group Judicial Watch, claims that regulations require the FBI to give or deny clearance within 30 days, which would have made FBI failures an issue before 9/11. But the FBI delays making a decision and will only allow Wright to publicly reveal his mission statement in May 2002. [Cybercast News Service, 5/30/2002; Federal News Service, 5/30/2002] One month later, Wright and his lawyer David Schippers have a meeting with a reporter from the CBS news program 60 Minutes to express the concerns in his statement. He claims that he says it is only a matter of time before there will be an attack on US soil. However, he is prohibited by his superior from speaking to 60 Minutes or any other media outlet. [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] Schippers will later claim that this month he also attempts to contact a number of important politicians with his concerns based on information from Wright and other FBI agents that he knows, but he was rebuffed (see July-Late August 2001).

Entity Tags: Robert G. Wright, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Schippers, Larry Klayman, International Terrorism Unit

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agent Robert Wright will later claim that the FBI takes extraordinary efforts to gag him in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. According to Wright, “On September the 11th, as I watched the World Trade Center towers burn, I did not initially share the same feelings of surprise and shock and dismay most Americans felt. I just thought to myself, ‘It has begun.’” On the afternoon of 9/11, he claims that he is called by reporters from the New York Times and 60 Minutes who already are aware of his issues with FBI management (see June 9, 2001-July 10, 2001). They ask if he would be willing to go public with his story. He declines. “I’m confident if I had gone public at that time I would have been fired. I realized my termination would only aid the FBI by allowing management to claim I was simply a former employee who was disgruntled over his termination.” Over the next few days, his former supervisor prohibits him from working with the 9/11 investigation. He is not allowed to answer any incoming telephone calls from the general public. The FBI prohibits him from publishing his recently completed book on FBI failures (see May 9, 2002). His lawyers contact a congressman who invites him to come to Washington and present his information to Congress. Wright is immediately prohibited from traveling outside of Chicago without FBI approval. Larry Klayman, one of two lawyers now representing Wright, later says he calls the Justice Department a few days after 9/11 and asks that Wright be allowed to present his issues to Attorney General John Ashcroft. Klayman claims he receives a reply from Michael Chertoff, then head of the Criminal division, who refuses to meet with Wright and says, “We are tired of conspiracy theories.” [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002; Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] On September 20, Wright’s legal representatives publish a list of 20 entities described as “Tax Exempt and Other Entities to Investigate Immediately.” The US will later shut down many of these entities. [Judicial Watch, 9/20/2001] The restrictions placed on Wright will largely continue to hold in the years afterwards. For instance, as of the end of 2005, his book still has not been approved for publication (see May 9, 2002).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Larry Klayman, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Michael Chertoff

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FBI agent Robert Wright, feeling that he had been gagged by FBI superiors (see September 11, 2001-October 2001), files a formal complaint in early 2002 with the Inspector General’s Office (IGO) of the Justice Department. The IGO probes agency wrongdoing and mistakes. However, the IGO turns him away. On May 5, 2002, the IGO writes that “Mr. Wright raises serious charges concerning the FBI’s handling of a criminal matter relating to suspected terrorists,” but the IGO does “not have the resources to conduct an investigation of [the] anticipated size and scope.” Instead, the IGO recommends Wright to refer his complaints to Congress. The IGO had previously conducted large-scale investigations, for instance looking into the FBI’s alleged mishandling of evidence in the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. David Schippers, one of Wright’s lawyers, scoffs at the IGO’s explanation: “The truth is, they don’t want to investigate FBI dereliction of duty.” The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will interview Wright in late 2002. [LA Weekly, 8/9/2002] However, neither his name, nor Yassin al-Qadi’s name, nor any details about the Vulgar Betrayal investigation will appear in the Inquiry’s heavily censored 2003 final report. He will not be interviewed by the 9/11 Commission, and neither his name, nor Yassin al-Qadi’s name, nor any details about the Vulgar Betrayal investigation will appear in the 9/11 Commission Final Report in 2004. Supposedly, the FBI “stalled Wright’s appearance before the 9/11 Commission until it was too late for him to appear before its public hearings.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Congress, 7/24/2003; DebbieSchlussel (.com), 7/14/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), David Schippers, Robert G. Wright, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FBI Special Agent Robert Wright sues the FBI for violating his First Amendment rights, the regulation governing the FBI’s prepublication review policies and procedures, and the Administrative Procedure Act, by failing to clear for publication his book manuscript, two complaints he’d submitted to the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and his answers to questions posed by New York Times reporter Judy Miller. In October 2001, pursuant to the FBI’s prepublication review policy and his employment agreement, Wright submitted to the FBI a 500-page single-spaced manuscript titled “Fatal Betrayals of the Intelligence Mission.” Generally, agencies are required to complete review within 30 days, barring extenuating circumstances. In early January 2002, the FBI responded, stating that 18 percent of the manuscript contained “classified information; information containing sensitive investigative material and information protected by the Privacy Act.” Wright edited his manuscript to address these concerns and resubmitted it with three binders documenting public sources for the many factual claims, including affidavits and other court documents from his investigations. On November 13, 2001, Wright submitted his two OIG complaints to the FBI’s Office of Public and Congressional Affairs (OPCA) for prepublication review. OPCA responded on January 7, 2002, “taking issue with only 4 percent of the first document and 6 percent of the second.” On January 18, 2002, Wright resubmitted his manuscript with edits. After not receiving clearance to publish or any further response from the FBI, Wright sues in federal court on May 9, 2002. [New York Times, 5/12/2002; Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI, 7/31/2006] In a May 30, 2002 press conference, Wright will say he began writing the book in August 1999, and adds: “The manuscript outlines the FBI’s intentional, at times, failure, to pursue the terrorists and thereby prevent terrorist attacks. Ironically, I completed the text of the manuscript two days after the September 11th attack. On September 10th, I had all but the last three pages completed.” He will also say that his motive for writing the book was to “[expose] the bureau’s dereliction of duty in the terrorism arena,” that he is “seeking a thorough review and complete ‘house cleaning’ to identify and fix the FBI’s problems,” and that “as a nation we must work together in seeking to regain the confidence level we once had in the FBI to achieve its vital mission of protecting the safety and welfare of its citizens at home and abroad.” [Judicial Watch, 5/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert G. Wright, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Robert Wright tears up as he apologizes to 9/11 victims’ relatives in his 2002 press conference.Robert Wright tears up as he apologizes to 9/11 victims’ relatives in his 2002 press conference. [Source: Getty Images]FBI agent Robert Wright holds a press conference. He makes a statement that has been preapproved by the FBI. As one account puts it, “Robert Wright’s story is difficult to piece together because he is on government orders to remain silent.… [T]his is in distinct contrast to the free speech and whistle-blower protections offered to Colleen Rowley, general counsel in the FBI Minneapolis office, who got her story out before the agency could silence her. Wright, a 12-year bureau veteran, has followed proper channels” but has been frustrated by limitations on what he is allowed to say (see September 11, 2001-October 2001). “The best he could do [is a] press conference in Washington, D.C., where he [tells] curious reporters that he [has] a whopper of a tale to tell, if only he could.” Wright says that FBI bureaucrats “intentionally and repeatedly thwarted [his] attempts to launch a more comprehensive investigation to identify and neutralize terrorists.” He also claims, “FBI management failed to take seriously the threat of terrorism in the US.” [Fox News, 5/30/2002; Federal News Service, 5/30/2002; LA Weekly, 8/2/2002] Larry Klayman, a lawyer representing Wright, says at the conference that he believes one reason Wright’s investigations were blocked “is because these monies were going through some very powerful US banks with some very powerful interests in the United States. These banks knew or had reason to know that these monies were laundered by terrorists. And there are very significant potential conflicts of interests in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations—with the country primarily responsible for funding these charities, mainly Saudi Arabia. We have both Clinton and Bush, and in particular this Bush Administration, who is as tight with Saudi Arabia as you can get.” He also says, “Corruption is knowing when something is not being done, knowing when the American people are being left unprotected and when you make a decision not to do something to protect the American people… And you effectively allow 9/11 to occur. That is the ultimate form of government corruption—dereliction of duty. That’s subject in the military to prosecution, to court martial…. Frankly, if not treason.” [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Clinton administration, Bush administration (43), Larry Klayman, Coleen Rowley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI special agent and whistleblower Robert G. Wright Jr. wins the right to publish most of the information over which he has been fighting the FBI in court for nearly seven years (see May 9, 2002). US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler rules that Wright can publish most of the information in his 500-page manuscript, all of the information in two complaints he had filed with the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General regarding the FBI’s handling of terrorism investigations, and his answers to New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s questions. Kessler also rules that Wright’s colleague and co-plaintiff, FBI Special Agent John Vincent, can publish his answers to Miller’s questions.
Judge Repeatedly Faults FBI - In her 41-page memorandum opinion, Kessler repeatedly finds fault with the FBI. The preface to the opinion summarizes the proceedings and the related issues in this way: “This is a sad and discouraging tale about the determined efforts of the FBI to censor various portions of a 500-page manuscript, written by a former long-time FBI agent, severely criticizing the FBI’s conduct of the investigation of a money laundering scheme in which United States-based members of the Hamas terrorist organization were using non-profit organizations in this country to recruit and train terrorists and fund terrorist activities both here and abroad. The FBI also sought to censor answers given by both plaintiffs to a series of written questions presented to them by a New York Times reporter concerning Wright’s allegations about the FBI’s alleged mishandling of the investigation. In its efforts to suppress this information, the FBI repeatedly changed its position, presented formalistic objections to release of various portions of the documents in question, admitted finally that much of the material it sought to suppress was in fact in the public domain and had been all along, and now concedes that several of the reasons it originally offered for censorship no longer have any validity. Unfortunately, the issues of terrorism and of alleged FBI incompetence remain as timely as ever.” [Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009 pdf file]
A 'Pyrrhic Victory' for Wright - Reporting on the case for Politico, Josh Gerstein will call the outcome “a pyrrhic victory for [Wright], since the passage of time appears to have diminished the market for his book.” Gerstein will quote one of Wright and Vincent’s lawyers, Paul Orfanedes of Judical Watch, as saying, “It’s a perfect example of how delaying somebody’s ability to publish is a clear violation of their rights.” Gerstein will also report, “Orfanedes said Wright’s book ‘might be made public in a reduced format,’ but that the group’s main hope now was to expose how the government system for pre-publication reviews of books by FBI, CIA, and other national security-related officials, is dysfunctional.” [Politico, 5/11/2009]
FBI Attempts to Censor Judge's Memorandum Opinion and Fails - In an ironic twist, an FBI demand for redaction of a portion of Kessler’s memorandum opinion calls attention to that portion of the text, which is easily readable due to improper redaction technique; the text under the blacked out portion can be copied and pasted. The redacted portion is an FBI argument for why a portion of Wright’s manuscript must be redacted. It reads, “[D]isclosure of the location and use of this infrastructure could allow individuals to survey, attempt to penetrate, or disrupt the activities that take place in the infrastructure.” It is unclear why the FBI believes that a general reference to sensitive infrastructure is sensitive in itself. [Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009 pdf file; Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009; Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009]

Entity Tags: John Vincent, Gladys Kessler, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of Inspector General (Justice Department), Josh Gerstein, Judith Miller, Paul Orfanedes, Robert G. Wright, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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