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Context of 'Late 2002: FBI Agent Wright Not Allowed to Continue His Financial Investigations'

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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

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

Kathleen McChesney.
Kathleen McChesney. [Source: FBI]FBI agent Robert Wright is continuing to protest and fight the cancellation of the Vulgar Betrayal investigation (see August 2000). In January 2001, he claims that his supervisor tells him, “I think it’s just better to let sleeping dogs lie.” FBI agent John Vincent backs up the allegation. [ABC News, 12/19/2002] In March 2001, Wright meets with the Chicago special agent-in-charge, who appears to be Kathleen McChesney, given that Wright calls this person “she” and McChesney held that position since January 1999. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/2001; Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] He tells her that “the international terrorism unit of the FBI is a complete joke.” Within three weeks, the FBI opens another disciplinary investigation on Wright, charging that he had supplied classified information to an assistant US attorney. Wright is later cleared of the charges. In 2002, Wright will claim, “This was a pathetic attempt… before the Sept. 11th attacks, to further silence me from going public about the FBI’s negligence and incompetence.” [CNN, 6/19/2003; New York Post, 7/14/2004] A lawyer speaking for Wright after 9/11 will blame Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Michael Chertoff for refusing to take Wright’s concerns seriously before 9/11. Chertoff will later be promoted to head the Department of Homeland Security. [Fox News, 5/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Kathleen McChesney, John Vincent, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Vulgar Betrayal, International Terrorism Unit

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A. Q. Khan receiving a medal.A. Q. Khan receiving a medal. [Source: Associated Press]The BBC later reports, “After the elections, [US intelligence] agencies [are] told to ‘back off’ investigating the bin Ladens and Saudi royals, and that anger[s] agents.” This follows previous orders to abandon an investigation of bin Laden relatives in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996), and difficulties in investigating Saudi royalty. [BBC, 11/6/2001] An unnamed “top-level CIA operative” says there is a “major policy shift” at the National Security Agency at this time. Bin Laden could still be investigated, but agents could not look too closely at how he got his money. One specific CIA investigation hampered by this new policy is an investigation in Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan and his Khan Laboratories. Khan is considered the “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability. But since the funding for this nuclear program gets traced back to Saudi Arabia, restrictions are placed on the inquiry. [Palast, 2002, pp. 99-100] Also in early 2001, FBI agent Robert Wright, attempting to pursue an investigation into Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi, is told by FBI superiors, “it’s just better to let sleeping dogs lie”(see January-March 2001). Reporter Greg Palast notes that President Clinton was already hindering investigations by protecting Saudi interests. However, as he puts it, “Where Clinton said, ‘Go slow,’ Bush policymakers said, ‘No go.’ The difference is between closing one eye and closing them both.” [Palast, 2002, pp. 102]

Entity Tags: Yassin al-Qadi, Osama bin Laden, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Bin Laden Family, Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, 9/11 Timeline

Robert Wright, the FBI agent in charge of some groundbreaking investigations into charity fronts before 9/11, has been suspended and under investigation since at least early 2001 (see August 2000 and January-March 2001). However, at this time, his suspension is cleared and he is allowed to work as an FBI agent again. But he is specifically prohibited from working on topics he was investigating before, such as BMI and Yassin al-Qadi. He is not even allowed access to his own files from before his suspension. Wright will later be fired and then reinstated, but it does not appear he is ever able to continue his charity front investigations (see April 30, 2005-October 19, 2005). [Katz, 2003, pp. 186]

Entity Tags: Yassin al-Qadi, BMI Inc., Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert G. Wright, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Robert Jordan.Robert Jordan. [Source: KGW]Beginning in 1999, the FBI had conducted five disciplinary investigations of FBI agent Robert Wright and failed to find any wrongdoing. But within days of Wright’s second press conference (see June 2, 2003), they launch yet another investigation about him, claiming his media appearances show he was insubordinate. [Chicago Tribune, 4/22/2005] Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) quickly hear of this new investigation and co-author a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller on July 12. The letter states, “We are troubled by the FBI’s apparent haste to launch [a disciplinary] investigation every time an agent speaks publicly about problems within the FBI… The FBI should worry more about catching terrorists than gagging its own agents.” The senators demand a briefing on what is happening. [CNN, 6/19/2003; Chicago Tribune, 7/13/2004] In July 2003, FBI agent Royden Rice speaks to a reporter from the LA Weekly. Wright will later sue the FBI, alleging that Rice disclosed classified information to the reporter in an attempt to smear him. Rice denies the charges and the case is still pending. [LA Weekly, 7/22/2005] In December 2003, John Roberts, the third highest ranking official in the FBI’s disciplinary office, writes a memo about FBI Assistant Director Robert Jordan and Deputy Assistant Director Jody Weis. The memo claims that Jordan and Weis were overheard saying that Wright’s second press conference (see June 2, 2003) would give them an opportunity to “take him out.” Roberts also refers to an e-mail from a higher up in the Chicago FBI office asking for permission to do a media smear job on Wright (it is not known if this agent is Rice or someone else). Roberts claims that Jordan and Weis are misusing the FBI’s disciplinary process to silence and punish whistleblowers like Wright. He also claims that the allegations against Wright were not serious enough for a disciplinary investigation and at most Wright should have faced a written reprimand, since no classified information was disclosed. Roberts says, “I was left with the clear understanding that I was to… deceive, misrepresent, and hide… the facts of this matter.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/13/2004; New York Post, 7/14/2004] Even though details of Roberts’ memo will be revealed to the press in 2004, the investigation into Wright will continue and result in him being fired in 2005. Senators Grassley and Leahy will write at least three more letters to Mueller demanding explanations, but still will receive no answer. Later in 2005, Wright’s dismissal will be overruled by the Justice Department and he will be reinstated (see April 30, 2005-October 19, 2005). There appears to have been no investigation into the behavior of Jordan and Weis. [LA Weekly, 7/22/2005]

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Robert Jordan, Patrick J. Leahy, Jody Weis, Royden Rice, John E. Roberts, Charles Grassley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On April 30, 2005, FBI agent Robert Wright is notified that the FBI plans to fire him within 30 days. He is immediately ordered to cease work. [Chicago Tribune, 4/22/2005] However, on October 19, 2005, it is announced that the Justice Department overruled the FBI and orders Wright reinstated as an FBI agent. However, he is placed on probation for one year and downgraded in pay. The Chicago Tribune comments, “Wright has been the subject of at least six disciplinary investigations in his career. His supporters have long suspected that the FBI retaliated against him for his public criticism of the bureau and its ability to safeguard the nation from future terrorist attacks.” [Chicago Tribune, 10/19/2005] He has two lawsuits still pending against the FBI. One alleges that the FBI improperly released confidential information from his personnel file (see After June 2, 2003-December 2003), and the other accuses the FBI of violating his rights of free expression by blocking the publication of a book he wrote before 9/11. [Washington Post, 4/23/2005]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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