FBI Whistleblowers: A Short List

Five other agents and employees who spoke out

Besides Jane Turner, only five other insider critics of the FBI have attracted any measure of public attention, beginning with Frederic Whitehurst in 1998 (see "Whistleblower Number One").

 

Coleen Rowley

Rowley, the Minneapolis division's longtime lead attorney, made headlines and shattered any post-9/11 public faith that U.S. intelligence was on top of domestic terror matters when she wrote to Director Robert Mueller in May 2002 to detail what she called pre-September 11 mistakes by the FBI. Her claims were featured in congressional hearings, and top Bureau brass were made to swear in front of God and CNN that she would not be subjected to reprisals.

There was far less fanfare when Rowley wrote to Mueller once again, in February 2003, to plead with him not to kowtow to the Bush administration's rush to war in Iraq. "Your recent briefings of field management staff have thrown light on the immense pressures you face as you try to keep the FBI intact and functioning amid persistent calls for drastic restructuring. You have made it clear that the FBI is perilously close to being divided up and is depending almost solely upon the good graces of Attorney General Ashcroft and President Bush for its continued existence. Clearly, this tense environment poses a special challenge to those like you who are responsible for providing unbiased, objective intelligence and national security advice to the country's leaders. But I would implore you to step out of this pressure cooker for a few minutes..." She went on to make more than a half-dozen observations and recommendations.

Three weeks later, the Star Tribune reported that Rowley had been reassigned to an investigative job in the Minneapolis division--at her own request, said FBI rep. Paul McCabe, though Rowley herself told the paper she had no comment. Jane Turner points out that in giving up her management-level position in the transfer, Rowley very likely received a pay cut. At the time, reportedly, she was sole breadwinner for a family of six.

This past summer, Rowley announced that she would retire from the FBI when she becomes fully vested in her pension on December 20, her 50th birthday.

 

Frederic Whitehurst

Whitehurst's criticisms are the subject of a 1998 book, Tainting Evidence: Behind the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab by journalists John Kelly and Phillip Wearne. As summarized in a report by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, they included: scientifically flawed testimony, inaccurate testimony, and testimony beyond one's own expertise by FBI personnel in courts of law; inadequate record management and retention at the lab; and failures by management to address "serious and credible" allegations of incompetence in the lab. Whitehurst, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, also claimed that his own reports were substantially rewritten by less qualified FBI personnel on a regular basis. Whitehurst eventually won a settlement in which he received back pay and legal fees from the FBI and agreed to retire early.

 

John Roberts

Roberts, a unit chief in the FBI's self-policing department, the Office of Professional Responsibility, first ran afoul of superiors when he criticized the Bureau's performance in the 1992 Ruby Ridge siege. In 2002, Roberts appeared on 60 Minutes, where he claimed that the FBI practiced differential standards of punishment toward FBI managers and the rank and file. He told Ed Bradley that he had uncovered instances of post-9/11 managerial misconduct that were followed by promotions rather than disciplinary proceedings. Shortly afterward, according to the Washington Post, Roberts's boss "allegedly called an 'all hands staff meeting' in which he read a transcript of Roberts's television interview and encouraged co-workers to criticize him."

 

Robert Wright Jr.

A counterterrorism agent in the Chicago field office from 1993 to 1999, Wright has written a book manuscript entitled Fatal Betrayals of the Intelligence Mission that the FBI in turn refused to let him publish. According to press accounts, the gist of Wright's complaint involves FBI management's alleged scuttling of pre-9/11 investigations of foreign-national terror suspects inside the U.S. on the grounds of political sensitivity. The particulars of Wright's claims remain out of public view, but in a May 22, 2002, letter to Wright's boss, attorney David Schippers (who served as lead counsel in the House's impeachment of Bill Clinton) writes that his client wishes to speak publicly about "matters that he originally brought to the attention of a prior Chicago SAC in March, and again in June, 2001. At that time, my client expressed his serious concern that FBI management was failing seriously to investigate Middle East terrorists residing in the United States and the intentional obstruction by the FBI bureaucracy of his efforts to identify and neutralize known and suspected terrorists and terrorist organizations." Wright filed a lawsuit against the FBI in 2002.

 

Sibel Edmonds

Edmonds, who was not an agent but an employee of the Bureau's translation unit, is the latest FBI insider to go public with damaging claims and, along with Rowley, one of the two most media-visible FBI whistleblowers to date (see "An October Suprise for the FBI?" p. 18). Her accusations of incompetence and malfeasance in the translation department proved so hot that earlier this year, the Bush administration took the unusual step of retroactively classifying already-public documents and testimony in her case. But in an August 1 letter to 9/11 Commission Chair Thomas Kean that is widely reproduced on the internet, Edmonds spells out three main charges: deliberate translator work slowdowns and other sorts of mishandling of important terror intelligence; the failure of management to address evidence that an employee of the translation unit had ties to a foreign group then under FBI investigation; and the failure to translate and pass along an April 2001 communiqué concerning an informant who said that Osama bin Laden was going to attack the U.S. using airplanes within a few months.

 
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