Monday, August 2, 2004

Speaking German

Mike German, a former F.B.I. agent, has come forward to detail another case of ineptitude at the agency.

…[I]n early 2002, when Mr. German got word that a group of Americans might be plotting support for an overseas Islamic terrorist group, he proposed to his bosses what he thought was an obvious plan: go undercover and infiltrate the group.

But Mr. German says F.B.I. officials sat on his request, botched the investigation, falsified documents to discredit their own sources, then froze him out and made him a “pariah.” He left the bureau in mid-June after 16 years and is now going public for the first time – the latest in a string of F.B.I. whistle-blowers who claim they were retaliated against after voicing concerns about how management problems had impeded terrorism investigations since the Sept. 11 attacks.

“What’s so frustrating for me,” Mr. German said in an interview, a copy of the Sept. 11 commission report at his side, “is that what I hear the F.B.I. saying every day on TV when I get home, about how it’s remaking itself to fight terrorism, is not the reality of what I saw every day in the field.”

Mr. German refused to discuss details of the 2002 terrorism investigation, saying the information was classified.

But officials with knowledge of the case said the investigation took place in the Tampa, Fla., area and centered on an informant’s tip about a meeting between suspected associates of a domestic militia-type group and a major but unidentified Islamic terrorist organization, who were considering joining forces. A tape recording of the meeting appeared to lend credence to the report, one official said.


The F.B.I. has wrestled with accusations from a number of employees who said they were discouraged from voicing concerns, including Coleen Rowley, the Minneapolis agent who protested the handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui terror case in August 2001. In a report disclosed just last week, the inspector general found that complaints by an F.B.I. linguist, Sibel Edmonds, about the bureau’s slipshod translation of terrorism intelligence, played a part in her dismissal in 2002.

In Mr. German’s case, Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said that “when an F.B.I. agent with a distinguished record questions whether terrorism leads are being followed, the F.B.I. needs to listen.” He said Mr. German’s complaints “reflect the kind of insularity the 9/11 commission identified as a major management failing in the F.B.I.’s antiterrorism work.”


In the meantime, Mr. German said, his career at the F.B.I. stalled, despite what he said was an “unblemished” record and an award for his work in the Los Angeles skinhead case.

Soon after raising his complaints about the 2002 terrorism investigation, he was removed from the case. And, he said, F.B.I. officials wrongly accused him of conducting unauthorized travel, stopped using him to train agents in “proactive techniques” and shut him out of important domestic terrorism assignments.

“The phone just stopped ringing, and I became a persona non grata,” he said. “Because I wouldn’t let this go away, I became the problem.”

For now, he has no job and is uncertain about his future.

“My entire career has been ruined, all because I thought I was doing the right thing here,” he said.

Not to sound too cyncial, but changing administrations won’t get rid of institutional stupidity or change the nature of the people who guard their turf and their agenda at the detriment of our safety and security. But it would be a good place to start.