Officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation mishandled a Florida
terror investigation, falsified documents in the case in an effort to cover
repeated missteps and retaliated against an agent who first complained about
the problems, Justice Department investigators have concluded.
In one instance, someone altered dates on three F.B.I. forms using
correction fluid to conceal an apparent violation of federal wiretap law, according
to a draft report of an investigation by the Justice Department inspector general's
office obtained by The New York Times. But investigators were unable to determine
who altered the documents.
The agent who first alerted the F.B.I. to problems in the case, a veteran
undercover operative named Mike German, was "retaliated against" by
his boss, who was angered by the agent's complaints and stopped using him for
prestigious assignments in training new undercover agents, the draft report
Mr. German's case first became public last year, as he emerged as the
latest in a string of whistle-blowers at the bureau who said they had been punished
and effectively silenced for voicing concerns about the handling of terror investigations
and other matters since Sept. 11, 2001.
The inspector general's draft report, dated Nov. 15 and awaiting final review,
validated most of Mr. German's central accusations in the case. But the former
agent, who left the bureau last year after he said his career had been derailed
by the Florida episode, said he felt more disappointment than vindication.
"More than anything else, I'm saddened by all this," Mr. German said
in an interview. "I still love the F.B.I., and I know that there are good,
honest, hard-working agents out there trying to do the right thing, and this
hurts all of them."
Robert S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I., has emphasized repeatedly, both
publicly and in private messages to his staff, that employees are encouraged
to come forward with reports of wrongdoing and that he will not tolerate retaliation
Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has been a frequent critic
of the bureau, said of Mr. German: "Unfortunately, this is just another
case in a long line of F.B.I. whistle-blowers who have had their careers derailed
because the F.B.I. couldn't tolerate criticism."
Michael Kortan, an F.B.I. spokesman, said the bureau had not been briefed on
the findings. But Mr. Kortan said that when the F.B.I. received the report,
"if either misconduct or other wrongdoing is found, we will take appropriate
Ann Beeson, associate legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union,
said that the inspector general's findings, coming just days after the Supreme
Court refused to hear an appeal from an earlier F.B.I. whistle-blower, pointed
to the need for tougher measures to protect those who report abuse. "With
courts reluctant to protect whistle-blowers, it is crucial that Congress pass
additional protections," Ms. Beeson said.
Mr. German's case dates to 2002, when the F.B.I. division in Tampa opened a
terror investigation into a lead that laundered proceeds, possibly connected
to a drug outfit, might be used to finance terrorists overseas. The F.B.I. was
considering initiating an undercover operation to follow the lead, and Mr. German,
who had extensive experience infiltrating militias, skinheads and other groups,
was asked to take part.
But in the coming months, Mr. German would alert F.B.I. officials that the
Orlando agent handling the case had "so seriously mishandled" the
investigation that a prime opportunity to expose a terrorist financing plot
had been wasted. He said agents had not adequately pursued leads, had failed
to document important meetings with informants, and had tolerated violations
of rules and federal law on the handling of wiretaps.
The report, in one of its few dissents from Mr. German's accusations, said
it could not confirm that the F.B.I. had missed an important chance to expose
terrorism. Rather, it cited two findings by the bureau that the prime informant
had misled agents about the terrorism angle in the case and that "there
was no viable terrorism case."
Nonetheless, the inspector general found that the F.B.I. had "mishandled
and mismanaged" the investigation, partly through the failure to document
important developments for months at a time. The report also found that supervisors
were aware of problems in the case but did not take prompt action to correct
Moreover, after Mr. German raised concerns about the lack of documentation,
an unnamed agent in Orlando "improperly added inaccurate dates to the investigative
reports in order to make it appear as though the reports were prepared earlier,"
the inspector general found.
In addition, someone used correction fluid to backdate by two months a set
of forms that the main informant had signed as part of a bugging operation,
in which he agreed that he had to be present for all undercover taping.
The backdating was significant, the inspector general said, because the informant
had taped a 2002 meeting with several suspects but had left the recording device
unattended while he went to use the restroom - a violation of federal law.
Mr. German became increasingly vocal within the F.B.I. about what he saw as
the bureau's failure to correct missteps, taking his concerns directly to Mr.
Mueller in a 2003 e-mail message. His complaints, the inspector general found,
led agents in Florida, Washington and Oregon to distance themselves from him.
In the most serious instance, the head of the F.B.I. undercover unit, Jorge
Martinez, froze Mr. German out of teaching assignments in undercover training
and told one agent that Mr. German would "never work another undercover
case," the report said.
Mr. Martinez told investigators that he did not remember making the statements
but that if he had, it was a "knee-jerk reaction but did not mean to indicate
I was retaliating against him," the report said.
The inspector general disagreed. It said in the report that Mr. Martinez's
treatment of Mr. German amounted to improper retaliation and "discrimination
that could have a chilling effect on whistle-blowing."