by Todd Lighty, Tribune reporter
May 14, 2009
NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.
When a federal judge last week chastised the FBI for its heavy-handed efforts to silence two Chicago agents, it appeared as if the agents had won a long and hard-fought victory.
For seven years, they battled their bosses to get out their message that the FBI bungled terrorism investigations and was ill-equipped to prevent another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
The judge cleared the way for publication of a book by FBI agent Robert Wright Jr. and for release of other information from Wright and John Vincent that could prove embarrassing to the bureau.
But Vincent, a retired FBI terrorism agent, said Wednesday that theirs was a hollow victory because the bureau had delayed the book's publication for so long.
"Sadly, we accomplished nothing," Vincent said. "The bureau prevented the book from being published, violated our rights and now is free to do it to the next agent."
Wright, who still works in the FBI's Chicago office, declined to comment for this story. But Vincent said there was nothing more the bureau could do to him. He retired in 2002 after nearly 28 years as an agent.
The bureau has not said whether it will appeal the judge's decision. An FBI spokesman declined to comment Wednesday.
The controversy has its roots in an investigation led by Wright in the 1990s into fundraising by Hamas and other militant Islamic groups. Wright and Vincent built a criminal case, but bosses shut down the investigation -- a victim of turf warfare inside the bureau and bureaucratic missteps, according to former and current officials involved with the case.
"They kicked Bob off the case and made me shut down the investigation," Vincent said.
Almost immediately, in August 1999, Wright began writing "Fatal Betrayal," a 500-page manuscript highly critical of the FBI's ability to investigate terrorism.
Weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Wright submitted his manuscript to the bureau for pre-publication review. The FBI requires employees to submit books about their experiences for internal approval.
Vincent believes the FBI was especially sensitive to the release of Wright's book soon after the Sept. 11 attacks because some members of Congress were questioning its ability to investigate terrorism.
Wright sued in May 2002, claiming a violation of his 1st Amendment rights. Vincent filed a separate suit after the bureau blocked an interview with a New York Times reporter.
Over the years, the FBI fought release of the manuscript, arguing at different points that the book revealed classified information or could interfere with ongoing investigations.
But U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, sitting in the District of Columbia, rejected nearly every argument the FBI made for censoring Wright and Vincent, saying "the issues of terrorism and of alleged FBI incompetence remain as timely as ever."
Vincent said he was disappointed the court did not offer to overhaul how the bureau reviews manuscripts.
"Nothing has changed," he said. "The FBI will continue to violate agents' rights."