Court Rejects FBI Censorship on Terrorism Investigation
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced a favorable decision by a federal court in a lawsuit against the FBI’s efforts to censor the speech of agents seeking to expose the mishandling of a terrorism investigation in the days before 9/11. The investigation, known as Vulgar Betrayal, touched upon both Hamas and Al Qaeda. The court ruling was handed down on May 8, 2009, by U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler in a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch on behalf of FBI Special Agent Robert G. Wright, Jr. and retired FBI Special Agent John Vincent (Wright v. Federal Bureau of Investigation (02-915) (D.D.C.); Vincent v. Federal Bureau of Investigation (03-226) (D.D.C.)).
Special Agent Wright wanted to publish a book as well as complaints he made with the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, and he wanted to respond to a media inquiry from Judith Miller, a then-reporter of The New York Times. Wright had been censored in these efforts by the FBI. Wright’s former partner John Vincent, now retired from the FBI, had been similarly censored by the FBI and Department of Justice over his answers to the New York Times inquiry. Judge Kessler excoriated the FBI’s censorship and emphasized the public importance of the lawsuit:
“This is a sad and discouraging tale about the determined efforts of the FBI to censor various portions of a 500-page manuscript, written by a former long-time FBI agent, severely criticizing the FBI’s conduct of the investigation of a money laundering scheme in which United States-based members of the Hamas terrorist organization were using non-profit organizations in this country to recruit and train terrorists and fund terrorist activities both here and abroad. The FBI also sought to censor answers given by both Plaintiffs to a series of written questions presented to them by a New York Times reporter concerning Wright’s allegations about the FBI’s alleged mishandling of the investigation. In its efforts to suppress this information, the FBI repeatedly changed its position, presented formalistic objections to release of various portions of the documents in question, admitted finally that much of the material it sought to suppress was in fact in the public domain and had been all along, and now concedes that several of the reasons it originally offered for censorship no longer have any validity.
Unfortunately, the issues of terrorism and of alleged FBI incompetence remain as timely as ever.”
For over seven years, FBI Special Agent Wright and retired FBI Special Agent Vincent wished to exercise their First Amendment rights to expose FBI and Department of Justice bungling that shut down efforts to roll up terrorist financial networks in the United States prior to 9/11. Special Agent Wright is the only FBI agent prior 9/11 to have seized funds (over $1.4 million) from U.S.-based terrorists using federal civil forfeiture statutes.
“Judicial Watch is pleased that a federal court beat back the FBI’s illegal effort to censor criticism by its own agents. Wright and Vincent sought to blow the whistle to help prevent other terrorist attacks like 9/11. We hope it is not too late for the FBI to listen to our clients, clean up its act, and better protect our nation from the Islamic terrorist threat,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.