A group of national security whistleblowers and family members of Sept. 11 victims held a press conference Wednesday to demand that the government stop silencing employees who expose wrongdoing. The group also called on Congress to hold hearings to examine retaliatory actions against whistleblowers.
Former FBI agent Mike German defended the work of front-line agents, but said counterterrorism investigations that he was part of were hampered by managers.
"FBI agents are the most honest, intelligent, capable and dedicated employees in government, and they risk everything to protect our national security," said German, who choked up with emotion. "But unfortunately, too much of their talent is wasted by mismanagement."
In September 2002, German was assigned to a counterterrorism case involving transnational terrorists. He eventually became concerned that the investigation would fail due to "grave violations of FBI policy and possibly even violations of the law."
Problems he saw included failure to properly document the investigation, failure to properly handle evidence, and failure to adhere to laws and regulations regarding electronic surveillance.
After reporting the case through the FBI's protected disclosure process, he alleged that bureau managers "falsified records" in order "to cover up their mistakes" and committed "possible violations of law."
He was eventually transferred to another case, but said the same managers impeded that case in retaliation against him. He reported his concerns to the Justice Department's inspector general in December 2002, whose investigation on the matter still is open. German also reported his concerns to the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2004, and finally resigned from the bureau in June 2004.
He declined to discuss specifics of his case or name the managers involved, saying that "they have me under very tight restrictions."
He added, however: "I'm aware of several other investigations that failed since 9/11 because of similar mismanagement, but agents won't report this mismanagement because they fear retaliation."
The FBI declined to comment on German's case Wednesday due to the IG investigation.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller publicly pledged to reform bureau management and protect employees who come forward with information relating to wrongdoing. Members of the 9/11 commission said last summer they believed the FBI is heading in the right direction under Mueller, but worried that reforms might not stick if there are leadership changes at the bureau.
German disputed that enough changes have been made within the FBI.
"The problem is that they've left the responsibility to reform with the people who would be most hurt if it's reformed," he said. "It's not going to be reformed unless reform is imposed on them."
Former FBI agent Coleen Rowley also said Wednesday that the bureau is full of "so many examples of mismanagement" that agents have become desensitized.
Rowley, the former chief legal adviser in the FBI's Minneapolis field office, publicly criticized the FBI for its handling of evidence before the 9/11 attacks. She eventually wrote a highly publicized letter to Mueller in May 2002 regarding mistakes and later testified before Congress. She retired from the bureau earlier this month.
Rowley said she was sad to hear of German's experience, given that Mueller had said after she went public that whistleblowers would be protected.
Neither Rowley nor German, however, believe that FBI agents or managers intentionally blocked investigations that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks.
"You're seeing people fall into thinking of conspiracy theories largely because of massive incompetence," Rowley said. "It looks so bad it looks like it was deliberate. And then when you reward incompetence, people think in their head [there is] a plot."
Rowley added that many qualified agents do not want to become managers at the bureau because of the problems they have experienced.