December 4, 2005
Report Finds Cover-Up in an F.B.I. Terror Case

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 - 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

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 at F.B.I. schools,
the draft report concluded.

Mr. German's case first became public last year, as he emerged as the latest
in a string of whistle-blowers at the F.B.I. 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

"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 against whistle-blowers who report abuses.

But Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has been a frequent
critic of the F.B.I., 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.'s Tampa division 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 F.B.I. 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 them.

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 as of a bugging
operation, in which he agreed that he had to be present for all undercover

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 German out of teaching assignments in undercover training
and told one agent that he would "never work another undercover case," the
report said.

Mr. Martinez told investigators he did not remember making the statements
but said 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."

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