FBI Whistleblower Harassed?
He offered his personal assurance that retaliation against any FBI whistleblower would not be tolerated. But in the case of one FBI agent who appeared on 60 Minutes three weeks ago, Mueller's orders seem to have been ignored, Ed Bradley reports.
Special agent John Roberts says he was threatened, intimidated and humiliated for exposing what he said has become a pattern of misconduct at the highest levels of the FBI and that has gone unpunished.
Here's what he said on 60 Minutes that got him into hot water: "I don't know of another person in the FBI who has done the internal investigations that I have and has seen what I have, and knows what has occurred and what has been glossed over and what has, frankly, just disappeared, just vaporized and no one disciplined for it."
What disturbs Roberts is a double standard of discipline at the bureau, in which, he says, senior officials are rarely punished and often promoted, while lower level employees end up taking the blame. Roberts is a chief of the bureau's Internal Affairs department and for the past 10 years has investigated and documented hundreds of cases of wrongdoing by FBI employees. And as he told 60 Minutes several weeks ago about misconduct in the FBI's translation department, he doubts that double standard will ever change.
"I think the double standard of discipline will continue," Roberts said. "No matter who comes in, no matter who tries to change, you-- you have a certain - certain group that - that will continue to protect itself. That's just how it is,I would say, no matter what happens."
Roberts said he had found cases since 9/11 in which people were involved in misconduct and were not reprimanded. Instead, they were promoted.
"You would think that after 9/11, that's a big slap on the face. Hello! This is a wake-up call here," Bradley said.
"Depends on who you are. If you're in a senior executive level, [it] may not hurt you. You'll be promoted," Roberts said.
What happened to Roberts after that interview aired may be the beginning of the end of his 20 years at the FBI. Roberts says he was called in to a meeting in the office of his boss - assistant FBI director Robert Jordan - and was read the riot act for what he had said on 60 Minutes - even though the FBI had given Roberts written approval to be interviewed about his criticism of the FBI.
According to investigators familiar with that meeting, assistant director Jordan told Roberts : "You dissed me and the director." Jordan later went on to suggest that Roberts might be transferred or fired.
The way that Roberts was treated got the attention of Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Republican Sen. Charles Grassley. They sit on the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the FBI. Earlier this year, Mueller testified before that committee that retaliation against FBI employees who report wrongdoing would not happen on his watch.
Now, Grassley is trying to hold the FBI director to his word.
Ed Bradley: When you look at what's happened to John Roberts after he criticized the organization what do you make of the pledges by director Mueller?
Sen. Grassley: It seems to me that director Mueller has acknowledged the importance of whistleblowing. And he's got to step in then and if he doesn't then, I think he's gone back on his word to the Congress of the United States that whistle blowers need to be protected. Because, for sure, Roberts has not been protected. No - you don't put domesticated animals through what Mr. Roberts went through.
Grassley and Leahy are leading a bi-partisan congressional investigation into the FBI's treatment of Roberts.
"In effect ,they sought to end his career," says Leahy. "And keep in mind, this is not - we're not talking about some rookie FBI agent. We're talking about a person whose life was the FBI, who was the epitome of what you want in law enforcement. And to be treated like this - it seemed to me that they're sending a signal throughout the FBI, you dare question something, you're going to get clobbered."
Roberts, who spoke freely a few weeks ago,would not speak to Bradley this week because his lawyer, Steve Kohn, says he is too afraid.
"As John would say, his legs have been cut off. His authority as a supervisor has been taken away," Kohn said.
Kohn says Roberts was humiliated by assistant director Jordan in front of some 40 people, including Roberts' wife, Brenda, who works in the same department. According to some who were present, Jordan read sarcastically from a transcript of the 60 Minutes report, and said that John Roberts had betrayed everyone at the FBI.
Says Kohn: "And the assistant director got up there and said, 'We are a family and we have to understand that if we say harmful things to the family we're all hurt.' and that was the message to everybody. It was that John Roberts violated the trust of the family."
"The FBI is not family. The FBI is a government agency. The agents are employees. You know, the Mafia used to talk about being family. The FBI's not Mafia, at least they're not supposed to be. But you get the impression that that sort of peer pressure is what you have to be, and you don't mess with the family," says Grassley.
All of this was particularly hard on Roberts' wife who broke down and required medical assistance after Jordan addressed the staff.
Says Kohn: "Her husband was ridiculed in front of every co-employee, all the subordinates, all the support staff and she is totally traumatized. Some of the co-workers won't look at her any more. They won't return greetings. Essentially she - they've - been vilified and she feels it.
"Just think of how macho it is for a guy like Jordan to stand up before a group and say those things? You know, it might- you might need that sort of macho when you're going after bank robbers and terrorists and bin Laden, but you don't have to do that to the spouse of a very patriotic FBI agent," says Grassley.
Earlier this week, Grassley summoned Jordan to his office demanding an explanation. He says he never got one.
"They would not answer my questions," Grassley said. "They would not answer the questions I was told by counsel for Mr. Jordan because he was very nervous because 60 Minutes was sitting outside of my office, I made very clear that if 60 Minutes was a problem that I would not speak to 60 Minutes because I was here to get basic information."
"My suspicion is that he didn't want to talk to me in the first place. Jordan ducked out a side door and headed down the street," says Grassley.
Jordan also declined to talk to Ed Bradley. He suggested that Bradley contact the press office.
60 Minutes went to the FBI's press office and was told Robert Jordan would not be available for an interview. It also was told that Director Robert Mueller, too, was unavailable. The bureau did send a written statement saying, "The FBI is committed to fairness in the workplace and does not tolerate retaliation of any kind." it went on to say, "wWe have asked the department of justice Inspector General to expeditiously investigate this matter, and welcome his findings. If, at that time any action is appropriate, we will not hesitate to take it."
This was not the first time that John Roberts had gotten into trouble for criticizing the FBI. He says three years ago he was called on the carpet because of a high-profile investigation he conducted into the FBI's handling of the 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, where the wife of white supremacist Randy Weaver was killed by an FBI sniper as she stood inside her home.
Roberts concluded that six senior FBI officials had lied or committed misconduct in their handling of the case. Despite his findings, none of them were disciplined. The only people punished were subordinate bureau employees. Roberts testified about that last year at a congressional hearing.
He testified that: "What occurred during the Ruby Ridge investigation should not be viewed as an isolated incident. This should be alarming to all of us, because not only is it fundamentally unfair, but more important because, if the rank and file of any law enforcement organization believe their executive management condones or approves of misconduct, that is a precursor for corruption."
John Roberts told 60 Minutes a few weeks ago that because he exposed misconduct in the executive ranks of the FBI at Ruby Ridge and other incidents, he's been badgered by the very people he was assigned to investigate.
"I received a call from one of those senior executives who, in fact, asked me, 'Do you realize,' meaning me, John Roberts, do I realize what I'm doing to the senior executive ranks of the FBI? I was shocked. And my response was 'I'm not doing anything. I'm merely conducting an investigation of those who have done something wrong.'"
Because of that, he says, his career is at a dead end. He says he has been passed over for transfer or promotion 14 times.
"I've been denied that. And the persons making those decisions are the individuals against whom I alleged and investigated misconduct," Roberts says.
So what kind of message is being sent to officials like him at the FBI?
"Where are your loyalties? If they're to the person that can advance your career then you will be loyal if you want to move on. If you want to take a stand and say, 'Hey, enough's enough, this is wrong. We can't continue to operate this way' then they're doomed," Roberts says.
As for the senior FBI officials whom Roberts found had committed misconduct at Ruby Ridge, all of them were promoted and - in some cases - given bonuses. One of them is Van Harp. Even though Roberts said Harp altered a report to cover up serious wrongdoing, Harp was promoted and awarded a bonus of $22,000. Harp now runs the FBI's Washington field office and is heading the anthrax investigation.
The FBI itself says Harp did nothing wrong at Ruby Ridge, but last week, the Inspector General of the Justice Department released a report that endorsed John Roberts' findings about the FBI's handling of Ruby Ridge and his criticism of Harp. The report said the FBI's handling of the incident was rife with misconduct, obstruction, and was, at best, grossly deficient and, at worst, intentionally slanted to protect the FBI and senior FBI officials. The report concludes that the "FBI suffered and still suffers from a strong perception that a double standard exists within the FBI."
"John Roberts has been vindicated, but then you have to ask, of course, the obvious question: If he was vindicated, why all this retaliation against him, against his wife, why this effort to hold him up to ridicule?" asks Leahy.
"This is what it comes down to, this effort to send a signal, not just here in Washington, but in California and Texas, Illinois, everywhere else where the FBI are, that send a signal, don't blow the whistle. Don't be a whistleblower."
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