Code of Quiet

The Secret War on Whistle-Blowers

Whitehurst says he had no choice but to undergo the treatment, because if he refused, the bureau would fire him for insubordination.

"The strange thing is, Americans pray for patriotic individuals to save them from national disasters," Whitehurst says. "But when that someone comes along, they slice into your abdomen, pull 30 feet of gut out, stomp on it, and then what kind of hero are you?

"You're not. You've been branded as a loon. All you have to do in the FBI is step in the line of fire. You'll get blown away."

The same day Rowley left for Washington, a colleague of hers, Special Agent Robert Wright, was waiting a few hundred miles away in the FBI's Chicago field office. Wright was getting nervous. Again. The producers from CNN's Crossfire had been calling; they wanted the young, baby-faced Fed on their Thursday night show, with Carville and Novak, to coincide with the presumed lead story, Rowley's testimony. At the advice of his counsel, Wright agreed.

Wright's a whistle-blower, too—well, sort of. He's a money guy, tracks the accounts of international terrorists, and like Rowley, he claims his investigation, code named Vulgar Betrayal, was obstructed by the bureau. Like Rowley, he also has suggested 9-11 could have been prevented. But unlike her, he can't seem to find anyone in Washington who'll listen.

Bob Novak started the questioning: "Mr. Wright, your charges against the FBI are really more disturbing, more serious, than Ms. Rowley's. Why is it, do you think, that you have been ignored by the media, ignored by the congressional committees, and no attention has been paid to your allegations?"

Wright paused. "I don't know the true reasons for that."

Part of the problem started with him. He asked the FBI for permission to go public with his 500-page manuscript, which he says outlines the failures of the FBI's counterterrorism efforts. Muzzled by the Office of Public and Congressional Affairs, he sought help last summer from Judicial Watch, a Washington nonprofit famous for suing government to get documents and expose corruption. Judicial Watch is now suing the FBI for him. And his life is slowly going to hell.

Once on Al Qaeda's trail, Wright now works run-of-the-mill bank fraud cases. He's also been hit with two claims of harassment—one sexual, one racial—both deemed baseless by his lawyers. No one, it would seem, takes him seriously—except Judicial Watch, who are calling him another victim of the bureau's "culture of fear."

Coleen Rowley walked into the chambers of the Senate Judiciary Committee like John Wayne, wearing a badge and carrying her pistol. Yet with a frumpy jacket and oversized glasses, she looked like a stressed librarian, the sleepless owner of many cats.

Hours before, her boss had promised the nation he would protect her. But nothing in the law requires him to. Federal whistle-blower statutes don't apply to FBI agents. Rather than being reviewed by a third party, their complaints are handled internally.

Shielded by nothing but her naïveté and the goodwill of her boss, Rowley sat alone before a hundred flashbulbs and told the world the FBI needs to change, quickly. She was polite, thorough, boring.

During the recess, the network pundits seemed disappointed with the performance. Sure, Rowley had fleshed out the details of her letter, they argued, but she wasn't naming names. She showed no outrage. She wasn't acting like a whistle-blower. She even commended Bob Mueller! She was positive about change! Hardly the renegade tone for what could be the last words of a martyr.

"Maybe the 'treatment' will be different for Rowley," says Soeken, "but I doubt it."

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