Spooky Goofs

Indications of Serious Flaws in a 9-11 FBI Flop

In a February 4 letter to Judge Rakoff, the U.S. Attorney's office explained, "Nor was there anything implausible about the information [Ferry] provided. In fact, given what the Government knew on December 18, the information seemed more than merely plausible. . . . [I]t knew that, on September 11, Mr. Higazy was staying at a hotel next to the WTC, on the 51st floor, in a room with a view of the WTC . . . it knew that one of his duties in the Egyptian Air Corps was to repair aviation radios . . . it knew that a number of the September 11 hijackers were Egyptian nationals; and it knew that Mr. Higazy is an Egyptian national."

Prosecutors at the time said the Higazy case could play "a potentially quite significant part" in solving "the most serious crime in the nation's history."

Dunn argued in a March 18 hearing before Rakoff on possible government misrepresentations to the court, "When the item was alleged to be found in the safe of a person who was from a Middle Eastern country . . . [i]t was automatically perceived to be of such great moment that he was determined to be held a material witness regardless . . . of anything else."

Ferry's non-jury guilty plea was supposed to be the neat end to an embarrassing official mess. Indeed, in his August 5 decision, Rakoff said Ferry's punishment had "effectively obviated" the need for a court-ordered probe into the radio matter, a move the judge had previously considered.

But a close look at Ferry's sentencing shows that it was far from neat. Ferry insisted—to no contradiction from prosecutors—that he lied only about the locked safe and that a second person had actually found the radio on a table in Higazy's room. Many months later, there is no explanation of how or whether the radio got there.

Ferry received a relatively mild sentence of six months in weekend detention. Prosecutors did not demand more than the federally recommended time, although the same office won more than triple the maximum in another case of September 11-themed false accusation—in which the victim never spent a moment in prison. No one else has been charged in the Higazy case, even though numerous documents indicate more people were involved. Comey's office would not comment on apparent loose ends, saying its efforts were ongoing.

It was dumb luck, not good police work, that freed Higazy. But the two FBI agents named in papers making the botched case against him are likely still investigating the September 11 attacks. The FBI's New York office would not comment on personnel questions, but a knowledgeable law enforcement source says neither of the agents—Christopher Bruno and Vince Sullivan—was ever disciplined or retrained.

The lessons not learned from the Higazy case are troubling given the detention of hundreds of immigrants and some citizens based on suspected connections with terrorism or terrorist-harboring nations. Some no doubt looked suspicious enough to the neighbors, colleagues, or cops who reported them, as Higazy once looked to Ferry and the FBI.

In fact, had that Ohio pilot not come along, Higazy's lawyer says, the Egyptian might still be in prison. Nothing in the records indicates the government ever presumed him innocent or worked hard to establish his guilt beyond a doubt.

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