An Emmy Award-winning journalist whose recent book sharply criticized U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and other officials as being negligent for failing to stop a key al-Qaeda figure during their tenure directing the FBI’s elite bin Laden squad, filed a complaint with the Justice Department’s ethics watchdog requesting an investigation into Fitzgerald for allegedly using government resources to try and kill the publication of the book.
Peter Lance, a former investigative correspondent for ABC News, sent a letter last week to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) calling for a wide-ranging probe of Fitzgerald as a result of his “20 month campaign…to kill the hardcover and paperback editions of my Harper Collins investigative book Triple Cross.” [Full disclosure: I provided Lance with a quote endorsing his book that appears on the cover of Triple Cross].
Lance’s book was published in hardcover in September 2006. Months later, Fitzgerald, who rebuffed Lance’s repeated requests for an interview prior to the publication of Triple Cross, sent a letter to Harper Collins alleging the book defamed and libeled him (and others) and demanded the publisher stop distribution of Triple Cross and cancel any future printings and issue a public statement refuting the allegations made in the book about Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald also demanded “copies of all manuscript drafts and any correspondence between author and publisher regarding the fact-checking process for the book.”
Harper and Lance spent nearly a year and tens of thousands of dollars vetting the book internally and through an outside attorney. Other than some minor sentence structure changes the paperback version of Triple Cross—released last week—does not read differently than the hardcover version in its criticism of Fitzgerald.
Lance’s request for an ethics investigation into Fitzgerald centers on the fact that the federal prosecutor, who said he was acting as a private citizen in demanding the book be pulled from shelves, sent a 16-page letter dated Nov. 16, 2007 was sent from the office of the “U.S. Attorney Chicago” at 6:02 p.m.
It’s unknown whether Fitzgerald, who rose to national prominence during his stint as special counsel investigating the role Bush administration officials played in the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and his dogged pursuit of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and publishing magnate Conrad Black, used his staff to conduct research and draft the lengthy letters he sent to Harper Collins.
But that’s what Lance wants the DOJ’s ethics watchdog to find out.
Lance believes the letter Fitzgerald sent from the office of the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Illinois was “a clear attempt to intimidate me and chill my publisher.”
Lance has asked OPR to find out whether Fitzgerald, “apart from his use of the [fax machine from his U.S. Attorneys office]…devote any other Department of Justice Resources in furtherance of his campaign to kill the book.
Additionally, Lance said OPR should determine how much time Fitzgerald spent on “attempting to chill me and my publisher” and whether it had any impact on “his duty to protect the citizens of the Northern District of Illinois.”
“Perhaps most important,” Lance’s June 13 letter to Mary Patrice Brown, Acting Counsel of OPR, “did Mr. Fitzgerald use the privileges and powers of his office to intimidate a publishing company and a reporter who were acting in the best traditions of investigative journalism?”
“In effect, did he abuse his authority by bringing the weight of his reputation as a ‘relentless’ prosecutor to bear in attempting to crush a book he found critical” of his work as a federal prosecutor in New York.
“I ask that [OPR] to determine whether…Fitzgerald crossed the line from public official charged with protecting the Constitution to thin-skinned prosecutor who used the authority of his office to undermine it,” Lance’s complaint says.
A Justice Department spokesman said the agency was unfamiliar with Lance’s letter and declined to comment. Fitzgerald did respond to several requests for comment.
But a week before the paperback edition of Triple Cross was due to be released, Fitzgerald told the Associated Press that the book “lied about the facts and alleged that I deliberately misled the courts and the public in ways that in part caused the deaths in the 1998 [U.S. Embassy in Kenya] bombing attacks and in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”
“It is outrageous to falsely accuse me of causing those deaths corruptly.”
But Lance’s book makes no such direct claims.
“Patrick Fitzgerald accuses me of making charges in the book that I never made,” Lance said in an interview. “At the same time, he continually fails to respond to the substantive allegations documented in 604 pages, 1,425 end notes and 32 pages of documentary appendices.”
What Lance does reveal, however, is that Fitzgerald, who in the 1990s was the Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York directing the FBI’s elite bin Laden squad, and other intelligence and Justice Department officials made some costly blunders that arguably led to the 9/11 attacks.
For example, in 1991, the FBI discovered that a mailbox store in New Jersey had direct ties to al-Qaeda but failed to monitor the location.
Four years later, Fitzgerald named the owner of the store as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Day of Terror case he was prosecuting.
However, since Fitzgerald did not file any formal charges against the owner, the store continued to stay in business and once again fell beneath the Justice Department’s radar. Six years later, two of the 9/11 hijackers obtained their phony identification cards from that very store.
Lance’s account, which he spent seven years researching, relies heavily on internal government and court documents and trial transcripts, some of which he successfully had unsealed, to tell the story of former Egyptian army major and al-Qaeda operative Ali Mohamed, who hoodwinked government prosecutors like Fitzgerald and successfully penetrated the CIA’s Europe division and the FBI in California, all while Mohamed was secretly helping bin Laden orchestrate the African Embassy bombings.
Details of Mohammed’s deception kicks off the first chapter of Triple Cross:
“On October 20, 2000, after tricking the U.S. intelligence establishment for years, Ali Mohamed stood in handcuffs, leg irons, and a blue prison jumpsuit before Judge Leonard B. Sand in a Federal District Courtroom in Lower Manhattan.
“Over the next thirty minutes he pleaded guilty five times, admitting to his involvement in plots to kill U.S. soldiers in Somalia, and Saudi Arabia, U.S. ambassadors in Africa, and American civilians anywhere in the world … In short but deliberate sentences, Mohamed peeled back the top layer of the secret life he’d led since 1981…”
During that plea session, Lance writes, Mohamed kept quiet about “his most stunning achievements,” including how he avoided being caught in a State Department Watch List, enlisted in the US Army and was stationed at the same base where the Green Berets and Delta Force undergo training, and wooed a Silicon Valley medical technician, whom he married.
In the courtroom, Mohamed, fluent in four languages, “didn’t say a word about how he’d moved in and out of contract spy work for the CIA and fooled FBI agents for six years as he smuggled terrorists across US borders, and guarded the tall Saudi billionaire who had personally declared war on Americans: Osama bin Laden,” Lance writes.
Yet in the years prior to his dramatic courtroom appearance, Mohamed, Lance revealed, continually outflanked Fitzgerald.
After a face-to-face meeting with the al Qaeda spy in the fall of 1997, Fitzgerald tried, unsuccessfully to turn him and when Ali, spurned him and left, Fitzgerald, as Lance reports, turned to FBI agents and called Ali, “the most dangerous man I have ever met.
He vowed not to “let this man on the street” and yet that’s what he did for another 10 months as Mohamed perfected the East African Embassy bombing plot that Mohamed had set in motion in 1993. Fitzgerald waited until one month after the bombings that killed 220 and injured thousands before he finally arrested Mohamed.
According to the book’s press release, in 1996, Fitzgerald and other Justice Department and intelligence officials “discredited a treasure trove of al Qaeda-related evidence, including evidence of an active al Qaeda cell operating in NYC five years before 9/11 and of a Bin Laden plot to hijack a plane to free Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman—intelligence considered so important that it was later cited in the infamous Presidential Daily Briefing given to George W. Bush just weeks before 9/11.”
Additionally, in 1999, Lance alleges that Fitzgerald signed a false affidavit published for the first time in Triple Cross “swearing that the al Qaeda intelligence collected by an FBI informant was a fabrication, a “hoax” and “scam” perpetrated by [one of the planners of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing Ramsey] Yousef and a Mafia figure the FBI had used to “sting” Yousef for eleven months from 1996-97.”
Lance’s theory is that Fitzgerald knowingly filed the false affidavit to possibly cover up ties between the FBI agent and a major mafia figure, who was the jailhouse informant’s father.
A careful analysis of the book’s footnotes and appendices clearly shows that all of the charges Lance leveled against Fitzgerald can be backed up by documentary evidence.
‘A Deliberate Lie’
Still, in one of his most recent letters to Harper Collins and despite the publication of supporting documents and footnotes that would appear to back up the allegations made against him, Fitzgerald characterized Triple Cross as “a deliberate lie masquerading as truth.”
Lance said that statement, as well as Fitzgerald’s comments to the Associated Press, is defamatory and libelous and uttered with “actual malice” and reckless disregard for the truth, which is what Fitzgerald had accused Lance of in writing Triple Cross.
“Even though I believe that Fitzgerald libeled me both in his ‘deliberate lie masquerading as the truth’ line in his fourth letter to [Harper Collins] and in his false statement to the AP, I would never sue Fitzgerald for libel or try and use the civil defamation laws to suppress criticism or limit public debate on an issue as he attempted to do in his 32 pages of threat letters sent to me and my publisher in what amounted to a 20 month personal vendetta,” Lance said.
“I believe in the free marketplace of ideas, and even if defamed by a powerful official like Fitzgerald, I would not use the civil tort of defamation to try and prevent him from expressing himself.”
Several weeks ago, Fitzgerald told the publisher if Triple Cross was published as planned and “it defames me or casts me in a false light, Harper Collins will be sued.”
Thus far, Fitzgerald has not made good on his threat.