|Plot Warning Is Reviewed By the F.B.I.|
|BLUMENTHAL, RALPH. New York Times. Oct 29, 1993. pg. B.1|
|(Italics and bold-face added) |
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the allegations of an informer who said after the World Trade Center explosion that he had warned law-enforcement agents of a plot to build a bomb, and that if they had worked with him, they would have prevented the blast, officials said.
But some officials disputed important parts of the informant's account yesterday, saying that conversations with him took place half a year before the attack on the trade center, and months before the bomb was actually built.
The comments of the informer, Emad A. Salem, are in transcripts of telephone conversations with the police and F.B.I. agents that Mr. Salem secretly recorded. In the transcripts, Mr. Salem is quoted as saying that the bombing could have been foiled but for an F.B.I. supervisor's rejection of a plan to have him work with the plotters building the bomb, then substitute harmless powder for the explosives.
The review of Mr. Salem's allegations that has been undertaken by the F.B.I. is not a formal investigation. The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which looks into suspected ethical lapses, has not been called in, officials said. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity. Reno Declines to Comment
Asked repeatedly about the allegations at her regular news briefing in Washington yesterday, Attorney General Janet Reno declined comment, citing the trial in Manhattan Federal Court of four men charged with the Feb. 26 blast that killed six. In court at that trial yesterday, defense lawyers sought copies of the informer's transcripts. [ Article, page B4. ]
Spokesmen for the new F.B.I. director, Louis J. Freeh, also said they were barred from making any response about the informer's allegations. But other bureau officials acknowledged that an internal inquiry into the handling of Mr. Salem and his information was under way. They said it did not suggest any wrongdoing.
Representative Charles E. Schumer of Brooklyn, chairman of the subcommittee on crime and criminal justice, wrote Ms. Reno yesterday that the panel would call her and Mr. Freeh to testify at a hearing on the F.B.I.'s handling of the trade center bombing and other counterterrorism issues. Mr. Schumer said he would wait until after the trial to convene that hearing.
Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, who was himself a target of a terrorist assassination plot, according to Government charges in the related bombing case, said yesterday that he was confident that Mr. Freeh would conduct an inquiry into the matter. "No one has to ask him," he said.
The Salem tapes emerged as a volatile issue this week when the Government, under the Federal court's rules of evidence, turned over 903 pages of transcripts from 45 tape cassettes to defense lawyers representing 15 defendants charged with plotting to blow up city landmarks in the second bombing case. Transcripts of another 25 tapes have been withheld for "security and other issues," prosecutors said.
The transcripts, which Federal Judge Michael B. Mukasey barred the lawyers from disseminating but which were reviewed by The New York Times and other newspapers, quote Mr. Salem complaining to F.B.I. agents that "I told you the World Trade Center," among other planned targets, "but nobody listened." Foiled His Chance
One unnamed F.B.I. supervisor in particular, Mr. Salem says, forced him into the role of witness and thus foiled his chance to remain under cover and be "building the bomb with a phony powder and grabbing the people who was involved in it."
But the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity disputed Mr. Salem's account yesterday. For one thing, they said, although he had begun working for the F.B.I. in late 1991, he and the bureau had angrily parted ways in the middle of 1992 and did not resume contact until after the bombing the following February.
Contrary to Mr. Salem's repeated tape-recorded protestations after the bombing, they said, he had not warned them that the trade center was to be attacked; nor, they said, could he have done that by the time his relationship to the bureau was interrupted, half a year before the attack. Link to Suspects
It took the tracing of a vehicle part found in the wreckage six days after the explosion to link the bombing to the suspects whom Mr. Salem had earlier cultivated, the officials said.
The sequence of events was confirmed yesterday by Mr. Salem's former wife, Barbara Rodgers, who said he had not been in touch with the F.B.I. for many months before the bombing.
Ms. Rodgers also said that to gain favor with the F.B.I. early on, Mr. Salem gave agents videotapes from Egypt showing supporters of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and other Muslim extremists. The sheik is at the heart of the second bombing trial.
One law-enforcement official said yesterday that there was dismay in the F.B.I. over how Mr. Salem caught agents' ready affirmations on tape to his complaints that the bureau had mishandled the trade center bombing. "We all wish they wouldn't have said, 'yeah, yeah,' said the official ruefully. Officials have said the agents may have been trying simply to mollify their often combative and flighty informant.
Officials declined to identify the supervisor Mr. Salem complains about as being responsible for not following through on a plan that would have thwarted the blast, and said no one was facing discipline as a result of the allegations. Basis for Dispute
They said that dispute with the informer was based on the supervisor's proper insistence that Mr. Salem, whose information had not always proved reliable, wear a hidden body recorder to gather evidence so he could take the witness stand in a trial.
Although out of touch with the F.B.I. for half a year before the bombing, Mr. Salem continued to circulate in Muslim militant circles and thus may have picked up information about the pending attack, officials said. But, they said, he did not turn it over until after the bombing, when he re-established his relationship with the F.B.I.