Gamal Abdel-Hafiz was perhaps the best counter-terrorism agent the FBI had. He got confessions from seven Al Qaeda members who planned the USS Cole bombing and broke open the Lackawanna Six case, which President Bush touted as the biggest success to that point in the War on Terror. He was also the first Muslim FBI agent. The bureau gave him an unprecedented role: he circulated through North Texas mosques overtly, FBI business card in hand, building alliances between imams and the Dallas field office, between everyday Arabs and covert men in black. But by 2003, he’d been suspended. He had been called a traitor by two Chicago FBI agents on ABC’s Primetime and on The O’Reilly Factor. He was living in Flower Mound, broken, heavy bags under his eyes, embarrassed to be seen in public.
But one day in October of that year, he answered a knock on his door.
He managed a warm smile, taking my hand in both of his as he welcomed me inside his home. He was thin and his shoulders sagged, taking inches off his 5-foot-9 frame. Gamal’s close-cropped hair had turned a shade grayer. He looked older than his 44 years.
Gamal led me past two of his three children playing in front of a television, past his wife, Amal, in the kitchen, and up plush white-carpeted stairs to a bedroom that had been converted into an office. Gently, in Arabic, he called down to Amal to prepare tea, then closed the door for privacy.
Gamal turned his eyes to the wall. “The proudest day of my life,” he said, looking at the 1996 photo of himself shaking the hand of then FBI Director Louis Freeh. Graduation day. “It really was a very emotional moment for me, knowing I was the very first Muslim FBI agent in the history of the FBI. It was really something that I will never forget.”
But ever since the agents in Chicago accused Gamal of refusing to wear a wire—they claimed Gamal said, “A Muslim does not record another Muslim”—his life has been a nightmare.
“Unfortunately, because I respected my agency, and I respected my obligation to my agency to not respond, it was taken for granted that I was guilty of these accusations,” Gamal said. Anger pitched his voice higher. “A lot of people in the media and on the Internet took it and flew with it, and they spoke out of ignorance.
“I did not only lose my job. I lost my dignity, my reputation,” he said, slapping a palm hard on a desk. “I lost self respect, for myself and my family, because of the accusations.”
The story that had emerged was “a fabricated lie!”
It turns out he was right. About all of it. Now Gamal has filed defamation and libel lawsuits against the Chicago agents, as well as O’Reilly, Brian Ross at ABC, and others. Today, because the FBI has reinstated him, Gamal can’t talk to the media about his past or the effect it has had on his present. But from depositions and numerous interviews with FBI officials, a maddening story emerges. The nation’s greatest counter-terrorism agent is once again working leads for the FBI. But he’s a shell of his former self.
Thunder woke 9-year-old Gamal and the rest of his family—except this thunder sounded different. It was not sharp, but low and sustained. It drew Gamal and his older brothers onto the balcony of their Cairo home. There they saw the red mushroom clouds of Israeli bombs. It was 1967. The Six-Day War with Israel. Gamal’s father, Elsayed, herded everyone into a basement where they waited out the bombs. President Gamal Abdel Nasser had whipped his nation into a frenzy. But not Gamal’s parents. They were moderates. Gamal’s father had served in the military under the British, when Egypt was a colony. He hated Nasser’s anti-West message. “My family just made sure we weren’t involved with any of that,” Gamal says. (This quote and all others from Gamal come from his 2003 interview.)
Gamal was the youngest of seven children, six brothers and a sister, raised in Cairo’s small but relatively privileged middle class. Gamal’s father held a partnership in a textile factory that supported regular expansions of the family’s three-story home. He was a deeply religious man who’d memorized the Koran. But Gamal’s father also believed in the value of secular education because, as he often preached, it was the only way to avoid the poverty many Egyptians suffered.
Gamal’s brothers and sisters received public education, but Gamal attended a premier Christian school run by the Coptic Church, the church of Egypt. Later, Gamal attended a private high school run by the Greek Orthodox Church. Growing up in this diverse environment insulated Gamal from the radical Islam preached in some mosques. “Half my friends throughout my education were Christians,” Gamal says. “It eliminated the barrier between Islam and Christianity.”
After graduation, Gamal drifted. His father pushed him to become an English interpreter. Gamal enrolled in the 1,000-year-old Al-Azhar University, the only school in the country that offered a degree in translation. Gamal was soon elected to the university’s apolitical student union. He had a personality that drew people closer, invited their confidence. He was an observant Muslim—never drank, gambled, or chased women. He often let loose his high-pitched giggle, and he never forgot a name.
"I'm not going to let somone force me to change my whole life against my will," Gamal said. "Threats like this are part of my job."
It was as a student leader that he heard about Mohammad Elmougy, another young man studying English and one who, coincidentally, years later, would move to Dallas and rekindle his friendship with Gamal. At university, Elmougy one day argued with an autocratic faculty member. The teacher retaliated by essentially deleting Elmougy’s grades for the year. Gamal came to Elmougy’s defense, at considerable risk to his own academic future. The intervention was unsuccessful, but Elmougy never forgot it. “He has a strong sense of right and wrong,” Elmougy says. “That’s always been the kind of man he is.”
With his father’s financial help, Gamal and a group of friends traveled to New York in 1980 to take more translation classes. Gamal loved the city. “I knew right away that I was going to immigrate to America as soon as I possibly could,” he says. In 1984, he moved to North Richland Hills with a high school friend who promised to help Gamal find work.
Gamal landed a job with Southland Corporation as a management trainee for 7-Eleven. He took over unprofitable stores in some of Fort Worth’s toughest neighborhoods and turned them around. His new wife, Bertie Ann Martin, a West Texas native, worked as a cashier alongside him. Neil Dahl, Gamal’s boss at Southland, says his charm with customers, work ethic, and the sandwiches he and Bertie prepared each day never failed to turn troubled stores into top performers. “People would stand in lines just for those sandwiches of theirs,” Dahl says. “He was always such a happy type guy. You never saw Gamal frowning.”
Gamal’s ability to handle thieves and root out dishonest employees, while also endearing himself to the community, soon put him at the top of Southland’s salary range. But one night in 1987, Gamal was in the back office of one of his stores, counting the day’s receipts, when he heard a commotion near the counter where his wife worked. He rushed out to see a robber beating Bertie, her face a bloody mess. When she tried to call 911, the robber pulled Bertie over the counter by her hair. A customer threw hot coffee on a second robber, and Gamal, believing his wife had been murdered, rushed out and tackled the first. She lived, but the incident ultimately led Gamal to quit Southland in March 1990, the same month he received his U.S. citizenship.
He began a yearlong contract position as a translator in Saudi Arabia for an American company that provided fitness training to Saudi air defense personnel. He was in Saudi Arabia during the build-up to the Gulf War. After the start of the U.S. air campaign, Gamal contacted the American consulate and offered his services free of charge to the American troops. But the war ended before his application could be processed.
His Saudi contract ended in April 1991, and Gamal returned to Fort Worth jobless. Two years later, he finally got work as a contract interpreter for the FBI. It needed him in New York. Months earlier, a group of radical Islamists led by a blind Egyptian cleric had exploded a car bomb that nearly took down the World Trade Center. The FBI had thousands of hours of surveillance tapes that needed to be translated. Gamal and Bertie packed their bags for New York.
On a January night in 1995, the phone rang in Gamal’s Staten Island apartment. It was Andy McCarthy, the lead prosecutor in the government’s trial of the famed Blind Sheik, Omar Abdel-Rahman. A day earlier, Gamal had taken the stand for the first time to testify about the thousands of hours of surveillance tapes monitoring the fellow Egyptian—an alum of Gamal’s university, as it turned out. For nearly a year, Gamal had put in 80-hour weeks interpreting the surveillance gathered during the FBI’s most intensive terrorism investigation to date. That night, McCarthy’s voice on the phone was grave. He told Gamal to hurry to the office.
Gamal arrived at the federal building in Manhattan an hour later. His heart was pounding, and, despite the cold weather, he was sweating. Had he done something to compromise the case? Made a mistake on the stand yesterday? McCarthy and the FBI’s lead supervisor ushered him into the office.
“We’ve just gotten word,” McCarthy said, “that there’s a credible threat against your life.”
McCarthy explained that an FBI informant inside the Flatbush Avenue mosque had overheard heated discussions among close associates of the Blind Sheik. They were upset that a Muslim and fellow Egyptian would take the stand against the Sheik. The associates believed Gamal was no translator but rather a secret intelligence officer for the pro-American Egyptian government. They planned to assassinate Gamal.
McCarthy offered to let Gamal withdraw from the case so he wouldn’t have to testify. McCarthy said he’d provide Gamal a two-man protective detail and the costs of relocating him to a city of his choice. Gamal refused.
“I’m not going to let someone force me to change my whole life against my will,” Gamal said. “Threats like this are part of my job.”
Still, Gamal called his older brother in Cairo that night and warned him that the Sheik’s organization might try to harm the family. Gamal asked his brother to move Gamal’s college file, which contained family information and a home address.
Gamal testified against the Blind Sheik 18 times over the next 10 months. Every time, upon leaving the courtroom, Gamal would change his routine, double back, constantly checking for followers. The assassination threat revealed a vulnerability that would haunt Gamal from then on. Even if the bureau ensured his safety, it was powerless to protect his family in Egypt. But Gamal’s efforts were rewarded. A jury convicted the Sheik of masterminding the attack and sentenced him to life in prison in October 1995.
The World Trade Center bombing highlighted the FBI’s need for Muslim agents. It had none. This was by design. The FBI considered Muslims to be unreliable, more likely to become moles. Bureau thinking went that Middle Eastern culture encouraged a loyalty to religion above all else. But that thinking had to change, says Oliver “Buck” Revell, who headed the FBI’s counter-terrorism division for 11 years during the 1980s and 1990s. “We’ve used Italian-American agents, who spoke fluent Sicilian, to penetrate the mob,” Revell says. “We’ve used Russian-speaking agents to penetrate the Russian mob. That’s the same thing you have to do with any ethnically separated population. And collecting information from within the Arab-American community suddenly became very important after ’93.”
FBI recruiters sought out Gamal. But he was 36. The age cap for enrolling was 37, and at the trial’s end, he was nearing his birthday.
He went quickly through the training academy, graduating in 1996, the same year he and Bertie divorced. (She had not taken to New York, and there were other “irreconcilable” differences, the divorce papers said.) When asked where he wanted to be based, Gamal didn’t hesitate. He was heading to Dallas. He was going home.
Dallas at the time was known to have radical Islamists. It had served as the communications hub for the planning of the 1993 World Trade Center attack. One Dallas grocery clerk, Eyad Ismoil, was convicted of driving the explosives-bearing truck into the basement. His associates were still here. So was Wadih el Hage, a top Osama bin Laden lieutenant later convicted of U.S. embassy bombings in Africa. Also in Dallas, allegedly, were leaders of the terrorist group Hamas. American and Israeli intelligence investigated Islamic charities in Richardson believed to comprise the U.S. headquarters for Hamas. (One of the charities, the Holy Land Foundation, will go to trial in July.) Hezbollah sympathizers were here, too, running clandestine fundraisers in North and East Texas in the late 1990s.
To deal with the threat, the Dallas field office built the largest joint counter-terrorism task force in the country. When Gamal joined it, a deep distrust of the force had spread through the Muslim community. Gamal’s superiors found him a unique commodity. Because he was an observant Muslim and had lived for years in North Texas, he already had the number of every mosque and person of import in the Muslim community. And because of the years spent managing 7-Elevens, and the job he did there, the Muslim community held him in high esteem.
“He was honest before he worked for the FBI, and everybody knew about his honesty,” says Jamal Qaddura, a longtime activist at Gamal’s old mosque in Arlington. “And even after he came back as an FBI agent, I can promise you that everybody, including members of every mosque, approached him, talked to him, invited him to their homes. The comfort zone was there.”
Knowing this, the FBI gave Gamal a role it had given no other agent, past or present. Gamal’s mission was to circulate in his community, openly advertising himself as a member of the FBI, giving assurances that, as a fellow Muslim, he could be trusted to take information in confidence. The unprecedented role “was a no-brainer,” says Danny Defenbaugh, who headed the Dallas office from 1998 to 2002.
One of Gamal’s first orders of business was to set up a peacemaking meeting between FBI officials and Muslim leaders in 1998. The leaders were concerned that the bureau was investigating every mosque in North Texas, given the headlines coming out of the Holy Land Foundation in Richardson. Gamal brokered a deal in which both sides would meet in the back room of a Denny’s, because no mosque would hold a meeting with the FBI. Some 20 people attended, none of them imams.
“You’re just on a fishing expedition,” one Muslim said. “You guys have nothing on us.”
Defenbaugh responded that the FBI wasn’t investigating mosques. (But he didn’t say the bureau wasn’t investigating the people inside the mosques.) He spent much of the night explaining how the FBI worked, how it got arrest warrants and permission to order wiretaps and surveillance. He asked those in attendance only “to let us know when someone is breaking the law.”
Gamal never said a word. He stayed in a corner of the room. But the message was clear: if Muslims could trust Gamal to come to this meeting, then they could trust the FBI co-workers who spoke for him. Gamal arranged more meetings. Soon, imams attended, and the information began flowing to the Dallas field office. “He’d make the introductions, and our agents just ran on it on their own,” says Tino Perez, Gamal’s former supervisor on the international terrorism task force. “He helped a lot with stuff like that.”
Every time, upon leaving the courtroom, Gamal would change his routine and double back, constantly checking for followers. The assasination threat revealed a vulnerability that would haunt Gamal from then on.
It wasn’t long before field offices across the country called on Gamal to confirm associations or make identifications for their own investigations. Word also spread among other cities’ Muslim populations: the Dallas agent could be trusted to relay information in confidence. “They would talk to him,” says Charlie Storey, a retired Dallas cop who for years worked on counter-terrorism cases with the FBI. “I can remember a lot of things that he did that no one else would have been able to accomplish.”
Gamal’s mission didn’t sit well with everyone. People involved with the Holy Land Foundation, for one, asked Muslim leaders to ban Gamal from the mosque in Richardson. Mohammad Suleman has been the mosque’s president for years. He recalls people saying, “Do you know an FBI agent is coming to the mosque? Do you know he’s spying on the mosque, profiling us, reporting our names and taking pictures?”
Some did more than just complain to the leadership of their mosques. Not long into Gamal’s new post, an FBI informant said a reputed Hamas activist in Chicago asked people in Dallas to take photos of Gamal and gather information on his new wife, Amal, whom Gamal met on a trip to Cairo in 1998, and Gamal’s relatives in Egypt. The plan was to assassinate the Muslim agent. The threat never materialized, but for the second time, Gamal’s work endangered more than his own life.
He believed the key to keeping his career and personal life in tact was transparency. He would not use the duplicitous measures sometimes employed by his covert FBI brethren. He would not order surveillance. He would not wear a wire. He was praying where he worked. He was working where he prayed. The distinction between public and private life had not only blurred, but was set up to blur.
In May 1999, Gamal flew to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., to complete some training, and there he received a call from an old friend, Abbas Ibrahim. They’d known each other since they were students and roommates in New York during Gamal’s first visit in 1980. Ibrahim lived in Washington and worked as an accountant for BMI, an Islamic banking firm. The two got together whenever Gamal was in town. But this call was for business.
“Gamal, I think I’m in big trouble,” Ibrahim said. “We need to talk in private. Instead of a restaurant, do you mind coming out to the house?”
Over a home-cooked meal, Ibrahim said the FBI had just subpoenaed his boss, Soliman Biheiri. It wanted Biheiri to appear before a grand jury in Chicago. Ibrahim figured he was next, and he told Gamal what he knew. He handed over a piece of paper. On it were instructions from Biheiri to wire large sums of money to an Islamic charity suspected of funding Al Qaeda’s bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa the previous year.
Ibrahim said he thought BMI helped pay for the bombings. But Ibrahim didn’t want to get in trouble. “I want the FBI to know I’m coming forward to help. I’m not part of anything.” He said Biheiri was cracking under the strain of the investigation and could be persuaded to meet with Gamal because he was a fellow Muslim.
Gamal didn’t say anything, but he recognized the investigation as a piece of an international case code-named “Vulgar Betrayal.” The Chicago office was handling it. Chicago believed a wealthy Saudi businessman named Yassin Qadi had been secretly controlling U.S. companies, including BMI, and laundering money for Osama bin Laden’s terrorism operations.
When Gamal returned to Dallas, he paged Chicago Special Agent Robert Wright Jr. Wright and his partner, Special Agent John Vincent, had been working the Qadi investigation for a long time and at great government expense. They were thrilled when Gamal phoned. Even better, Biheiri got a message to Gamal asking for a meeting. Plans were made between Chicago and Dallas to exploit it.
In a conference call between Chicago and Dallas, attended by six agents and supervisors, and years later recalled by many of those present, Gamal was asked to meet Biheiri wearing a wire. Gamal objected. Flustered by the accusatory tone of the questioning, he tried to explain but his words came out convoluted. Something about how he was involved in a delicate assignment in Dallas, one that would be jeopardized if he wore a wire. The Chicago agents brushed that aside. All they seemed to hear during the back-and-forth was Gamal saying, “A Muslim does not record another Muslim.” Gamal recalls something slightly different. He says he told the Chicago agents that if he recorded another Muslim, it would be tantamount to religious betrayal in his community. “Because in their opinion, a Muslim isn’t going to record another Muslim,” Gamal recalls saying.
Danny Defenbaugh, Gamal’s Dallas boss, understood his reservations. Defenbaugh consulted with others familiar with Gamal’s assignment, then spoke with Bill Eubanks, the acting head of the Chicago office. Defenbaugh says Dallas and Chicago agreed that Gamal shouldn’t wear a wire. Still, the Chicago agents, Wright and Vincent, sure of what they’d heard, pressed ahead with formal complaints against Gamal, accusing him of dereliction of duty and possible disloyalty. They demanded an internal investigation. The complaints ultimately went nowhere, and “Vulgar Betrayal” was abandoned.
This seemingly did no harm to Gamal’s career, which was on the rise. He had already investigated Wadih El Hage, the lieutenant of Osama bin Laden who lived for a time in Arlington and was involved in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. (El Hage was later convicted and sentenced to life without parole.) In December 2000, Gamal took a post in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as a deputy legal attaché. It was one of the bureau’s most prestigious posts. Gamal would be the FBI’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. But he had no time to enjoy the promotion. FBI Director Freeh handpicked Gamal for an assignment investigating the USS Cole bombing that had occurred a couple months earlier. In October, off the coast of Yemen, two Al Qaeda suicide bombers drove an explosives-laden boat into the Cole, killing 17 American sailors and wounding 39 more. In December, the Yemeni intelligence service took a man into custody named Jamal al-Badawi. Freeh wanted Gamal to fly over and interview him.
Over the course of five days, Gamal and another agent extracted a confession from al-Badawi, as well as the names of seven conspirators. Gamal did it by striking at al-Badawi’s Muslim pride, reducing the man to tears by questioning al-Badawi’s beard, a symbol of Islamic piety. Gamal says he told al-Badawi, “I used to respect people with beards, who will never lie even if their lives depended on it. But now, because of you, I will never respect beards.” The information eventually led to the capture and imprisonment of 13 conspirators.
Back in Riyadh on September 11, 2001, Gamal found himself at the epicenter of the War on Terror. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. The work Gamal did is classified, and Gamal declines to discuss it. But in early 2002, an urgent call came for him. A 21-year-old U.S. citizen from Lackawanna, New York, by the name of Mukhtar al-Bakri, had been captured by Bahraini authorities. Gamal was ordered to repeat his performance in the USS Cole case.
The Buffalo, New York, field office had developed a tip that six Americans in the area had formed a terror cell after receiving training at a bin Laden camp in Afghanistan. But the bureau didn’t know their names or much about them. They suspected al-Bakri, but Pete Ahearn, the former head of the Buffalo office, says, “We didn’t have anything at the time to pin on these guys. We needed someone to cooperate.”
Gamal found al-Bakri frightened by the Bahraini security cell. Gamal played the role of the friendly American rescuer, his sole purpose to help a fellow citizen, and Muslim, in trouble. Before long, “The kid was looking up to Gamal as a father figure,” Ahearn says. “He wasn’t hard on him but was authoritative. Gamal said, ‘Look, if you don’t work with me here you’ve got a problem. You might not be going back to Buffalo. You’ll be going to Guantanamo as an enemy combatant.’” After a few hours, Gamal had a signed statement from al-Bakri, which was then used to roll five more plotters. The Lackawanna Six, as they were later called, were indicted and convicted on terrorism charges. President Bush eventually touted the case as the biggest domestic success in the new War on Terror.
Six months later, in November 2002, Gamal’s career came tumbling down.
After 9-11, the nation rushed to identify FBI failures. Agents in Arizona, Minnesota, and elsewhere came forward with stories of bureaucratic ineptitude leading up to the attack. Special agents Wright and Vincent of the Chicago office offered their own stories. After all, Yassin Qadi, the wealthy Saudi businessman viewed to be secretly controlling BMI, was linked to financing 9-11. Wright and Vincent broke ranks and told the Wall Street Journal in 2002 that Gamal had refused to record another Muslim—because Muslims didn’t do that—and the bureau had not only protected Gamal but promoted him to one of the most sensitive posts in the War on Terror. Soon after, ABC News’ Primetime aired an interview with Wright and Vincent. The piece implied “Vulgar Betrayal” might have foiled 9-11 were it not for the disloyal Dallas agent who had said, “A Muslim does not record another Muslim.”
“It was right out of his mouth. Five of us—no—six of us heard it!” Wright told Primetime. “I was floored! I went back upstairs, and I called FBI headquarters to tell them what happened. And the supervisor said, ‘Well you have to understand where he’s coming from, Bob.’ I said, ‘No, no, no. I understand where I’m coming from. We both took the same damned oath to defend this country against enemies both foreign and domestic, and he just said, “No”? No. Hell no.’”
The story buzzed through the Internet and mainstream media well into 2003. Gamal was a traitor. Gamal was a mole. Gamal should be deported. The FBI didn’t handle the story well. It wouldn’t let Gamal explain himself because of the bureau’s protocol against agents discussing classified information. It did release a statement to media outlets detailing Gamal’s unique mission in 1999. It also held background meetings with reporters on the allegations made by agents Vincent and Wright. But all of this received little play. The story was too sensational to be nuanced to death. “It was a shark frenzy,” Danny Defenbaugh says. “They [media outlets] decided to just go ahead and trash him.”
Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly jumped into the fray. He dedicated three segments of The O’Reilly Factor to Gamal. At one point, he had Vincent and his lawyer on as guests. O’Reilly let them speak without challenge, framing the segment in a way that suggested the FBI harbored a mole. “Listen,” O’Reilly said. “We know the truth. The truth is I believe your two agents here. The guy wouldn’t tape other Muslims. That’s the truth, and he wasn’t disciplined. But he should have been disciplined, and he wasn’t. And now Mueller is trying to keep us from finding out what the big picture is, but we’re going to find it. Believe me, we will find it.”
In another segment, O’Reilly reduced the controversy to a simple question, partly because neither Gamal nor an FBI spokesperson would appear on his show. “Did Agent Hafiz refuse to secretly tape other Muslims involved in terrorism investigations? Yes or no. If the government will not answer that simple question, we are all in big trouble.”
Around the same time, Gamal’s ex-wife came forward to accuse him of filing a false insurance claim a decade earlier on a home burglary. The claim had led to a lawsuit. The FBI suspended Gamal in February 2003 on grounds that he hadn’t informed the bureau of the lawsuit on his agent application. Because this was a personnel matter, the bureau wouldn’t offer a public explanation. This only supported the notion that Gamal was as rotten as his detractors claimed.
The story buzzed through the Internet and mainstream media well into 2003. Gamal was a traitor. Gamal was a mole. Gamal should be deported. And the FBI wouldn't let Gamal explain himself.
Mohamed Elmougy, a Dallas hotelier and the man whom Gamal defended 20 years earlier before the autocratic college professor, drove to DFW Airport to pick up Gamal after his suspension. Gamal looked frail and disheveled. Elmougy refused to believe what the news accounts said of his old friend. But no one else in the Muslim community wanted anything to do with him. For a long time, Gamal was too embarrassed to leave his own house, even for prayers.
“He was angry,” Elmougy says. “I can tell you Gamal doesn’t have a poker face.”
O’Reilly called Gamal’s home in October 2003, asking him to come on the show. Gamal recorded the conversation. “It was extended to me that we weren’t fair with you the first time around,” O’Reilly said. “That is not the way we operate here.” If Gamal came on, O’Reilly said, “You will get a full hearing.”
Gamal returned the call, still hurt. “You destroyed me and my family,” he said.
He decided against appearing on O’Reilly’s show. Why bother? At the time, Gamal couldn’t even find work with private security outfits.
In January 2004, Gamal filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News, its Primetime reporter Brian Ross, agents Vincent and Wright, and others. When Gamal could still talk to the media, he said, “I don’t care if it takes me until I am dead of old age. I don’t care what it costs. I am going to make sure that those individuals and institutions that are responsible for what has happened to me pay.”
What happened next surprised Gamal and the few friends he had left. In February 2004, Gamal received a single-page letter from the FBI. The bureau’s appeals panel had thrown out the insurance fraud findings. It couldn’t corroborate the claims of Gamal’s ex-wife. Gamal was reinstated.
But life was not the same. The FBI stuck Gamal in mortgage fraud. And so a month into his new job, dissatisfied, Gamal decided to file another suit, this one against O’Reilly and Fox News, also for defamation. All told, Gamal is seeking about $8 million in damages.
Money notwithstanding, in the suits Gamal points out that as an agent he didn’t have the authority to refuse a wire. His boss, Danny Defenbaugh, made that decision. And Defenbaugh was the one telling the Chicago office that, because of Gamal’s delicate mission, he shouldn’t wear a wire. Bill Eubanks, the head of the Chicago office, agreed with Defenbaugh that Gamal shouldn’t wear one. What’s more, internal records of ABC and Fox show that the FBI had clearly stated it was Defenbaugh’s decision for Gamal not to wear a wire. Yet none of the segments included this detail, perhaps because the reporters and producers didn’t understand the FBI. In one deposition, Brian Ross, the ABC reporter, said “the U.S. Attorney” made the decision about wires.
The suit also contains the deposition of Dallas agent Jay Melton, who says Wright and Vincent spread the rumor throughout the bureau that Gamal was a mole well before they went public with the accusation. They worked to relieve Gamal of his duties. They also made racist comments, at one point in the 1999 dispute referring to Gamal as a “camel jockey,” Defenbaugh said in his deposition. In an interview with me, in 2003, for CBS Channel 11, Vincent said Gamal should not work terrorism. “The most important thing in a Muslim’s life is his religion,” he said. “The second-most important thing is his religion. And the third-most important thing is his religion.”
Vincent may find interesting what Gamal told O’Reilly’s lawyer in a deposition last year. Charles Babcock questioned Gamal about one of the two instances for which he had refused a wire. It was 1998, during the Tampa field office’s investigation of university professor Sami Al-Arian. Al-Arian allegedly supported Hamas. Almost every news report said Gamal had refused direct orders to covertly record Al-Arian, who had contacted Gamal for advice about part of the investigation. It was another instance in which the cloak of secrecy had kept Gamal and the FBI from offering an explanation.
But when Babcock asked, Gamal said he had, in fact, secretly recorded Al-Arian. The FBI’s lawyer moved to stop Gamal from elaborating. But the truth was out. I have since learned from FBI sources that Gamal covertly recorded other Muslims on at least three occasions.
In 1998 a New York-based FBI task force, “I-49,” zeroed in on the Center Arlington mosque to investigate Wadih El Hage, an Al Qaeda sympathizer who lived for a time in Arlington and was believed to have been involved with two embassy bombings in Africa. Jack Cloonan, a former agent of I-49, says, “We never required [Gamal] to wear a wire. We did ask him to get some information for us about locations of certain things in the mosque. That information was critical to get electronic coverage of certain areas of the mosque. We never had any problems [with Gamal]. I think all this other stuff had no basis.”
In 1999, Gamal wore a wire to a Denny’s in Carrollton and talked there with a Palestinian named Ghassan Dahduli, also linked to Al Qaeda, and an associate of suspected Hamas leaders in Dallas. Dahduli faced deportation, and as FBI agents listened from surveillance trucks outside, Gamal presented Dahduli an offer: Dahduli could stay if he became an informant for the FBI. He refused. Dahduli was later deported to Jordan.
In 2002, during Gamal’s Lackawanna Six investigation, the pivotal interview, the one that led to a full confession of all the Lackawanna Six members, was secretly videotaped. This happened two months before ABC aired its story.
Today, Gamal is once more working counter-terrorism. He oversees a group of intelligence analysts, examining streams of classified information. He decides which criminal cases should be pursued and who should be investigated. It’s a position that requires the trust and confidence of his supervisors. But other field offices don’t call as often as they once did. Nor is Gamal summoned by top brass when help is needed abroad.
Gamal still keeps a low profile in the Arab community. Some Muslims are happy he got what they consider his comeuppance for working against them. Others are wary of associating with Gamal, a possible traitor, lest that association bring undue FBI attention to them. Lately, Gamal has been seen making connections here and there for the FBI. But nothing like before.
His lawsuits continue to churn through the Tarrant County courts. The FBI is watching the cases nervously. There are some who know Gamal who believe nothing—not even winning the suits—will allow him to regain the status he once held. And never again will he be fully accepted by either the FBI or the Muslim community.
“In the bureau, culturally speaking, he’ll never survive,” says one former agent who asked not to be identified. “He won’t be trusted. He’ll be isolated. I hope, for himself, he finds peace. But really, he’s a man without a country.”