Admitting Terror, Part 2
Five years ago Walter "Dan" Cadman left South Florida in disgrace. The former director of Florida operations for the Immigration and Naturalization Service had been caught deceiving a congressional task force and then trying to cover up his actions. The U.S. Justice Department, after an investigation into what became known as Kromegate, recommended that Cadman be fired or, at the very least, receive a 30-day suspension and be permanently relieved of management duties.
In 1996 the INS transferred Cadman from his position in Florida to the service's Washington, D.C., headquarters, where he was temporarily demoted to an investigator's position. But two years later, after the public outrage over Kromegate had died down and Cadman's name was all but forgotten, the INS's top brass quietly handed him a new job, a position more important than anyone could have known: The INS made Cadman its counterterrorism chief.
Cadman, as director of the INS National Security Unit, continues to manage a staff and directs criminal investigations across the nation. He also is responsible for working with other federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, to help catch terrorists. The man who had been caught deceiving Congress was soon testifying about the nation's effort to combat terrorism before House and Senate subcommittees.
"If a person can't be trusted, how can he be given a job dealing with terrorism with the INS?" asks U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, a California Republican and chairman of the task force that was deceived during a 1995 inspection of Miami International Airport and the Krome Detention Center in west Miami-Dade. "He should have been fired after Kromegate." (In a 1996 interview with New Times, Gallegly said, "I think it is a disgrace that those we entrust with enforcing the laws of the land would themselves violate the law.... It's clear to me that some [INS employees] are on the wrong side of the bars. There's no question that Dan Cadman violated the law and obstructed justice."
Gallegly, a long-time critic of the INS, says he learned only after the September 11 disasters that Cadman held the important post. And he says Cadman's promotion following the scandal illustrates the chronic mismanagement of the immigration service.
Cadman refused to comment for this article, but INS spokeswoman Nancy Cohen spoke for him. "INS has every confidence that Dan Cadman has the ability to run the National Security Unit," she said. "We're definitely supportive of Dan and his efforts."
The September 11 attacks, however, have placed a spotlight on the failures of the INS. Immigration inspectors, for instance, admitted terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta into the country this past January 10 when he should have been deported. On October 29 President George W. Bush announced that the Justice Department is creating a task force to reform the entire immigration system. Also on October 29 Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, visited INS centers in Miami and met with top officials, including district director John Bulger and union leaders William King and José Touron, who detailed chronic problems at the service in a recent New Times article ("Admitting Terror," October 18).
Cadman himself illuminated some of the National Security Unit's shortcomings when he testified before a Senate subcommittee in 1998. He conceded that the INS was failing to update computer databases used to track and identify terrorists. He also said the INS and other federal agencies weren't communicating enough with one another, making it possible for terrorists to slip through the cracks.
Yet it seems little has been done to improve the situation since then. "INS's failure has played a key role in the threat to American security," Gallegly says. "There is no question about that. I'm not going to point fingers, but there is simply no enforcement happening at INS."
Cadman's climb through the bureaucracy began when he joined the INS in 1976. After working as an investigator and regional director, he took over the Miami district in 1992. (The Miami district includes Florida and the Bahamas, where the INS prescreens travelers. It is one of the largest and busiest in terms of the number of travel documents reviewed each year.) Three years later, when the seven-member congressional fact-finding team visited Krome and MIA, Cadman was among several high-ranking INS officials who attempted to deceive the Washington politicians into believing that Miami immigration operations were managed well.
Shortly before the task force's visit, Cadman and others abruptly released 58 detainees from the critically overcrowded Krome Detention Center, according to an exhaustive federal investigation. Another 81 individuals were transferred to jails in Jackson and Monroe counties.
To give the illusion that the inspection process at Miami's airport was well-managed, staffing was bulked up and noncriminal detainees were allowed to wait in an unsecured lobby rather than in a less hospitable holding cell. Inspectors also were ordered to remove their gun holsters and handcuffs to portray a kinder, gentler INS that focused on customer service.
After more than 45 employees, many of them union members, blew the whistle on their bosses, Kromegate broke. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Justice Department investigated the matter and, in June 1996, released its findings in a 197-page report. In it Inspector General Michael Bromwich not only detailed the conspiracy behind the INS sham but also explained how Cadman and other officials tried to cover up their wrongdoing.
While Cadman didn't personally direct the conspiracy to deceive the task force (that job was left to his deputy, Valerie Blake), he did "sit by and allow the deception to occur," Bromwich wrote. "Moreover, and perhaps most troubling, Cadman was a willing participant in efforts to mislead INS headquarters and then to mislead and delay the investigation into this matter."
Justice officials found that Cadman had presided over meetings in which the conspiracy was planned. On the day of the visit, Cadman, reportedly red-faced with anger, threatened to arrest two INS inspectors who tried to alert the representatives about the deception. Cadman even called airport police.
Cadman's coverup efforts began after the OIG started its investigation. "Cadman did not deny that large numbers of aliens had been transferred and released from Krome," Bromwich wrote in his report. "However, Cadman essentially represented that all alien movements were normal in light of Krome's overcrowded condition." That explanation, the OIG determined, wasn't true.
Rather than cooperate with investigators, Cadman forced the Justice Department to obtain subpoenas to gain access to his computer files. When the OIG finally inspected Cadman's computer, all his e-mails relating to the delegation's visit had been deleted. According to the report: "In his interview, Cadman stated that as a matter of consistent practice he contemporaneously deleted his electronic mail messages shortly after responding to them. In searching his e-mail, however, we did find some of Cadman's messages from June 1995 -- which was inconsistent with Cadman's representation to us."
In an expensive and time-consuming process, investigators were eventually able to locate 61 messages that had been sent or received by Cadman regarding the congressional visit, many of which helped the OIG prove that the officials had purposefully deceived Congress.
"On the basis of evidence gathered in this investigation, we believe the appropriate punishment for Miami District Director Walter Cadman falls within a range from a 30-day suspension to termination of employment," the OIG concluded. "Should he not be terminated, we urge his reassignment ... to a position where he would not have significant managerial responsibilities."
After Cadman's removal from Miami, he virtually disappeared into the INS bureaucracy. Then on March 4, 1997, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) held hearings on the matter, trying to find out how Cadman and his cohorts were punished. Rogers grilled then-Attorney General Janet Reno: Rogers: I need to know what happened to the people. Let's get to the bottom line here. What happened to the people that misled the Congress? Name the names, and where are they now?
Reno: Dan Cadman elected a voluntary demotion to GS-15, criminal investigator in headquarters ops.
Rogers: Where is he now?
Reno: I cannot tell you precisely.
Rogers: Is he still working?
Reno: He accepted a voluntary demotion, sir, so I would assume he is still working.
Rogers: He's a Justice Department official, correct?
Reno: So far as I know, sir.
Rogers: He misled the Congress, still works for the Justice Department. Who else?
When Reno told Rogers that Cadman and other Kromegate officials went through a legal process to maintain their jobs, Rogers shot back: "We want to protect their rights. I'm also protective of the people's right to have truthful federal employees reporting truthfully to their people's representatives. And when they lie to the Congress ... and they maintain their employment with the Justice Department, people have a right to be suspect.... How can we make policy when our own officials are misleading the people like that?"
Roughly a year later, in 1998, INS promoted Cadman to head the newly formed National Security Unit. "This is a case where truth is stranger than fiction," says Representative Gallegly. "And I think this explains in some way what is wrong with INS."
If Gallegly wants more evidence of problems within the INS, he might consider the case of Mary Schneider. More than two years before the September 11 attacks, Schneider, a seasoned immigration officer, vehemently complained that Islamic visitors who were possible terrorists were moving into the Orlando area. She told Immigration and Naturalization Service officials that hundreds of aliens, some of whom she suspected were tied to Osama bin Laden, were illegally gaining residence. She further alleged that several INS supervisors had accepted bribes in return for allowing those aliens to remain in the country.
Rather than thoroughly investigate Schneider's complaints, the INS began a campaign of retaliation against the 21-year immigration employee that nearly led to her termination, says David Ross, the Los Angeles-based attorney who represented her. The agency painted her as prejudiced against Muslims and charged her with insubordination and other administrative offenses, Ross alleges.
Schneider, who works as an adjudications officer at the INS and is responsible for determining whether visitors can become permanent U.S. residents, filed last year as a whistleblower with the federal Merit System Protection Board. During MSPB hearings on the matter, the board ruled in Schneider's favor, "which means that from now on and forever, if they take action against her, it will be presumed they are retaliating against her," Ross says, adding that the MSPB "blew the INS out of the water." The immigration service is appealing the MSPB's ruling.
As she battled her employer, Schneider also repeatedly asked the Justice Department, which oversees the INS, to investigate her claims. In May 1999 Schneider mailed her allegations to the FBI's Anti-Terrorism Joint Task Force in New York City. On March 28 of this year, Schneider warned Attorney General John Ashcroft in a letter that national security was threatened and pleaded for an investigation. The claims in her letter, which was obtained by New Times, include the following:She has information from five informants on "long-running, extensive, felony bribery conspiracies engaged in by Orlando INS and staff at a former [unnamed] congressional office." The bribery ring involved "over 50 Islamic Muslim Moroccans, an unknown number of whom had ties" to Ihab Ali, an Egyptian who lived in Orlando when he was imprisoned in 1999 in New York for ties to Osama bin Laden and the East Africa embassy bombings.
INS officials stole cash and jewelry from illegal aliens who had been detained.
Records of more than 200 felony immigration fraud cases were secretly removed from her office.
Her investigation "has been suppressed and covered up" with the use of "criminal coercion, intimidation, and harassment of outside informants and myself by select officials."
On August 9, just a month before the New York and Washington, D.C., suicide hijackings, she complained to Sue Armstrong, deputy director of investigations for INS's Office of Internal Audit (OIA). "Never once in three years did I receive any verbal or written response from the FBI other than ... letters informing me that my information was forwarded to the FBI in Tampa," wrote Schneider.
A week later, on August 16, the Justice Department notified Schneider that her allegations had been forwarded to U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis in Miami. On September 11 Schneider wrote to Lewis: "In light of the multiple terrorist attacks on our American soil today, I am forwarding the enclosed documents in hope this material will finally be taken seriously and immediate action taken to reduce and in some way minimize what will assuredly be future terrorist attacks on Our Beloved America."
Aloyma Sanchez, a spokeswoman for Lewis, will not comment on the case because it is a pending matter. The INS also refuses to comment on Schneider's allegations. INS spokeswoman Patricia Mancha says only that all allegations made by INS employees are reviewed and those with merits are fully investigated. Schneider's current attorney, Fort Lauderdale labor lawyer Donald Appignani, disputes that claim, however.
Appignani, who has represented numerous INS employees and won't comment on Schneider's case while it is pending, says OIA is notorious for systematically protecting INS higher-ups. Indeed evidence suggests that the OIA -- and deputy director Armstrong in particular -- has indeed routinely cleared supervisors accused of wrongdoing. Former OIA investigator William Congleton, who is still with INS, swore under oath that Armstrong "does not want allegations against managers, generally, substantiated." He made his comments during a September 1999 deposition taken in the case of another INS whistleblower. "She likes to see managers exonerated...," he continued. "Her view is ... that her job is to protect management and to enforce rules and regulations against members of the bargaining unit."
Armstrong, reached at her Washington office, declines comment. INS media director Russ Bergeron says the INS, under rules of a legal settlement, cannot discuss the Congleton deposition. But he does defend the Office of Internal Audit. "Whatever decisions are made [by OIA] are based solely on the facts and the law and have nothing to do with whether a person is affiliated with union or management," says Bergeron.
Whatever the merit of her allegations, Schneider's warnings certainly proved prophetic. Numerous Orlando ties to the suicide bombings and bin Laden have been uncovered both before and after the attacks -- so many that the Orlando Sentinel recently suggested that Central Florida should be dubbed Terroristland.
Ali, an Egyptian national, drove a cab in Orlando before the FBI tied him to bin Laden and jailed him in 1999. Intriguingly Ali took flight training in 1993 at a school in Oklahoma that has been linked to some of the September 11 terrorists. Since the attacks, it has been discovered that a former Orlando resident named Ziyad Khaleel, age 37, purchased a $7500 satellite telephone that wound up with bin Laden in Afghanistan, according to media accounts. Another Egyptian immigrant living in Orlando, Hady Omar, Jr., was arrested in Arkansas the day after the attacks because authorities found he'd made airplane reservations for three of the hijackers. And relatives of suspected September 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta have also lived in Orlando. One of them, a man named Majed Atta, abruptly left the area in September.
The suspects identified in Schneider's complaints "were from areas where there were terrorists, and their backgrounds troubled her," Ross says. "She didn't like the way they got into the country or what they were doing here."
Schneider declines to comment at length, saying only that she had gathered a lot of evidence and still seeks a full investigation. "I would like to see criminal activity stopped, but I don't want to point my finger at the government at this time," she relates. "We all need to be supportive of our government since September 11."
Attorney David Ross, however, is unafraid to say the INS, the FBI, and the Justice Department failed. "They dropped the ball in a big way," he contends. "I was shocked that the Justice Department never investigated this. I don't think INS officials thought that what happened on September 11 would ever happen. Now people are actually going to look at this. Had the government followed [Schneider's] philosophy, we probably would have stopped some very bad people.
"[Schneider] would say, David, you don't understand; we are in danger. They are sending these terrorists into this country and I can't understand why more isn't being done. They are going to commit acts of terrorism in this country.' She happened to hit the nail right on the head."
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.