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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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FBI Agent’s Suit Over Agency Inquiry Tossed

(CN) - An FBI liaison working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia cannot pursue a retaliation claim against supervisors who followed up on concerns that he'd "gone native" while on assignment, the D.C. Circuit ruled.

Wilfred Rattigan, a black man of Jamaican descent, worked for the FBI as a liaison to the Saudi Arabian intelligence service at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

In October 2001, he accused his supervisors in the FBI's Office of International Operations of racial discrimination, and pursued charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office.

One month later, the FBI sent Special Agent Donovan Leighton on a short assignment to Riyadh where he grew suspicious about Rattigan.

When he returned, Leighton filed a memo with Rattigan's supervisor, who passed it to the FBI's Security Division, saying that Rattigan occasionally wore Saudi national clothing given to him as a gift by Saudi security officers, raising the concern he had "gone native."

It also reported that Rattigan's Saudi colleagues were attempting to find him a "suitable wife," that he hosted wild parties that may have included prostitutes, that he paid little attention to the FBI's investigation of the 9/11 attacks, and that he took an extended leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca with his Saudi colleagues, during which time he could only be contacted through the Saudi security services.

Rattigan conceded that he sometimes wore Saudi clothing, that his Saudi colleagues claimed to be looking for a wife for him, and that he traveled to Mecca, but said Leighton presented the facts in a deliberately misleading manner.

The FBI's Security Division began an investigation based on Leighton's memo, but found Rattigan's alleged security risk "unfounded."

Rattigan then filed a civil rights suit in D.C. federal court accusing his supervisors of retaliating against him for forwarding the memo to the agency's security division.

But a federal judge dismissed his case, and the D.C. Circuit affirmed last week, because Rattigan cannot show that Leighton had a retaliatory motive in reporting false information.

"Motive and knowing falsity must united in the same period," Judge Stephen Williams said, writing for the three-judge panel. "But there is no evidence that Leighton, who was not the object of Rattigan's original discrimination claim, had any unlawful retaliatory motive when he documented his concerns."

Furthermore, Rattigan offers no evidence that his supervisors encouraged Leighton to write the memo, or to include the inflammatory allegations.

The court gave him three opportunities to make discovery requests narrowly tailored to the issue of his supervisors' motive to retaliate against him via filing Leighton's report, but on each occasion, Rattigan sought discovery on the broad matter of Leighton's credibility.

But, "while evidence undermining Leighton's credibility might suggest that [his supervisor Michael] Pyszczymuka should have known that the information in the memo was unreliable, it would not demonstrate that Pyszczymuka actually knew Leighton was lying. And evidence that Leighton himself knew his memo contained falsehoods would not help Rattigan because Leighton had no retaliatory motive, and his knowledge cannot be automatically attributed to Pyszczymuka," Williams concluded.

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