(MCT) — SEATTLE — The FBI agent who initiated the investigation that led to the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus has a history of bucking the system on principle, once testifying for the defense of convicted would-be “millennium bomber” Ahmed Ressam about Ressam’s harsh treatment by the agent’s colleagues after the 9/11 attacks.
Special Agent Fred Humphries was outspoken in opposing the FBI’s decision at the time to turn Ressam over to agents from New York after the attacks, and warned their tough tactics were undoing the cooperation Humphries had coaxed out of the al-Qaida-trained terrorist. Eventually, Ressam ceased cooperating, as Humphries predicted.
Humphries found himself sharply criticized within the bureau. He insisted he had done right and owed it to Ressam.
That same sense of right and duty may be what drove Humphries late last month to contact U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., when he concluded that the FBI was dragging its feet — possibly for political reasons — into an investigation into disturbing emails sent anonymously to Tampa, Fla., socialite Jill Kelley, according to sources familiar with the case.
That investigation eventually led agents to discover that the emails were written by Petraeus’ biographer and secret lover, Paula Broadwell.
Reichert took Humphries’ concerns to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who took the message to FBI Director Robert Mueller. Congressional leaders have since complained that they weren’t told about the probe until Petraeus resigned three days after the election.
Kelley, a family friend, first contacted Humphries about the emails, according to Humphries and news reports. Humphries referred Kelley’s complaint to the bureau’s cybercrime unit and was not directly involved in the investigation, according to the sources.
Humphries, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, acknowledged he sought out Reichert, through his former boss, retired Seattle FBI Special Agent in Charge Charlie Mandigo, but declined to elaborate.
But two sources said Humphries decided to go outside the bureau when his concerns about the progress of the investigation — which he believed involved national security — were met with an internal investigation into a shirtless photograph of Humphries found in Kelley’s email.
Humphries, 47, confirmed the photograph exists and was sent to Kelley and dozens of other friends and acquaintances in the fall of 2010, shortly after Humphries had transferred to the Tampa office from Guantanamo Bay, where he had been an FBI liaison to the CIA at the detention facility there.
Indeed, among his friends and associates, Humphries was known to send dumb-joke emails in which the punch line was provided by opening an attached photo.
A Seattle Times reporter was among those who received an email containing an attachment of the shirtless photo. The subject line read: “Which one is Fred?”
The snapshot shows Humphries — bald, muscular and shirtless — standing between a pair of headless but equally buff and bullet-ridden target dummies on a shooting range.
The joke — over which was the dummy — has now backfired in ways he couldn’t have imagined on Sept. 9, 2010, when it was first sent.
Mandigo confirmed he received a copy of the photo as well and described it as “joking.” The photo was sent from a joint personal email account shared by Humphries’ wife. Humphries said that, at one point, his supervisor posted the picture on an FBI bulletin board as a joke and that his wife, a teacher, has a framed copy.
Humphries joined the FBI after serving as an Army infantry and intelligence officer, leaving with the rank of captain. He had been with the FBI for just two years when he was made the case agent in the Ressam investigation, involving a 1999 plan to set off a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport.
The trial judge in the Ressam case, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, praised Humphries’ efforts and integrity repeatedly.
In Tampa, he and his wife also dipped into the party circuit that featured CENTCOM brass. In an October 2008 email to friends and acquaintances, including a Seattle Times reporter, he said they had just had “a phenomenal evening at a private residence on Davis Island with MG Jay Hood (former commander at GTMO; now Chief of Staff, CENTCOM) and General Petraeus. Also in attendance, Former Governor Bob Martinez, Mayors, who’s who in Tampa and the State of Florida.”
The email referred to the two generals as “great leaders.”
The New York Times quotes Humphries’ attorney, Lawrence Berger from the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, as saying that the Humphries and Kelleys socialized, and that was part of the reason Jill Kelley went to him about the troubling emails.
He also described the shirtless photo as being “sent years before Ms. Kelley contacted him about this, and it was sent as part of a larger context of what I could call social relations in which the families would exchange numerous photos of each other,” Berger said.
In May 2010, while an agent in the Tampa field office, Humphries shot and killed a disturbed, knife-wielding man outside the gate of MacDill Air Force Base, where Humphries was training with SWAT and special-forces soldiers.
In an email to the Seattle Times reporter several months later, Humphries described the incident.
“I had 4 seconds, that seemed like 40, to go through my mental checks,” he recalled. With cars and civilians around, he waited “‘till he was five feet from me before firing two rounds ... after repeatedly warning him.
“I worried it was a FT Hood scenario,” he said, referring to the shooting spree in 2009 at the Texas Army base that left 13 dead and dozens wounded. “I didn’t even have time to put on my ballistic vest. Crazy world.”
The shooting was deemed justified. Locally, Humphries is remembered as a driven and dedicated counterterrorism agent whose first big case was Ressam, during which he wound up traveling nearly 300,000 miles. Ressam is serving a 37-year sentence.
Humphries also was a key agent in the investigation into James Ujaama, a Seattle man who tried to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.
Andrew Hamilton, a King County senior deputy prosecutor and former federal prosecutor in the Ressam case, said of Humphries on Wednesday, “I can honestly say he was one of the finest agents I have ever worked with.” He said “one of the reasons” Ressam cooperated with federal investigators “is the way he was treated by Fred Humphries.”
“I think Fred was very caring, he was honest and very professional,” Hamilton said of the agent’s dealings with Ressam. “Let me just say this, Fred never got tired,” Hamilton added. “He would work until the job was done.”