FBI Agent Suspended Amid Espionage Allegations
NEW YORK (AP) _ A decorated FBI agent who took part in a discrimination lawsuit against the agency has been suspended and stripped of his security clearance amid allegations of espionage, it was reported today.
Colleagues of Fernando E. Mata, 48, told The New York Times that the allegations against the 15-year veteran and counterintelligence specialist are unjustified and that he appears to be a victim of retaliation for the lawsuit.
The newspaper reported that Mata, who is based in Miami, lost his clearance as a result of a three-year investigation.
FBI spokesman Robert Davenport in Washington confirmed only that Mata had been placed on administrative leave. He would not say why.
An FBI official who spoke to the Times on condition of anonymity said that ″no matter what you think of the FBI, it’s ridiculous to think″ the agency would retaliate by making such a serious allegation.
Mata aided in several major FBI investigations to counter spying by foreign countries. Co-workers said he risked his life in covert assignments.
An unidentified friend of Mata’s told the Times that the FBI claimed to have information that Cuban agents had approached Mata and sought to enlist him as a spy.
An affidavit filed in the discrimination lawsuit in which Mata was a plaintiff showed Mata had requested psychiatric care after a traumatic stint as an undercover foreign counterintelligence agent, but that the FBI refused to grant security clearance to a psychiatrist outside the bureau.
″What the bureau is doing to Fernando Mata is unspeakable,″ said Leo A. Gonzales, an FBI agent who retired last year. ″There’s no doubt in my mind that Fernando is a patriot and a loyal American.″
Gonzales told the Times that the allegations appeared to be a maneuver to force Mata out.
U.S. District Judge Lucius D. Bunton of El Paso, Texas, ruled in 1988 that the FBI had demonstrated a widespread pattern of discrimination against its Hispanic employees in both promotions and working conditions.
The FBI was ordered to make sweeping changes in its policies.
Mata’s attorney, Hugo A. Rodriguez, said Mata has been repeatedly questioned about the possibility of contacts with Cuban intelligence agents several years ago.
″They haven’t told us what he’s being charged with,″ said Rodriguez. ″He has not done anything wrong. He has not compromised the interests of his employer or the government.″
Rodriguez said it was unlikely Mata could be charged with espionage because he was granted limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for agreeing to undergo lie-detector tests and other questioning last year.
Mata in 1983 won the Attorney General’s Award, the highest award given by the Justice Department. Friends said the work that prompted the award is classified.