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Former FBI special agent challenges new director to investigate whistleblower claims

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When former FBI Special Agent Robyn Gritz first joined the FBI in 1997, she said she would have never fathomed that her career as a top counterterrorism agent would end due to sexual discrimination, and even worse leave her working for two years selling "blush and lipstick" at a Macy's make-up counter.

But that, of course, she said is exactly what happened.

Robyn Gritz, former FBI Supervisory Agent
In 2004, Robyn Gritz, the person in from the right bottom row, was one of several women in the FBI's Newark Division, Joint Terrorism Task Force. Gritz, who graduated from the FBI in 1997, investigated some of the world's most notorious terrorists and national security threats. In 2012 after she said she was harassed and her career threatened by senior FBI officials she filed an EEOC complaint for sexual discrimination. Her case is still pending.

Gritz says she has been fighting against some of the most powerful men in the FBI, including now Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe has refused to comment on the series of stories Circa has published on Gritz's case and three separate internal federal inquiries into his actions. The FBI also declined to comment despite repeated requests.

Gritz says she's not just fighting for herself but for other FBI whistleblowers who have been mistreated and pushed out of senior positions either because of their gender, race or for reporting wrongdoing within the bureau.

She hopes recently confirmed FBI Director Christopher Wray will help change what she says is a broken bureaucracy at the top. Wray, she says, needs to access the number of current Equal Employment Opportunity Complaints being brought forth by FBI agents and look at "culture and retention." She believes if the new director does this, he will see a pattern of cultural deterioration brought by some of the bureau's leaders.

Senate FBI Director
FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 12, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

"I would say to Director Wray, take a good look at your culture," said Gritz. "Stop looking at your recruitment. There are thousands and thousands of people that want to be FBI agents. Take a look at what some of the corporations have done out there, how they have embraced diversity, how they have changed their culture. Take a good look at why women in the FBI are not moving up. They're saying there's a lack of candidates for higher positions and higher ranks. Ask why?"

In Gritz's 15th year with the bureau, the then GS-15 who was at the time detailed to the CIA, said she ended up in a battle for her job when she confronted leaders in the FBI and management, who she claimed were going after her and a African American coworker. She says both her and her African American coworker had been in the bureau for more than 15 years.

In a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC], which Gritz is still pursuing in court, she wrote FBI leaders treated her African American coworker "extremely disrespectfully, undermined his position and tried to get him out of the section as well."

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Circa recently published her first on-camera interview regarding Gritz's battle with the FBI.

“They wanted the black male and the female out, we were the only two they were going after,” said Gritz, referring to the colleague she defended during her last year.

She recalled that it wasn't until she rose in the ranks that she confronted sexual discrimination. As a young special agent she said she never experienced any discrimination issues. Most of her colleagues were male and they worked with her as an equal on highly sensitive national security issues, she said.

Gritz said in her lawsuit that McCabe, and other supervisors, created an environment of hostility that forced her to file the EEOC complaint in 2012 charging a handful of FBI executives with sexual discrimination and eventually resign.

“All hell broke loose,” she said. “They retaliated and it was vicious.”

Time and Attendance

The nine hour time difference between South Asia, Yemen, Somalia and Washington D.C. would make for long nights for Gritz during her time at the CIA. Like many FBI agents working with overseas sources she would wait for calls on her blackberry and many times it would be 1 a.m. or 2 p.m. on the East Coast.

It was different being a detailee. "You're working terrorism. You're working long hours. You're not only working in the office," she said.

Gritz was one of the top counterterrorism agents in the bureau and was highly decorated. Her exemplary work on terrorism cases was one of the main reasons she was detailed to the CIA in 2012.

Documents obtained by Circa support Gritz's claim of her outstanding work performance reviews, letters of commendation and awards for service.

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Because Gritz was detailed to the CIA, she also reported to her supervisors at the CIA and her work at the FBI's Washington Field Office took on a different role.

But that's not how it played out.

Her supervisors at headquarters questioned her every move. And later after confronting them about her situation and another colleague at the bureau who was going through similar circumstances she said "everything I did was scrutinized, whether I was traveling, whether I was going to a certain meeting."

She said the supervisors harangued her for not making early morning FBI meetings, among other work related complaints regarding the bureau, despite the fact that she was at the CIA.

"I was working different hours at the CIA and sometimes I was working 16 hour days trying to keep up with sources overseas," Gritz said. "I was a detailee to the CIA and I was working under their requests and guidelines."

The Justice Department Office of Inspector General noted in a 2005 review of FBI detailees working in the CTC's Bin Laden Unit, that the bureau "lacked clear guidance on the role and responsibilities of FBI detailees," which "led to inconsistent expectations about what they were supposed to be doing at the CTC." The Inspector General discovered that none of the FBI detailees "had defined duties that were clearly understood, either by them or FBI managers. Nor were there any memoranda of understanding (MOU) between the FBI and the CIA setting out the job duties and responsibilities of any of the detailees."

"The Joint Duty detailee is significant because it came out of the intelligence failures of 9/11," said Gritz said. "There were detailees at the CIA from the FBI who didn’t know who they reported to, who didn’t know what their responsibilities were for reporting and to rectify that. That’s why the Office of Director at the National Intelligence came out with policies and guidelines that governed all these questions about detailees."

But the Gritz lawsuit said the same problems, which should have been resolved, became the weapon her supervisors used against her to force her out.

"Being told that I didn’t know what I was doing," she said. "I was following US government policy on my position. I had seen those buildings come down. I saw a reason why these rules were put into place. Now I was experiencing what those agents, those detailees back around 9/11 felt, that, 'Wait a second, am I supposed to report to this meeting and this person, or am I supposed to report to the CIA direct supervisor?'"

The Sen. Patrick Toomey letter

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In 2015, Senator Patrick Toomey, a Republican from Gritz’s home state of Pennsylvania sent an inquiry on Gritz’s behalf to the Office of Professional Responsibility [OPR] to inquire about the OPR claims against Gritz. Candace Will, the then assistant director for the Office of Professional Responsibility [OPR], responded to Toomey’s inquiry that "she voluntarily forfeited the opportunity to challenge the findings and conclusions set forth in the OPR's proposal letter."

Circa obtained copies of both the letter from Toomey and the OPR response.

Gritz said she was left without a choice because the bureau gave her no real options. In Will's letter the FBI states, Gritz "repeatedly failed to attend daily meetings after being directed to do so (2) engaged in time and attendance fraud (3) sent an unprofessional e-mail to another government official," among several other complaints.

"It's what they do to everyone they want to get out," Gritz said. "They go after your time and attendance. They find anything they can to try and push you out."

But statistics released in a story by the New York Times last October reveal a significant decline in female leadership in the bureau since 2013. As of October, only 12 percent of 220 senior agent positions, which include nine women who run field offices. In 2013, women held 20 percent of senior agent jobs and 15 women headed the field offices, according to the report.

Psychological Warfare

On one occasion Gritz told Circa she was asked by her supervisors at the CIA to attend a weekend work retreat in Virginia Beach, known to be home to the Navy's elite SEAL teams. Later when questioned by her supervisors about the work-related event, she said she was told by one of the supervisors questioning her, "you just wanted to be with Navy Seals."

She said she was also accused by FBI supervisors in emails and testimony obtained by Circa of being too “emotional.”

In the interview she told Circa, her supervisors also asked, “if I was sleeping around. I wasn’t. But it was a ridiculous accusation and would never happen with any of the male colleagues.”

Gritz described the retaliation as psychological warfare.

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They would say things like Robyn seems fragile, we’re not sure she’s capable of being a detailee for the CIA, she’s a hard one to deal with, or ‘that one is polarizing' and at one point they wrote up in a negative way, that I hold myself to extremely high standards and others,” she said. “It’s the culture of how females are treated. It’s not about recruitment but when women get up to GS14 and GS15 positions then a good majority of us become a target.”

Five years later she finally returned to working in the security industry but she won't give up the fight.

"In the FBI, basically, if something doesn’t read like a book, then there’s something wrong," said Gritz. "There are people that feel there’s unfair treatment happening. They’re afraid to speak out if they see something wrong ...but more are coming forward every day. I'm not fragile and I'm not going to stop fighting."

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