IT WAS WIDELY ASSUMED that the agents left because their investigation was complete, and that a report would be forthcoming.
But the real reason the FBI agents left was that just as they were assembling the evidence pointing toward Hun Sen’s inner circle,[n] Nicoletti got the word: The agents were targeted for assassination by the Khmer Rouge. According to embassy sources as well as Cambodians involved in the investigation, word of the threat came straight from Ambassador Quinn.[s]
Quinn (who retired from the State Department when his Cambodia posting ended) told us that the threats were real, but insists that Nicoletti had already come to his house to tell him that the investigation was complete.[s]
“The FBI was very particular about this,” he told us. “They wanted to be absolutely clear that their work had stopped on May 16.” The first threats came eight days later, according to Quinn. The implication is that the threats could not have caused the investigation to end. Quinn also said that it was Nicoletti who told him about the warnings, not the other way around, and that it was the FBI chief in Bangkok who pulled the agents out, not the ambassador in Phnom Penh who pushed.[n]
Quinn, understandably, could not produce the reports of the threatening Khmer Rouge radio broadcast he cited. Regardless, the idea that the agents were at risk from the distant remnants of the Khmer Rouge[n] was preposterous. An attack on FBI agents in Cambodia would have brought about a much larger investigation with far more serious consequences, something Quinn was surely aware of. And the remnants of the Khmer Rouge, for twenty years the blood enemy of Hun Sen, would hardly have wanted to kill the FBI agents, unless of course they had already reconciled with him. Of course, this latter scenario would have laid responsibility for the threat at the door of Hun Sen, the only person in the country with both the power to make such threats in a credible way.[n]
Quinn further maintained that the FBI agents had shifted their suspicions in the attack to a French-Cambodian named In Thaddee, a man in his thirties who worked in France for a company that made flavorings for ice cream and frequently visited from France to work with Rainsy as an aide.[n]
Like Rainsy, Thaddee was in the crowd when the grenades exploded; like Rainsy, he was not killed; and like Rainsy, he was accused of masterminding the attack. Quinn extended this theory to suggest that the attack may have been carried out by the Khmer Rouge itself[n] or by elements within Rainsy's party.[n]
These theories, however, were dismissed by the Senate investigators.[n]
Five weeks after the agents left, a Washington Post article cited U.S. sources familiar with the FBI’s preliminary report as saying that the agency was tentatively pinning responsibility for the massacre on Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard forces.[s] The FBI was even planning to return to finally interview Brazil. But that visit, too, was postponed, on Quinn’s advice. The risk was too great, he said. Hun Sen had made it clear that stability in Cambodia was contingent on his unchallenged rule.
“This was a pretext to pull them out,” a former senior Cambodian police official told us. “The ambassador decided to call it quits.”[s]
The FBI, for its part, refuses to discuss the case. A spokeswoman in the Los Angeles office, where Nicoletti was transferred,[n] said that he would not be permitted to speak about this or any other case. He has ignored repeated entreaties to discuss it.