US: FBI harasses critic of anti-terror policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Jan 23 15:12:29 UTC 2008

FBI harasses critic of anti-terror policy

The FBI has declared war against a whistle-blower who warns that the
agency lacks the experience and skills needed to combat terrorists.
Bassem Youssef, a decorated agent passed over for promotions after the
Sept. 11, 2001 Al Qaeda attacks, has been stalked by the FBI for his
criticism of the sloppiness of counter-insurgency operations in the
United States. The agency has tried to stop Youssef from public
speaking and set new rules that seek to classify virtually anything he

"As the highest ranking Arab American FBI agent/counterterrorism
manager fluent in Arabic and as one of the FBI's most experienced and
knowledgeable Middle Eastern counterterrorism experts," said Youssef's
lawyer Stephen Kohn Attorney, "Mr. Youssef clearly has a First
Amendment right to express his opinions on matters of public concern
and to fully explain how the FBI's discrimination against Arab
Americans—and various polices it has implemented to justify that
discrimination—have harmed America." The FBI demanded that the
49-year-old Youssef was required to clear his speech to the American
Library Association's meeting in Philadelphia on Jan. 12. As a result,
Youssef, who joined the agency in 1982, decided to stage a
question-and-answer session instead.

"The FBI has publicly stated that expertise in working
counterterrorism matters, and cultural understanding of the Middle
East and the radical Islamic groups, as well as the language, are not
necessary to run the counterterrorism division," said Youssef. "Why
would any Arab-American who may be the target of (FBI) recruitment be
interested?" Youssef, responsible for wire-tapping in the agency, has
asserted that the FBI was ignoring skills to fight al Qaeda and
aligned groups. Honored the National Intelligence Medal by the CIA,
Youssef said agents and their supervisors continue to operate without
basic knowledge of Arab language and culture, Islam and terrorist

As a result, Youssef said, the FBI routinely misidentifies terrorist
subjects. Citing a false alarm of Iraqi agents trying to smuggle a
radiation bomb from Mexico into the United States, Youssef said the
agency has also failed to distinguish between imminent and long-term
threats. In October 2007, the FBI assessed that al Qaeda agents could
be operating in northern New Jersey. The FBI has acknowledged many of
Youssef's assertions. In mid-January, the agency appointed Arthur
Cummings, a former Navy SEAL, as executive assistant director for
national security, with responsibility for all of the FBI's
anti-terrorism, intelligence gathering and counterespionage efforts.
Cummings does not speak Arabic.

"At every level, from street agent to field supervisor to headquarters
executive, Art's career has concentrated on investigating and managing
counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations," said FBI
director Robert Mueller. The appointment was another example of
Youssef being passed over for promotion since 2001. Despite praise
from then-FBI Director Louis Freeh, Youssef has been kept at arm's
length within the agency despite criticism from Congress. In 2003, he
filed a discrimination suit, saying he was a victim of FBI
retaliation. "No other non-Arab FBI employee with similar background
and experience in counterterrorism was willfully blocked from working
9/11 related matters," said the suit. "In fact, numerous non-Arab FBI
employees with far less experience and expertise in counterterrorism
were assigned to 9/11 related work."

Over the last year, the FBI has sought to stop Youssef from speaking
out. The agency, despite permission for Youssef to address groups, has
insisted that all speeches undergo what officials acknowledged was a
lengthy clearance process. "He has his First Amendment right," said
FBI spokesman Richard Kolko. In a Jan. 10 letter, Kohn said the agency
granted permission to Youssef in October 2007 to speak to the American
Library Association. Nine days before his Jan. 12 lecture, the agency
told Youssef that it was unhappy over his planned presentation. In a
press release, ALA said Youssef would discuss "critical failures
within the FBI's Counterterrorism program, which undermine basic
constitutional rights of American citizens and threaten the
effectiveness of America's counterterrorism efforts."

"After identifying this summary as a 'concern' to the FBI, the email
then provides a clear warning to Mr. Youssef against making such a
presentation," said Kohn in his letter. "The FBI also forwarded to Mr.
Youssef a multi-page document which set forth various rules concerning
pre-publication clearance of any potential speech. However, these
rules are not the formal rules which the FBI has previously published
and/or incorporated into its employment agreement. Instead, the rules
provided to Mr. Youssef are secret in nature." The FBI has prevented
Youssef from showing the rules to anyone outside the FBI. Kohn said
this constituted secret censorship requirements.

"Although I understand the document contains no confidential
information, the FBI does not want the general public to know the
contents of the censorship provisions it unconstitutionally demands
that its agents follow," said Kohn.  "It is unfortunate that
restrictions are placed on the ability of FBI employees to inform the
American people of non-classified problems within a very powerful and
important government agency—problems which result in blatant
discrimination against ethnic minorities, violations of individual
constitutional rights and which ultimately harm the ability of the
United States to properly defend itself against real terrorist
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