The FBI is "ill-equipped" to handle the current terror threat, an agent embroiled in a whistleblower case with the bureau, claimed to a congressional committee today.
"My greatest goal today is to be able to get the message across to Congress, to this distinguished committee, that the FBI's counterterrorism division is ill-equipped to handle the terrorist threat that we're facing," Bassem Youssef told the House Judiciary subcommittee.
"We have agents who are highly dedicated within the counterterrorism division who want to do a very good job," he continued. "But they're unable to because they're not given the tools or the assets that they need to actually understand the enemy."
Youssef says the FBI counterterrorism program can't protect the United States from another catastrophic direct attack from Middle Eastern terrorists because the bureau lacks the necessary resources, especially experienced counterterrorism experts who understand native languages and cultures throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.
Youssef said the FBI is "inexcusably understaffed" in its International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS). According to Youssef's testimony, the FBI's staffing level, at its supervisory level, is only 62 percent of its mandated funded level.
FBI officials say most key counterterrorism work is done out in the field, away from headquarters.
Youssef read e-mails sent to employees in the FBI Counterterrorism Division, which said, "Executive management is canvassing the division for volunteers to be permanently reassigned to ITOS 1. This is due to the fact that ITOS 1 is currently at 62 percent of its funded staffing level. It is critical to the CT [counterterrorism] mission that these positions be filled as soon as possible."
In a statement issued after the hearing, FBI assistant director John Miller said, "Over the nearly seven years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the FBI has made great and steady strides to build a domestically focused national security organization with the added value and responsibility of law enforcement powers.
"In that time, the FBI's priorities were dramatically shifted to make prevention of another terrorist attack our top priority," Miller's statement continued. "Since 9/11, but particularly over the past year, the FBI has been addressing staffing concerns, career path issues, and how we can better leverage a strategic, intelligence-based view, across all of our investigative programs."
Youssef, who is represented by the National Whistleblower Center, has sued the FBI, claiming he was discriminated against for not being posted on counterterrorism assignments since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The suit alleges Youssef has been passed over for promotions inside the counterterrorism division after voicing concern about less qualified agents being promoted.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., asked Youssef, who is a certified Arabic-speaking FBI polygraph examiner, how he was being used by the bureau.
"Have your skills been utilized by the FBI after the events of Sept. 11, 2001?" Johnson asked.
"Not once, sir," Youssef responded.
Youssef, the highest ranking Arab-American in the FBI since March 1988, speaks Arabic and has worked on many high profile investigations, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and served as the FBI's legal attaché in Saudi Arabia after the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing.