May 21, 2008— -- The FBI is unable to protect the United States from another major attack by al Qaeda or other Middle Eastern extremists, an FBI counterterrorism official says.
One key problem: In the FBI section dedicated to tracking international terrorists like al Qaeda, close to four out of every 10 supervisory positions are vacant, according to prepared testimony from Bassem Youssef, unit chief for the bureau's Communications Analysis Unit.
As a result, the FBI has recruited managers who have "no experience in counterterrorism and who did not even want to work in these positions," Youssef alleges in material prepared in advance of a congressional hearing this afternoon.
An FBI spokesman Wednesday morning declined to answer questions about Youssef's prepared testimony, noting the bureau was preparing a statement to respond to issues expected to be raised at the hearing.
The bureau's well-publicized troubles hiring and promoting talented foreign language speakers has also crippled its counterterrorism efforts, Youssef warned. FBI managers "rely exclusively on translation services" to understand communications from Middle Eastern terrorist operations, and FBI personnel "continue to make major mistakes" because they lack expertise in Arabic, he said.
As one consequence of these shortcomings, the bureau has "irresponsibl[y]" misidentified threats, Youssef said, adding that he was prepared to testify on the topic.
As another, Youssef said, it has come to depend too heavily on technological solutions, including aggressive electronic surveillance, which has "the potential of undermining American civil liberties."
The bureau said in January it had 46 agents and 285 language analysts who speak at least conversational Arabic.
"We have enough language qualified personnel to do our job, but that doesn't mean we don't want more, and we are continuing our recruiting efforts in this area," spokesman Richard Kolko said then.
Youssef, the FBI's highest-ranking Arab-American agent, is suing the bureau for discrimination, claiming he was passed over for promotions despite his successes and awards, including infiltrating a radical Islamic group whose leader masterminded the 1993 World Trace Center bombing. The FBI has denied his allegations.