Thursday, May 22, 2008

Whistles Were Blown, but the Washington Post Wasn't Listening

The House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, had quite a hearing yesterday on FBI whistleblowers. It featured FBI Supervisory Special Agent Bassem Youssef, the Unit Chief in the FBI Counterterrorism Division's Communications Analysis Unit, who had a striking written statement. Here are the key points he made:

* Currently the ITOS sections are inexcusably understaffed. Critical supervisory personnel within ITOS (which includes the Unit that tracks AI-Qaeda) staffng level is only 62% of its mandated Funded Staffng Level. This has forced the FBI to recruit supervisors into ITOS who lack the background and expertise necessary to direct America's most important law enforcement mission.

* The mismanagement of the FBI's Counterterrorism program has already resulted in the systemic and needless violation of the civil liberties of thousands of Americans, the misidentification of threats against the United States and repeated sloppy mistakes within the counterterrorism program.

* The continuing failure of the FBI to hire or train agents who are fluent in Arabic, knowledgeable about the Middle East and/or experienced in operational counterterrorism is rooted in two factors: First, an ongoing policy which does not reward these skills in the promotional process and Second, deep seated discriminatory practices within the Bureau.

* A full independent review of the counterterrorism program is badly needed. The review must be conducted by persons with unquestionable expertise in Middle Eastern terrorism.

On the one hand, this is shocking stuff. On the other hand, what's new? It sounds like nothing much has changed since 2002, when the FBI's own Inspector General reviewed its counterterrorism program and said much the same.

The hearing was covered in today's Washington Times, which reported FBI Director Miller's verbal tap-dancing in response to Youssef's testimony ("While we appreciate any employee's views on the state and direction of the FBI, those assessments may be very limited in scope") but I saw nothing about it in today's Washington Post. What's up with that? The WAPO is normally all over these whistleblower dramas. Is the FBI still a sacred cow?

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