Coun­tert­er­ror staff falls to 62 per­cent as FBI seeks ‘vol­un­teers’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Jerry Seper

More than one out of ev­ery three po­si­tions in an elite FBI di­vi­sion that tracks al Qaeda ter­ror­ists is va­cant, ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­nal bureau doc- ument. Ef­forts are un­der way at the FBI to can­vass for “vol­un­teers” to fill what the agency said is a “crit­i­cal” need in its coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts.

A se­nior bureau of­fi­cial said May 21 that be­cause of sig­nif­i­cant staffing short­ages and a lack of ex­pe­ri­enced man­agers, the FBI can­not prop­erly de­fend the United States against “an­other cat­a­strophic and di­rect at­tack by Mid­dle East­ern ter­ror­ists.”

Bassem Youssef, chief of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions anal­y­sis unit of the FBI’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism di­vi­sion, said the bureau’s In­ter­na­tional Ter­ror­ism Op­er­a­tions Sec­tions (ITOS) — which in­clude those that track al Qaeda ter­ror­ists — are “in­ex­cus­ably un­der­staffed.”

FBI As­sis­tant Di­rec­tor John Miller re­but­ted the charge later in the day, say­ing the bureau had made “great and steady strides to build a do­mes­ti­cally fo­cused na­tional se­cu­rity or­ga­ni­za­tion” and

shifted its pri­or­i­ties to make pre­ven­tion of an­other ter­ror­ist at­tack its top con­cern.

Mr. Miller noted that sev­eral years had passed with­out a suc­cess­ful ter­ror­ist at­tack by al Qaeda or its af­fil­i­ates on U.S. soil. He said that by com­bin­ing the FBI’s intelligence-gath­er­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties with its law-en­force­ment ex­pe­ri­ence and author­ity, as well as its state and lo­cal part­ners, the bureau has dis­rupted sev­eral ter­ror­ist plots across the coun­try and, by work­ing with its intelligence com­mu­nity part­ners, it has helped to dis­rupt more plots glob­ally.

“While we ap­pre­ci­ate any em­ployee’s views on the state and di­rec­tion of the FBI, those as­sess­ments may be very lim­ited in scope,” he said. “It is cyn­i­cal to write off the work of so many ded­i­cated FBI em­ploy­ees or the ac­com­plish­ments of the bureau by sug­gest­ing that th­ese ef­forts are fail­ing, es­pe­cially when they are not.”

Mr. Youssef, in a writ­ten state­ment de­liv­ered to the House Ju­di­ciary sub­com­mit­tee on crime, ter­ror­ism and home­land se­cu­rity, said crit­i­cal su­per­vi­sory per­son­nel within ITOS are at a staffing level of 62 per­cent, which has forced the FBI to re­cruit su­per­vi­sors who lack the nec­es­sary back­ground and ex­per­tise.

The FBI’s high­est-rank­ing ArabAmer­i­can agent and an FBI whistle­blower who is su­ing the bureau for dis­crim­i­na­tion, Mr. Youssef cited a March 5 FBI e-mail sent to all coun­tert­er­ror­ism em­ploy­ees at FBI head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton that said: “Ex­ec­u­tive man­age­ment is can­vass­ing the di­vi­sion for vol­un­teers to be per­ma­nently as­signed to ITOS 1. This is due to the fact that ITOS 1 is cur­rently at 62% of its funded staffing level.”

He said the memo also stated: “It is crit­i­cal to the [coun­tert­er­ror­ism] mis­sion that th­ese po­si­tions be filled as soon as pos­si­ble.”

“The fail­ure of the FBI to build a cadre of ex­perts in Mid­dle East­ern ter­ror­ism — as promised im­me­di­ately af­ter the 9/11 at­tacks — has re- sulted in crit­i­cal per­son­nel short­ages and lapses in com­pe­tence within the most im­por­tant FBI po­si­tions con­cern­ing Mid­dle East­ern ter­ror­ist threats,” Mr. Youssef said.

Mr. Miller did not ad­dress spe­cific staff va­can­cies but said the bureau 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.”

“We have worked hard to staff po­si­tions at FBI head­quar­ters while at the same time be­ing care­ful not to do so at the ex­pense of the field of­fices,” he said. “We have worked dili­gently through our com­mu­nity out­reach and re­cruit­ment ef­forts to at­tract and hire more Ara­bic-speak­ing agents as well those with other crit­i­cal lan­guage and cul­tural back­grounds.

“In the FBI, like any other gov­ern­ment agency, re­sources will be an is­sue. We op­er­ate within the lim­its of those re­sources, but over the last 100 years, our great­est re­source has al­ways been our peo­ple,” he said. “They make up the dif­fer­ence ev­ery day, be­cause they are ded­i­cated to the mis­sion of pro­tect­ing the Amer­i­can peo­ple from threats near and far.”

The FBI’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism di­vi­sion deals with ter­ror­ist threats inside the United States, pro­vides in­for­ma­tion on ter­ror­ists out­side the coun­try and tracks known ter­ror­ists world­wide. With huge bud­get in­creases in the wake of the Sept. 11 at­tacks, it in­cludes ITOS I, which cov­ers al Qaeda ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity on a re­gional ba­sis in the United States and abroad, and ITOS II, which fo­cuses on four nonal Qaeda groups: Pales­tinian re­jec­tion­ist groups, Iran and Hezbol­lah, Iraq/Syria/Libya, and other global ter­ror­ist groups.

Mr. Youssef, who was sched­uled to tes­tify dur­ing a sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing on FBI whistle­blow­ers, also said a bureau pol­icy man­dat­ing that its agents, ITOS su­per­vi­sors and coun­tert­er­ror­ism man­agers do not need “sub­ject mat­ter ex­per­tise” in Mid­dle East­ern coun­tert­er­ror­ism is “in­de­fen­si­ble and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.”

He also said an FBI pol­icy of pro­mot­ing agents to its up­per-man­age­ment po­si­tions who have no “com­pre­hen­sion of the Ara­bic lan­guage” had re­sulted in the bureau’s fail­ure to have a man­age­ment ca­pa­ble of re­spond­ing to “real-time po­ten­tial threats or op­por­tu­ni­ties.” He said “an overde­pen­dency” of trans­la­tors “can and does de­lay re­sponses to sit­u­a­tions that are time crit­i­cal.”

“Sub­tle mes­sages and in­for­ma­tion not ca­pa­ble of ready trans­la­tion or that which would be ob­vi­ous to a na­tive speaker who is si­mul­ta­ne­ously in­volved in op­er­a­tional ac­tiv­i­ties are reg­u­larly lost,” he said.

In Jan­uary, the FBI said it had 46 agents and 285 lan­guage an­a­lysts who spoke at least con­ver­sa­tional Ara­bic, “enough qual­i­fied per­son­nel to do our job,” al­though it was con­tin­u­ing to re­cruit ad­di­tional Ara­bic speak­ers.

Mr. Youssef, who was born in Egypt, has ac­cused the FBI of im­prop­erly deny­ing him pro­mo­tions in the coun­tert­er­ror­ism di­vi­sion — an ac­cu­sa­tion de­nied by the bureau. In July 2006, the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s Of­fice of Pro­fes­sional Re­spon­si­bil­ity con­cluded that the FBI had re­tal­i­ated against Mr. Youssef be­cause of dis­clo­sures he made to the agency’s di­rec­tor and a mem­ber of Congress.

No trial date has been set.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.