Retired Special Agent Bassem Youssef ran the FBI’s Communications Analysis Unit from late 2004 until his retirement in late 2014.
He warned James Comey and Andy McCabe against the bureau’s warrantless spying program (the one Snowden leaked) after conducting an audit of the controversial program.
He told them it was generating large numbers of false negatives and positives and that the program, besides being a colossal waste of money, infringed on our civil liberties.
He spoke with John Solomon, the man who broke the FISA abuse story, about their shameful reaction.
John writes: “The audit, he added, also showed “there was collateral damage in terms of civil liberties” of Americans whose phone records were unnecessarily searched or who were falsely identified as connected to terrorism.
Youssef said he discussed the concerns with McCabe both when McCabe served as assistant director for counterterrorism and then when he was promoted to acting executive assistant director, the No. 3 job in the bureau. But his efforts to pause the program and reform it so it could work better, cost less, and infringe less on American privacy fell on deaf ears, he said.
When McCabe was acting executive assistant director, “I explained to him again, the model that I was looking to establish and to let him know that we were not really getting good support from this program, and that maybe we should reconsider this whole thing, unless we can re-tweak it,” Youssef recalled. “And I remember, he was so adamant about, we need this program. We’re keeping it as this, even though we’re not getting anything out of it.”
Asked why the FBI would keep a program that was not producing any terrorism leads, Youssef said: “It was a way to say, you know, it’s an insurance policy to show that we’re doing everything we can, when in fact it wasn’t giving us anything of what we hoped it would get.”
FBI and DOJ declined comment on Wednesday. Lawyers for Comey and McCabe also did not respond to requests for comment.
Youssef said that in September 2014, shortly before he retired, he was invited to brief Comey privately about his concerns in the director’s office.
“It was a very lengthy briefing,” Youssef recalled. “He was very interactive. He asked very good questions. And after I explained everything to him, his only concern was not that we should shut it down, or that we should change it so that we can protect civil liberties … his concern was, do you have a problem or concerns with the statutory authority?”
Youssef recalls explaining that while he had no reservations about the legal authority of the surveillance, which had to be approved by FISA court judges, he had serious concerns about both the “waste of human resources” inherent in the “hundreds of thousands of agent hours in the field” lost to the labor-intensive program and the threat the program posed to civil liberties.
“Unless we change it to a different model,” Youssef recalls telling Comey, “we’re going to continue to get many false positives and false negatives. And you can imagine with a false positive, we would be knocking on people’s doors who have nothing to do with any kind of terrorism act.”
Youssef said he had “no doubt whatsoever” that McCabe and Comey understood the severity of the problems. “I gave them the full monty brief,” he said. “I explained everything to them. They were fully briefed on the program.”
Youssef first publicly raised concerns about the warrantless spying program during a 2018 interview with me at The Hill.”