Retired Special Agent Bassem Youssef, the chief of the FBI’s Communications Analysis Unit, charged with running and monitoring the Bureau’s Metadata Collection and exploitation under Section 215 of the Patriot Act showed Former FBI Director James Comey audit information which clearly showed that nine years of data collection had resulted in only one successful disruption of a terrorist plot.
By John Solomon and Alison Spann, the Hill
An official who supervised the FBI’s Section 215 warrantless phone surveillance program revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013 says he warned then-Director James Comey it was woefully ineffective in catching terrorists and needed to be modified.
Retired Special Agent Bassem Youssef, the chief of the FBI’s Communications Analysis Unit, said in an exclusive interview with The Hill that no action was taken by Comey in response to the concerns he raised.
He said his efforts were prompted by an audit his team conducted showing the program had searched through thousands of Americans’ records but had helped disrupt only one possible terrorist plot over more than a decade.
“I explained to Director Comey that the special program was largely ineffective, very costly and highly burdensome to our agents in the field,” said Youssef, who supervised the program on a daily basis from 2005 through 2014.
“I believe that the program, as it was, was ripe for potential abuses,” he said. “I think that every law-abiding citizen should feel comfortable and secure in their home in terms of their privacy, and that was not the case.”
The FBI initially reported to Congress that the program had helped disrupt 53 terrorism plots, then reduced the number to 11 before quietly informing lawmakers there was just a single case, Youssef said, describing the impact of his internal audit.
Youssef said after the audit he wrote a memo laying out better options for conducting surveillance that would be less intrusive to Americans and more effective in catching bad actors. He said he ran his concerns up the FBI chain of command but found no interest in the reform. Then a chance encounter with Comey led to a direct meeting with the then-director in August 2014. Youssef said he could not be more specific in speaking about the concerns or proposed solutions he raised with Comey because they involved tactics and information that remain classified.
“During the meeting I briefed the director on an improved operational model that would protect civil liberties, greatly increase the effectiveness of terrorist identification and would operate at a fraction of the cost of the existing program,” Youssef said.
Youssef said Comey initially appeared very interested in pursuing the reforms, but then the effort lost all momentum. Youssef said bureau leaders told him they preferred to keep the program untouched, if nothing else to be a “safety blanket” if other terrorism tools failed.
Youssef said he retired a few months after his effort fizzled.
Why would the FBI continue a program that was expensive in terms of man hours and equipment but massively ineffective in it’s stated Counter Intelligence purpose of disrupting terrorist plots.
Clearly there were other benefits, either to domestic law enforcement or domestic political intelligence, which compensated. The first of which is an inadequate justification as the program as initially developed and as adapted under FISA was specifically not intended for domestic law enforcement outside of Counter Intelligence. The second is a massive and deliberate perversion of the law and violation of the Fourth Ammendment rights of anyone and everyone so surveilled.
Contrast if you will with Admiral Mike Rogers (former DirNSA) actions when audits in his agency revealed misuse of data collected under FISA.