FBI too badly organized to stop attacks
Yahoo News/AFP
May 22, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The FBI's counterterrorism section is too badly organized and too understaffed to be able to protect the United States effectively against attack, an FBI agent told lawmakers.

"The FBI's counterterrorism division is ill-equipped to handle the terrorist threat that we're facing," Bassem Youssef, a top agent within the FBI's communications analysis unit, told a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

"FBI's counterterrorism program cannot properly protect the United States from another catastrophic and direct attack from Middle Eastern terrorists," he added.

Egyptian-born Youssef, who has been an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) since 1988, said only 62 percent of posts were filled in the counterterrorism unit.

This chronic staff shortage was forcing the FBI to recruit staff with no relevant experience, specifically with Middle Eastern counterterrorism, possibly lacking pertinent language skills and cultural understanding.

"In the FBI, everyone who is interested in moving up the ladder of promotion would want to be jockeying for positions and the number-one priority of the investigations being worked by the FBI.

"The counterterrorism division is unable to keep agents, supervisors and analysts within the division, and 62 percent is an alarmingly low figure," he told a House subcommittee hearing on FBI whistleblowers.

Inexperience means new operatives take even the slightest threat seriously, and "this happens just about every weekend," running the staff on the ground ragged.

"If the executives themselves who are managing the entire section or the division are not where they should be ... you're going to see agents, analysts and other folks working in that division that are overworked, because they're overassigned," Youssef said.

"When you go after every single threat and look at it like it's the real deal, you will be spending an inordinate amount of time ... looking at a threat that may be, if you had the experience, you can tell in the first day or two that this is not a viable threat."

The result was overworked staff, being wrenched away from their families, leading "to a sense of discouragement," he added.

FBI Assistant Director John Miller said in a statement that the views of just one employee "may be very limited in scope."

"Over the nearly seven years since the attacks of September 11, 2001 ... the FBI's priorities were dramatically shifted to make prevention of another terrorist attack our top priority," he said.

"This shift in emphasis, as well as resources, has proven successful to date."

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