‘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…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) The former FBI unit chief who ran its warrantless domestic spying operations during much of the Obama era said he warned top officials that it was both ineffective and open to abuse, but his calls went unheeded.
Retired Special Agent Bassem Youssef, who oversaw the FBI’s Communications Analysis Unit from 2004 to his 2014 retirement, told investigative journalist John Solomon that he relayed his concerns to ex-Director James Comey and ex-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
The program, part of the USA Freedom Act, was implemented after the Sept. 11 attacks with assurances that it would be carefully regulated to respect privacy rights of American citizens.
However, subsequent revelations, including those of whistleblower Edward Snowden and a recent report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz outlined the massive scope of the operations, the litany of abuses and the cavalier attitudes of those in charge.
“I have no doubt, or very little doubt, that it was used for political spying or political espionage,” Youssef said, according to Just the News.
Youssef said he had performed an audit of the highly classified program that revealed it had helped generate leads in two cases but had failed to uncover dozens of other terrorism attacks.
Instead of yielding rich intelligence, it generated countless instances of “false negatives and positives” that cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in fruitless investigations.
Moreover, he said, “there was collateral damage in terms of civil liberties” as the FBI invaded the privacy of innocent Americans.
McCabe, a career bureaucrat at the agency with partisan left-wing ties, was still working his way up the ladder when Youssef raised the issue with him.
“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,'” Youssef said.
Echoing the now notorious text-messages of FBI agent Peter Strzok and his mistress, attorney Lisa Page, Youssef said that McCabe regarded the program as something like an “insurance policy” to prevent the agency from being blamed in the event of another attack.
“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,” he said.
Shortly before his retirement, he recounted having a lengthy and productive meeting with Comey, then the FBI director.
But rather than being concerned over the program’s wastefulness or its unethical invasion of privacy, Comey seemed only to be worried about whether the FBI might be breaking any laws.
“[A]fter 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,” Youssef said. “… [H]is concern was, ‘Do you have a problem or concerns with the statutory authority?'”
A report released earlier this month by the federal Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board revealed that the same issues flagged by Youssef continued until early 2019, after the oversight authority had begun investigating, when intelligence agencies finally suspended the controversial data collection program.
The board is scheduled to meet on March 15, the same day that several provisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are due to expire if Congress does not renew them.