Whistleblowers in the FBI

There's a lot of big news today -- a Senate election in Massachusetts, continuing recovery efforts in Haiti -- but one revelation raising eyebrows in D.C. is the Washington Post's front-page article detailing how the FBI may have illegally searched thousands of phone records from 2002 to 2006 during terrorism investigations. The gist of the story is that FBI agents searched phone records, and only sought the proper documentation after the fact -- and that they invoked "nonexistent emergencies" for searches, which the FBI's general counsel has admitted may be a technical violation of law.

Depending on how you look at it, this either seems like a bureaucratic mishap -- it looks like the FBI might have had the legal right to search the records, had they followed the correct procedure -- or yet another example of federal agencies overstepping their power, and possibly violating personal privacy, following the Sept. 11 attacks.

But the National Whistleblower Center notes that the issue likely never would have been corrected or come to light if it weren't for the efforts of one federal employee, Bassem Youssef, a special agent and unit chief in the FBI's counter-terrorism division who specializes in communication. Youssef, the highest-ranking Arabic speaker in the FBI, tried to bring the agency into compliance with the law when he first learned of the possible violations in 2005, his attorney said in a statement released by the Whistleblower Center. Youssef testified to the Department of Justice inspector general, and also sent letters to the attorney general's office outlining corrective actions. The IG report was scheduled to be released later this month, according to the Post.

The Whistleblower Center said this is yet another reason why Congress should pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009, which would increase whistleblower protections for intelligence workers.

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