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Senator accuses FBI of retaliation against whistleblowers

Iowa Republican cited two cases of veteran FBI agents who were transferred to lesser jobs and became targets of internal probes.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, went before the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee Wednesday and accused the FBI of retaliating against those who criticize the agency's actions.

"Underneath all of the good things the FBI does, unfortunately, there is a history of abuse, mismanagement and retaliation so strong that it has become part of its organizational culture," Grassley testified. "Unfortunately, it is this culture that causes the FBI to confuse dissent with disloyalty."

Grassley's complaint was supported by testimony from two long-time FBI agents who said they suffered retaliation by being transferred to lesser jobs or becoming the target of minor internal probes.

Bassem Youssef, a 20-year FBI veteran who now heads the agency's Communications Analysis Unit, said he was transferred to a lesser job that failed to use his fluency in Arabic after he complained that less-qualified people were put into counterterrorism posts.

Youssef also reported improper use of some warrentless subpoenas issued through so-called national security letters. In 2006, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility confirmed that the FBI retaliated against Youssef.

After Youssef's complaints, Grassley recounted, "he quickly became like most whistleblowers -- about as welcome as a skunk at a Sunday afternoon picnic."

Another witness, Michael German, was a 14-year FBI agent who left the agency to take a policy position with the American Civil Liberties Union in 2006.

He allegedly was retaliated against after revealing an improper wiretap into an alleged alliance between a Florida neo-Nazi group and an Islamic terrorist group.

After complaining, there was an internal investigation of German for alleged improper travel and misspending $50, which the ex-agent said he considered "a retaliatory investigation." He was cleared in that case.

"Neither our security nor our civil liberties are protected when incompetent FBI managers can so easily suppress evidence, falsify FBI records to cover up their misconduct and retaliate against agents who dare report the abuse," said German.

While Youssef talked about his past experience, he raised new concerns charging that the FBI, eight years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has an understaffed counterterrorism operation and not enough agents trained in Arabic.

Crime Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., promised to work with Grassley on legislation that has been passed in different versions by the House and Senate to include FBI agents and other national security agents under a whistleblower protection law. The current law excludes them.