Grassley: How Was FBI Unaware of Employee’s Relationship with ISIS Operative?
WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley pressed for answers on how an FBI translator was reportedly able to travel to Syria and marry the ISIS operative who she was supposed to be investigating.
In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Grassley sought information about how the romantic relationship developed without the FBI’s knowledge. He also inquired about any previous or newly implemented policies that could address incidents like this, about the screening process for hiring contractors and any reviews or disciplinary actions taken as a result of this incident.
Grassley also asked for an explanation of the Justice Department’s decision to pursue a seemingly lenient plea deal in light of the potential national security implications of this incident.
“This rogue employee had access to highly sensitive national security information. I’m troubled that a relationship between an FBI employee and a prominent ISIS recruiter went unnoticed, and more troubled that there wasn’t a safeguard to successfully catch this incident,” Grassley said. “It’s important for the public to understand how this happened and how similar problems will be prevented in the future. We also need to know how prosecutors settled on the charges in this case. A sentence of two years seems unusually light for such a potential threat to national security.”
Full text of the letter follows.
May 10, 2017
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
The Honorable Rod J. Rosenstein
Deputy Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20535
Dear Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Acting Director McCabe:
According to recent news reports, in June 2014, Daniela Greene, an FBI translator with a top-secret clearance, traveled to Syria and married an ISIS recruiter named Denis Cuspert, a.k.a. Abu Talha al-Almani.
Reports state that Greene was a foreign-born FBI contract linguist. She started working for the FBI in 2011, and in January 2014 she was assigned to the Detroit Field office to investigate Cuspert. Cuspert had attracted the attention of counter-terrorism authorities, including the FBI, because of his growing influence as an online recruiter for violent jihadists. Reportedly, Greene alerted Cuspert that he was the subject of an FBI investigation and shared classified information with him.
On June 11, 2014, Greene filled out a Report of Foreign Travel Form, claiming that she was taking a “Vacation/Personal” trip to Germany to visit her parents. Instead, on June 23, 2014, she flew on a one-way ticket to Istanbul, Turkey, and then traveled to Gaziantep, which is approximately 20 miles from the Syrian border. With assistance from one of Cuspert’s associates, she crossed the border into Syria and married him.
Apparently, Greene quickly regretted her decision and somehow returned to the United States where she was arrested upon her arrival on August 8, 2014. She cooperated with authorities and pled guilty in December 2014 to making false statements involving international terrorism. Greene was sentenced to two years in federal prison and was released in August 2016.
The Committee requests additional information about how an FBI contractor, unbeknownst to the FBI, engaged in a romantic relationship with the subject of a counterterrorism investigation and traveled to Syria to marry him. Additionally, the Committee requests information about the Department’s decision to offer Greene a plea deal. Please provide the following information and a briefing to Committee staff no later than May 24, 2017.
- How and when did the FBI become aware that Greene had engaged in a romantic relationship with Cuspert? Please explain how this relationship developed without the FBI’s knowledge.
- How and when did the FBI become aware that Greene had traveled to Syria?
- What information does the Report of Travel form collect? Please explain the review and approval process for these forms.
- Does the FBI take steps to verify the information provided on these forms prior to approving them?
- Does the FBI take steps to verify that the employee or contractor adheres to the travel itinerary provided on the form?
- What steps has the FBI taken to ensure a similar incident will not happen in the future? Please explain.
- Did the FBI discipline any employees or contractors as a result of these circumstances? Please explain in detail, why or why not?
- Please explain the screening and training processes that the FBI requires for its contractors and provide copies of the relevant training materials.
- Please explain the Department’s decision to offer Greene a plea deal and to argue for her to receive a reduced sentence.
I anticipate that your written reply and any responsive documents will be unclassified.
Please send all unclassified material directly to the Committee. In keeping with the requirements of Executive Order 13526, if any of the responsive documents do contain classified information, please segregate all unclassified material within the classified documents, provide all unclassified information directly to the Committee, and provide a classified addendum to the Office of Senate Security. Although the Committee complies with all laws and regulations governing the handling of classified information, it is not bound, absent its prior agreement, by any handling restrictions or instructions on unclassified information unilaterally asserted by the Executive Branch.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. If you have any questions, please contact Katherine Nikas or Samantha Brennan of my Committee staff at (202) 224-5225.
Charles E. Grassley
Committee on the Judiciary
cc: The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Committee on the Judiciary
The Honorable Michael E. Horowitz
U.S. Department of Justice
The Honorable John F. Kelly
U.S. Department of Homeland Security