Grassley Questions FBI on More Alleged Retaliation Against Whistleblowers
WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley has again reminded the FBI that the law does not allow retaliation against government whistleblowers. Grassley reiterated his concerns to FBI Director Robert Mueller in a letter sent yesterday.
The Senator’s letter forwards allegations of retaliation against FBI Agent Bassem Youssef, chief of the Communications Analysis Unit. Youssef is the highest ranking Arab-American in the FBI. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Youssef raised concerns within the FBI that he, as one of the highest ranking Arabic-speaking agents, was not being assigned to cases related to the attacks.
“It seems like every time I turn around, there’s another allegation of whistleblower retaliation at the FBI. It appears to be second nature for them,” Grassley said. “Director Mueller has talked often about the fact that he won’t tolerate retaliation, but it doesn’t look like the message is getting through to his management team.”
Grassley is a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has conducted oversight of the FBI since the mid 1990s.
Here is a copy of the letter to Mueller. A copy of the signed letter along with the attachment can be found here.
September 6, 2007
The Honorable Robert S. Mueller
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20535
Dear Director Mueller:
As you know, I believe that encouraging people to report waste, wrongdoing, or mismanagement in any organization is critical to improving the integrity and efficiency of its operations. Protecting whistleblowers from retaliation is critical if the leadership of an organization is serious about hearing what they have to say. Unfortunately, the FBI has a deeply engrained culture of retaliation, in which anyone who speaks out is branded as a troublemaker. Thus, many choose to stay silent rather than risk their careers.
To your credit, you have regularly stated that you will not tolerate retaliation against FBI whistleblowers. However, sometimes it appears as if your message is not being heard or understood by the management at the FBI. I am writing today to bring to your attention allegations I have received that illustrate how the FBI’s anti-whistleblower culture remains a serious problem and raise questions of potential witness intimidation.
Attached please find an internal FBI email from Agent Bassem Youssef, which was copied to you, where he reports several disturbing comments made by FBI personnel. As you know, Agent Youssef is a material witness in the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG’s) continuing inquiry into issues relating to National Security Letters and so-called “exigent letters.” Moreover, I understand that he will also be giving classified testimony in the OIG’s investigation of issues related to certain controversial National Security Agency surveillance programs.
In this context, the comments that I understand were made to Agent Youssef by senior Bureau officials raise serious questions about whether they were not only endorsing retaliation for past whistleblowing, but also attempting to influence Youssef’s upcoming testimony. For example, the email that you were provided states that in Youssef’s presence Agent Ed Moschella said of another whistleblower that the proper response was to “hang him.” Further, and in that same email, it says that Agent Don Robinson stated that at his interview with the OIG relating to the National Security Letters investigation, “I threw him [Bassem Youssef] under the bus.” Moreover, Youssef reported that another individual reportedly asked in connection with the National Security Letter inquiry, “Are you … getting ready to throw Bassem Youssef off the roof?"
Given your affirmative statements and assurances that you will not support retaliation against FBI whistleblowers, please provide written answers to the following questions:
1. How do you plan to deal with these comments?
2. Were you aware of the attached email prior to receiving this letter?
3. How have you dealt with this issue since you were copied on the email in early August?
4. Please provide a detailed written response outlining any steps you have taken to address these allegations and to ensure that Agent Youssef is free to give complete honest, forthcoming, and candid testimony in OIG inquiries without fear of reprisal.
If these allegations are true, it would be a disappointing confirmation that the FBI’s anti-whistleblower culture is as strong as ever. That culture will never change if senior officials are allowed to openly speak of retaliating against whistleblowers without fear of discipline for doing so. I appreciate your prompt written response no later than September 20, 2007.
All replies should be sent electronically in Adobe portable document format. Please have your staff contact XXXX at (202) 224-4515 with any questions regarding this matter.
Charles E. Grassley
cc: Patrick Leahy, Chairman
Senate Judiciary Committee
Arlen Specter, Ranking Member
Senate Judiciary Committee
Glenn A. Fine, Inspector General
U.S. Department of Justice