In 2014, the FBI official who supervised the FBI’s Section 215 warrantless phone surveillance program warned then-Director James Comey that it was massively ineffective, but Comey took no action.
Retired Special Agent Bassem Youssef, the chief of the FBI’s Communications Analysis Unit, told The Hill that in August 2014, he met with Comey , who expressed interest in Youssef’s concerns, but Comey never followed through.
Youssef was responsible for cementing the relationship between the FBI and Saudi Arabia’s Mabahith, the Saudi equivalent of the FBI, in the late 1990s, which aided the fight against Al-Qaida. After 9/11, according to The Hill, he became a whistleblower “who successfully proved the FBI wrongly retaliated against him for raising concerns to Congress.”
After that, Youssef was appointed to run the Communications Analysis Unit, which was permitted to access NSA data to look for trends that might indicate terrorist connections. He ran the program under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s tenures, serving from 2005-2014.
Youssef said he told Comey that his team had conducted an audit showing that the warrantless surveillance program, despite examining thousands of Americans' records, had only foiled one terrorist plot. He stated, “I explained to Director Comey that the special program was largely ineffective, very costly and highly burdensome to our agents in the field,” adding, "After instructing the supervisors of my unit to conduct an exhaustive audit of the hundreds of thousands of leads generated since September 11, 2001 until the end of 2013, we determined that the program was credited with only one disruption since 9/11.”
Youssef recalled, "I believe that the program, as it was, was ripe for potential abuses. I think that every law-abiding citizen should feel comfortable and secure in their home in terms of their privacy and that was not the case."
But here’s where the rubber might meet the road: Congressional Republicans are wondering whether the fact that the FBI used questionable information to obtain a court-ordered surveillance warrant in the Russia-Trump collusion investigation could be connected with the warrantless program used by the FBI and NSA. They want to see the document that Youssef wrote for Comey before Youssef left the agency, in which he offered suggestions as to what to do about the program.
As The Hill notes, “The emergence of Youssef, who oversaw the FBI program for most of its existence, could impact all of those investigations, providing new evidence that there was internal dissent inside the FBI about the merits of warrantless surveillance.”
One GOP source told The Hill:
The memo and the agent’s contemporaneous warnings to the FBI are of extreme interest to us. What the supervisory agent was warning was exactly the sort of ineffectiveness and abuse we ultimately believed occurred during the Trump-Russia collusion investigation. There were red flags that the Section 215 program was ineffective and hurting privacy and no one seemed to address it, and then there were red flags during the Russia probe that a FISA warrant was issued under misleading circumstances and no one acted. We want to know whether these are a sign of a larger neglect inside an agency given such awesome surveillance powers.