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FBI broke law for years in phone record searches
Two individuals began raising concerns.
Special Agent Bassem Youssef, the new supervisor of the communications analysis unit that gathered the records, began to receive complaints from phone companies that they had not received documentation to show the searches were legal.
Youssef, a longtime counterterrorism investigator, had earlier fallen out of favor with FBI management as he pursued a whistleblower claim that he had been wrongly retaliated against and denied promotion because of his ethnicity.
He raised questions in spring 2005 with his superiors and the FBI general counsel's office about the failure to get national security letters. E-mails show he pressed FBI managers, trying to "force their hand" to implement a solution.
Youssef's attorney, Stephen Kohn, said Monday that he could not discuss the specifics of the investigation except to confirm that his client cooperated with the inspector general. FBI officials said they could not discuss the conduct of individual employees.
Separately, Kopistansky in the FBI general counsel's office learned in mid-December 2004 that toll records were being requested without national security letters. She handled a request that originated from then-Executive Assistant Director Gary Bald, who had "passed information regarding numbers related to a terrorist organization with ties to the US" and obtained toll records, the memos show.
The communications analysis unit asked Kopistansky to "draw up an NSL" to cover the search, but she was unable to get superiors to tell her which open terrorism case it involved. The request "has to specify why the numbers are relevant to an authorized investigation," she said.
An employee in the communications analysis unit wrote back that most of the emergency requests he received "come from upper mgmt. I don't always receive documentation or know all the facts related to the number, which is a problem for me when I try to get the NSL."
Kopistansky persisted, demanding an open terrorism case file for the legal rationale. "I am sure you know it is true and Gary Bald knows it's true, but it needs to be reflected on a piece of paper," she wrote.
Two months later, Kopistansky was still unable to issue a national security letter to comply with the FBI rules.
She took note of the overall problem. The issuance of a national security letter after exigent searches "rarely happens," Kopistansky warned in a March 11, 2005, e-mail seeking the help of the FBI's top national security lawyer and the deputy counsel.
By March 2005, Kopistansky and Youssef were discussing a worsening "backlog" of other cases where no national security letters had been issued and growing concerned that exigent letters were being abused, e-mails show.