Arab/Muslim Lawsuits v. the FBI
by Daniel Pipes
Now we learn of troubles with another Egyptian-born FBI agent, Bassem Youssef. Youssef, a Copt, is suing the bureau, the Department of Justice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and FBI Director Robert Mueller on grounds of racial discrimination. His complaint asserts that there is a "glass ceiling" in place preventing the promotion of U.S. citizens born in Arab countries.
Further, it goes on: "No other non-Arab FBI employee with similar background and experience in counterterrorism was willfully blocked from working 9-11 related matters. In fact, numerous non-Arab FBI employees with far less experience and expertise in counterterrorism were assigned to 9-11 related work." Youssef's attorney claimed his client was sidelined for no good reason. "What you want is the most qualified person and the most qualified person was not permitted to work on the most important criminal prosecution in American history."
In addition to compensatory damages, CNN reports, "Youssef wants the FBI to set affirmative action goals for the recruitment and promotion of people of Middle Eastern descent, and an annual report on how the bureau is meeting those goals." He also wants the FBI to reinstate him immediately at his former counterterrorism position or at a higher one.
Comment: I know no details about this case other than Youssef's grievances, but the information he provides makes one wonder what he might have done to be taken off the beat (and at one point dispatched to tag and process evidence at an off-site facility). At minimum, it appears that the FBI is acting more far cautiously with Youssef than with Abdel-Hafiz. (July 20, 2003)
Jan. 18, 2004 update: I have updated my account of Gamal Abdel-Hafiz at "The Saga of FBI Special Agent Gamal Abdel-Hafiz."
Aug. 19, 2004 update: Wilfred Samuel Rattigan, a black American of Jamaican descent who converted to Islam in December 2001, while serving as legal attache in Saudi Arabia, has intitated a law suit, seeking unspecified damages, in which he charges that the FBI harassed and demoted him because of his race and religion. If that sounds unlikely, consider next the specifics of Rattigan's case, as reported by Reuters:
The Associated Press adds more details:
The FBI denied resources to its Riyadh branch because of the skin color of its agent-in-charge? Frequent critic though I am of the FBI, all the above accusations strike me as plain silliness.
Oct. 28, 2004 update: Rattigan withdrew his request for punitive damages and his case was transferred from New York to Washington.
June 19, 2005 update: After a long silence, the various Arab/Muslim cases are back in the news, thanks in part to the leak of materials from the Bassem Youssef against the FBI (on which, see the July 20, 2003 entry above). The sworn testimony of FBI managers post-Sept. 11 indicates that expertise about the Middle East and terrorism is unimportant when choosing agents to run the bureau. That would seem to explain why Youssef was repeatedly passed over for top-level counterterrorism jobs at headquarters.
June 27, 2005 update: A Time magazine story by Adam Zagorin concerns mutual recriminations between the Saudi and U.S. governments for the failure of the FBI's Riyadh office both in the run-up to and the aftermath of 9/11. Some snippets from his piece:
July 3, 2006 update: Back to Special Agent Bassem Youssef: An internal investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Justice Department "found reasonable grounds" to conclude that he was blocked from a counterterrorism assignment in 2002 and has concluded there is "reasonable cause" to believe he was the victim of retaliation by his superiors. It report concludes that the FBI blocked Youssef from a counterterrorism role at least in part because he angered and embarrassed FBI Director Robert Mueller at a meeting with Rep. Frank Wolf (Republican of Virginia), when he complained that his skills weren't being used.
Dec. 4, 2006 update: Bassem Youssef, for the first time, is speaking out against the agency. "I don't believe that the FBI's doing everything it can to combat terrorism," he told NBC News. Now running a squad that analyzes links between telephone calls, the Communications Analysis Unit, far from counterterrorism's frontlines, he complains that "To be totally set aside, blackballed since 9/11, makes absolutely no sense." Youssef told NBC why he complained to Rep. Wolf: "I had gone through every possible channel that I could think of within the [FBI] family, and nothing was done."
Sep. 28, 2010 update: The wheels of justice turn slowly in the United States and Youssef's 2003 case has only now reached the courts, where a federal jury heard his claims, as Spencer S. Hsu explains in the Washington Post:
Then things get interesting:
Feb. 3, 2011 update:Youssef's case appears finally to be finished, eight years after it began: "Judge Denies FBI Agent New Trial in Retaliation Suit."
June 7, 2011 update: Catching up on the Rattigan case: He won a $300,000 verdict, the Department of Justice appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals vacated the judgment in a ruling June 3 on the grounds that the jury instructions were flawed.
July 10, 2012 update: The three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in the Rattigan case to limit the scope of government liability in an FBI agent's retaliation suit against the bureau.
Jan. 29, 2014 update: Bassem Youssef first sued the attorney general et al. in July 2003, a case which he lost in February 2011. No sooner was that over than he sued the attorney general, now Eric Holder, later in 2011, now claiming, Ryan Abbott reports for Court Room News, that "he was denied an assistant section chief position in the FBI's Counterterrorism Division Communications Exploitation Section because of his race and because of another Equal Employment Opportunity complaint he had filed in 2003." In other words, this is a second case by Youssef, similar in outline to the first, with the same judge presiding, but differing in specifics - position and personnel.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly today issued a 53-page ruling saying that the bureau's choice of another candidate for the job was not discriminatory. "Although Youssef may believe the [hiring] board should have been more impressed with his credentials, the board was entitled to form its own opinions concerning the relative value of his experiences."
Comment: Can't wait for the next lawsuit to allege discrimination because this just-concluded one was underway when Youssef was again denied the promotion he feels he deserves.
Aug. 6, 2014 update: U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly just ruled that, in the Courthouse News explanation, "she won't reconsider allowing a retaliation claim against the Department of Justice head Eric Holder, even though the agent's national origin discrimination claim got the axe." Meaning that she "granted the FBI's motion to dismiss the national origin discrimination claim, but allowed the retaliation claim to stand." Or in her own words:
Because Youssef's two cases overlap, I asked a friend with legal training to explain the situation and this is the result:
Youssef brought two cases in federal court in D.C. after he had brought EEOC claims. They sound identical, but differ on the facts presented. In fact, in the second of the federal court cases, the FBI argued dismissal of the case on the ground that Youssef hadn't yet exhausted his administrative remedies, as EEOC claims are administrative, because decisions hadn't been rendered in those cases; the judge denied the FBI's motion on that issue because the law is unsettled in that district.
Youssef brought the first case in federal court in 2003 under Title VII. In the judge's March 30, 2008 opinion (which provides good background on this case) she dismissed Youssef's claims about discrimination, but allowed those concerning retaliation. The trial on the latter was held in September 2010. He lost that case definitively in February 2011.
Youssef quickly brought the second case in federal court, on July 25, 2011, also under Title VII. The claims sound identical to the claims he alleged in the 2003 case. However, these claims relate to a different set of facts - a different position that he did not get, different agents who are alleged to have discriminated against him, etc. This case was assigned to the same judge who presided over the 2003 case, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.
In the second federal court case, the judge's January 28, 2014, opinion dismissed Youssef's discrimination claims, but allowed him to proceed on the retaliation claims. (Incidentally, this is the same outcome as in the 2003 case: dismissal of discrimination claims but allowing retaliation claims to go to trial.) Her August 1, 2014, decision deals with the FBI's motion for reconsideration of that decision; in it, she affirms that earlier opinion. In other words, the judge says Youssef put forth enough evidence for the retaliation claim to proceed to a trial. So there will likely be a trial in the 2011 case.
Reader comments (1) on this item
Comment on this item
You can help support Daniel Pipes' work by making a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes