How much progress has the FBI really made since the 9/11 attacks? In an exclusive interview with NBC News, the bureau's highest-ranking Arab-American agent, Bassem Youssef, speaks out, saying a lack of expertise and critical skills are hurting America's ability to deal with terrorist threats. Here is Youssef, in his own words, edited only for clarity.
When I first joined the bureau, it was just like a dream come true. Something that I probably thought about as a kid and never thought it would be possible, coming from the Middle East. So, when I was selected to be an FBI agent, it was the happiest day of my life.
I've always had exceptional [FBI] evaluations. Basically the way it works is you are either fully successful, superior or exceptional. And I've received exceptional ratings up until that time. And even since, there hasn't been any bad rating, so to speak.
I still love the bureau for what it stands for. I wouldn't trade that for anything. And I know I've worked and will continue to work with great agents. There are very, very hardworking men and women in the FBI, agents and non-agents. And unfortunately, the culture of the FBI, especially in upper management, can skew things one way or the other that sometimes you wouldn't be able to do what you really want to do or what you need to do to get the job done.
I still think that the FBI is a great organization with great goals. However, I don't think we are fighting terrorism the way we should. After 9/11, not to be utilized at all and in fact to be sort of blackballed and set aside, makes no sense to me. There is no good reason why I'm not being utilized other than I'm being discriminated against because of who I am, as an individual of Middle Eastern background.
If we take a bank robber or even a member of an organized crime family, what is the motivation? They are motivated by a good life. They want money and riches and fame. And they want to live. They want to live a good life. If you look at a radical extremist terrorist, they are ready to die for the cause. So, their motivation is so far different from what motivates a regular criminal. So, you'd have to deal with them very different.
I have worked nothing but counterterrorism for the majority of my career. And my record and my personnel file speak for itself. I am not inflating any of my skill sets or what I've accomplished in the past.
I'm not being disloyal by coming forward to say there are issues here that need to be resolved.
I think every American would do whatever they can to fight terrorism and to help in any way that we can because we will never forget 9/11. And to see that the one way that I could contribute, because of my knowledge of Middle Eastern matters and having worked counterterrorism for so many years and not to do it, that devastates me.