Hundreds of FBI employees are receiving additional scrutiny under an internal surveillance program for being born overseas or having relatives living abroad, The New York Times reports.
The program — designed to weed out foreign spies from America’s top domestic intelligence outfit — has upset dozens of federal agents within the agency, particularly among those with foreign language skills, as they claim it is a form of discrimination.
“This program was good for the new hires after 9/11, but for it to be used against current employees, some with 10 or 15 years of experience and have proved themselves, is unacceptable,” Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, an Egyptian-born FBI agent who was placed in the program in 2012 after 18 years of service, told The New York Times.
Abdel-Hafiz’s lawyer told The Times that agents like his client are placed in the program without a stated reason, have no way of knowing how to get removed from it and are seemingly only included due to the “whims of a supervisor who for whatever reason doesn’t think so highly of the agent.”
This placement subjects the employee to frequent polygraph tests and reviews of travel and electronic communication. It can also limit their advancement within the FBI. According to the NYT, many of those subject to this intense process are those employees with the skills desperately needed for counterterrorism, and the aggrieved agents feel that having those same skills is the reason for their scrutiny.
The FBI developed the program in 2002 to screen recently hired linguists who would have access to classified material, and 314 contract linguists were listed in the program as of April 2008.
While the complaints rise against this program, there are recent examples of foreign-born federal employees with access to sensitive material conspiring to do harm to the country. Just last month, a Saudi-born naval nuclear engineer was arrested for trying to plot the sinking of an American aircraft carrier.