- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2022

An FBI whistleblower has told the House Judiciary Committee that he witnessed the bureau’s deputy director violating security policies and putting classified information at risk.

The special agent told lawmakers that Paul Abbate, who oversees all FBI domestic and international investigative and intelligence activities, used his smartphone in an FBI sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF, which is a violation of bureau security protocols.

Just bringing a phone into the SCIF is a security breach.

The senior agent accused Mr. Abbate of walking around in the SCIF while talking on the smartphone and sending text messages and emails.

Another FBI whistleblower said senior FBI officials routinely break the no-cellphone rule in SCIFs.

The Washington Times viewed a letter the whistleblowers’ attorney sent to Judiciary Committee Republicans that described the accusations against Mr. Abbate. It is part of a flood of FBI whistleblower complaints about politicized investigations and misconduct at the bureau. This time, the subject of the complaint is in the top tier of FBI leadership.

The FBI bristled when asked about the whistleblowers’ accusations. “This reporting is categorically false,” the FBI said in a statement to The Times.

The whistleblowers’ attorney, Kurt Siuzdak, who is also a former FBI agent, said he sent the disclosures to the FBI’s office of general counsel but was rebuffed.

“The technical and operational secrets in the United States lie within SCIFS. They are the place where the most important information regarding the security of the US is. And the fact that this number of executives would just violate the requirements is outrageous,” Mr. Siuzdak said.

The FBI’s office of general counsel said in a series of email exchanges with Mr. Siuzdak that the whistleblower complaints were not submitted properly.

The disclosure of SCIF security breaches was presented to Congress just weeks after the FBI raided former President Donald Trump’s residence in Florida to investigate suspected mishandling of classified material.

The search warrant said the agents were investigating a reported violation of the Espionage Act. This World War I-era law covers crimes beyond spying, including the refusal to return national security documents upon request or mishandling or destroying classified government documents.

“I appreciate that people are heeding my call and coming forward to restore integrity to their agencies — in this case, the FBI. We encourage more to come forward. The only way to restore credibility to these agencies is if we expose the corruption and hold people accountable,” Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican and member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committees, told The Washington Times.

“It’s always dangerous when leaders believe rules don’t apply to them but then enforce those rules against everyone else. It is particularly dangerous when federal law enforcement believes it is above the law and then proceeds to apply the law unequally in a highly partisan fashion. This has created the multi-tier system of justice that is unacceptable in America. It must be exposed and stopped.”

Mr. Abbate is not the first high-ranking FBI official accused of using a cellphone inside a SCIF. In 2018, The Daily Caller reported that Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who ran the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server, texted his then-lover, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, from inside a SCIF.

The reckless practice is widespread, another senior FBI agent told members of Congress in a separate whistleblower complaint.

The second agent said executive-level FBI officials have been bringing cellphones into the SCIFs at field offices across the country and at a facility in McLean, Virginia, known as LX1, an X-shaped building that houses the National Counterterrorism Center and the National Counterproliferation Center.

Although all FBI personnel are prohibited from bringing electronic devices into SCIFs, FBI senior executives wore cellphones in the SCIFs in front of their subordinates, the second whistleblower said.  

According to the agent, some executives would walk in and out of the SCIFs numerous times wearing cellphones on their belts. Although some would leave the SCIF to answer their phones, others would not, the agent said.

Some executives wore multiple cellphone belt holders, indicating they were also wearing their cellphones in the SCIFs, according to the agent.

The agent said that FBI executives who prepare daily briefings for FBI Director Christopher A. Wray or participate in FBI headquarters daily briefings have brought classified materials to their residences without properly packaging them for transport or storage in their homes.

The second anonymous FBI agent said that although the bureau is investigating people not currently employed by the FBI for mishandling of classified materials, he cannot recall an FBI Senior Executive Service official who was ever reprimanded for these violations unless they involved incidents in which the classified material was found in public.  

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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