An October Surprise for Bush and the FBI?

FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds talks about her case --and hints at a forthcoming scandal

Sibel Edmonds's claims of incompetence, malfeasance, and possible espionage in the FBI's translation unit have received only sporadic attention since she first aired them widely in a 60 Minutes report in October 2002--not least because of the veil of silence that the Bush Justice Department has tried to draw over the case. In July of this year, a Bush-appointed judge dismissed Edmonds's lawsuit against the FBI on the grounds that the case would necessarily expose state secrets. Judge Reggie Walton's logic parroted that of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who in May 2004 issued an order retroactively classifying all the information that had been presented to Congress in her case because of its alleged national security sensitivity.

But l'affaire Edmonds is heating up again. Last month Edmonds filed a new lawsuit seeking to compel release of the documents in her case under the Freedom of Information law. And last Tuesday's page one New York Times story about the 120,000-hour backlog of untranslated intelligence tapes the FBI is presently sitting on lent additional credence to her charges. (Some al Qaeda communiqués, the Times reported, were automatically deleted by the overloaded computer system in the department before they could be translated.)

It wasn't the first time Edmonds had been featured on the front page of the Times; she was the subject of a July 29 dispatch which disclosed that the DoJ Inspector General had completed a report--classified, of course--concluding that her whistleblowing activities were a factor in her April 2002 firing, after just six months-plus of employment at the FBI.

The Ashcroft  Justice Department retroactively threw a veil of secrecy over Sibel Edmond's claims
Associated Press
The Ashcroft Justice Department retroactively threw a veil of secrecy over Sibel Edmond's claims

Despite the legal walls the FBI and the Bush administration have attempted to build around her case, it's nonetheless clear from letters and documents that are already irretrievably in the public realm that Edmonds's claims (give or take those of Richard Clarke) may be the most explosive yet lodged against the U.S. government's anti-terrorism work post-9/11.

Certainly she is the most dangerous whistleblower the FBI has spawned to date, because her allegations include claims that the FBI not only failed to do its job, but also knowingly employed a foreign-born translator with ties to individuals and at least one organization then under investigation. Edmonds claimed that this translator actively obstructed the translation and dissemination of communiqués involving foreign suspects to whom she had personal ties. In addition, Edmonds has charged that the FBI suppressed evidence that it received a specific, detailed, and ultimately accurate description of the 9/11 plot from an Iranian source in April 2001.

The following conversation took place by phone on Tuesday, September 28.


City Pages: As I understand it, you're currently barred from even discussing publicly the claims you made about the translation department. Is that correct?

Sibel Edmonds: Not exactly. Everybody else is barred. They have not personally barred me. However, I'm restricted because of the classification issues, because I would be liable. But in terms of official gagging, they have done that with the Congress. This happened in May 2004. They gagged the Congress by retroactively classifying everything that had to do with me and my case. For example, congressmen can no longer even talk about what languages I spoke. They also barred the courts from processing this case, and basically had them drop the case by invoking this rarely invoked state secrets privilege. They barred the Inspector General's office by entirely classifying their report. So far they have not allowed them to have even a small part declassified.

When you look at it, every other venue has been gagged on my issue. But I have not been officially gagged. But I'm bounded by the classification and nondisclosure issues.

CP: Your case was dismissed by a judge in July, again on the grounds of secrecy. I assume you're appealing.

Edmonds: We're absolutely appealing that. We've already filed our notice of appeal. We brought that suit in July 2002 and the judge did not hold any hearings, no oral arguments, no discovery. And then, in a hasty manner in June 2004, he dismissed it based on the state secrets privilege the government asserted. The reason it was hasty was that the victims of 9/11 family members have an attorney who wanted to subpoena me as a key witness. The judge had to rule quickly so that they wouldn't subpoena my deposition.

We are appealing that, and we believe ultimately it's going to wind up in front of the Supreme Court.

CP: Has your attorney given you any indication of how long this battle may go on?

Edmonds: Well, July 2002 we filed it, and it took this judge--with no hearings, no activity--two years to rule against it. Now, with the appeals court, it should be faster than that. However, as we know, the government tries all sorts of ways to stall this whole thing, by asking for extensions, etc. However, considering these latest developments, and more developments that are going to occur this month, in October, I believe they are going to have a hard time dragging out this appeal thing. Either they have to rule against it or actually overturn this judge's decision. So I'm optimistic with this new lawsuit and the appeal process.

CP: Are you at liberty to discuss any of the other news that will be breaking in October?

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