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UQ Wire: Reclassification Of Evidence Challenge

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For Release: June 24, 2004

For further information contact:
Mark S. Zaid, Esq.


Information Provided To Congress Two Years Ago Was Recently Reclassified By FBI To Secure Litigation Advantage

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI contract linguist who was terminated in 2002 after becoming a Whistleblower regarding 9/11 and is suing the FBI, filed a Motion last night challenging the Government's illegal reclassification of crucial evidence needed for her lawsuit. The information in question was provided to Congress two years ago in unclassified briefings and was the subject of several Senate letters sent to the FBI and Department of Justice that were widely disseminated to the public.

Last month the FBI notified all staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the information was now considered classified. The FBI's move, allegedly at the behest of the Justice Department, prompted Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to remove two of their letters regarding Edmonds from their public websites. According to the e-mail notification, the Government took this action because of "civil litigation in which the FBI is seeking to quash certain information." In addition to her own litigation, which the Government is seeking to dismiss on grounds of national security, Edmonds was recently subpoenaed to provide testimony in support of one of the 9/11 victims' lawsuits. The Government has opposed the families' efforts to depose Edmonds.

"The Government's action is an egregious example of the worst kind of abuse of the classification system," said Edmonds' attorney Mark S. Zaid, who is the Managing Partner of the Washington, D.C. law firm of Krieger & Zaid, PLLC, which specializes in national security cases. Zaid added that the Justice Department's reclassification of the information was undertaken solely to gain a litigation advantage against Edmonds.

During the Clinton Administration, Executive Order 12,958 prohibited federal agencies from reclassifying information. President Bush amended the classification guidance in March 2003, when he issued Executive Order 13,292, which permits reclassification under certain circumstances, none of which have been met. Agencies are still prohibited from classifying information to conceal violations of law, inefficiency, administrative error, or to prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency.

"What the FBI is up to here is ludicrous," Senator Grassley recently told the New York Times. "To classify something that's already been out in the public domain, what do you accomplish? It does harm to transparency in government, and it looks like an attempt to cover up the FBI's problems in translating intelligence."

Yesterday, the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight (POGO), which is based in Washington, D.C., independently sued Attorney General John Ashcroft for the actions the FBI took in Edmonds' case. POGO is seeking to post the Senate letters on its own website, but believes it is barred from doing so. The documents at issue were attached as part of Edmonds' court filing. No action will occur in the POGO lawsuit for at least two months.

Edmonds, who is Turkish-American, started working for the FBI immediately after the 9/11 attacks as a translator in the FBI's Washington field office with top-secret security clearance. She was summarily dismissed in March 2002. She has alleged that the FBI's translation services were plagued by incompetence and a lack of urgency and that the FBI ignored her concerns. Earlier this year Edmonds provided closed-door testimony to the 9/11 Commission. The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General has allegedly been investigating her claims for more than two years, but has never issued a report. Edmonds plans to file a new lawsuit shortly to compel the completion of this investigation.

The Government has asked a federal judge to dismiss Edmonds' lawsuit on the basis of the rarely invoked "state secrets privilege." Edmonds has argued that the FBI cannot preclude her use of the Congressional information, and that national security concerns do not affect her claims that the Government intentionally disclosed false information to reporters to discredit her. Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is presently considering the matter.

Copies Of Edmonds' Motion And Attachments Are Available Upon Request


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