UQ Wire: Between The Lines With Sibel Edmonds
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Sept. 30, 2004
Fired FBI Translator and 25 Former Government Security Officials Criticize 9/11 Commission Report
- Interview with Sibel Edmonds, former FBI language specialist, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/edmonds100104.ram
Sibel Edmonds worked as a contract linguist for the FBI, but when she reported lapses in security, mishandling of critical intelligence and cover-ups, she was terminated from her job in March 2002. Edmond's subsequent lawsuits asserting she was fired for being a whistleblower have been classified top secret by Attorney General John Ashcroft and neither she, her attorney or Congress can discuss specifics of the case. One of several lawsuits filed by Edmonds in July 2002 was dismissed by a federal court in July 2004 when a judge found that Edmonds could not prove her case without access to information the government has classified as protected by "state secrets privilege."
Edmonds has testified before the U.S. Senate and the 9/11 Commission that the FBI possessed, but mismanaged information that could have proved useful in preventing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. More recently Edmonds has helped organize a group of 25 former federal employees directly involved in the government's counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism work who have publicly criticized the 9-11 Commission and the Bush administration for not holding key officials accountable for failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Sibel Edmonds, who describes what led her to speak out against pre-9/11 problems at the FBI, the Bush administration gag order around her case and why she and other former security officials have criticized the Commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.
Sibel Edmonds: Certain translators -- language specialists -- were hired by the bureau and they were granted top secret clearance and later we found out at the bureau that some of these individuals actually had ongoing relationships with the targets of FBI investigations and they were leaking information from the bureau to those individuals. Also, there were certain translations that were intentionally blocked from being translated and that was related to these security breaches. Also, a lot of translations that I did for various languages consisted of documents obtained for 9/11 and they were either not translated due to backlog or they were translated and no action was taken. I started reporting this issue initially within the bureau itself, and I went as high as director of the bureau itself, director Robert Mueller and his assistant Dale Watson. They did not want to take any action, and actually, they asked me to go along with covering up these issues. So I took these issues to the Senate in March 2002 and I also reported these issues together with the evidence, the documents at the Department of Justice, the inspector general's office.
Two weeks later, I was terminated and the only reason they cited was purely for the convenience of the government. And since then we have been challenging the government. However, they have gone as far as gagging the Congress. They stopped the Senate investigation of these issues by gagging the Senate, by retroactively classifying all these documents and information. They also stopped all our court procedures by asserting this rarely invoked state-secret privilege, saying that discussing these issues in court will damage certain diplomatic relations and damage certain foreign business relations.
Between The Lines: If the American people knew about these problems within the FBI and the specific information that you're aware of, and many inside the FBI are aware of in terms of early warnings about 9/11 that could have been used to possibly prevent the attacks, what do you think the reaction of the American people would be?
Sibel Edmonds: They would be outraged and demand accountability, because you're not only looking at one person, let's say for myself coming forward. Just in the past two years, nine to ten agents have come forward. In a way, it's sad, because by not holding people responsible, accountable, they are stigmatizing the agents who are doing their jobs, working hard and that's the majority of the people. But within the mid-level bureaucrats, the mid-management layers there, you have certain individuals that either intentionally or due to incompetence or a combination of both, are hindering investigations and jeopardizing our security.
Between The Lines: Tell us about the group of 25 former federal employees that you helped organize that came forward to criticize the 9/11 commission and the Bush administration for not holding officials for their failures leading up to the 9/11 attacks.
Sibel Edmonds: Yes, I testified for the 9/11 commission and I also encouraged others who went forward and they gave information to the 9/11 commission. They testified, other translators, other agents. After (the 9/11 commission) report came out, that same day, I went and I purchased it, and I spent three days reading this report. A lot of this information (testimony) was totally omitted. And in their recommendations, they had no solution or recommendation that really went to the heart of these problems. This commission was established to bring about accountability.
Well, I wrote this letter to the commissioners and a few days later, I was contacted by many agents from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, saying they have done the same thing; written letters because this report is not it! And something needs to be done about this. So that's how that project was started. I put together this letter, all these people agreed with it and they signed it.
There's this aggressive pursuit of implementing these (the 9/11 commission) recommendations and there's pressure on the Congress. To this date, our Congress, our people have been hearing from career politicians, top-level bureaucrats and from the commissioners. Yet, (we) have not heard anything from people who actually do the job, did the job, came face-to-face with these problems, have first-hand experience of these cases and issues and problems. No. Instead, we're only hearing from the politicians.
Get more information on the call for government whistleblowers at
Related links on our website at
• "F.B.I. Said to Lag on Translating Terror Tapes"
• "Cracks in the Empire: Compilation of insiders who have taken aim at Bush's Iraq Policy," by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris, Toward Freedom, Summer 2004
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org) for the week ending Oct. 1, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.
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