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Monday, July 05, 2004

Sibel Edwards

Boston Globe: Translator in eye of storm on retroactive classification:
Sifting through old classified materials in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, FBI translator Sibel Edmonds said, she made an alarming discovery: Intercepts relevant to the terrorist plot, including references to skyscrapers, had been overlooked because they were badly translated into English.

Edmonds, 34, who is fluent in Turkish and Farsi, said she quickly reported the mistake to an FBI superior. Five months later, after flagging what she said were several other security lapses in her division, she was fired. Now, after more than two years of investigations and congressional inquiries, Edmonds is at the center of an extraordinary storm over US classification rules that sheds new light on the secrecy imperative supported by members of the Bush administration.

In a rare maneuver, Attorney General John Ashcroft has ordered that information about the Edmonds case be retroactively classified, even basic facts that have been posted on websites and discussed openly in meetings with members of Congress for two years. The Department of Justice also invoked the seldom-used ''state secrets" privilege to silence Edmonds in court. She has been blocked from testifying in a lawsuit brought by victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and was allowed to speak to the panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks only behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, the FBI has yet to release its internal investigation into her charges. And the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the bureau, has been stymied in its attempt to get to the bottom of her allegations. Now that the case has been retroactively classified, lawmakers are wary of discussing the details, for fear of overstepping legal bounds.

''I'm alarmed that the FBI is reaching back in time and classifying information it provided two years ago," Senator Charles E. Grassley, a Republican from Iowa and a leading advocate for Edmonds, said last Friday. ''Frankly, it looks like an attempt to impede legitimate oversight of a serious problem at the FBI."


She had a job application at the FBI before Sept. 11, and it was accelerated after the attacks so she could start work Sept. 20. One of her main assignments, she said, was to expedite requested translations from field agents, including material that a field agent in Arizona submitted for retranslation on a suspicion that it had not been examined thoroughly before Sept. 11.

''After I retranslated it verbatim, I went to my supervisor to say, 'I need to talk to this agent over a secure line because what we came across in this retranslating is gigantic, it has specific information about certain specific activity related to 9/11,' " Edmonds recalled. ''The supervisor blocked this retranslation from being sent to the same agent. The reasoning this [supervisor] gave me was, 'How would you like it if another translator did this same thing to you? The original translator is going to be held responsible.' "

In the end, Edmonds said, the field agent who requested a reinterpretation of the intelligence material ''knew there were things that were missing, and yet he was reassured by the Washington field office that the original translation was fine."

Edmonds said the intercept jumped out at her because it contained references to skyscrapers and the US visa application process. Such references might have triggered suspicions at Immigration and Naturalization Services before Sept. 11 if they had been correctly translated, she said, but they seemed unrelated before the attacks, in part because they were gathered during the course of a criminal investigation.

Edmonds said she made another troubling discovery: One of her colleagues admitted being a member of an organization with ties to the Middle East that was a target of an FBI investigation. The colleague, also a Turkish translator, invited Edmonds to join the group, assuring her that her FBI credentials would guarantee admission. Edmonds declined to name the organization, because she said it has been under surveillance.

Two months later, Edmonds said, one of the agents she worked with found hundreds of pages of translation that her Turkish-speaking colleague had stamped ''not pertinent" and had therefore gone untranslated.

The agent asked Edmonds to retranslate her colleague's work. ''We came across 17 pieces of extremely specific and important information that was blocked, and at that point, this agent and I went to the FBI security department in the Washington field office, and found out my supervisor had not reported my original complaints," she said.

Edmonds said she was repeatedly warned that she would be opening a ''can of worms" if she kept filing security complaints, but she continued reporting lapses to ever-higher levels of management until, in March 2002, she wrote a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, she said. She also contacted the Senate Judiciary Committee. In response, the FBI confiscated her home computer, challenged her to take a polygraph test, which she said she passed, and terminated her contract.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let Sibel Talk!

12:18 PM, January 28, 2005


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