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Monday, July 5, 2004

'Who is there to stop him?'

The Boston Globe reports:

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."

Edmonds, a naturalized US citizen who grew up in Turkey and Iran, said in an interview last week that the ordeal has made her grow disillusioned with the "magical system of checks and balances and separation of powers" that had made her so drawn to the United States. "What I came to see is that it exists only in name," Edmonds said. "Where is the oversight? Who is there to stop him [Ashcroft]?"

There's more . . . ("Translator in eye of storm on retroactive classification," Anne Kornblut, Boston Globe 7.5.04)

Update 7.8.04: Oh well:

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit yesterday by a whistle-blower who alleged security lapses in the FBI's translator program, ruling that her claims might expose government secrets that could damage national security.

US District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he was satisfied with claims by Attorney General John Ashcroft and a senior FBI official that the civil lawsuit by Sibel Edmonds could expose intelligence-gathering methods and disrupt diplomatic relations with foreign governments.

The judge said he couldn't explain further because his explanation itself would expose sensitive secrets. . . .

Edmonds said the judge dismissed her lawsuit without hearing evidence from her lawyers, although the government's lawyers met with Walton at least twice privately. She noted that Walton, the judge, was appointed by President Bush.

''This shows how the separation of power has basically disappeared," Edmonds said in a telephone interview. ''The judge ruled on this case without actually this ever being a case."

In his decision, Walton acknowledged that dismissing a lawsuit before the facts of the case can be heard is ''Draconian" and said he was throwing out the lawsuit ''with great consternation."

''Mindful of the need for virtual unfettered access to the judicial process in a governmental system integrally linked to the rule of law, the court nonetheless concludes that the government has properly invoked the state secrets privilege," Walton ruled.

Edmonds's lawyer, Mark S. Zaid, called the decision ''another example of the executive branch's abuse of secrecy to prevent accountability."

''The judiciary seems to be unwilling to do anything but capitulate to assertions of national security," Zaid said.

Nonetheless! Nonetheless! What are we talking about here? The pleasantly abstract thought that the rule of law might require actual court cases rather than John Ashcroft's say-so?

("Judge dismisses suit against FBI," Ted Bridis [AP], Boston Globe 7.7.04)

Update 7.30.04: Partial vindication?

A classified Justice Department investigation has determined that a whistle-blower's allegations of security lapses in the FBI's translator program were at least partly responsible for her firing, the bureau director told senators. . . .

The department's report concluded the FBI failed to adequately pursue Edmonds's allegation that her colleague committed espionage, [FBI Director Robert] Mueller wrote [July 21 to the Senate Judiciary Committee].

("FBI Translators' Allegations Involved in Firing, Report Says," Ted Bridis [AP], Boston Globe 7.30.04)

Update 1.15.05: And now the Justice Department has concluded that the FBI's response to Edmond's charges was "significantly flawed":

The FBI never adequately investigated complaints by a fired contract linguist who alleged shoddy work and possible espionage inside the bureau's translator program, although evidence and witnesses supported her, the Justice Department's senior oversight official said yesterday.

The bureau's response to complaints by former translator Sibel Edmonds was "significantly flawed," Inspector General Glenn Fine said in a report that summarized a lengthy classified investigation into how the FBI handled the case. Fine said Edmonds's contentions "raised substantial questions and were supported by various pieces of evidence." . . .

Senators Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said the FBI's review of Edmonds's allegations was unacceptable, especially after the espionage scandal involving Robert P. Hanssen, the FBI agent caught spying for Russia for more than a decade.

"The bureau has reflexively ignored and punished its whistle-blowers, to the detriment of the bureau's effectiveness and sometimes to the detriment of the public's safety," said Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

("FBI Faulted Over Linguist's Complaints," Ted Bridis [AP], Boston Globe 1.15.05)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 5 July 2004 at 12:07 PM

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