By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
WASHINGTON D.C.Despite the best efforts of the Jersey Girls, leaders of the 9-11 Family Steering Committee, no member of the 9-11 commission this afternoon asked FBI chief Robert Mueller embarrassing questions about two former FBI translators who claim to have knowledge bearing on the attacks. One of them says she is being suppressed and can't talk because Attorney general John Ashcroft has placed a gag order on her.
Instead, the commissioners lauded Mueller for his running of the agency, which only yesterday they were bitterly attacking as incompetent and ineffective. Today one commissioner after another lavished praise on Mueller.
Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste briefly alluded to accusations by the translators, and said he would pursue it in private.
In particular the Jersey Girls wanted the commission to closely question Mueller about Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator, who is openly challenging the agency's veracity in the 9-11 investigation. Attorney General John Ashcroft has put a gag order on Edmonds by making her internal complaint to the inspector general secret. Soon after she came out publicly, Edmonds was fired.
She subsequently told the commission that the FBI had information that an attack using airplanes was being planned before September 11. "Some of our group has met several times with Edmonds, and from what we can tell, we think her claims are extremely credible," Lori van Auken, one of the leaders of the Jersey Girls, told The Voice. "So much so that some of our group hand walked her in to testify before the 9-11 commissioners."
They are also eager to find out more about the unconfirmed story of a second FBI linguist, Behrooz Sarshar, who claims he translated for an FBI informant with information on a supposed Al Qaeda plot to attack the U.S. with planes back in April 2001. "Some of the group have also met with Sarshar," said van Auken. "His claims seem to back up what Edmonds is saying."
Edmonds came to attention most recently following Condoleezza Rice's assertion in a Washington Post op-ed piece that the White House had no specific information on a domestic threat or one involving planes as "an outrageous lie. And documents can prove it's a lie," according to Edmonds.
Edmonds, a Turkish American, has been a citizen for 10 years and speaks Farsi, Turkish, and Arabic. The FBI assigned her to translate documents seized by agents in its post9-11 probe. "President Bush said they had no specific information about September 11, and that's accurate," says Edmonds. "But there was specific information about use of airplanes, that an attack was on the way two or three months beforehand and that several people were already in the country by May of 2001. They should've alerted the people to the threat we were facing."
In 2002, thenSenate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy and Senator Charles Grassley, a senior member, asked John Ashcroft about Edmonds's statements to the committee in a closed briefing that she was told by a superior "not to translate important, intelligence-related information, instead limiting her translation to unimportant and innocuous information." She also claimed her superior had previous contacts with one of the people whose work she had been prevented from translating.
The FBI, the senators noted at the time, "verified that this monitor indeed failed to translate certain material properly, but has attributed the failure to a lack of training as opposed to a malicious act."
The Justice Department inspector general has been looking into the case over the last two years, and still has not produced a report. Ashcroft, on the advice of Mueller in 2002, invoked the "state secret privilege," making the entire matter secret, "to prevent disclosure of certain classified and sensitive national security information." That effectively put a gag order on Edmonds.
Among other things, she now suggests one translator sent to Guantánamo by the FBI "was not even qualified in basic English." She is questioning whether translators handling terrorism-related information are so poorly trained they can't make competent sense of what they are translating.
A second FBI whistle-blower case involves another former FBI translator, Behrooz Sarshar, who left the agency in 2002. He supposedly translated an interview between an Iranian source, once a member of the Shah's secret police, with two FBI agents in which the informant told the agents he had heard in Afghanistan of an Al Qaeda plot to attack the U.S. in a suicide mission with planes. Details of the story were first reported by the WorldNetDaily website.