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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Attorney General John Ashcroft took yet another step last week to deep-six the Sibel Edmonds case by classifying the report of an investigation into her allegations of FBI wrongdoing so the public will never know what it says. Meanwhile, Justice Department officials met in secret with a federal judge in Washington, following which he dismissed her suit charging the FBI with wrongfully firing her.
Edmonds is the translator hired by the FBI after 9-11 to help its woefully inadequate staff translate documents and wiretaps pertaining to the attacks in languages such as Farsi and Turkish. As she has told the Voice in past and recent interviews, she was given a top secret security clearance. She soon discovered that there were what she describes as two enemy moles with possible connections to 9-11 working both in the FBI and with the Air Force in weapons procurement for Central Asia, at one point. These were the Dickersons: Douglas with the Air Force and his Turkish-born wife, Melek Can Dickerson, with the FBI as a translator monitor. After they were subpoenaed for a court hearing, they left for Belgium in September 2002 and have not been heard from since.
Among other things Edmonds told her FBI superiors, she had discovered that Melek Can Dickerson affixed Edmonds’s name to a printout of inaccurate translations. Properly translated, she says, these wiretaps revealed a Turkish intelligence operative in communication with his spies in both the Pentagon and the State Department.
When Edmonds tried to tell her FBI superiors what was going on, the bureau seized her home computer, gave her a lie detector test (which she later found she passed), and then fired her, warning her not to talk—backing that up by following her around in an open and intimidating surveillance. That didn’t stop her. She went to the Senate Judiciary Committee and told her story. The committee’s then chair, Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, and ranking minority member Charles Grassley of Iowa wrote a letter to Justice demanding to know what was going on. Subsequently the FBI confirmed some of Edmonds’s claims.
Her lawyers demanded an investigation by the Defense Department. On September 10, 2002, Colonel James N. Worth, the air force director of inquiries, wrote, “We have determined the allegations contained in your letter of August 7, 2002, involving Major Douglas Dickerson do not show improprieties and therefore do not warrant a formal inquiry.” After conducting “a complete and thorough review,” Worth continued, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations could find “no evidence of any deviation from the scope of his duties. Absent new and relevant information we have closed this matter.”
She protested her firing at Justice, asked for an investigation, and sued. For two years nothing happened. Meanwhile, she kept talking—on 60 Minutes, in newspapers, to congressional staffers. She was turned away by Senator John Kerry’s office and, only after pressure from the Jersey Girls, got a perfunctory hearing by the staff of the 9-11 Commission. But the commission’s “inquiry” consisted of allowing Edmonds to sit down in a secure room and tell her story into a tape recorder while staff members sat by. There were no questions, she said.
To shut her up, Ashcroft invoked the States Secrets Act, classifying everything she had said or was about to say, down to the most absurd detail: “She speaks languages which the FBI says are classified,” explained Mark Zaid, her attorney, at a press conference in Washington last week. “But if anybody checks her résumé, they are of course listed. . . . She was born in Iran and grew up in Turkey. So you can guess what languages she speaks—and English, which, I guess, is a classified fact as well.” Edmonds is not allowed to answer any substantive questions that might reveal, for instance, where she worked.
Then, on July 6, Reggie Walton, a federal district judge in D.C., dismissed Edmonds’s case challenging the FBI for firing her. Around the same time, he ruled in another lawsuit, in which attorneys had wanted to depose Edmonds, by setting forth in detail what Edmonds could and could not say. Judge Walton said it was OK for her to answer when asked, “Please state your name.” But she must not answer “When and where were you born?” She could respond to “When did you come to the United States?” as well as “Are you a resident of the United States?” But she was not to answer “Where did you go to school?”
Finally after two years, the Justice Department’s Inspector General last week released his report on the Edmonds case—and it was immediately classified.
Additional reporting: Alexander Provan