News & Politics

Pols Kowtow to the FBI


Politicians from both parties regularly grovel at the feet of FBI director Robert Mueller. The scene of the 9-11 commissioners kissing his ass during one of its hearings was the most disgusting exhibition so far.

It’s hard to believe that the government can keep on covering up the scandal of the agency’s behavior before, on, and after 9-11.

As everyone by now knows (and knew well before 9-11), the FBI’s abilities to translate languages are severely limited. Most recently, a Justice Department inspector general’s report offered scathing evidence of the bureau’s inadequacy. But there is no critic more persistent than Sibel Edmonds, an American citizen who was born in Iran and brought up in Turkey and is fluent in Farsi and other languages. The government is determined to stop Edmonds from blowing the whistle. But in a letter to Inspector General Glenn Fine earlier this month, she pinpointed specific instances of the FBI’s screwy and malicious intelligence apparatus, resulting in questionable translations. If what she says proves to be true, it’s hard to believe a federal grand jury would even return an indictment based on such material from the FBI, let alone that federal prosecutors would try to use it in court.

Despite pleas from agents in charge, FBI headquarters refused to remove three translators who, Edmonds says, had no proficiency in the languages spoken in the countries they were assigned to and who refused to take FBI proficiency tests to prove their abilities. One person who is still in charge of translations at an FBI field office and who spent time translating at Guantánamo Bay failed all proficiency tests in the languages he was translating.

Edmonds points to top FBI officials who have come forward to describe relationships between translators at the agency’s headquarters covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India who had ties to FBI targets in the region. One Arabic translator working for the FBI in Washington, she says, “brought in numerous full-time and contract translators who were family members and friends. Some of these individuals were openly celebrating the terrorist attacks on September 11, several did not possess standard qualifications, and many drew salaries without even showing up for work.”

Additional reporting: David Botti and Laurie Anne Agnese

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 5, 2004

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