WASHINGTON, D.C.—Against all odds, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds’s campaign to speak openly about what she knows regarding 9-11 and the FBI is moving forward—inch-by-inch.
Edmonds, who was born in Iran and grew up in Turkey, is fluent in several languages, among them, Turkish and Farsi. She was hired by the FBI in the hectic aftermath of 9-11 and given top secret security clearance. Almost immediately she was struck by the bizarre activities in the FBI’s translation department. Interpreters were dispatched to Guantanamo to translate interviews with prisoners, but the translators couldn’t speak the languages they were asked to translate. She learned of reports within the bureau relating the story of a long-trusted FBI asset in the Middle East, who first reported bin Laden’s plans for an attack in April 2001. She came across activities which she thought might involve active espionage within the bureau.
Edmonds was fired after she complained about the fishy translations. She told her bosses that national security might have been breached when an interpreter with a relative at a foreign embassy in Washington actually gave wiretap information to the target of an FBI investigation. She claims these people are still working for the FBI. Since then, there have been letters of inquiry back and forth between the Senate Judiciary Committee and top FBI officials, which tended to confirm her reports. Just as it seemed her charges finally would break into the open, the Ashcroft Justice Department invoked the rarely used states secrets privilege to classify everything she had been telling the Senate committee, and apparently retroactively classifying stories about her in the press. What little progress she was making in bringing her story to public attention suddenly stopped. Nothing could be disclosed because it had become secret, its publication a threat national security.
Edmonds sought without success to interest Congress and other civil libertarian groups, Only after the outspoken Jersey Girls—widows of 9-11 victims—pushed her case on the 9-11 Commission did anybody pay any attention to her. And even then she got the cold shoulder on Capitol Hill. She was allowed to sit in a secure briefing room and tell her story to a tape recorder while commission staff members sat by and watched. They never asked her any questions. Edmonds was not allowed to testify, and the only time her case came up was when Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste mentioned it in an aside to FBI director Robert Mueller. Both men agreed her case would be best left to another time. Edmonds approached Democratic candidate John Kerry but was turned away. Ditto for John Edwards. She has tried to interest the Pentagon since one strand of her story suggests a possible espionage activity by a defense official. She sought repeatedly to get the attention of Virginiaís Republican Senator John Warner, who heads the Armed Services Committee, but to no avail. The Pentagon dismissed her charges.
In recent months, she won support from the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington advocacy group working on defense issues; finally the ACLU jumped in. The Justice Department’s inspector general finally released an unclassified report, more or less supporting her. Recently she was introduced to Christopher Shays, the Connecticut Republican. Shays and New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney allowed her to testify before hearings of their House Government Reform Subcommittee Wednesday.
After Edmonds told her story, Maloney said to her, “Just let me know when you’re going into court, and I’ll see how many women leaders I can get to come stand with you.” The Associated Press reports she plans to introduce a bill that would restrict unnecessary security classifications and name it after Edmonds.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 1, 2005