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"I will fight for it." Sibel Edmunds interview
Do you remember when Sibel Edmonds' story broke?

It's been over two years since Edmonds went public with information that the FBI had intelligence reports before 9/11 indicating terrorists might ram aircraft into skyscrapers and other prominent buildings in New York and Washington, DC. As a contract worker for the FBI, Edmonds' translations of wiretap documents led to the exposure of an inept — and possibly corrupt — federal system of gathering and disseminating intelligence. For her efforts, Edmonds received bipartisan kudos… at least at first.

How credible is her information? On October 27, 2002, US Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa left no doubt when he appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes.

“Absolutely, she's credible,” Grassley told Ed Bradley. “And the reason I feel she's very credible is because people within the FBI have corroborated a lot of her story.”

Soon after the 60 Minutes story aired, the US Inspector General's office launched an investigation into Edmonds' charges. She was told to expect a finding in the fall of 2002.

One Attorney General and a presidential election later, Edmonds is still waiting on the Inspector General office. What's more, even though both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the 9/11 Commission have heard her testify about specific plots, dates, individuals and activities, they have yet to act on her revelations.

Edmonds is not deterred. She has decided to take matters into her own hands with a petition to require the immediate release of the entire report.

You can sign the petition here.

"The petition demands that the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has the oversight, actually start exercising this oversight,” Edmonds tells me in an interview on Weekly Signals — a KUCI radio show I co-host with Mike Kaspar. "I hope it will be signed by many many people."

According to the petition, "The FBI and the Department of Justice have engaged in a relentless effort to withhold this information in order to prevent public awareness and thus avoid accountability, and in so doing are placing the security of the nation at risk".

“Attorney General John Ashcroft came out on October 18, 2002 and personally asserted State Secret Privilege in my case and in my report,” Edmonds says. “He basically used this as a gag on me to prevent my testifying in regard to this information. The State Secret Privilege applies to everything, including telling anybody what languages I translated. This is absolutely ridiculous.”

Since then, Edmonds was subpoenaed by a law firm representing more than 500 family members and survivors of the 9/11 attacks. They never heard her testimony. Citing State Secrets Privilege, government lawyers silenced Edmonds, claiming that disclosure of her evidence “would cause serious damage to the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States." I asked Edmonds if our national security would be threatened if she were allowed to testify.

“Absolutely not. On one hand, I understand that certain intelligence methods for gathering information cannot be disclosed. But none of my testimony would be detrimental to national security or to the public’s welfare. However,” she says slowly and deliberately, “some of this information would be detrimental to certain US officials, to their own job security."

I want to ask Edmonds who those US officials are, but that would violate State Secrets Privilege.

"It does seem that they’re putting the private interest ahead of the public interest," she continues. "The FBI and the department of Justice are preventing the release of the Inspector General’s Office Report that was on expedited track and was supposed to be released to the public in October 2002.”

Edmonds, a Turkish-American, says the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted an unclassified meeting with the FBI in May 2002, after she reported these incidents to the Inspector General’s Office and to the Senate.

“It was during the four hours of this unclassified meeting that the FBI confirmed all my reports and allegations,” she says. “In fact, they denied none.”

How did Edmonds come to work at the FBI?

“I applied for the job as translator in 1998,” Edmonds says. “At the time I was attending George Washington University majoring in criminal justice and criminal psychology. I passed the FBI’s proficiency exam for several languages and was waiting for them to complete their top-secret clearance background investigation of me. Two years later, I found out that they lost my file and 150 other translators’ files.”

Apparently incompetence was at all levels of the Bureau — even HR. Edmonds reapplied and persisted. Then, three days after 911, the FBI contacted her. On September 20, 2001 she began working for the department on a contract basis.

“When I started working there, they were asking for increased budgets for translation units and other administrative departments,” Edmonds says. “For two and one half months after 911, we were being told to hold off on translations because they had to count all the documents that had not been translated.”

When work finally started, there was a substantial amount of backlogged material — some of it already translated — that needed reviewing. I ask Edmonds about the accuracy of those documents. She sighs.

“Of course, certain translations were not done accurately due to incompetence,” Edmonds says. “However, certain documents were being blocked from being retranslated. The State Department blocked certain investigations due to particular diplomatic relations.”

Could those diplomatic relations be with the Saudi government? Can't ask. State Secrets Privilege again. So I ask if Edmonds is afraid of the Justice Department filing a criminal suit against her?

“I believe that their acts should be considered criminal and not mine,” Edmonds says. “If they were to allow this information to become public, I don’t believe in any way that I would be the one who was prosecuted criminally.”

“At a certain point,” Edmonds says, “I’m going to make all the 9/11 related information public, because other means have failed.”

“My biggest fear is that this cover-up will continue, and that there will be another attack where people will be jeopardized. I have lived in countries where transparency and democracy and freedom of speech are almost non-existent. Our constitution is being compromised. I will fight for it.”

With the Bush administration exerting more and more control over the intelligence community, Edmonds will be facing a tough fight. But there's a way you can help her. Sign the petition.

— Nathan Callahan, December 2, 2004


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