January 26, 2004

Whistleblower Coming In Cold From the F.B.I.

"Out, out, damn spot!"

Gail Sheehy, New York Observer: On the morning Ms. Edmonds was
terminated, she said, she was escorted from the
building by an agent she remembered saying: "We will
be watching you and listening to you. If you dare to
consult an attorney who is not approved by the F.B.I.,
or if you take this issue outside the F.B.I. to the
Senate, the next time I see you, it will be in jail."
Two other agents were present.

Repudiate the 9/11 Coverup and the Iraq War Lies, Show
Up for Democracy in 2004: Defeat Bush (again!)


Whistleblower Coming In Cold From the F.B.I.
by Gail Sheehy

Sibel Edmonds says she was shocked at the lack of
security in the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence squad
when she went to work there shortly after Sept. 11.
But when she spoke up, she was canned. Gail Sheehy
tells her story.


Last Friday, the four women from New Jersey who have
faced down the F.B.I. on its failures in preventing
the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that claimed
their husbands’ lives were personally invited to the
bureau’s Hoover Building offices in Washington, D.C.,
for a second visit. Their host was none other than
F.B.I. director Robert Mueller.

Cordial and fully engaged, Mr. Mueller introduced the
newly appointed head of the Bureau’s Penttbom
investigation (Pent for Pentagon, Pen for
Pennsylvania, tt for the Twin Towers and bom for the
four planes that the government was forewarned could
be used as weapons—even bombs—but ignored).

The new Penttbom team leader, Joan-Marie Turchiano,
politely suggested the widows present their questions.

"O.K." said Kristin Breitweiser, the group’s
hammerhead, "have you solved the crime yet?"

The Penttbom leader said they had been investigating
the 19 hijackers and had run down every connection.
Ms. Breitweiser recalls her next words indelibly: "As
far as our investigations are concerned, we can say
the hijackers had no contacts in the United States."

But the scathing 800-page report on intelligence
failures produced by a joint congressional
investigation had already revealed that the F.B.I. had
open investigations on four of the 14 individuals who
allegedly had some kind of contact with the hijackers
while they were in the U.S.

The Four Moms from New Jersey, or "the girls" as they
refer to themselves, waste little time on niceties
these days. They were the firecrackers behind the
creation of the 9/11 commission, which after a year of
meager progress, is finally ready to call key
administration officials to testify in public hearings
on some of the most important questions we have before
us as a nation.

But White House delays and circumventions have
hampered the effort, and the four moms see the
commission flagging in its use of subpoena power to
call in key Clinton and Bush administration officials
for their testimony. Personal connections between
commission members—like executive director Philip
Zelikow and national security advisor Condoleezza
Rice—undermine the commission’s purported
independence. As the commission’s work draws close to
its May dissolution, it appears the main question they
were tasked to answer will remain unanswered: Did our
guardians of national security have enough information
to prevent 9/11? Why did all of our officials who
swore an oath of office to lead, protect, and serve,
fail to do so on the morning of 9/11?

Last Monday Ms. Breitweiser, along with three other
members of the Family Steering Committee, met with
commissioner John Lehman about the need for an
extension of the Commission’s May deadline-after House
Speaker Dennis Hastert had already declared such an
extension dead in the water. Exiting the meeting, the
family members were hopeful that he would join the
majority of commissioners—all five Democrats, chairman
Thomas Kean and one other Republican, Slade Gorton—in
supporting a postponement. More recently, as
Democratic presidential candidates burnish their
credentials in intelligence and national security
issues against Bush’s 2004 campaign, the extension of
that deadline is becoming a heated issue.

While fighting a mostly losing battle for a
transparent investigation, the Moms are winning on
another score: Whistleblowers from agencies culpable
in the failures of 9/11—long silent—are being
attracted to their mission.

Sibel Edmonds read an article published in these pages
last August about the 9/11 widows’ bold confrontation
with Director Mr. Mueller in a private meeting last
summer, and recognized kindred spirits.

"This was the first time I’d heard anybody ask such
direct questions to Mr. Mueller," said Ms. Edmonds, a
Turkish-American woman who answered the desperate call
of the F.B.I. in September, 2001 for translators of
Middle Eastern languages. Hired as contract employee a
week after 9/11, without a personal interview, Ms.
Edmonds was given top-secret security clearance to
translate wiretaps ordered by field offices in New
York, Los Angeles, and other cities by agents who were
working around the clock to pick up the trail of Al
Qaeda terrorists and their supporters in the U.S. and
abroad. Working in the F.B.I.’s Washington field
office, she listened to hundreds of hours of
intercepts and translated reams of e-mails and
documents that flooded into the bureau. In a series of
intimate interviews, she told her story to this

When she arrived, her enormous respect for the F.B.I.
was initially confirmed.

"The field agents are wonderful, but they were
terribly exasperated with the D.C. office," she said.

While the news was full of reports of heaps of
untranslated material languishing inside the F.B.I.’s
counterterrorism unit, Ms. Edmonds has claimed that
translators were told to let them pile up. She said
she remembers a supervisor’s instructions "to just say
no to those field agents calling us to beg for speedy
translations" so that the department could use the
pileup as evidence to demand more money from the
Senate. Another colleague she recalls saying bitterly,
"This is our time to show those assholes we are in

F.B.I. translators are the front line for information
gathered by foreign-language wiretaps, tips,
documents, e-mails, and other intercepted threats to
security. Based on what they translate and the dots
they connect, F.B.I. field agents act against targets
of investigation-or fail to act-in a timely manner. As
an agent later told the Judiciary Committee which
oversees the F.B.I., "When you hear a suspect say ‘The
flower will bloom next week,’ you can’t wait two weeks
to get it translated."

During her six months of work for the Bureau, Ms.
Edmonds said she grew increasingly horrified by the
lack of internal security she saw inside the very
agency tasked with protecting our national security.

In papers filed with the F.B.I.’s internal
investigative office, the Department of Justice, the
Senate Judiciary Committee, and most recently with the
9/11 Commission, she has reported serious ongoing
failures in the language division of the F.B.I.
Washington Field Office. They include security lapses
in hiring and monitoring of translators,
investigations that have been compromised by incorrect
or misleading translations sent to field agents; and
thousands of pages of translations falsely labeled
"not pertinent" by Middle Eastern linguists who were
either not qualified in the target language or
English, or, worse, protecting targets of

Nothing happened. Undaunted, Ms. Edmonds took her
concerns to upper management. Soon afterward she was
fired. The only cause given was "for the convenience
of the government." The F.B.I. has not refuted any of
Ms. Edmonds’ allegations, yet they have accounted for
none of them.

On the morning Ms. Edmonds was terminated, she said,
she was escorted from the building by an agent she
remembered saying: "We will be watching you and
listening to you. If you dare to consult an attorney
who is not approved by the F.B.I., or if you take this
issue outside the F.B.I. to the Senate, the next time
I see you, it will be in jail." Two other agents were

"I know about my constitutional rights, but do you
know how many translators would be intimidated?"

Shortly after her dismissal, F.B.I. agents turned up
at the door of the Ms. Edmonds’ townhouse to seize her
home computer. She was then called in to be
polygraphed—a test which, she found out later, she
passed. A few months after her dismissal, accompanied
by her lawyer on a sunny morning in May 2002, Ms.
Edmonds took her story to the Senate Judiciary
Committee. As her high heels glanced off the marble
steps of Congress she sensed two men ascending right
behind her. Turning, she recognized the agent walk,
the Ray-Bans, the outline of a weapon, and the deadest
giveaway of all—a cell phone pointed straight at her,
transmitting. "They weren’t secretive about it, they
wanted me to know they’re there," she said. After
being shadowed in plain sight many more times, she
said with dark humor, "I call them my escorts."

After her meeting, Senator Chuck Grassley, the
Republican vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee to
whom Ms. Edmonds appealed, had his investigators check
her out. Then they, along with staffers for Senator
Patrick Leahy, called for a joint briefing in the
summer of 2002. The F.B.I. sent a unit chief from the
language division and an internal security official.

In a lengthy, unclassified session that one
participant describes as bizarre, the windows fogged
up as the session finished; it was that tense, "None
of the F.B.I. officials’ answers washed, and they
could tell we didn’t believe them." He chuckles
remembering one of the Congressional investigators
saying, "You basically admitted almost all that Sibel
alleged, yet you say there’s no problem here. What’s
wrong with this picture?"

The Bureau briefers shrugged, put on their coats, and
left. There was no way the F.B.I. was going to admit
to another spy scandal only months after being
scorched by the Webster Report on one of the most
dangerous double agents in F.B.I. history, Robert

"I think the F.B.I. is ignoring a very major internal
security breach," said Grassley, "and a potential
espionage breach."

Unlike those whistleblowers whose cause is redress of
personal grievances, Ms. Edmonds impressed Grassley as
passionately patriotic.

"The basic problem is, heads don’t roll," Sen.
Grassley said. "The culture of the F.B.I. is to worry
about their own public relations. If you’re going to
change that culture, somebody’s got to get fired." He
is not optimistic, however, that Congress will act
aggressively. "Nobody wants to take on the F.B.I."

The translator had filed a complaint with the
Inspector General of the Department of Justice on
March 7, 2002. She was told then that an investigation
would be undertaken and she could expect a report by
the fall of 2002. Twenty-one months later, she is
still waiting. She also filed a First Amendment case
against the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. And a
Freedom of Information case against the F.B.I. for
release of documents pertaining to her work for the
Bureau, to confirm her allegations. The F.B.I. refused
her FOIA request. Their stated reason was the pending
investigation by Justice, which, her sources in the
Senate tell her, will probably be held up until after
the November election.

When Ms. Edmonds wouldn’t go away or keep still,
F.B.I. Director Mueller asked Attorney General John
Ashcroft to assert the State Secrets Privilege in the
case of Ms. Edmonds versus Department of Justice. Mr.
Ashcroft obliged.

The State Secrets Privilege is the neutron bomb of
legal tactics. In the rare cases where the government
invokes it to withhold evidence or to block discovery
in the name of national security, it can effectively
terminate the case. According to a 1982 Appeals Court
ruling. "Once the court is satisfied that the
information poses a reasonable danger to secrets of
state, even the most compelling necessity cannot
overcome the claim of privilege ._"

In interviews conducted over recent weeks with a
senior F.B.I. agent who worked closely with Ms.
Edmonds, former F.B.I. counterterrorism agents, and
with current and former members of Congress involved
in national security issues, a picture emerged of the
dark undercurrents that run beneath our best
counterterrorism efforts, and the punishments meted
out to those who dare to expose it.

Does Ms. Edmonds pose a danger to secrets of state? Or
do the secrets buried in the nerve center of the
F.B.I.’s counterterrorism squad pose a danger to
Americans living under the politics of dread?

Edmonds was seen as a jewel when the F.B.I. found her
only a week after September 11, 2001. With reports of
stacks of untranslated "chatter" from Middle Eastern
suspects and their supporters, the embarrassed Bureau
couldn’t wait to hire this Turkish-American graduate
student who speaks four languages, not only Turkish,
Farsi (the Iranian language) and Azerbaijani, but
perfect American-English. The graduate student was
carrying five courses in preparation for her Master’s
degree and was in mourning for her father’s recent
death. "But I felt like I was being called to duty."

Inside the F.B.I.’s Washington field office roughly
200 translators sit hip to hip in one large room that
is a linguistic cacophony of chatter from 185
different countries. The few Arabic translators may be
flanked by a Farsi speaker on one side, an Urdu
speaker on the other, and a translator of Chinese
chatter behind them.

In a security briefing she was told that any documents
marked "Top Secret" had to be locked up when employees
went to lunch. Laptops had to be kept in a safe. Any
contacts with foreign people, even social, had to be
reported. She also signed a document promising to
report any suspicious activities of other translators.
She was impressed with the stringency of F.B.I. rules.

The Translation Department is treated by the F.B.I. as
highly sensitive. Yet her badge allowed her and other
translators to enter and exit the building without
passing through security, and within the sanctum
itself they could pass freely from floor to floor and
to any agent’s office. Ms. Edmonds saw several
different individuals leave the building with
documents or audio tapes in their gym bags. When she
called security to report it, nothing was done.

She was one of three Turkish translators working on
real time wiretaps, e-mails, and documents related to
9/11 investigations. One of her colleagues was an
unassuming immigrant whose first employment on
entering the U.S. was as a busboy. Ms. Edmonds was
dismayed to learn that he had been hired despite
failing to pass the English equivalency exam. When he
was chosen to go to Guantánamo Bay, to translate
interrogations with the half-dozen Turkish detainees
in America’s war on terror, she remembers with both
compassion and disgust hearing her colleague wail, "I
can’t do this!"

But it was her other colleague who gave her the
greatest cause for concern-and her reports to her
superiors as well as an alphabet soup of government
commissions and agencies remain unanswered.

Melek Can Dickerson was a very friendly Turkish woman,
married to a major in the U.S. Air Force. She liked to
be called informally "Jan."

The account that follows, which comes from extended
interviews with Ms. Edmonds, was related in testimony
to the Senate Judiciary committee.

"I began to be suspicious as early as November, 2001"
said Ms. Edmonds. "In conversation Jan mentioned these
suspects and said ‘I can’t believe they’re monitoring
these people.’"

"How would you know?" Ms. Edmonds remembers saying.
She said Dickerson told her she had worked for them in
a Turkish organization; she talked about how she
shopped for them at a Middle Eastern grocery store in

Ms. Edmonds has told the Judiciary Committee that soon
after, Ms. Dickerson tried to establish social ties
with her, suggesting they meet in Alexandria and
introduce their husbands to each other.

When Sibel invited the visitors in for tea, she said,
Major Dickerson began asking Matthew Edmonds if the
couple had many friends from Turkey here in the U.S.
Mr. Edmonds said he didn’t speak Turkish, so they
didn’t associate with many Turkish people. The Air
Force officer then began talking up a Turkish
organization in Washington that he described,
according to the Edmondses, as "a great place to make
connections and it could be very profitable."

Sibel was sickened. This organization was the very one
she and Jan Dickerson were monitoring in a 9/11
investigation. Since Sibel had adhered to the rule
that an F.B.I. employee does not discuss bureau
matters with one’s mate, her husband innocently
continued the conversation. Ms. Dickerson and her
husband offered to introduce the Edmondses to people
connected to the Turkish embassy in Washington who
belonged to this organization.

"These two people were the top targets of our
investigation!" Ms. Edmonds said of the people the
Dickersons proposed to introduce them to.

"My husband keeps thinking he’s talking about
promoting business deals," Ms. Edmonds later said of
the encounter. "He has no idea the man is talking
about criminal activities with some semi-legitimate

These are classic "pitch activities" to get somebody
to spy for you, according to a Judiciary Committee
staffer who investigated Ms. Edmonds’ claims.

"You’d think the F.B.I. would be jumping out of their
seats about all these red flags," the staffer said.

The targets of that F.B.I. investigation left the
country abruptly in 2002. Later, Ms. Edmonds
discovered that Ms. Dickerson had managed to get hold
of translations meant for Ms. Edmonds, forge her
signature, and render the communications useless.

"These were documents directly related to a 9/11
investigation and suspects, and they had been sent to
field agents in at least two cities." By accident, Ms.
Edmonds discovered the breach—up to 400 pages of
translations marked "not pertinent"—and insisted that
those classified translations be sent back so she
could retranslate them

"We discovered some amazing stuff," she remembered.

The first half-dozen translations were transcripts
from an F.B.I. wiretap targeting a Turkish
intelligence officer working out of the Turkish
embassy in Washington, D.C. A staff-member of the
Judiciary committee later confirmed to this writer
that the intelligence officer was the target of the
wiretap Ms. Dickerson had mistranslated, signing Ms.
Edmonds’ name to the printouts. Ms. Edmonds said she
found them to reveal that the officer had spies
working for him inside the U.S. State Department and
at the Pentagon—but that information would not have
reached field agents unless Ms. Edmonds had
retranslated them. She only got through about 100 more
pages before she was fired.

"I didn’t go out and blow the whistle," Ms. Edmonds
said. She said she first reported these breaches both
verbally and in writing to a supervisor, who assured
her that the F.B.I. had done a background check on Ms.
Dickerson, and the matter was put to an end.

Her further inquiries to counterintelligence agents
raised a small alarm. Ms. Edmonds was told that Ms.
Dickerson hadn’t disclosed any links to the Turkish
organization in her employment application. But
nothing happened. Ms. Edmonds, despairing to another
superior in the counterintelligence squad, remembers
the agent saying: "I’ll bet you’ve never worked in
government before. We do things differently. We don’t
name names, and we usually sweep the dirt under the

She said another special agent warned: "If you insist
on this investigation, I’ll make sure in no time it
will turn around and become an investigation about

The F.B.I., contacted with these allegations, would
not comment; Ms. Dickerson could not be reached for
comment, but has previously dismissed Ms. Edmonds’
story as "preposterous." The F.B.I. has also
previously said that it did not believe that Ms.
Dickerson acted maliciously, though members of the
Judiciary committee have expressed dissatisfaction
with the F.B.I.’s investigation.

Going by the book was not without personal sacrifice
for Ms. Edmonds. She remembered her erstwhile tea
companion, Ms. Dickerson, threatening: "Why would you
make such a fuss over translations? You’re not even
planning to stay here. Why would you put your life and
your family’s lives in danger?"

Ms. Edmonds said that after she reported this threat
to Dale Watson, then executive assistant director of
the F.B.I., she learned from friends in Turkey that
plainclothes agents went to her sister’s apartment in
Istanbul with an interrogation warrant.

Ms. Edmonds had already brought her sister and mother
to Washington in anticipation of such reprisals by
Turkish intelligence. But her younger sister, a
totally apolitical airline employee, hasn’t spoken to
her since.

After two years of futile efforts as an F.B.I.
whistleblower, Ms. Edmonds
figured the widows were her last resort. The former
translator had information relevant to the commission
that nobody else seemed to want to hear. Shortly after
the Christmas holidays, in the leer of a nationwide
orange alert based on a "sustained level of
intelligence chatter," she contacted Mindy Kleinberg,
the only mom whose telephone number is listed.
Kleinberg rallied her cohorts, Kristen Breitweiser and
Patty Casazza (their fourth member, Lori Van Aucken,
was taking a brief "sabbatical"). The three moms
jumped in an S.U.V. and gunned it down the Garden
State to meet up with Ms. Edmonds halfway to D.C. at
an anonymous roadside hotel. She gave them the
outlines of her story, and asked "the girls" if they
could get her an audience with the 9/11 commission.
Her letter and follow-up calls to Tom Kean, the
chairman, had gone unanswered for a year. The moms
were so disturbed by all the security lapses she
described, they slipped back into the sleepless
agitation that was so familiar from the months after
watching on TV while their husbands were turned to ash
by terrorists in the World Trade Center attack. But
they eagerly agreed to help.

Last week, Ms. Edmonds met with a New York attorney,
Eric Seiff, a veteran of both the New York District
Attorney’s office and the State Department. He finds
her case extraordinary.

"We’re familiar with people in big bureaucracies
putting job security over doing the right thing, but
not at this dramatic level—putting job security above
national security," said Seiff. He is appalled at the
invocation of State Secrets Privilege "It’s the
Attorney General saying to the judiciary, ‘Not only
don’t we answer to Ms. Edmonds, we don’t answer to

The last resort, Ms. Edmonds concluded, was the
federal 9/11 commission. Maybe they would live up to
their mandate to do a truly independent investigation
of the security lapses that allowed our country to be
invaded by terrorists supported by foreign powers, who
have yet to be exposed or held accountable.

She sent a full report to one of the Democratic
commission members. When this writer asked him about
the commission’s interest in the issues raised by Ms.
Edmonds’ report, he said: "It sounds like it’s too
deep in the weeds for us to consider, we’re looking at
broader issues."

It has not deterred her. And neither snow nor sleet
nor mini child disasters could deter the moms from
keeping their dates in Washington last Friday to do
battle for Ms. Edmonds. When the 9/11 commission
seemed close-minded, they met with Judiciary Committee
staffers, echoing Sibel’s pleadings that Senator
Grassley hold his own hearings. Senator Grassley had
told this writer that his hands were tied, because,
"Senator Hatch is now chairman of the Oversight
Committee." The staffers said they had written to both
Mueller and Ashcroft several times, asking them to
come in and talk about Ms. Edmonds’ allegations. No
reply. Sibel was surprised to hear them admit,
‘Senator Hatch has been an obstacle on everything
we’ve tried to do.’

Then a brainstorm. What if the Senate Intelligence
Committee held a joint hearing with the Judiciary
Committee? Breitweiser enthused, "Great, we’ve already
talked to Senators Roberts and Rockefeller [co-chairs
of the Senate Intelligence Committee]. We were told by
Senator Roberts that the translation issue remains ‘a
serious problem.’ They said they would like to hold
hearings in February of this year."

The moms’ final meeting was their hour-and-a-half
private session at the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Ms.
Edmonds was not welcome there. But Director Mueller,
said Breitweiser, seemed genuinely interested in what
the moms had to say. Asked about the Ms. Edmonds case,
Mueller said he had handed it over to the Inspector
General’s office. Pressed, he said, "I can’t
investigate myself." Yes, but, the Moms nudged, had he
looked into problems in the translation department?
Mueller appeared to brush off the matter as anything
but important.

"Then, I don’t understand why you asked that State
Secrets Privilege be asserted here?" Kleinberg piped
up. "If her case was that important, why isn’t it
important enough to deserve a report?"

For the first time, the director did not look cordial.
So Breitweiser switched back to an earlier subject -
his cooperation with a Senate hearing on the
translation issue. "So, Director Mueller, I just want
to get you on the record," said Breitweiser. "If the
Senate asks you to testify, we have your word you’ll

The square-jawed chief spook smiled at the girls’
grasp of strategy. "You have my word," they all
remember his saying, "if Senator Hatch invites me to
testify, absolutely I will be there."

Now all they have to do is move the immovables. But
they’ve done it before. And there is one motto shared
by the Four Moms from New Jersey and the translator
from Turkey: We’re not going away.

You may reach Gail Sheehy via email at:

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This column ran on page 1 in the 1/26/2004 edition of
The New York Observer.

Posted by richard at January 26, 2004 08:31 AM