Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Sing, Sibel, Sing 

"Retroactive classification" is a thing of the past:
The Justice Department admitted today that information it had retroactively classified could be released to the public and did not pose a threat to national security. The American Civil Liberties Union said the revelation could aid government whistleblowers in their efforts to fight unlawful dismissals.

"The Justice Department’s long-overdue admission goes to the core of the ACLU’s allegations that the government is going all out to silence whistleblowers to protect itself from political embarrassment," said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson, who is representing former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds in a lawsuit challenging her termination. "This is hardly an isolated case, as numerous national security whistleblowers can attest. The government is taking extreme steps to shield itself while gambling with our safety."

In May 2004, the Justice Department retroactively classified information presented two years earlier by the FBI to the Senate Judiciary Committee during two unclassified briefings regarding Edmonds, who had repeatedly reported serious security breaches and misconduct in the agency’s translation program. An executive summary of the Justice Department’s Inspector General report into her termination concluded that Edmonds was fired for reporting the misconduct, and that her allegations, if true, could have potentially damaging consequences for the FBI.

Edmonds, a former Middle Eastern language specialist hired by the FBI shortly after 9/11, challenged her retaliatory dismissal by filing a law suit in federal court, but her case was dismissed last July after Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the so-called "state secrets privilege." It was at that time that the Justice Department retroactively classified the two-year old briefings in attempt to bolster its "state secrets" claim. The ACLU is representing Edmonds in her appeal.
Today's actions were the result of a lawsuit filed by POGO (the Project on Government Oversight), which had published on its website "letters written in the summer of 2002 by Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) to Ashcroft and others seeking an explanation for the FBI's alleged mistreatment of a whistle-blower, Sibel Edmonds." POGO was compelled to remove the letters after the Justice Department took the unprecedented step of declaring that the letters, which had already been made public, contained "classified information" and could not be further disseminated.

Longtime Zemblans are familiar with the details of the case, but here, for newcomers, is a brief summary of Ms. Edmonds's claims, from the Rev. Moon's daily:
Edmonds reported that many of those hired to work in the unit could barely speak English; that they left secure laptop computers lying around while they went to lunch; that they took classified material home with them; and -- even more disturbing -- that one co-worker had undeclared contacts with a foreign organization that was under FBI surveillance.

She said bureau operations -- including counter-terror ones -- were compromised as a result.

Edmonds is suing the FBI, claiming she was fired for bringing to light these problems -- which have been identified by several inquiries as significant contributing factors to the success of the Sept. 11 plot.

The Bureau has repeatedly tried to have the case thrown out, claiming that it cannot be heard without jeopardizing national security.

In two unclassified briefings for congressional staff in June and July 2002 senior FBI officials acknowledged the truth of a number of Edmonds' allegations, including those against a co-worker, Melek Can Dickerson, who had worked for an organization that was the target of surveillance in a counter-intelligence probe until she joined the bureau in October 2001 -- and did not disclose the work on her application.

According to congressional staffers, bureau officials also said that Dickerson had a continuing relationship with at least two individuals who were surveillance targets in the probe. They acknowledged that Dickerson had either mistranslated or incorrectly marked "not pertinent" hundreds of telephone conversations recorded as part of the investigation and had tried to ensure that she was given responsibility for translating all the "take" from surveillance of that group of targets.

They said the FBI saw these as training issues.

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