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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

From Transparency to Opacity 

Dept. of What You Don't Know Won't Hurt Them: Just over a week ago the Department of Justice, in response to a lawsuit, admitted that two FBI briefings regarding the wrongful termination of translator Sibel Edmonds posed no threat to national security and should not have been "retroactively classified." So does this mean that Edmonds's allegations of pre- and post-9/11 ineptitude, malfeasance, espionage, and systematic coverups of the above will finally receive the public airing they deserve? Well, no:
The government has told a federal appeals court that a suit by an F.B.I. translator who was fired after accusing the bureau of ineptitude should not be allowed to proceed because it would cause "significant damage to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."

Lawyers for the government said in a brief filed with the court on Thursday that the suit could not continue without disclosing privileged and classified information.

The translator, Sibel Edmonds, was a contract linguist for the bureau for about six months, translating material in Azerbaijani, Farsi and Turkish. Ms. Edmonds was dismissed in 2002 after complaining repeatedly that bureau linguists had produced slipshod and incomplete translations of important terrorism intelligence before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Ms. Edmonds also accused a fellow Turkish linguist in the Washington field office of blocking the translation of material involving acquaintances who had come under suspicion and said the bureau had allowed diplomatic sensitivities with other nations to affect the translation of important intelligence . . . .

The case touches on potential vulnerabilities for the bureau, including its ability to translate sensitive counterterrorism material, its treatment of whistle-blowers and its classification of sensitive material that critics say could embarrass the bureau.

The Justice Department retroactively classified a 2002 Congressional briefing about the case and some related letters from lawmakers, but this week it decided to permit the information to be released. The inspector general of the department concluded last month that the F.B.I. had failed to aggressively investigate Ms. Edmonds's accusations of espionage and fired her in large part for raising them.

In a report that the department sought for months to keep classified, the inspector general issued a sharp rebuke to the bureau over its handling of Ms. Edmonds's accusations. It reached no conclusions about whether her co-worker had actually engaged in espionage, and it did not give details about the espionage accusations because they remain classified.
If you thought the government's treatment of Sibel Edmonds was unique, or even unusual, think again: it'll be the norm soon enough. Our distinguished colleague Avedon Carol directs us to a new Nation column in which Ari Berman reports on a recent change in priorities at the Office of Special Counsel, where lately only the motives are transparent:
It's been an inauspicious start for Scott Bloch, head of the government's Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency charged with protecting federal whistleblowers. After moving from the Justice Department's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in January 2004, Bloch suggested that federal employees could essentially be fired for being gay. Then, directly contradicting his organization's purpose, Bloch complained of "leakers" within the OSC and issued a gag order for employees. In a speech last fall Bloch admitted he knew little about the Counsel's work before Bush nominated him. Now he's pushing forward a controversial agency "reorganization" plan that watchdogs liken to a purge . . . .

During the Bush Administration, whistleblower complaints of government waste, fraud and abuse have
doubled from 380 reported cases in 2001 to 535 in 2003. Less than one percent of these cases lead to an investigation. Instead of addressing the Counsel's obvious deficiencies, Bloch hired highly conservative, personal friends as consultants through no-bid contracts. Then he announced that the number of backlogged cases had decreased by 90 percent in the past year, from 700 cases down to 100.

Government watchdogs, such as Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, say Bloch merely
dumped hundreds of cases. When Ruch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to verify Bloch's claim, the OSC said it lacked the resources to respond to the FOIA until at least July 2005. "Bloch is claiming that he does not have enough staff to even respond to FOIA requests and then a week later he fires seven more staff," Ruch laments. "Go figure."
You can visit Sibel Edmonds's website and sign an online petition demanding the full release of the DoJ Inspector General's report on her allegations here.

UPDATE: Zemblan patriot T.C. alerts us to distinguished Mack Daddy TBogg's compilation of Scott Bloch's Greatest Hits.

UPDATE II (via AntiWar.com): At the invitation of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Sibel Edmonds will testify before Congress for the first time ever next Wednesday, March 9:
Edmonds, a former Middle Eastern language specialist for the FBI, will share her story with members of the House Committee on Government Reform's Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations. The hearing will focus on the emerging threats of over-classification and pseudo-classification. Edmonds will testify about the government's excessive use of classification to cover up its own misconduct in her case.

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