An Interview with Sibel Edmonds

Page one and page two

But How Could She Have Been Hired?

CD: Why was she allowed to stay, and keep her security clearance? Were they trying to protect someone higher up?

SE: I don’t know. Is it possible? Yes. But I just don’t know.

But at the unclassified meeting between the senators and FBI being held then, the former were in utter disbelief when the FBI admitted Jan Dickerson had been working for this semi-legitimate organization since long before she joined the bureau. “But how!?” asked the senators. You know what their answer was? “Well, she didn’t write down any previous employers on her application.”

CD: What? None?

SE: Correct. She didn’t just neglect to mention that job, aside from others she put down. She just left the whole box blank! As if she had never worked a day in her life!

CD: And the FBI hired her? You can’t even get a job in a bar without listing previous employers!

SE: Look, it took me a year and a half to get my background check performed. And that after filling out the complete application – at the bottom of which it states that failure to fill out the form correctly will result in a cash fine and jail term for perjury. A federal crime. So based on that alone, even aside from her other activities, Jan Dickerson should have been prosecuted!

CD: But instead she was hired – and kept on even after things heated up. There’s something very, very suspicious about all this, especially considering the way Kevin Taskasen was hired. Do you believe another official on the inside, part of that crime ring, brought her in?

SE: I recently met with a reliable source who confirmed that Melek Can Dickerson was hired and granted TSC [top security clearance] without having to go through a background check/investigation, and that in light of [infamous FBI double-agent Robert] Hanssen the bureau is doing all it can to keep it quiet. Still, I have plenty of unanswered questions: why? By whom?

CD: That indeed seems to be the underlying question here. Did the FBI have anything else to say under this senatorial scrutiny?

SE: They made the quite pertinent point that she [Jan Dickerson] had failed to disclose her previous associations with the suspect organization. A shocked senator said, “If you gave her top security clearance, how could she not have been made to disclose [this information]?”

You know how they [the FBI] replied? “A lack of good training” was behind Dickerson’s failure to properly disclose her various relationships.

CD: That’s incredible. What was the reaction from the senators?

SE: They were persistent, mentioning that beyond that, hadn’t she blocked pertinent information [in translations]? The FBI replied, “Oh, well, we’ve confirmed this in two or three cases.”

Actually, there were hundreds of cases from November 2001 to February 2002 in which she obstructed investigations with her translations – or lack thereof.

CD: Right, how exactly would she do this?

SE: Well, as a monitor, she was supposed to give general translations – or not – and if not the document could be marked “not pertinent,” and basically never be seen again.

In those few months, she managed to mark every file that mentioned this, these targets, [the Turkish suspect] as “not pertinent.” Hundreds of files. Finally, this special agent working on the case got suspicious, and he tasked me with re-translating all of these documents.

CD: So how did that go? Did you find any damning information?

SE: Oh, yes. There was content that directly linked the suspects with the group under investigation.

CD: How many documents did you translate?

SE: Out of the pile of hundreds, I only got to 17 pieces before I was suddenly terminated.

CD: Can you tell us how long the FBI had been investigating these targets by the time you started working for them?

SE: A long time. There’s really no time limit with the big criminal and counter-intelligence investigations, versus the counter-terrorism ones. These are investigations we’d never do anything about –

CD: Why?

SE: [Laughing] Because it would hurt certain foreign relations abroad, of course … and they don’t want that. So even after 3,000 people lost their lives on 9/11, those behind these very lucrative illegal activities get a free pass. And they refuse to continue important investigations because of certain diplomatic relations that 99.9 percent of Americans gain no benefits from.

How the FBI Seduces Dissenters

CD: Sibel, I know you made a lot of complaints about several other examples of corruption and incompetence beyond the ones we have time to discuss. Can you just explain a little about how your superiors received your complaints?

SE: Sure. They used what we call the “hooking” procedure. When I first reported some of these translations failures and stalling tactics in December 2001 to my superiors, my mid-level manager said to me, “Now, Sibel, I understand you’ve been taking on a lot of coursework at your university. Why not take advantage of our workplace opportunities?”

When I asked him what he meant, this boss suggested that I could “bring my school bag” to work on Saturdays and Sundays, and just study. No work. I wouldn’t even have to turn on my computer. He told me that I should then put myself down as having worked all those hours on the time sheet, so that, you know, I would be making something like $700 in a weekend – specifically for not working!

CD: Incredible.

SE: And this is what they say when you file a complaint.

CD: So is that the extent of how they tried to appease you and forestall complaints, or do you have other examples?

SE: That’s funny, there is another really amazing example. They would come to me and say, “Sibel, we understand you’ve been going back to Turkey a couple of times a year to visit family. Before you go the next time, just let us know. We’ll make it a TDY” [paid travel]. And all I’d have to do is stop off in some liaison office in Ankara a couple times, make my little appearance, and suddenly all my flights, hotels and expenses would be paid for by the FBI. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

CD: An offer you couldn’t refuse, huh? I imagine most people in your position would take it.

SE: Oh, so many people will go for it … but if you do, then they [the FBI] can use it against you. Maybe discover irregularities in your expenses at some later date, “forged” documents, or else just hold it over your head. They love to do things like that to hold you in their power.

On another occasion when I complained about working conditions and practices, they actually offered to hire and train me as SA, special agent! I still have a copy of that offer. I said, “I’m not here to ask for a promotion, I’m trying to make a complaint!” Then they would just change the topic. They would go to any length possible to avoid accountability.

The Current Situation: Ashcroft’s Obstructionism and a Legal Battle

CD: Sibel, I know you are eager to speak about the lawsuit you have filed against the Department of Justice, and John Ashcroft’s questionable use of the “State Secrets Act” to place a gag order on you. Can you give us some background on this legal battle, and the current state of play?

SE: My case originally began in June of 2002, when I filed a First Amendment and Privacy lawsuit against the Department of Justice. In two unclassified meetings in June and July, eight people from two senators met with three FBI officials, including Margaret Gullota, who is still in charge of the FBI languages department. At these meetings, the FBI admitted that all of my charges were accurate. The memos taken down by Senators Grassley and Leahy, two very senior senators, confirmed this. That’s very damning for [the FBI].

CD: I understand that Ashcroft’s current restrictive tactics have revolved around this concept of classified versus unclassified meetings. Can you please distinguish precisely what is meant by each term?

SE: A classified meeting must be held in a secure room known as a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility), you know, a room swept for bugs, checked for wiretaps, and everyone in there has to have top security clearance. But this wasn’t the case in June and July 2002. They didn’t follow any of these procedures in the meetings with the senators, because they were never requested to be classified by the FBI in the first place. So now all they can say is, “Whoops, those meetings should have been classified,” and thus try to classify them after the fact.

CD: So how has the case gotten to this point? Has there been no progress at all?

SE: From the beginning, there has been zero activity. Four times I was given a hearing date, and four times it was cancelled without explanation.

However, the big law firm Motley Rice subpoenaed me in April of this year, as part of their lawsuit on behalf of family members of the 9/11 victims. Motley Rice wanted copies of all the memos those senators had written during that unclassified meetings in 2002. But as soon as they even listed some of the questions they were planning to ask me, it was suddenly “state secrets” time.

John Ashcroft – you can expect anything from that man – has now broken the law in trying to silence me. I have been speaking out for over two years, but only now is he saying “everything about Sibel Edmonds is classified.” It’s ridiculous.

CD: But by demanding all the information be dug up and reburied, isn’t the DOJ actually bringing more attention to your cause?

SE: Exactly! That’s just what it has done. These people are shooting themselves in the foot.

So, returning to the subpoena, I was scheduled to appear on April 27. Two days before, the DOJ started kicking and screaming to hold an emergency proceeding. This was the first time (on April 26) that I had the privilege of going before the judge President Bush had appointed, Reggie Walton. He was not the first judge who had been appointed to the case. Their tactic was to pass it around from judge to judge to make sure the case would never begin. Judge Walton has now sat on it for two years.

CD: But didn’t the intervention of Motley Rice help at all? Did Judge Walton make a new hearing date for you?

SE: Well, on June 24 they filed an appeal. But, oh, my case is so messy and complicated. Judge Walton then set a hearing date for June 14, but of course he cancelled it two days later. Now he has said, and I can be verbally exact: “Tentatively, we will have a hearing on July 9, 2004.” But it’s not going to happen. They’re going to drag this thing out. The judge has liberty to sit on it as long as he wants.

CD: But can’t you file an appeal or complaint or anything to expedite the process?

SE: Well, yes you can file a complaint, but some in the legal community caution that this can actually backfire because the judge tends to grow more and more antagonistic if you do so.

CD: So basically, you have had no progress on this case.

Is the Tide Turning?

SE: Correct. We have had no progress. Except, now others are joining up. For the past two weeks, we have had new support from the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and Citizen Watch.

CD: What have they been doing?

SE: The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) has declared that Attorney General Ashcroft violated their regulations when he put the gag order on me and ordered everything to be re-classified. There are three criteria that need to be met for a gag order to take effect: one, that the order must come from the head of the Department of Justice; two, that the information in question must be reasonably recoverable; and three, that the head of the DOJ first obtain the official approval of the ISOO.

However, only the first of these criteria was met – Ashcroft did indeed give the order. But the second criterion was obviously impossible – so many websites, newspapers and TV had long ago published all of the material relating to my case. It was and is everywhere. There is nothing “reasonably recoverable” about it.

And as for the third criteria, let alone not get permission, Ashcroft didn’t even bother to notify the ISOO that he was re-classifying the information related to me. He showed contempt for the regulations by going around them.

CD: So in other words, the Attorney General’s actions were completely illegal?

SE: Correct. Because these three criteria were not met, the DOJ has actually violated its own rules!

CD: Do you have the support of any congressmen? I know that Senators Grassley and Leahy, in particular, have stepped up to bat for you.

SE: Well it’s very interesting, even though this issue is starting to get major media interest, like the recent articles in The New Republic and New York Times, these two senators are still complying with an order from Ashcroft that is completely illegal.

CD: How exactly?

SE: They have removed texts from their official websites detailing the unclassified meeting they had with the FBI in 2002. We found out when the New York Times printed a leaked memo, on May 19 or 20, that senators were ordered the information had been re-classified.

CD: You have expressed a desire for “one brave senator” to take up your cause. But what can they actually do, if the DOJ and judges rule in favor of classification?

SE: You know what they can do? Any senator or congressman can tell the press everything I have to say.

CD: Really? Doesn’t that violate whatever the restrictions are the DOJ is putting on you?

SE: I’m authorized under law to testify in secret, in a secure room [SCIF] before a congressman. But if that congressman believes that national security overrides secrecy, he can put my testimony out there. That’s what happened with Daniel Ellsberg. Senator Gravel poured out everything he had said before the congress because it was in the interests of the country. These people like John Ashcroft are actually endangering our national security by destroying civil liberties with such things as the Patriot Act. They are just cowards. They lack guts.

CD: So, have you given up on the elected officials to stick up for you?

SE: No, I haven’t given up. I hope that there is at least one person in the congress who will convey my testimony in public. But I’m really starting to believe that the best way to do it is through the press. I recently briefed Congress Waxman (CA), again gave him all the information, but nothing so far. I went back into the SCIF, a black hole into which all information disappears and never comes out. Boy, if only those walls could talk.

CD: Have you ever thought of Representative Ron Paul of Texas? He strikes me as someone who would be sympathetic to your plight.

SE: I know of him, and I have heard that an activist person has been sending his office all the details of my case, but I have not received any request from them.

CD: Is that the way it has to work?

SE: Yes, I have to receive an official request first in order to be interviewed.

FBI Reforms: Still on Hold

CD: Even though you haven’t been working for the FBI for over two years, can you give us any updates on the present state of affairs there? Have your revelations shaken things up at all, regarding the way they do business?

SE: From the few contacts I still have, ’cause most of them have been cowed into silence by now, nothing has changed.

CD: Haven’t they even attempted any reforms in the translations department?

SE: No.

CD: You said that poor Kevin Taskasen remains the only Turkish-language “translator” there. Given the vast importance of the Turkic languages in today’s most important national security issues, why does the FBI put such a low priority on finding good Turkish translators?

SE: That I don’t know. But I agree with you, it really doesn’t make sense.

Future Plans and Final Thoughts

CD: Do you think you were naïve about what it would be like, working for the FBI in the post-9/11 world?

SE: The amount of sh*t you get exposed to on the inside strips you of any innocence you may have had. In an analogy, take the war on drugs. They say they’re fighting drugs and keeping America safe by attacking the low-level dealers and addicts on the street – but leaving the big-time, well-connected dealers alone. That is just disgusting.

CD: What are you planning to do next in your life?

SE: I will start a Ph.D. in January, either in the subject of public policy with relation to transparency, or else conflict resolution analysis, regarding Central Asia and Turkey.

CD: Would you work for government again, after what you’ve been through?

SE: I’d rather be a watchdog – you know, someone who would push Congress to follow their duties and exercise some oversight. It’s really incredible, when I asked a congressman’s staff whether they have oversight, they say, “Well … we do, but we don’t.” When I asked what that meant, he said, “Well, we can make a statement, but the DOJ doesn’t listen to us.” Then don’t say you have it, if you don’t!

CD: Have you any plans to write a book about your experiences someday?

SE: Well, maybe someday, but not until all of these legal battles are finished and everything is done. But these past two years I’ve been staying away from anything that can even remotely be seen as cashing in – the old “oh, she’s out to make a profit from this” type of accusation. It’s very frustrating for the government that they haven’t been able to smear my name.

CD: Aha!

SE: Yes, that’s one of the first things they try. To dig up dirt. They have their own ways of doing it – to look into your background, check any arrest record, if you’ve lied somewhere, etc. But they haven’t been able to do that in my case and it is very frustrating for them.

CD: If you win the suit, what will happen next? Will you speak openly about everything you know?

SE: Well, just winning the suit is not enough. As long as the Justice Department considers this information related to my case a “state secret,” they will use everything they can to quash it. Even if the judge rules and says no state secrets privileges can be granted, the DOJ will still buy time by appealing. So this will most likely be a long and difficult battle.

CD: If your full testimony is heard by the public, who or what agencies are going to be in the biggest trouble?

SE: Well, as for agencies I guess the DOJ, FBI, State Department. But in a way these agencies get some kind of immunity when you charge them like this … I hate to see how a lot of agents get stigmatized in this. Most of the field agents I met in the FBI were good, honest and hardworking individuals. They were trying to do their best, but up against this ingrown bureaucracy – this is where you have the problem, as will as with certain elected officials.

CD: What are they so afraid of?

SE: They’re afraid of information, of the truth coming out, and accountability – the whole accountability issue that will arise. But it’s not as complicated as it might seem. If they were to allow the whole picture to emerge, it would just boil down to a whole lot of money and illegal activities.

CD: Hmm, well I know you can’t name names, but can you tell me if any specific officials will suffer if your testimony comes out?

SE: Yes. Certain elected officials will stand trial and go to prison.

Print the whole interview

Read more by news