Incompetence, Corruption and Cover-ups: The Kevin Taskasen Affair
CD: In your October 25 2002 interview with 60 Minutes, “Lost in Translation,” you charged the FBI with incompetence and greed and also of allowing infiltration by foreign intelligence outfits. Some of these charges have also been substantiated by other sources, both congressional and from inside the bureau. For example, there’s the Guantanamo Bay Turkish-English translator who actually didn’t know either language very well, Kevin Taskasen, I believe? And he worked with you at some point?
CD: And also, your bosses told you to work more slowly, in some cases not at all, so that the department’s seemingly huge workload would mean more funding the next year, right?
CD: Can you provide any more details on these subjects?
SE: Well, as for Kevin he was this poor little guy who was very nice, his only fault as a translator being that he, well, didn’t speak English.
CD: Really! Where was he from? How did he get that job, anyway?
SE: Kevin was from Turkey. He had met an American woman there, married her, and moved to America. But his lower-elementary-school-level English was only enough to get him a job as a busboy/dishwasher in a restaurant.
However, his wife worked in the languages testing center at FBI headquarters in Washington. Hers was the office that takes in the applications of aspiring translators and schedule language proficiency tests.
CD: So in other words, she used her connections to get him a job in the FBI, even though he wasn’t qualified?
SE: Correct. There was an Arabic language supervisor in our department, who had about seven or eight family members under his wing, working away in the Arabic language section even though several of them weren’t qualified, hadn’t passed the proficiency test in either English or Arabic
CD: So they made a bargain?
SE: Yes, he had made a deal with this woman, Kevin’s wife. She had approved all of his extended family members to work for the FBI translations center, and so she then asked to do the same with her poor husband. And I can’t really blame him at all, he was just a nice guy who dreamed of opening his own restaurant. But that’s not likely to happen when you’re working as a busboy for $6.50 an hour.
CD: How much do they pay in the translating department that he was hired to?
SE: The average is $40 an hour.
CD: So basically, what you had was a nudge-nudge wink-wink thing going on between the woman in the application office and the head honcho in the translation center.
SE: Correct. In light of what she’d done for him, the deal was that he [the Arabic supervisor] would turn a blind eye to her poor husband’s incompetence for 3 years. He agreed and in October 2001 it started. Again, I can’t blame Kevin. He would be coming to me every five minutes asking, “What does this word mean?” He was really trying, but he was struggling because he just didn’t know English well enough. So I ended up having to do his work for him too.
CD: How long did this go on for? Did you alert your supervisors?
SE: Yes. I went to them and asked, “what is he doing here?” But nothing was done and only a few months later, in February of 2002, he was given a TDY [travel assignment] to translate the testimony of Turkic-speaking detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
When told of this assignment, Kevin stood in front of all the other translators. He was crying, and said, “I can’t do it, I just can’t.” I told him to go to the boss and just say no, if he didn’t feel capable. But he didn’t.
CD: Come on! One would think that for the marquis interrogation center in the war on terror, the government would send only the best and brightest. Why did they even think of sending him?
SE: Aside from sending Kevin, the FBI had only two options, neither of them good for them. They could send me, as I was the only qualified Turkish linguist, but this raised a red flag considering that I had already started to make a fuss about how the game was being played. Their other choice was to humbly ask the NSA or DIA or another agency to borrow a Turkish-language translator. But they couldn’t do this because there is all this intra-agency competition. None of them would ever let it look like their people weren’t as good as the other agencies’. So it was partly a matter of pride.
CD: Do you know what happened to Kevin in Guantanamo?
SE: He didn’t come back till mid-April . But surely while there he had heard information he wasn’t able to convey properly in English. Maybe clues about 9/11, or about future terrorist attacks in the works. Or maybe information proving that some detainees had been wrongfully imprisoned.
That’s another thing. What if a military detainee is on trial? You have to, you simply have to double-check the translations that are being used as evidence against the detainee. After all, you might be sending someone to his death based on faulty evidence! But all too often, they just put the stamp of approval on anything that says “FBI translation,” because that is supposed to indicate automatically a certain unassailable level of quality.
CD: After coming back, and after the story broke proving he wasn’t a qualified translator, what happened then? Did he get fired?
SE: No. After all that, he is back in Washington D.C., and is the head of the Turkish department in the FBI translations center. As far as I know, he is the only Turkish-speaking translator there now. Even after all this.
CD: Good God! One translator and an incompetent one at that! Isn’t that a national security liability?
SE: Yes, but you have to look at it from their perspective. What if they let him go, and he starts talking about what he knows? Either way, it’s about control. If they fire someone, they might either corroborate my story, or even release documents that could prove damning for the FBI it works out to be more of a liability for them to fire someone than to keep them in the office, where they can continue to compromise our national security.
Criminal Infiltration: The Mysterious “Semi-Legitimate Organizations”
CD: In a fascinating recent interview with Breakfornews.com, you say that with the synoptic view you acquired at the FBI, the “picture” of non-state organized crime linked with state institutions becomes “crystal clear.” For the benefit of our readers, let me just re-quote one of your statements:
“[Y]ou have [a] network of people who obtain certain information and they take it out and sell it to whomever would be the highest bidder. Then you have people who would be bringing into the country narcotics from the East, and their connections. [It] is only then that you really see the big picture.”
At several points you state that such organized crime networks employ “semi-legitimate organizations” as their point of interface with governments and the “legit” world. Can you explain exactly what you mean?
SE: These are organizations that might have a legitimate front say as a business, or a cultural center or something. And we’ve also heard a lot about Islamic charities as fronts for terrorist organizations, but the range is much broader and even, simpler.
CD: For example?
SE: You might have an organization supposed to be promoting the cultural affairs of a certain country within another country. Hypothetically, say, an Uzbek folklore society based in Germany. The stated purpose would be to hold folklore-related activities and they might even do that but the real activities taking place behind the scenes are criminal.
CD: Such as?
SE: Everything from drugs to money laundering to arms sales. And yes, there are certain convergences with all these activities and international terrorism.
CD: So with these organizations we’re talking about a lot of money
SE: Huge, just massive. They don’t deal with 1 million or 5 million dollars, but with hundreds of millions.
CD: From your previous testimony and the examples I want to bring up next, it would seem that organized crime with terrorist links is really holding the reins inside powerful governments, even the American one. No?
SE: That may be, but I don’t know. I didn’t get high enough up on the ladder to find out. With all of this suspicious and unprecedented “state secrets” obstructionism from Ashcroft, it might seem that way, but I don’t have any direct information.
CD: But what do think, within departments such as the Pentagon and the State Department. Do you suspect certain high officials may be profiting from terrorist-linked organized crime?
SE: I can’t say anything specific with regards to these departments, because I didn’t work for them. But as for the politicians, what I can say is that when you start talking about huge amounts of money, certain elected officials become automatically involved. And there are different kinds of campaign contributions legal and illegal, declared and undeclared.
CD: Could this apparent toleration of dangerous criminal groups in the midst possibly be interpreted to mean that American policy is driven by the “ends justify the means” philosophy?
SE: But how are the ends possibly met by such activities? To this day, I just can’t see how. What is happening does not benefit 99.9 percent of Americans just a very small elite.
I’m no expert, but from what I have personally seen I can say that our national security is being compromised every day, because important investigations are being stopped, and potentially important clues are being overlooked. It’s absolutely incredible that even after 9/11, certain individuals, foreign businessmen and others, among others, are still escaping scrutiny.
Okay, perhaps talking about the pre-9/11 world they could get away with saying “we didn’t know,” but to continue doing so I mean, what if we are attacked by nuclear or chemical weapons, what will be their next excuse? That “we didn’t know” it could happen? Come on! I can prove they are lying, because they know.
The Jan Dickerson Affair: A Brief History
CD: Right. So let’s discuss your specific experiences of criminal infiltration in the FBI, for example when one of your co-workers, Jan [originally “Can”] Dickerson, and her husband tried to recruit you into a criminal network that had infiltrated high levels of the U.S. government.
SE: Alright, sure.
CD: As I understand it, Jan Dickerson was also trying to protect one criminal associate a Turkish-speaking suspect of an FBI investigation by blocking translations referring to him. Yes?
CD: And this was an official working out of the Turkish Embassy in Washington
SE: No, that part is not correct. I cannot talk about the position or the job of this person
CD: But in the other media stories about your case, he was identified as
SE: Yes, I know. The term “official” was used in the senators’ memos from their [summer 2002] meetings with the FBI, and so then when cited by the media it became automatically assumed that he was government but since this individual has never been named, I can only describe him as working on behalf of a “semi-legitimate” organization.
CD: Okay, so tell us about Jan Dickerson, and that experience.
SE: Well, I have to be somewhat general about this, but based on unclassified sources alone you can get a pretty good idea. Melek Can Dickerson was a Turkish woman
CD: Originally from Turkey, like you?
SE: Yes, from Turkey, and she met her husband there, Douglas Major Douglas Dickerson, that is. He was in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Ankara. They met in 1991 and stayed in Turkey till 1994 or 1995. Then they went to Germany, where he was stationed after, for two or three years. And then they came to the U.S. in 1999.
CD: But first, regarding Turkey: do you know what Dickerson’s function was there in the USAF?
SE: He was involved with weapons procurement for various Central Asian and Middle Eastern governments from the United States.
CD: Yo! Do you mean he was procuring weapons on an intra-governmental basis, or something else?
SE: Yes, from the U.S. government for these other governments. I assume it was all legal and part of his job.
CD: Okay, but in the process he could have built up contacts and connections with various unsavory characters in regional governments and in the arms trade
SE: He could have, but I don’t know.
CD: Anyway, what kind of countries are we talking about here?
SE: Oh I don’t know all of them exactly, but I guess these would be countries like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
CD: All of our favorites
SE: [Laughter] Yes, right, countries like these and some Middle Eastern countries.
CD: And what about after Turkey? When they went to Germany?
SE: Well, he was stationed there, and while in Germany, Jan Dickerson started working for this semi-legitimate organization whose members, much later, were being investigated by the FBI, when I was working there.
CD: Fascinating, And this criminal group that the Dickersons were involved in, what kind of countries did it have connections with and where were its members from?
SE: Oh, that varied. Members came from all over; when you’re dealing with those huge amounts of money you get people from everywhere.
SE: Of course. But also from Europe, Central Asia, etc. And this organization had branches throughout these places, in the U.S., Germany, and several other countries.
The Fateful Visit
CD: Now let’s fast-forward to November 2001, when Jan Dickerson joined you at the FBI. What were her duties?
SE: She was a “monitor,” the second type of translator, because she didn’t have the scores on one of her two language proficiency exams. As a monitor she was supposed to make general summary translations, not verbatim.
CD: Did you have any idea at the time about her suspect allegiances?
SE: I had no idea at first. It was only after some suspicious behavior and then her and her husband’s unannounced visit to our house that everything became clear.
One day in December , my husband and I were at our home in Alexandria, Va., when the doorbell rang. It was Jan and Doug Dickerson. They also lived in Alexandria, so I didn’t think of it as suspicious at first. I think the point for her was to introduce her husband to mine. We invited them in for coffee, and
CD: She started trying to recruit you for their illegal activities?
SE: No, actually she herself did not. It was the husband who started talking about this semi-legitimate organization: “Hey, have you ever heard of this group?” he said, casually mentioning this organization to my husband. He replied, “Yeah, I know about them.” And I started sweating, because I knew this organization was under FBI investigation, and I was by law not allowed to discuss anything about it with my husband.
CD: But, for your husband to have heard of it, it had to have been a group that was well known to the public as something fairly innocuous, right?
SE: Yes, as I said, a legitimate front. And Dickerson asked my husband if he’d ever thought of joining the organization.
CD: So there was something socially desirable about belonging in this group?
SE: Correct. And so my husband was kind of surprised, you know, because this wasn’t the sort of group just anyone could belong to. “But I thought you had to be such and such a person, with such and such connections and references to get in,” my husband was saying.
And then Major Douglas Dickerson smiled and pointed at me. “All you have to do is tell them where your wife works and what she does, and they will let you in like that,” he said [snapping his fingers]. They wanted to sell me for the information I could provide, basically.
CD: What did you take this to mean? You would have to hand over classified FBI information
SE: Correct. The information I could give these people would be worth a lot of money.
CD: And what would you get out of it?
SE: Well, money, and we could leave the country, you know, live a very comfortable life wherever we wanted. We would never have to work again, they promised.
CD: So what did you do then, with him propositioning your husband right in front of you?
SE: I tried to change the subject, because anything I might say on the subject would have been against the law, considering the ongoing investigation.
CD: When you went back to work, did you bring the matter up?
SE: I reported it two days later to my direct supervisor, a former Arabic translator. He told me he would file it immediately with the security department. This was in December 2001. When nothing happened, I pursued the matter with a special agent who had also been getting suspicious about some of Jan Dickerson’s translations. When we finally got through to the security department, they said they’d never been notified in the first place about my complaint. I have all of the dated documents, emails, etc., still to prove it.
CD: Did Dickerson’s protection of the suspects, and their larger infiltration of the American security apparatus, did these things have a deleterious effect on bureau investigations?
SE: As a result of their penetration, certain people who had been detained were released people who had valuable information. And other targets of this investigation, key people, were allowed to flee the country, right up through January and February of 2002.
CD: These were foreign nationals based in the United States?
CD: Did you have any awareness of this exodus?
SE: I reported some of the suspects’ names higher up as I came across them in our investigation. And you know what? Within two weeks, they had all left the country. Just vanished.
The Great Escape
CD: So what happened after? As far as I know, Jan Dickerson has quit the FBI and re-located to Belgium. Was she forced out when your story broke? Did she flee? And is her husband still in the Air Force?
SE: I assume that at the time of that conversation in our house, in December 2001, Douglas Dickerson was in the USAF because finally in August of the next year, the USAF held a formal investigation and confirmed this. This was a major violation of his high-level security clearance. By law he is required to report it if his wife or family members are involved with illegal activities.
Mysteriously enough, only two weeks after the formal Air Force investigation began, they both left the country, on September 9, 2002.
CD: Why did the government just let them escape?
SE: Well, after my case began in June 2002, the judge subpoenaed them and ordered the DOJ not to let them leave the country. But the Air Force gave them a free pass by sending Major Dickerson off to Belgium to work something with NATO, a minimum two-year assignment.
CD: With NATO? Doing what?
SE: I don’t know exactly, just that it was with NATO. So before leaving, a pretty angry Doug Dickerson had to make a declaration under oath that if he was requested by the court at any time he would return, and the FBI would pay for his flight.
CD: So there is still a chance that they will face justice someday?
SE: Well, we discovered that the Dickerson’s also had bank accounts in several countries, some of which didn’t have the appropriate extradition treaties with the U.S. so I don’t think so, no, I don’t think it’s likely. They’re gone.
But the really outrageous thing is that, for the whole month we were subpoenaing them, starting in June 2002, Jan Dickerson was still working away in the FBI translations department, with her top-security clearance. This even though the FBI had simultaneously admitted to a congressional committee that not only had Jan Dickerson worked for this suspect organization in the past, but that she had maintained ongoing relationships with at least two individuals under investigation.