U.S. Marine Leandro Aragoncillo, a naturalized U.S. citizen who worked in the vice president’s office and later at the FBI as an analyst, was arrested last month and accused of downloading classified FBI reports and sending them to political figures in the Philippines.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has continued to make short shrift of personnel security on the heels of the well-known Robert Hanssen Spy scandal, and in the middle of a war on terrorism. Despite several IG reports, congressional inquiries, and media reports on several other recent cases of alleged espionage activities, the bureau’s inability to secure even its own offices continues today. Here is an agency that is in charge of defending our national security and protecting our safety, but it has yet to prove it is capable of securing itself. The following incidents are glaring examples of the FBI’s failure to address its own security vulnerabilities and its unwillingness to hold its management accountable.
FBI & Uninvestigated Espionage Cases
Report by Sibel D. Edmonds, Former Language Specialist; FBI:
Melek Can Dickerson, a Turkish Translator, was hired by the FBI after September 11, and was placed in charge of translating the most sensitive information related to terrorists and criminals under the Bureau’s investigation. She was granted Top Secret Clearance, which is supposed to be granted only after conducting a thorough background investigation. However, according to FBI officials, she had previously worked for semi-legit organizations that were FBI’s targets of investigation, and had on going relationships with two individuals who were FBI’s targets of investigation. For months she blocked all-important information related to these semi-legit organizations and the individuals she and her husband associated with. She stamped hundreds, if not thousands, of documents related to these targets as “Not Pertinent,” and attempted to prevent others from translating these documents important to the FBI’s investigations and our fight against terrorism. Further, she and her husband attempted to recruit others, including myself, to work for the FBI target under investigation.
Dickerson, with the assistance of her direct supervisor, Mike Feghali, took hundreds of pages of top-secret sensitive intelligence documents outside the FBI to unknown recipients. She, with the assistance of her direct supervisor, forged signatures on top-secret documents related to certain 9/11 detainees. Even after these incidents were confirmed and reported to FBI management, she was allowed to remain in her position, to continue the translation of sensitive intelligence received by the FBI, and to maintain her Top Secret Clearance. Apparently, bureaucratic mid-level FBI management and administrators decided that it would not look good for the Bureau if this security breach and espionage case was investigated and made public, especially after Robert Hanssen’s case (FBI spy scandal). The Dickerson case was confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee (Please refer to Senator Leahy and Grassley’s letters dated June 19 and August 13, 2002, and Senator Grassley’s statement on CBS-60 Minutes in October 2002), and received major coverage by the press. According to Director Mueller, the Inspector General criticized the FBI for failing to adequately pursue this espionage report regarding Dickerson (Please refer to DOJ-IG report Re: Sibel Edmonds and FBI Translation).
Today, almost four years since the Dickerson incident was reported to the FBI, and more than three years since this information was confirmed by the United States Congress and reported by the press, the administrators in charge of FBI personnel security and language departments in the FBI remain in their positions and in charge of translation quality and translation departments’ security. Dickerson and several FBI targets of investigation hastily left the United States in 2002, and the case still remains uninvestigated criminally. This case was not referred to the FBI Counterespionage division, as it is required by the FBI’s own protocol. It needs to be investigated and criminally prosecuted it is a clear case of espionage. The translation of our intelligence is being entrusted to individuals with loyalties to our enemies; important “chit-chats” and “chatters” are being intentionally blocked.
Report by John M. Cole, Former Veteran Intelligence Operations Specialist; FBI:
While assigned to the FBI’s South East Asia counterintelligence program I was asked to provide risk assessments on applicants applying for language specialists’ positions within the FBI. These applicants, all of whom were born foreign nationals and naturalized U.S. citizens, applied for language specialist positions within the FBI. One of these applicants, with the initials HR, was an individual originally from Pakistan. In reviewing HR’s application I suspected that there were several areas that had not been fully investigated. Upon further investigation, such as simply running name checks on HR’s family members, this suspicion was reinforced. When running HR’s father’s name through the FBI’s Automated Case System (ACS) several hits came up. Upon further review it was determined that HR’s father was a retired Pakistani general. What was more disturbing was the fact that his name came up as having formerly been the defense military attaché at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington D.C. Having worked the Pakistani program it was well known that all Pakistani defense military attaches were Pakistani intelligence officers. I wrote this all up and submitted it to the FBI’s Security Programs Division. In fact the personnel security specialist that reviewed my findings thanked me and stated “I also reviewed this file and felt there were major problems.” A week later the security specialist telephoned me to ask who in the Counterterrorism Division should also review the applicants file. (One of the recommendations made was to have the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division also prepare a risk assessment on the applicant) I gave the personnel security specialist the name of the Counterterrorism Specialist at which time she stated “not that it matters because HR has been hired and reported to work today.” She went on to further state that HR has been given a Top Secret clearance and access to sensitive compartmental information. A few weeks later there was information that arrived from an FBI Field Division that someone had provided the Pakistanis with classified information. The case was open as an UNSUB (unknown subject) case.
Despite my findings on several of the risk assessments that I completed the FBI continued to hire and provide top clearances and accesses to these individuals. I had written letters regarding these security lapses to the Security programs and up the FBI’s Chain of Command to include Director Mueller. Unfortunately, nothing was ever done. Instead FBI management decided to come after me, the “kill the messenger” culture that exists in the FBI. I continued to bring these security and mismanagement issues to management and to the Senate. Due to my persistence FBI management decided to reorganize the programs. In doing so they took the Southeast Asian program away from me and gave me the Sub-Sahara African program. Needless to say there was not much going on in that program. However, after reviewing the cases within the program an individual brought me an espionage case involving the Sub-Sahara African area.
I began reviewing the case and realized that the case involved a former FBI language specialist. The case was out of the FBI’s Washington Field Division. It seemed odd that the case was classified a preliminary inquiry instead of a full investigation. I state this because there was overwhelming evidence to justify a full investigation. In fact I believe there was sufficient evidence to convict the subject. I state this for several reasons. The FBI had several well-placed reliable sources that confirmed that the subject was working and providing information to a foreign intelligence service. In fact, one source informed the FBI that while he/she was in the presence of the foreign intelligence officer, he/she was informed not to say anything while at the foreign mission. When the source inquired why the intelligence officer informed him/her that ” the FBI is monitoring the mission and has it wired.” When the source asked the intelligence officer how he/she knew this the intelligence officer stated “we know because we have a translator within the FBI that is working for us.” Despite this information and the confirmation of the name of the FBI’s language specialist nothing was ever done. When I inquired about the case and asked why there was not a full investigation on the subject, why wasn’t the FBI Field division aggressively pursuing the case, etc. my supervisor took the case away from me. After that I was relieved from my program responsibilities.
Report by Behrooz Sarshar, Former Language Specialist; FBI:
According to Behrooz Sarshar, Retired FBI Translator for Farsi Language, in 2001 an Iranian translator working for the FBI-New York Field Office was found to be working for the target(s) of FBI counterintelligence and criminal investigations. This translator was providing the FBI targets with tips/information, and was tampering with intelligence/information in Farsi gathered by the FBI. The FBI asked this translator to resign and leave quietly. NO criminal investigation and NO damage assessment were conducted.
In January 2002, Mr. Sarshar reported to the Department of Justice Inspector General Office incidents involving a certain Middle-Eastern translator who regularly removed Top Secret Documents/Audio Tapes and Laptop containing classified and extremely sensitive intelligence from the FBI premises. This individual reportedly shared these TS documents with foreign individuals outside the FBI. Mr. Sarshar and Ms. Pari Pakravan (Former translator, FBI-WFO) repeatedly reported these security breaches to the FBI management and security for several years (1997-2001), but NO action was taken.
Reports by Special Agent Donald Levy & Special Agent Robert Wright; FBI:
Donald Lavey, who worked in counterterrorism for 20 years at the FBI, said wiretap translations by Mideast-born agents should have a “second opinion,” because their backgrounds may “prejudice” their interpretation and analysis.
“We are at war, and we need more than one translator for each subject under electronic surveillance,” he said. “We are relying too heavily on single Arab translators for significant information, and worse yet, investigative guidance.” Levy recalls a problem with a former Arab translator in the FBI’s Detroit office who tried to back out of secretly recording a fellow Muslim suspected of terrorism by claiming the subject had threatened his life. Levy also cites the more recent case of Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, an immigrant Muslim, who twice refused on religious grounds to tape-record Muslim terrorist suspects, hindering investigations of a bin Laden family-financed bank in New Jersey and Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, recently indicted for his ties to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group.
A fellow FBI agent, Robert Wright, said Abdel-Hafiz finally explained to him that “a Muslim does not record another Muslim,” after first claiming he feared for his life. Other agents said he contacted Arab subjects under investigation without disclosing the contacts to the agents running the cases. Despite his divided loyalties, the FBI subsequently promoted Abdel-Hafiz by assigning him to the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia, a critical post for intelligence-gathering. Three-fourths of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudis. After Wright and another agent blew the whistle in the media, he was put on administrative leave.
Reports by the Department of Justice Inspector General:
According to The Justice Department Inspector General Report on November 15, 2002: ” A language Specialist was dismissed for unauthorized contacts with foreign officials and intelligence officers, receipts of things of value from them, and lack of condor in his ‘convoluted and contradictory responses’ to questions about his contacts.” [DOJ-OIG Report, November 15, 2002]. However, the report does not mention any criminal investigation and/or prosecution regarding this case. Like all other cases mentioned above, this case was not referred to the FBI-Counterespionage Division.
Also, according to the Justice Department Inspector General Report in August 2003: ” In our review, we observed serious deficiencies in nearly every aspect of the FBI’s internal security program, from personnel security, to computer security, document security, and security training and compliance.” The report includes 21 recommendations for the FBI aimed at improving its ability to detect and investigate security breaches and potential espionage. “Some of the most serious weaknesses still have not been fully remedied and expose the FBI to the risk of serious compromises by other moles.” [DOJ-OIG Report, August 2003].
1) Letter from Senator Patrick Leahy on August 13, 2002: “Ms. Edmonds alleged that a contract monitor once worked for an organization under FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation and that this monitor had contacts with a foreign national who was a member of the target institution.” The letter states that even after verifying these allegations, “the FBI downplayed the importance of this matter and seemed to imply that it ceased to looking into the complaints as a security matter until after the Inspector General finished their investigation.” [See Attached, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, the Letter to AG Ashcroft on August 13, 2002]
a)”Ms. Edmonds has alleged that this contract monitor in her unit ‘chose’ not to translate important, intelligence-related information, instead limiting her translations to unimportant and innocuous information. The FBI has verified that this monitor indeed failed to translate certain material properly, but has attributed the failure to a lack of training.“
b)The subject translator continued to work for the FBI Washington Field Office with full access to Top Secret intelligence information/documents for 6 months after the start of IG investigation and after the FBI confirmed her ties to the subjects of FBI investigation and her other security violations.
2) Letter From Senator Grassley and Senator Leahy on June 19, 2002: “Ms. Edmonds has reported, and the FBI has confirmed, that another contract linguist in the FBI Unit failed to translate at least two communications reflecting a foreign official’s handling of intelligence matters. The FBI has confirmed that the contract linguist had “Unreported contacts” with that foreign official.” [See attached letter from Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator Charles Grassley on June 19, 2002]
Cole, John M., Former Veteran Intelligence Operations Specialist, FBI
John M. Cole, Former Veteran Intelligence Operations Specialist worked for 18 years in the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division as an Intelligence Operations specialist. Beginning in 1999, he discovered and began reporting serious issues of mismanagement, gross negligence, waste of government funds, security breaches, cover-ups, and intentional blocking of intelligence that had national security implications. He wrote these issues in several letters to FBI management, to include Director Mueller to no avail. After he reported these acts to FBI management, he was retaliated against, suspended and ultimately left the FBI in March 2004.