A whistleblower who lost her job and was gagged by the Bush administration after revealing careerism, corruption and widespread incompetence at the FBI detailed her difficult search for justice to an audience on Monday at the American Library Association's annual conference. Sibel Edmonds, hired by the FBI as a translator shortly after 9/11, was fired in 2002 after reporting a range of problems at the bureau, including:
- slothful, unqualified employees
- family members of diplomats suspected of spying who translated the wiretaps of their relatives
- ignored or overlooked intelligence warning of Al-Qaeda's plans to hijack planes and attack major cities
- evidence of a Turkish bribery ring that, according to some accounts, was connected to then-Speaker of the House Denny Hastert (R-Illinois)
After Edmonds' aired the dirty laundry, her higher-ups cut her loose. Then John Ashcroft, the U.S. attorney general at the time, invoked the "state secrets privilege," a little-used Draconian national security measure that stopped Edmonds from discussing what she knew. Even information about her birthday and the schools she had attended became classified, a so-called matter of national security too dangerous to disclose. Of course, the information was already public. A google search turns it up instantly. For a time, information about Edmonds' case was even up on the FBI website.
"It is funny and so very sad at the same time," Edmonds told the librarians yesterday. "The next time I'm pulled over by a cop for speeding or at a red light, and they say ma'am can you give me your driver's license, I'm going to say: 'I'm sorry, officer. I can't give it to you. It's classified.'"
But the unusual situation Edmonds finds herself in -- one that she describes as "Kafkaesque" -- is also quite unnerving. Even though Congress and the Justice Department's own inspector general determined that several of Edmond's complaints about abuse and incompetence had merit, she lost a lawsuit against the FBI. When she appealed, this strange scene took place:
"My attorney stood up and argued the case about the state secret's privilege. Then the court asked [us] to step out of the court...while the government argued its side. Can they do this? This is the United States of America. The guards escorted us out and they locked the doors. We don't know what [the FBI attorneys] told the judges. My attorneys could never know what they argued. As far as we know, they could have made the most outrageous lies. There was no one there to challenge them. We assume that they did because a few weeks later the court upheld the lower court's ruling."
Edmonds tried to get the U.S Supreme Court to hear the case. The court declined. In May 2004, the Justice Department issued a retroactive gag order on Congress, classifying the briefings Edmonds had given Congress, all FBI briefings, and forcing members of Congress with information about the case on their web sites to remove it (which spurred a separate lawsuit).
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