WASHINGTON – In a shocking revelation, an FBI
whistleblower claims some Arab-Americans translating
Arabic intercepts for the FBI spoke approvingly of the
terrorist attacks on America more than two years ago.
Former FBI translator Sibel D. Edmonds says
translators of Middle Eastern origin working for the
FBI’s Washington field office maintain an
“us”-versus-”them” attitude that’s so strong it
may be compromising al-Qaida investigations.
She cited examples of mistranslations and security
breaches within the FBI’s language division, where
translators with Top Secret clearance interpret
sensitive terror-related information for agents.
“The issues and problems within the FBI’s translation
units range from security failures to questions of
loyalty to competence of translation personnel to
systemic problems within their low-to-mid-level
management practices,” Edmonds said.
She made the explosive charges Monday in a letter to the
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, an independent panel investigating
the 9-11 attacks and U.S. intelligence leading up to
them. WorldNetDaily has obtained a copy of the 9-page
Edmonds, a translator who worked closely with FBI
counterterrorism and counterintelligence agents at an
office within blocks of the Washington field office,
said she overheard some translators express sympathy
for the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
“During my work with the bureau, I was seriously taken
aback by what I heard and witnessed within the
translation department,” she said. “There were those
who openly divided the fronts as ‘Us’ – the
Middle-Easterners who shared certain views – and
‘Them’ – the Americans who were the outsiders [whose]
arrogance was now ‘leading to their own destruction.’”
Not long after the attacks, Edmonds said one
translator said: “It is about time that they get a
taste of what they have been giving to the rest of the
She says the remark was made in front of the unit
supervisor, also of Middle Eastern origin.
“These comments were neither rare nor made in a
whisper,” Edmonds said. “They were open and loud.”
She says such attitudes call into question “the
integrity and accuracy” of information Arabic
translators are feeding agents.
Edmonds says agents who don’t speak Arabic have no way
of knowing whether the information they receive from
translators is tainted.
“They simply have to trust the information given to
them by translators,” she said, “and based on that,
decide to act or not act.”
Decisions to release terrorist suspects taken into
custody are also based on translations of interviews
with those suspects, she argues.
Remarkably, agents don’t even have direct security
access to the translation unit, Edmonds says. They
have to be escorted into the area by translators.
She says she caught a Turkish translator intentionally
blocking intelligence from being translated by
labeling it as “not pertinent.” The
translator also intentionally mistranslated documents
and other information, she says. And she alleges the same linguist,
Melek Can Dickerson, was granted security clearance by
the FBI despite ties to targets of FBI investigations.
After she brought the alleged breaches to the
attention of her supervisors, Edmonds was fired by the
FBI. Her termination letter does not state a reason.
Edmonds filed a lawsuit, but Attorney General John
Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller got a federal
judge to block it by asserting the extremely rare
claim of “State Secret Privilege.”
And her lawyers say Justice’s inspector general is
slow-walking an internal review of her case, even
though the office has criticized the FBI for security
lapses in recent reports, some related to the
language program. In fact, a Nov. 15, 2002, IG report
states: “A language specialist was dismissed for
unauthorized contacts with foreign officials and
intelligence officers, receipts of things of value
from them and lack of candor in his convoluted and
contradictory responses to questions about his
Most of Edmonds’ charges have been confirmed by Sen.
Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and other members of the
Senate Judiciary Committee, who have quizzed the FBI
about her case. Edmonds sent a copy of her 9-page
letter to Grassley, one of the FBI’s biggest critics
on the Hill.
The FBI blamed the security lapses on a
shortage of Arabic translators, which has forced it to
hire mostly immigrants from the Middle East, which
makes background checks more difficult.
The Washington field office did not return repeated
phone calls seeking comment.
But the chief of the FBI’s language section, Margaret
Gullota, has insisted in congressional testimony that
the FBI hasn’t loosened its standards in recruiting
Arabic-speaking translators since 9-11.
Edmonds isn’t the only one complaining, though.
John Cole, program manager for the FBI foreign
intelligence investigations covering India, Pakistan
and Afghanistan, told Congress about what he believed
to be a security lapse regarding the screening and
hiring of translators.
And Donald Lavey, who worked in counterterrorism for 20 years at the FBI, recalled loyalty issues with a former Arab translator in the FBI’s Detroit office. href="/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=34024">He said wiretap translations by Mideast-born agents should have a “second opinion,” because their backgrounds may “prejudice” their interpretation and analysis.
Such prejudice has been borne out at Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba, where two Army translators ? both of whom are
Muslim ? have been arrested on suspicion of espionage.
They were assigned to interpret information collected
from al-Qaida and Taliban detainees.
Edmonds notes the FBI has sent an unqualified translator to Gitmo to translate interrogations of Turkish-speaking al-Qaida members captured after 9-11. She says the translator, Kevin Taskesen, failed a Turkish proficiency test and a basic English proficiency test. She says he previously worked as a busboy at a Middle Eastern restaurant.
Phone calls to Taskesen’s FBI office were not immediately returned.
Both Lavey and Edmonds note translators often exclude large sections of Arabic dialogue as irrelevant to the investigation, when in fact, they may be relevant.
“There are thousands of translated
documents/information and documents that were labeled
as ‘not pertinent to be translated’ by certain
translators before and after Sept. 11, that need to,
and have to, be retranslated and re-examined,” Edmonds
wrote in her letter.
Also, she says some Arab-American translators,
including a supervisor, threatened to sue the FBI for
discrimination after complaints were filed against
“In one case, a certain individual ended up getting a
supervisory position, even though initially he was
refused due to his questionable past, incompetence and
fraudulent invoices” for expenses, Edmonds said. She
declined to reveal his name.
Edmonds says she is working with some families of 9-11
victims to lobby the 9-11 Commission to investigate
the Arabic translation department at the FBI.