Classified Woman, By Sibel Edmonds
July 5, 2012 by Bob Livingston
The bureau needed translators, she was told, in Middle Eastern and Asian languages like Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, Pashtun, Urdu, Uzbek, etc. There were tens of thousands of leads and pieces of evidence awaiting translation before the FBI could act on them. Thousands of pieces of raw intelligence were pouring in daily, but it was all in foreign languages; a dearth of translators was hindering the FBI’s investigation into the attacks.
“Ms. Edmonds,” the agent said, “we need your skills badly.” Edmonds, born in Turkey and raised part of her life in Iran, spoke both Turkish and Farsi. Edmonds hesitated. Her circumstances had changed since she first applied, she and her husband were now running a business and she was taking college courses. Sensing this, the agent played on her sense of patriotism.
“We are at war, Ms. Edmonds; the FBI needs your skills badly… You can serve your country.”
While listening to the agent’s pitch, Edmonds’ mind replayed images she remembered from her time in the Mideast: kids, younger than 6, hurling stones against tanks. Tiny kids standing up to powerful military machines rather than running away.
“I felt like those kids,” she writes. “I didn’t want to run and hide… I in fact possessed a rock, several, in fact: my language skills. Our country could use my help. How could I say no?”
Within a week, Edmonds found herself in the FBI’s Arabic Unit, considered to be the agency’s most important unit in the aftermath of 9/11. What first surprised her was learning she was the only Turkish language specialist on the floor. It was a revelation that would take her down a dark path she never expected and change the way she viewed American government.
Classified Woman is a page-turner. It reveals the dark side of American government and the fact that it is little different from the totalitarian regimes she had previously lived under. It’s a disturbing story that demonstrates what happens in unwieldy, statist bureaucracies when wrongdoing is uncovered; and about internecine squabbles, turf battles and waste. But worse, it shows how people in the FBI, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Department of Justice, the Judiciary, George W. Bush’s Administration and Congress were either tied to nefarious and sometimes illegal conduct and individuals being investigated for their roles in 9/11, or participated in stymieing Edmonds’ efforts to tell someone — anyone — and find an agency willing to investigate it. Finally, the book reveals what true patriotism is all about because — despite long odds, continued disappointments, roadblocks, apathy by the media and those entrusted to protect her, and abandonment by her family members — Edmonds was able at long last to get a few of the names of the wrongdoers into the public domain.
Edmonds was only days into her job when she began to sense things just weren’t right. There were other translators she should be wary of, she was warned. Though they weren’t proficient in Turkish, they had nevertheless been tasked with translating Turkish documents. They felt threatened by her, she was told.
Her supervisor, Mike Feghali, began to tell her to slow down. She was working too fast, he explained, it wasn’t good for the department. She made the other translators look bad. It gave the appearance there were enough translators, and it was coming up on budget time.
“This November,” Feghali told her, “the FBI is going to present its budget request for our department, and to make the case, they have to show this huge backlog of untranslated material; the bigger the backlog, the more money and more translators for this department. Do you get the picture?”
The day after this exchange, Edmonds noticed that some of the work on her computer had been altered. For the next several days, when she would open a document she had worked on the day before, the document would have paragraphs deleted, sentences edited and whole portions missing. The alterations required her to start over listening to the recorded conversations she had been translating — a tedious process. She determined that someone had to have been getting into her computer and editing the documents after she left, so she took the matter to Feghali.
He told her not worry about it, that he didn’t want it to turn into a major incident. And then he said: “Maybe you should consider it a lesson. Maybe you were working too fast and someone decided to warn you, to teach you a lesson.”
The realization that her own supervisor was altering her work product to slow down her progress stunned her. But that would be only the first of many stunning revelations to come in the ensuing months.
- She discovered that most translators in her section were hired because of who they knew rather than their proficiency in required languages, including English, and that such practices were considered common in the bureau because, in Feghali’s words, “people should help each other.”
- She was recruited by a co-worker to join the American Turkish Council, one of the most powerful organizations in the U.S. and subject of some of the investigations she was assisting with. ATC employs several lobbying companies — among them the Livingston Group, run by adulterous former House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston; the Cohen Group, headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen; and others who work to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. contracts for Turkish companies. That co-worker’s husband worked for the Pentagon and State Department and also had ties to the ATC that were in direct conflict with his government positions.
- Co-workers were intentionally disregarding relevant documents and marking them as irrelevant in order to keep them out of investigators’ hands. This was done with the knowledge of Feghali.
- Feghali’s supervisors knew this was going on and not only refused to stop it, they warned Edmonds away from pursuing the matter because people in the top echelons of the FBI were named in some of the transcripts.
- She had no rights and would essentially become a non-person after she refused to stop pursuing wrongdoing in the bureau because Attorney General John Ashcroft asserted a nebulous state secrets privilege in her case, which not only meant her case would never make it to trial, it meant she was prevented from revealing what she knew in any way.
- The 9/11 Commission was a farce because it first refused to hear her testimony. When it finally consented to take her testimony in a bow to pressure from victims’ families, it ignored her testimony in its final report.
- Those whose job it was in government to protect whistle-blowers were not immune from being overwhelmed and forced out of their positions when they bucked the system hard enough.
- Neither Republicans nor Democrats in Congress were interested in her testimony once they learned members of their respective parties were implicated.
- There were other whistle-blowers who would eventually stand by her side and confirm what she had learned and reveal even more damning information about government wrongdoing.
- The mainstream media were either unable or unwilling to cover her allegations.
Edmonds finally got her day in court in July 2009. She was subpoenaed to testify in a case between Congressional candidate David Krikorian and Congresswoman Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio). Schmidt was favored by the Turkish lobby and its numerous networks and had received hefty campaign contributions from it. In his advertisements, Krikorian, running as an independent, claimed Schmidt had taken “blood money” as campaign donations from Turkish groups. Schmidt filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission claiming the ads were false and libelous.
Because of Edmonds’ position with the FBI and subsequent court rulings, DoJ approval had to be obtained before she could testify. She got that permission when the DoJ failed to respond by a deadline, which allowed Krikorian’s lawyers to depose her.
In the deposition she detailed criminal allegations against Representatives Dennis Hastert, Dan Burton, Roy Blunt, Livingston, Stephen Solarz and Tom Lantos, as well as an unnamed, still-serving Congresswoman who had been secretly videotaped, for blackmail purposes, during an affair. Bush Administration officials she named as part of a criminal conspiracy on behalf of agents working for the government of Turkey included Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Marc Grossman and others.
When it was over, there were more than 200 pages of transcripts that detailed blackmail, bribery, espionage, infiltration and criminal conspiracy by current and former members of Congress, high-ranking officials in the departments of State and Defense and agents of the Turkish government. The testimony became a part of public record. When it was dropped on the mainstream media, it hit with a collective thud. None were interested.
Though that was a disheartening result, Edmonds considered it a victory that she had finally been able to tell part of her story.
Now she continues to work with the National Whistleblowers Center, which she founded, and write for and maintain her website, Boiling Frogs.