explodes 9-11 Commission Report
By Ritt Goldstein
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation's own September 11 whistleblower has
done it again, this time taking aim at the 9-11 Commission itself.
Sibel Edmonds, an FBI translator who has in effect been silenced by the bureau
and the US Justice Department, said in an open letter to commission chairman
Thomas Kean that the FBI had suffered from a litany of errors and cover-ups of
those errors, which had been reported to the 9-11 Commission by Edmonds and
others, yet the commission report "contains zero information regarding these
systemic problems that led us to our failure in preventing the [September 11,
2001] terrorist attacks".
"In your report, there are no references to individuals responsible for
hindering past and current investigations, or those who are willing to
compromise our security and our lives for their career advancement and
security," wrote Edmonds, a 33-year-old Turkish-American whose services as a
translator were terminated by the FBI after she claimed vast wrongdoing within
the bureau's translation unit.
Edmonds' open letter, while skirting around certain issues that she is
prohibited by gag orders from revealing, is chilling in its revelations that,
contrary to public claims by the administration of President George W Bush, the
FBI was in possession months before September 2001 of intelligence that Osama
bin Laden's terrorist organization was planning a major attack on the United
States, using airplanes as a weapon.
These revelations are not new, though the open letter is remarkable in its
specificity and naming of names. Previously, while being careful not to violate
the legal silencing measures imposed on her by the FBI, the courts and the
Justice Department, she has leveled damning criticisms in the media of her
former employers and what she has termed the Bush administration's
"anti-transparency, anti-accountability and their corrupt attitudes".
"But that aside," she told radio interviewer Jim Hogue in April, "we are not
made of only one branch of government. We are supposed to have a system of
checks and balances. And I am saying, how about the other two branches? And
putting the pressure on our representatives in the Senate and the Congress, and
the court system? They should be counteracting this corruption, but they are
sitting there silent. And they are just an audience, just watching it happen."
That interview took place before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks
upon which the United States issued its final report on the September 11
attacks. Despite hours of testimony to the commission about what she knew of
FBI failures leading up to the attacks, nearly nothing of this was mentioned in
"While FBI agents from various field offices were desperately seeking leads and
suspects, and completely depending on FBI HQ and its language units to provide
them with needed translated information, hundreds of translators were being
told by their administrative supervisors not to translate and to let the work
pile up," Edmonds wrote in her letter. "I provided your investigators with a
detailed and specific account of this issue and the names of other witnesses
willing to corroborate this.
"Today, almost three years after [September 11], and more than two years since
this information has been confirmed and made available to our government, the
administrators in charge of language departments of the FBI remain in their
positions and in charge of the information front lines of the FBI's
counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence efforts. Your report has omitted any
reference to this most serious issue ..."
Specific charges made by Edmonds included the case of a Turkish translator,
whom she named, and who "for months ... blocked all-important information
related to ... semi-legit organizations and the individuals she and her husband
associated with ... [The translator] and several FBI targets of investigation
hastily left the United States in 2002, and the case still remains
uninvestigated criminally. Not only does the supervisor facilitating these
criminal conducts remain in a supervisory position, he has been promoted to
supervising Arabic-language units of the FBI's counter-terrorism and
Edmonds also spoke of a translator put in charge of sensitive operations who
not only could not speak English well enough to pass FBI proficiency tests, but
he also could not speak the languages he was in charge of translating. Despite
the fact that his case was made public on CBS television's 60 Minutes, and
"after admitting that [he] was not qualified to perform the task of translating
sensitive intelligence and investigation of terrorist activities, the FBI still
keeps him in charge of translating highly sensitive documents and leads,"
But while Edmonds' letter delivered a cascade of specific allegations, perhaps
the most explosive charge she makes concerns information the bureau was said to
have received four months prior to September 2001, information warning of the
September 11 plan. While both President Bush and National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice have repeatedly denied that there was any indication that
airplanes would be used as a terror weapon, Edmonds revealed that in April 2001
the bureau had information that bin Laden was "planning a major terrorist
attack in the United States targeting four to five major cities"; "the attack
was going to involve airplanes"; some of those involved were already "in the
United States"; and the attack would be "in a few months". Edmonds states that
the information came from "a long-term FBI informant/asset" and that it was
sent to the "special agent in charge of counter-terrorism" in Washington. She
also charges that after September 11 "the agents and translators were told to
'keep quiet' regarding this issue".
Further to that, she writes, "The Phoenix Memo, received months prior to the
[September 11] attacks, specifically warned FBI HQ of pilot training and their
possible link to terrorist activities against the United States. Four months
prior to the terrorist attacks the Iranian asset provided the FBI with specific
information regarding the 'use of airplanes', 'major US cities as targets', and
'Osama bin Laden issuing the order' ...
"All this information went to the same place: FBI Headquarters in Washington,
DC, and the FBI Washington Field Office, in Washington DC. Yet your report
claims that not having a central place where all intelligence could be gathered
as one of the main factors in our intelligence failure. Why did your report
choose to exclude the information regarding the Iranian asset and
[translator] Behrooz Sarshar from its timeline of missed opportunities?
Why was this significant incident not mentioned, despite the public
confirmation by the FBI, witnesses provided to your investigators, and
briefings you received directly? Why did you surprise even [FBI] director
[Robert] Mueller by refraining from asking him questions regarding this
significant incident and lapse during your hearing ... ?"
Given the sweeping nature of Edmonds' knowledge of intelligence failures in the
lead-up to September 11, it is probably not surprising that the US government
has used its legal clout to try to shut her up. In what the July 29 New York
Times termed "an unusually broad veil of secrecy", the Justice Department
ordered the details surrounding Edmonds' allegations a matter of "state
secrets". On May 13, Attorney General John Ashcroft had signed an order
forbidding her to testify in a case brought by the families of September 11
victims, invoking rarely used "state secrets" authority. Edmonds was also
broadly prohibited from discussing the facts surrounding her assertions.
It is unclear what personal consequences this latest whistleblowing may have
for Edmonds. But notably, none of her prior revelations have been determined
erroneous; rather, they have increasingly been found accurate.
A July 21 letter from FBI director Mueller to Utah Republican Senator Orrin
Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, notes that an inspector
general's report found her whistleblowing "a contributing factor in why the FBI
terminated her services". Mueller's letter also noted that, based upon the
report's findings, a new FBI determination to pursue "discipline of FBI
employees" and "additional investigation" of Edmonds' allegations had yet to be
Mueller's July 21 letter, of which Asia Times Online obtained a copy, also
pointedly outlined that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) "noted that
Ms Edmonds, as a contract employee, did not qualify for 'whistleblower'
With her open letter to the 9-11 Commission providing what can only be termed a
damning mantra of revelation, on six separate occasions within the text Edmonds
identically questioned how huge budget increases and the creation of an
insulated "intelligence czar" could alleviate "systemic and departmental"
Mueller's letter to Hatch outlined that the "OIG criticized the FBI's failure
to adequately pursue Ms Edmonds' allegations of espionage" regarding the
above-mentioned translator who "hastily left the United States in 2002".
Again, the OIG's report is known to have criticized the bureau's conduct
regarding its pursuit of Edmonds' claim of ongoing espionage, with Edmonds
presently revealing that "hundreds of pages of top-secret sensitive
intelligence documents" were taken outside the bureau to "unknown recipients"
by her co-worker in question.
Edmonds described the FBI's perspective upon this as being "that it would not
look good for the bureau if this security breach and espionage case was
investigated and made public", concurrently citing the blemish that the last
FBI spy scandal had left, that of Robert Hanssen.
Her letter is particularly noteworthy for its specific naming of those involved
in the wrongdoing she cites, and in providing corroboration of her account,
including such by those within the government. Notably, two key members of the
Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa Republican Charles Grassley and Vermont
Democrat Patrick Leahy, had requested the OIG's investigation of Edmonds' FBI
allegations in 2002, Grassley terming her "very credible".
On July 9, the two senators jointly wrote to Ashcroft, Mueller and Justice
Department Inspector General Glenn Fine requesting that the OIG's pertinent
reports be made publicly available.
The senators' letter specified three OIG reports: one on Sibel Edmonds, another
on the FBI translation program, and a third upon whether information "obtained
by the FBI and other federal law-enforcement agencies" preceding September 11
"was not acted upon, or not acted on in the most effective and efficient
manner". The senators requested that these documents either be declassified or
made available to the public via summary. Asia Times Online has obtained a copy
of this letter in which the senators highlight that they are seeking "to
understand how important clues were overlooked", and that the information in
question is significant to both the "public interest" and "congressional
Leahy and Grassley emphasized that they "fear that the designation of
information as classified in some cases serves to protect the executive branch
against embarrassing revelations and full accountability". They also observe
that a failure to provide the OIG's findings "could damage the public's
confidence not only in the government's ability to protect the nation, but also
in the government's ability to police itself".
Again, from what has emerged from the classified OIG action, none of Edmonds'
accounts of FBI wrongdoing appear to have been found erroneous.
In what critics of the Bush administration have long seen as a contrast, a
March 22 Washington Post op-ed piece by Condoleezza Rice stated: "Despite what
some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing
to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles, though some analysts
speculated that terrorists might hijack planes to try and free US-held
terrorists." And according to an April interview Edmonds gave to the United
Kingdom's Independent newspaper, she termed Rice's claim "an outrageous lie",
saying, "I saw papers that show the US knew al-Qaeda would attack cities with
airplanes," referring to the April information she has now written of.
Of particular note is that Edmonds did provide several hours of secret
testimony to the 9-11 Commission. Cutting to what she perceives as part of the
US government's shortcomings, in her present letter Edmonds strongly emphasizes
an "unspoken policy of 'protecting certain foreign business relations' ...
'safeguarding certain diplomatic relations'", as substantively contributing to
the general lack of candor she charges.
On July 22, 2002, Sibel Edmonds launched a civil suit in the US District Court
for the District of Columbia against the Justice Department. The suit cited an
FBI release of information that she was the "subject of a security review",
that she had been retaliated against by the bureau for her whistleblowing
activity, and that there had been "interference" with her ability to obtain
future employment as well as a wrongful "termination" of her FBI services.
Asia Times Online has obtained a copy of the court's recent decision, and in
its presentation of the case's "Factual Background" - beyond the allegations
Edmonds widely made - it notes that Edmonds asserted that "the safety and
security of the Plaintiff (Edmonds) and her family has been jeopardized and
that a foreign country has targeted Plaintiff's sister to be interrogated 'and
taken/arrested by force'". It also notes that on May 8, 2002, Senator Grassley
wrote to Mueller regarding what he perceived as the gravity of Edmonds'
charges, urging Mueller to "emphasize to [FBI] officials ... that retaliation
against current or former FBI employees is not acceptable, especially when
retaliation endangers a person's family member".
On July 6 the court decided Edmonds' case, finding that "the plaintiff's case
must be dismissed, albeit with great consternation, in the interests of
national security", doing so as Ashcroft invoked the seldom-used "state secrets
privilege", in effect precluding a trial.
(For the full text of Sibel Edmonds' open letter to 9-11 Commission chairman
Thomas Kean, please click
Ritt Goldstein is an American investigative political journalist based in
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