If people know of Sibel Edmonds at all, they know her as an FBI whistleblower. Since mid-2002, her face has graced newspapers across America; she’s testified before numerous Senators and had her deposition subpoenaed by family members of 9/11 victims; as late as August 2005, Vanity Fair devoted 11 pages to her. Yet almost no one can tell you what she has to say. Like a star in a silent movie, Edmonds has been cast as the heroine in a legal drama whose details are obscure.
That’s because Sibel Edmonds is the most gagged person in the history of the United States, at least according to her ACLU lawyers. If gag orders were nickels, she’d be rich. Since her dismissal from the FBI in March 2002, Edmonds has borne the burden of state censorship with relative aplomb, working constantly within the law to make her story heard. After she gave a brief spate of interviews, John Ashcroft invoked the “state secrets” privilege, silencing her before the press and denying Edmonds her day in court. Apparently, her lawsuit involves secrets so secret that not even Edmonds’ lawyers are allowed to know the reasons why her case cannot be tried. Aside from an independent investigator, the Supreme Court is her only remaining option, and the Court will decide whether or not to hear her case in mid-October.
After the FBI fired her, Sibel Edmonds sued the bureau for negligent endangerment, negligent investigation, conversion of property, and infliction of emotional distress, among other things. During her six-month stint as a translator in the FBI’s Washington, DC unit, she had stumbled upon what she alleges were serial acts of espionage on the part of one of her colleagues, Melek Can Dickerson, who worked with Edmonds evaluating all sorts of missives and communications, and translating into English those communications pertinent to ongoing FBI investigations. Dickerson, it turns out, was a former employee of the American-Turkish Council , a Turkish organization under investigation for espionage and bribing public officials, and she considered most of her former colleagues’ communications to have no pertinence whatsoever. Edmonds thought otherwise and reported her colleague. Getting no response, Edmonds reported her again and again, moving up the chain of command until Edmonds herself was finally fired. Shortly thereafter, Dickerson and her husband fled the country.
Setting aside the gross injustice of it all, why would Ashcroft bother gagging a contract linguist with no more than six months under her belt? Why would he go so far as to forbid her from naming the languages she speaks, or ban all mention of her place of birth? Citing “sensitive diplomatic relations” and their importance to America’s national security, the Justice Department preferred the shameful embarrassment of muzzling a witness in the 9/11 case to the outright scandal that would likely erupt were Edmonds’ story known.
Some of Edmonds’ story, however, can be reconstructed from the public record, which includes interviews she gave prior to the slew of gag orders, as well as an Inspector General’s report, the declassified version of which was released in January 2005, largely corroborating Edmonds’ charges and pointing out that the FBI botched the subsequent investigation. This, of course, is why whistleblowers are fired: they make incompetent people look bad. But is it enough to get whistleblowers gagged?
In the Edmonds’ case, it’s not just “sensitive foreign relations” that are on the line, it’s the Americans who are doing the sensitive relating. Indeed, a glance at the big wigs involved in the American-Turkish Council reveals a panoply of hawks, former ambassadors and generals, and numerous lights of the three Bush administrations: the ATC Board of Directors Chair is Brent Scowcroft, erstwhile national security adviser to Bush père; Dick Cheney himself is a former member, and many of his former colleagues at Halliburton remain on board, as do higher-ups at Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky, Northrop Grumman , Boeing, and Eli Lily.
David Rose of Vanity Fair, on the authority of congressional staffers who were present for Edmonds’ classified testimony before Senators Grassley and Leahy of the Senate Judicial Committee, relates how ATC employees allegedly spoke of senior politicians maintaining covert relations with-and benefiting from the clandestine financial support of-the ATC. One of the notables that purportedly figured in Edmonds’ testimony was House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Edmonds has also supposedly testified about a State Department staffer and a Pentagon official trafficking in information-that is, exchanging secrets for money.
Edmonds herself claims, inasmuch as she can claim anything at all on camera, that events hidden from the American public are much bigger than the simple case of an upright translator done wrong, and bigger even than high-placed elected officials taking bribes. She evokes widespread criminal activity involving nationals from several countries, linked by transnational criminal networks and engaged in clandestine contraband of all sorts-including drugs, weapons, and sensitive information. Some of that criminal activity, she claims, is relevant to the events leading up to 9/11. It seems appropriate to ask, then, what sensitive foreign relations could outweigh a national security complex compromised on multiple fronts? And if Edmonds’s claims are mere bunk, then what’s the harm in allowing them to be refuted publicly?
On the other hand, maybe what Edmonds has to say cuts a little too close to the interests of influential neoconservatives and hawks. Consider Turkey. Crossroads of Europe and Asia, it has long held a privileged place in America’s geopolitical ambitions. Turkey has hosted NSA “elephant cages,” spying on the chit-chat of then Soviet subs cruising through the Sea of Marmara, for decades. It played a crucial role in containment during the Cold War, and it plays a crucial role now, serving as a gateway into the New Eurasia and a welcome, non-Arab ally for Israel in the Middle East.
Turkey figures large in neoconservative strategies for “democratizing” the Caucasus hinterlands and destabilizing recalcitrant states like Syria. When Richard Perle et al drafted “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” for the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in 1996, they highlighted Turkey’s usefulness for Israel as Jerusalem sought to encircle Damascus and emerge from its isolation in the region.
Interestingly, Turkey seems to be engaged in more than just joint military exercises with Israel-America’s two quasi-allies are also both embroiled in espionage scandals, having spied in much the same manner. While ATC employees discussed corrupting civil servants and political appointees in Washington and Chicago, American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) staffers were sitting down with Lawrence Franklin, the Defense Department Iran analyst who was recently indicted for disclosing classified information about U.S. forces in Iraq, to glean sensitive information that they allegedly passed on to Israel.
Clearly, in Sibel Edmonds v. Department of Justice there’s a great deal more involved than a wrongful dismissal. Also at stake are the ideological and material interests of the American right, from the neoconservative intellectuals in the service of the military-industrial complex, to the erstwhile Cold Warriors still bent on denying Russia that warm-water port it’s sought for much of the twentieth century. These projects depend on a stable relationship with Turkey, a country whose loyalties were shaken before, during, and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which wrought enormous damage to the Turkish economy. Turkey, and the archipelago of Turkic and Muslim states that span Eurasia, are instrumental to U.S. foreign policy and are major clients for American arms. And so, with the same tired rhetoric that justified the excesses of America’s authoritarian allies throughout the Cold War, Washington apparently would rather turn a blind eye to the ways in which these states (and America’s own politicians) prosper in order to keep them appeased. If it costs the liberties of one former FBI translator-or the security of a few thousand everyday citizens-well, that’s America: love it or leave it.
Christian Nicholson is a freelance writer based in Paris, France. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
For More Information Right Web Profile: American-Turkish Council
American-Turkish Council web site
September 9, 2005, letter from Brent Scowcroft to Denny Hastert criticizing proposed Armenian genocide resolution
David Rose, “An Inconvenient Patriot,” Vanity Fair, September 2005 http://www.vanityfair.com/commentary/content/articles/050919roco03