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 September 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, D.C., 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
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 bigwigs 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 Lilly.
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 [.pdf]. 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 highly 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' 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 chitchat
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
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 has sought for much of
the 20th 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.
(See also Sibel Edmonds' interviews on Antiwar.com: 1,
Reprinted courtesy of the International