Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sibel Edmonds case: What was found in the translations

Phil Giraldi, ex-CIA agent based in Turkey, has a typically strong op-ed piece, Found in Translation. FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds spills her secrets, in the latest edition of American Conservative magazine.

The opening:
Most Americans have never heard of Sibel Edmonds, and if the U.S. government has its way, they never will. The former FBI translator turned whistleblower tells a chilling story of corruption at Washington’s highest levels—sale of nuclear secrets, shielding of terrorist suspects, illegal arms transfers, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, espionage. She may be a first-rate fabulist, but Edmonds’s account is full of dates, places, and names. And if she is to be believed, a treasonous plot to embed moles in American military and nuclear installations and pass sensitive intelligence to Israeli, Pakistani, and Turkish sources was facilitated by figures in the upper echelons of the State and Defense Departments. Her charges could be easily confirmed or dismissed if classified government documents were made available to investigators.

In May 2006, Giraldi wrote about Sibel's case, again in American Conservative, Sibel described that piece as:
"a fantastic short piece by Phil Giraldi; it sums up the case very well, considering the length... as far as published articles go, this one nails it 100%."
So make sure that you have read that piece.

Giraldi's latest piece gives a broad overview of Sibel's case, picking up from the Vanity Fair article, the latest Times articles, and other sources.

Giraldi addresses some of concerns that 'critics' (I think 'cynics' might be a more appropriate term) have:
Edmonds’s critics maintain that she saw only a small part of the picture in a highly compartmentalized working environment, that she was privy to only a fragment of a large operation to penetrate and disrupt the groups that have been stealing U.S. weapons technology. She could not have known operational details of what the FBI was doing and why.

That criticism is serious and must be addressed. If Edmonds was indeed seeing only part of a counterintelligence sting operation to entrap a nuclear network like that of A.Q. Khan, the government could now reveal as much in general terms, since any operation that might have been running in 2002 has long since wound down. Regarding her access to operational information, Edmonds’s critics clearly do not understand the intimate relationship that develops between FBI and CIA officers and their translators. Operations run against a foreign target in languages other than English require an intensive collaboration between field officers and translators. The translators are invariably brought into the loop because it is up to them to guide the officers seeking to understand what the target, who frequently is double talking or attempting to conceal his meaning, is actually saying. That said, it should be conceded that Edmonds might sometimes have seen only a piece of the story, and those claims based on her own interpretation should be regarded with caution.

Another objection is that Edmonds would only have seen “raw intelligence” that does not provide nuance and does not really indicate whether someone is guilty. That argument has merit, and it is undeniable that many intercepted communications lack context. But it ignores the fact that someone recorded in the act of taking a bribe or interceding to have a suspect in a criminal investigation released is behaving with a certain transparency. One either takes money or does not. There is very little interpretation that can change that reality.
All good points.

Sibel worked closely with the FBI's special agents and they too appear to have been horrified by what was happening. Unfortunately, those agents haven't publicly backed up Sibel, but a number of them have been named - Gilbert Graham, Joel Robertz, Dennis Saccher - and all have had numerous quotes and sentiments attributed to them. Not a single comment has ever been disavowed to my knowledge.

One of the agents, Gilbert Graham, has confirmed some of Sibel's case. Graham worked on "counterintelligence investigations involv(ing) espionage activities by Turkish officials and agents in the United States." In 2002, he filed reports with the DoJ's Inspector General and Senate Judiciary Committee regarding violations
"in conducting electronic surveillance of high-profile U.S. public officials"
He too was obviously appalled at what was going on, to the extent that essentially ended his career when he reported this criminal wrongdoing.

In the case of Dennis Saccher, "the F.B.I.’s special agent in charge of Turkish counter-intelligence," his involvement was discussed extensively in the Vanity Fair article. Even though much of the detail was atrributed to Sibel, rather than directly from Saccher himself, he has not, to my knowledge, distanced himself from any of the statements.

In this youtube from a speech Sibel gave to the American Library Association, Sibel says when she was discussing taking the case to Congress with "this great agent that I worked with," he said:
"Well, let's say you go to Congress. How are you going to determine who is clean to go to?"

Just based on Turkish counter-intelligence operations, you know of FOUR corrupt congressional people. Take a look at this room (of translators), we have the Chinese Department, we have, you know, the Arabic, including Saudi Arabia and everything. How many (other corrupt Congressfolk) do you think they have come across?

So we have a reasonable amount of evidence that the FBI's special agents involved in the operations all have a similar interpretation of events to Sibel's. Those who argue that Sibel might not have been privvy to the broader picture, and may have only seen 'fragments' of a larger operation would apparently need to also argue that the special agents, including the head of Turkish counter-intelligence, were equally out of the loop on any larger operation, and that they all lacked the context of the broader picture, and that none of them had the experience to recognize any purported sting operation.

Giraldi's piece ends strongly:
Sibel Edmonds makes a number of accusations about specific criminal behavior that appear to be extraordinary but are credible enough to warrant official investigation. Her allegations are documentable: an existing FBI file should determine whether they are accurate. It’s true that she probably knows only part of the story, but if that part is correct, Congress and the Justice Department should have no higher priority. Nothing deserves more attention than the possibility of ongoing national-security failures and the proliferation of nuclear weapons with the connivance of corrupt senior government officials.

Who could argue with that?

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