WASHINGTON – A federal judge threw out a lawsuit Tuesday by a whistleblower who alleged security lapses in the FBI's translator program, ruling that her claims might expose government secrets that could damage national security.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton (search) said he was satisfied with claims by Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) and a senior FBI official that the civil lawsuit by Sibel Edmonds (search) could expose intelligence-gathering methods and disrupt diplomatic relations with foreign governments.
The judge said he couldn't explain further because his explanation itself would expose sensitive secrets.
Edmonds, a former contract linguist for the FBI (search), said she will appeal the ruling. She alleged in her lawsuit that she was fired in March 2002 after she complained to FBI managers about shoddy wiretap translations and told them an interpreter with a relative at a foreign embassy might have compromised national security.
Edmonds said the judge dismissed her lawsuit without hearing evidence from her lawyers, although the government's lawyers met with Walton at least twice privately. She noted that Walton, the judge, was appointed by President Bush.
"This shows how the separation of power has basically disappeared," Edmonds said in a telephone interview. "The judge ruled on this case without actually this ever being a case."
In his decision, Walton acknowledged that dismissing a lawsuit before the facts of the case can be heard is "Draconian" and said he was throwing out the lawsuit "with great consternation."
"Mindful of the need for virtual unfettered access to the judicial process in a governmental system integrally linked to the rule of law, the court nonetheless concludes that the government has properly invoked the state secrets privilege," Walton ruled.
Edmonds' lawyer, Mark S. Zaid, called the decision "another example of the executive branch's abuse of secrecy to prevent accountability."
"The judiciary seems to be unwilling to do anything but capitulate to assertions of national security," Zaid said.
The Justice Department's inspector general is investigating whether the FBI retaliated against Edmonds, who was subjected to a security review after she raised allegations of security lapses. The bureau said problems with Edmonds' performance were behind the dismissal.
The FBI translator program has played a significant role in interpreting interviews and intercepts of Osama bin Laden's network since Sept. 11.