DOJ: FBI Linguist Complaints Were Valid

Evidence and other witnesses supported complaints by a fired FBI contract linguist who alleged shoddy work and possible espionage within the bureau's translator program after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, according to a report Friday from the Justice Department's senior oversight official.

The department's inspector general, Glenn Fine (search), said the allegations by former translator Sibel Edmonds (search) "raised substantial questions and were supported by various pieces of evidence." Fine said the FBI still has not adequately investigated the claims.

The FBI said Friday that it still is investigating Edmonds' complaints, and it said FBI Director Robert Mueller (search) has reminded senior bureau officials to protect employees against retaliation for raising concerns.

The government's report also revealed that Edmonds was fired for using her home computer to write a memorandum about her concerns that contained classified information, which the FBI deemed a security violation. The report released Friday was a 37-page, unclassified summary of a broader, 100-page internal review of Edmonds' case.

The report noted that Edmonds, who had been granted "Top Secret" clearance, had first obtained permission from an FBI supervisor to work on the memorandum at home. The supervisor, who wasn't identified, relayed Edmonds' allegations to FBI security officials and also showed a copy to another person who was discussed in the memorandum. The inspector general said that action was "not a prudent step" and could have compromised the ensuing investigation.

The FBI later seized Edmonds' home computer, which she shared with her husband, and returned it two days later after removing traces of the classified information.

Edmonds maintains 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 by blocking translations in some cases and notifying some targets of FBI investigations about surveillance of them.

"The FBI's failure to handle her allegations adequately contributed to Edmonds' increasingly vociferous complaints, which ultimately led to the termination of her services," the inspector general concluded.

Fine did not determine whether Edmonds' charges of espionage were true, which he said was beyond the scope of his investigation.

But he criticized the FBI's review of the espionage accusations, saying its initial questioning of Edmonds' co-worker by an investigator was "significantly flawed" and "seemed not to appreciate or investigate the allegation that a coworker may have been committing espionage."

"We found that many of Edmonds' core allegations relating to the co-worker were supported by either documentary evidence or witnesses other than Edmonds," the report said. "Moreover, we concluded that, had the FBI performed a more careful investigation of Edmonds' allegations, it would have discovered evidence of significant omissions and inaccuracies by the co-worker related to these allegations."

The report did not identify Edmonds' co-worker, although Edmonds has publicly revealed her name in comments to journalists. The report said that while there could be innocent explanations for this co-worker's behavior, "other explanations were not innocuous."

The report noted that the co-worker whom Edmonds accused of espionage passed a lie-detector test, but it described the polygraph examination as "not ideal" and noted that no follow-up tests were conducted.

Edmonds filed a federal lawsuit seeking to retain her job, but last summer — in an unusual move — the judge threw out her case at the request of Attorney General John Ashcroft and said her claims might expose government secrets that could damage national security. She is appealing that decision.

Mueller previously disclosed that the investigation by the Justice Department's inspector general did not conclude the FBI retaliated against Edmonds. But Mueller also acknowledged in a letter to lawmakers in July that he was concerned by the inspector general's determination that Edmonds' allegations "were at least a contributing factor in why the FBI terminated her services."

Mueller told senators previously that the FBI conducted a "relevant investigation" of Edmonds' claims but promised to review the case and conduct a further investigation if necessary.

Edmonds was born in Iran and raised in Turkey; she speaks English, Turkish, Azerbaijani and Farsi, and was hired as a contract linguist by the FBI in the days after the Sept. 11., 2001, terror attacks.