Former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds is accusing the FBI of covering up improper contacts and financial dealings between certain Turkish nationals and the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert. We speak with Sibel Edmonds and Vanity Fair journalist David Rose. [includes rush transcript]
Former FBI translator turned whistleblower, Sibel Edmonds is now appealing her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In March 2002, she was fired and she has been fighting now for nearly 3 years to blow the whistle on US government failures prior to 9-11. She has faced fierce opposition from the Bush administration, the FBI and some in Congress. This week, she grabbed headlines again after Vanity Fair published a major story about her. What is making news from that piece are allegations surrounding Illinois congressman and Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.
Vanity Fair alleges that Hastert may have been the recipient of tens of thousands of dollars of secret payments from Turkish officials in exchange for political favors and information. In the article, titled "An Inconvenient Patriot," Edmonds says that she gave confidential testimony about the payments to congressional staffers, the Inspector General and members of the 9/11 Commission. Edmonds says that she heard of the payments while listening to FBI wiretaps of Turkish officials who were under surveillance by the FBI.
Sibel Edmonds speaks Farsi, Turkish and Azerbaijani. She was hired after September eleventh by the FBI to translate pre-9-11 intelligence gathered by the agency. She has publicly accused the U.S of having considerable evidence that Al Qaeda was planning to strike the United States using airplanes as weapons.
Democracy Now contacted Congressman Hastert’s office and the Turkish Embassy for comment. They did not return our phone calls.
- Sibel Edmonds, former FBI translator who was hired shortly after Sept. 11 to translate intelligence gathered over the previous related to the 9/11 attacks. She speaks fluent Farsi, Turkish and Azerbaijani.
- David Rose, investigative journalist and author of "An Inconvenient Patriot" published in the September issue of Vanity Fair magazine.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in our D.C. studio by Sibel Edmonds. We are also joined on the telephone from Britain by David Rose, an investigative reporter and author of the Vanity Fair article. David Rose, let’s begin with you. Can you lay out your thesis in this Vanity Fair piece?
DAVID ROSE: Well, I try to tell the whole story of Sibel Edmonds’ treatment by the FBI and by the Department of Justice from the beginning until the current time in rather more detail than before, but I suppose what is the most striking feature is I tried to look at why the government has invoked the State Secrets privilege in this case. As you say, just as in the Maher Arar case, the government is saying that her case against the authorities for having her fired can’t proceed because to let any of the evidence about what lies behind it out in court, even in a court which has been security cleared where the attorneys have top secret clearance, would jeopardize the foreign policy and national security interests of the United States. And, by the way, I think it’s interesting that in his declaration about this, John Ashcroft, the former Attorney General, uses that formulation: foreign policy and national security interests.
So, as Ann Beeson, Sibel’s attorney from the ACLU, says in the article, 'Well, what could they be trying to hide?' And that’s what I set out to try to find out. And I think there is now considerable evidence that what they may be trying to hide is not simply a national security scandal, but something potentially much more explosive and embarrassing, namely, evidence that some Turksih groups, some of them officials of the government, some private individuals, perhaps associated or allegedly associated with organized crime, have been making efforts to corrupt elected American officials and also appointed government officials in the United States, and one name that has cropped up in wiretaps, which my informants tell me Sibel Edmonds translated, is that of the Speaker of the House, Denny Hastert, as you say.
AMY GOODMAN: Sibel Edmonds, what did you learn about Dennis Hastert when you were an FBI translator after 9/11, listening to these pre-9/11 wiretaps?
SIBEL EDMONDS: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.
SIBEL EDMONDS: Thank you. Thank you for having me back. Well, as you know, I’m under several gag orders, and I have been for the past three, three-and-a-half years. And as far as disclosing information that the Americans have the right to know, I have already done that. I have done that repeatedly for the past three years. And I have gone through the appropriate channels. I have gone to the United States Congress. I have gone to the 9/11 Commission. I disclosed information in secure facilities in all of these channels, including the Inspector General’s office for the Department of Justice. And to this date, as you know, we have an Inspector General’s report that has come out and said my allegations, my report have been supported by other witnesses, by other documents, by other facts and evidence. Three years ago, you had two senators coming out saying that the FBI during unclassified briefings have confirmed all my allegations, and they have denied none. So, whatever I have reported have already been confirmed.
It’s been three years, and the government still insists in invoking the State Secret privilege. As you know, last year they went ahead and they gagged the United States Congress, by the way, illegally. And according to my attorneys, I am the most gagged American in the United States history, and nobody is asking why. They aren’t saying, 'Why is it that the government is going to such length to invoke State Secret privilege, to gag the Congress, to classify the Inspector General's report, to stop the 9/11 family members’ attorneys to subpoena my deposition?’ And the answer to this question is it’s not to protect any national security. It is not to protect any ongoing investigations, because to this day they have never used that. Do you know why they have never used the fact that, oh, maybe this is an ongoing investigation? Because the fact of it is that’s why I blew the whistle. There are no investigations out there. There is no investigation whatsoever, because they are not targeting the true criminals. And they are not targeting those who truly masterminded these terrible acts against the Americans and their best interest, their national security.
AMY GOODMAN: Sibel Edmonds, we contacted Congress member Hastert’s office, the Speaker of the House, as well as the Turkish embassy, for comment, they did not return our phone calls. But what are you alleging about the Speaker of the House?
SIBEL EDMONDS: As I said, Amy, I have been giving all the details to the appropriate channels. And they have been confirmed. And what I have said all along is the fact that as far as the 9/11 is concerned, September 11 is concerned, these departments — and when I say "these departments," the Department of Justice, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense — have intentionally blocked the investigations of real — the real criminals in this country. And we are talking about countries involved. The Vanity Fair article points out to Turkey — countries. And it’s very interesting. To this date, we are not hearing anything about targeting, you know, certain Central Asian countries. They are not speaking about the link between the narcotics and al Qaeda. Yes, we are hearing about them coming down on some charities as the real funds behind al Qaeda, but most of al Qaeda’s funding is not through these charity organizations. It’s through narcotics. And have you heard anything to this date, anything about these issues which we have had information since 1997? And as I would again emphasize, we are talking about countries. And they are blocking this information, and also the fact that certain officials in this country are engaged in treason against the United States and its interests and its national security, be it the Department of State or certain elected officials.
AMY GOODMAN: Could you name names?
SIBEL EDMONDS: I have named names. I have given it to those people who are supposed to be representing this country through the Congress. I have given it to the Inspector General’s office, and the report doesn’t name names because everything was classified, but they are saying that my reports, my allegations, have been confirmed and have been supported by other witnesses, documents and evidence. I have given it to the 9/11 Commissioners, and interestingly, the 9/11 Commissioners after having the meetings with me, they went ahead and they had certain meetings and decided to only refer to I.G. report and ask them to classify the I.G. report so it wouldn’t come out before their report comes out. Now, we have to ask the questions: Why are they going to this length, to such a length to cover up and to gag and to classify and to invoke State Secret privilege? What are they covering up?
AMY GOODMAN: Sibel Edmonds is our guest in Washington, D.C., former F.B.I. translator challenging her firing from the F.B.I., and on the line with us, David Rose from Britain, who wrote the Vanity Fair piece called "An Inconvenient Patriot," the subtitle "Love of country led Sibel Edmonds to become a translator for the F.B.I. following 9/11, but everything changed when she accused a colleague of covering up illicit activity involving Turkish nationals. Fired after sounding the alarm, she’s now fighting for the ideals that made her an American and threatening some very powerful people." David Rose, can you talk about Sibel Edmonds’ colleague within the F.B.I., Melek Can Dickerson, the relationship and —
DAVID ROSE: Sorry, I’ve got a very bad line.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you hear me?
DAVID ROSE: Yes, I can, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you —- yeah -—
DAVID ROSE: Hello?
AMY GOODMAN: Hi. Go ahead.
DAVID ROSE: Let me just — yes. I think there’s one very important new development, which has not been reported, because it took place after the magazine went to press, which is that in addition to making her complaints against the F.B.I. and talking about the apparent evidence of possible espionage, which she had discovered on the part of her colleague, Melek Can Dickerson, at the F.B.I., and her husband, an Air Force major, Douglas Dickerson. Back in 2002, Sibel Edmonds wrote to the Office of Special Investigation and the Air Force Inspector General, which conducted a very brief investigation in the summer of 2002 and in September 2002, after less than three weeks, without interviewing Sibel herself, the Air Force Inspector General wrote to Sibel Edmonds and her then attorneys and said that the case was closed, that they were not pursuing her allegations against the Dickersons, which I will go into in just a moment.
But the new development is that just ten days ago, her attorney in Washington, Mark Zaid, received a message from the Office of Special Investigation at the Air Force saying that after this very long gap, nearly three years, they were reopening the investigation into the Dickersons, into Can Dickerson and her husband, Douglas, and might at some near future date seek to interview Sibel. Now, it may or may not be coincidental that, as part of the research for my article for Vanity Fair, I had submitted about 150 different questions about the entire case to the Air Force, to other parts of the Pentagon, to the D.O.J. and the F.B.I., and none of these questions were answered, but they did, of course, set out in enormous detail the various allegations that are being raised. Following the receipt of those questions, the investigation was formally reopened, which is, I think, perhaps significant.
So as to the substance of the allegations, in essence, it’s quite simple. What Sibel Edmonds has alleged and has indeed been alleging now since the end of 2001, beginning of 2002, is that towards the end of 2001, Can Dickerson, her fairly new colleague at the F.B.I., and her husband Douglas, called unexpectedly at the home she shares with her husband, Matthew, in Alexandria, Virginia. And over tea one Sunday morning, the Dickersons suggested that Sibel and her husband might like to join an organization called the American Turkish Council, which is essentially a business group which exists to foster trade deals, mainly of a military nature, between America and Turkey. And they suggested that — according to Sibel and her husband, they suggested that if they did this, they might become rich. And Sibel was particularly surprised at this, because they also boasted that they knew an individual who had close links with this organization, who was also an official of the Turkish Embassy, and in fact, although she hadn’t said so in her application to join the F.B.I., Can Dickerson had at one stage worked for the American Turkish Council herself as an intern and clearly had got a close relationship with this particular diplomat.
Well, after that — and this is all set out, by the way, in legal filings, and much of it is now completely confirmed by the D.O.J. Inspector General’s report into Sibel’s case, the unclassified part of it — following that, Sibel says that Can Dickerson tried to stop Sibel listening to wiretap conversations by this particular official, who was a friend of the Dickersons and also conversations by others who appeared to be involved in various illegal activity. So, she went to other officials at the F.B.I., to a particular agent, Dennis Saccher, who was in charge of counterintelligence and counterespionage regarding Turkey, who immediately suspected that this was possibly some kind of recruitment exercise, that she was being asked to participate in some kind of illegal espionage operation and perhaps was being offered some kind of inducement.
It was when she started to complain about this and took her complaints up the ladder within the F.B.I., and eventually to the Congress, that she was fired, and that’s the substance of the case. But clearly, given that the D.O.J. Inspector General has now corroborated and supported her allegations, and has said that many have bases in fact, and that the F.B.I. fired her as an act of retaliation when it should have investigated the claims much more seriously, the fact that the Air Force is now again looking at Major Douglas Dickerson, Can Dickerson’s husband, who remains on active duty in Europe, is clearly of some significance.
AMY GOODMAN: And David Rose, the issue of the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, and conversations overheard that link his office with improper dealings with Turkish nationals, can you talk about particular legislation?
DAVID ROSE: Well, there was — there were two things, I understand, which those who were wiretapped, whose conversations were recorded and translated, referred to. One was the controversial deal to sell helicopters, attack helicopters, to Turkey, which was an issue of great controversy in the late 1990s. At that point, Turkey was fighting a pretty hot civil war with the Kurdish separatists in the east of the country. There were allegations of human rights abuses and so forth, and some in America thought it was wrong that Turkey should be sold several billion dollars worth of attack helicopters in those circumstances. So some of the calls allegedly referred to the hope that the Congress would approve that very large weapons sale.
But the second occasion or second event which is allegedly referred to in these wiretaps is the Armenian genocide resolution which came before the House in 2000. Now, the Armenian lobby has made attempts with some support — I mean, Senator Bob Dole was a very great supporter of this back in the 1980s. The Armenians have tried to get the Congress to pass a genocide resolution so that — which would basically state that the mass murder of Armenians in Turkey that was carried out after 1915 was a genocide, and some countries have indeed passed such resolutions. Some states have in America. This resolution never really got anywhere until in 2000, Dennis Hastert, as House Speaker, announced he would support it.
Now, at the time, analysts noted that there was a tight congressional race in California, in which the Armenian community might just swing it in favor of the Republican incumbent. But what is significant, the resolution had passed the Human Rights Subcommittee of the House. It passed the International Relations Committee, but on the eve of the House vote, the full House vote, Dennis Hastert withdrew the resolution. Now, at the time, he explained this by saying that he had had a letter from President Clinton asking him to withdraw it, because it wouldn’t be in America’s interests to have such a resolution, which, of course, was bitterly resisted inside Turkey, pass through the House.
Well, it is slightly curious when you think about it. I mean, Dennis Hastert was not known, as one of the authors of Clinton’s impeachment, for deferring to his judgment on many occasions, but on this occasion, he apparently did. Well, whether or not these allegations have substance is not something that I am able to state with any knowledge, but it is said that in the wiretaps that were translated by Sibel Edmonds, reference was made to this very controversial question of the House vote. One of the Turkish targets of these wiretaps claimed that the price for getting Dennis Hastert to withdraw the resolution would be $500,000. Now, I do emphasize there’s no evidence at all that he received such a payment, but that is what is said to have been recorded in one of the wiretaps.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to wrap up the discussion. We only have a few seconds, but Sibel Edmonds, you are taking a challenge to your dismissal, appealing your dismissal to the Supreme Court?
SIBEL EDMONDS: Yes, Amy. Last week, we filed our petition with the Supreme Court, and in a few weeks there will be amicus filed in our support by 9/11 family members and other government watchdog organizations, and basically this is the last stop. This is the last channel, because, as you know, we have never been given our day in court, due to the State Secret privilege and the gag orders. And also I am pursuing this still with the Congress and I will continue until these issues come to light and until the Americans know what is going on in their government.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sibel Edmonds and David Rose of Vanity Fair — Sibel Edmonds, former F.B.I. translator, thanks very much for joining us.
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