Scott Horton Interviews Sibel Edmonds
Sibel Edmonds, founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, discusses the hypocrisy of free speech invocations in defense of Rosen/Weissman while whistle-blowers endure gag orders, the numerous cover-ups of unspecified Congressional misdeeds caught on wiretaps, the dedication of rank-and-file FBI agents to investigate crimes despite political implications and how she is ready to tell her story to a publisher willing to fight government censorship.
MP3 here. (27:18)
Sibel Edmonds is a former FBI-contract language specialist turned whistleblower against government incompetence and corruption. The ACLU has described her as the most gagged person in U.S. history.
Transcript via Luke Ryland.
Scott Horton: I’m so excited to bring Sibel Edmonds back to the show. The precedent has been set, Sibel, you can tell me everything as long as you tell the Israeli embassy too. Go ahead!
Sibel Edmonds: (laughs) How are you Scott? Good to be on your show.
SH: I’m doing great. Welcome to the show. For people who don’t know, Sibel Edmonds was a translator for the FBI, a contractor after September 11. Fluent in a few different languages there from the old world, and uncovered a bunch of scandals and corruption and got booted out and is founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. Her website is JustACitizen.com. She is, according to the ACLU, the most gagged person in American history.
The government has invoked the State Secrets Privilege to prevent her from telling us about all of the criminality that she learned about when working for the FBI, on penalty of prison. So, I kind of mean that, though. Steven Rosen gave classified information that he got from a Pentagon employee to the Israeli Embassy, and also to some journalists, and everybody hailed the charges being dropped against this spy because he gave it to some journalists too, so it became a First Amendment case.
I don’t think I have an official press pass, but it seems like as long as you write a letter to the Israeli Embassy explaining all that you know Sibel, you ought to be in the free and clear now, am I confused?
SE: No, I think that you’re right, and it did set a precedent here.
SH: So let’s do it! Tell us all the things that you’ve been banned from saying all this time. It will be the biggest Antiwar Radio scoop ever.
SE: (Laughs) Scott, as you know, I just wrote a piece about this, and this was after, really sitting and simmering for a while after the case with Harman in Congress broke. And it was not only for the reasons such as my own personal case with the State Secrets Privilege etc, but what really got me extremely upset was the fact that in 2005 and 2006, my organization took several whistleblowers from the NSA and the Justice Department to certain offices in Congress including Harman’s office and Pelosi’s office, and now we are sitting here, feeling like fools.
SH: And you’ve argued all along from what you have been able to tell us that you kind of see all these different scandals tying together, as different layers of the same onion – seemingly from my perspective, all kind of going back to the Vice President’s office of the previous administration, and the network of neocons that Larry Wilkerson calls the ‘Cheney Cabal.’ Do you think that is about the right estimation?
SE: Well, one of the things that we’ve heard a lot was that getting this network and boiling it down into the five, six, seven faces of neocons – and I think that was one of the biggest mistakes we did commit, and we’re still committing it. A lot of people are still doing that.
Again, I’m going to go back to this case with Harman. As soon as this piece came out on Harman, you heard so many people, and even the so-called progressive Democrats really screaming and saying that this is blackmail, and actually they ended up turning Harman into a victim.
SH: It really was incredible to see too, especially when… I don’t know, I understand how people’s political biases are, and they have a congresswoman that they like, and they see the evil, lurking, menacing, Gestapo-figure like Porter Goss involved and they want to figure out a way to use that fact, but Jeff Stein debunked all that immediately on his blog. He said ‘No. Goss’s only role in this was, he had to do his job under the protocol and inform congress, and then Gonzales stopped him. That’s it. He’s not the origin of this investigation. He didn’t sic the FBI and the CIA onto Jane Harman. It’s ridiculous.’
SE: Correct. And I want to emphasize one thing that you said, you said that the congressmen and women that they like, well let’s take a look at this Congress-woman’s record…
SH: I guess I shouldn’t put those words in their mouths either, because what’s to like about Jane Harman, really?
SE: But there was also a lot of confusion, or pretense of confusion, about whether this was an NSA tap, was she being tapped. And that is another issue that, if we have time today, I would like to explain, because while I was working with the FBI, I did exactly that.
Most of my translation work involved FISA on foreign entities here in the US, and yes, in several cases we did come across cases where we ended up with US persons getting involved with either espionage or criminal conduct, and therefore the procedure that was followed in some cases, to go after those US persons, not under FISA, but under separate procedures.
And it was mind-boggling to see that even a lot of journalists out there don’t seem to understand the process, yet going and writing about this case and convoluting it, and making it a case that was not presented by Jeff Stein.
SH: Well, you know, you talked before about the FBI agents who were serious about doing their job, and how the bosses just will never let them do it, and that kind of thing, and I actually read something by Steven Rosen, who recently had the charges of espionage dropped, and he identified what, of course he called an anti-semitic group of terrible conspiracy theorists inside the Justice Department who were persecuting him…
SH: … but I kind of agree with him that, or I think, that there really is a group of counter-intelligence agents in the FBI who are serious about looking into this kind of criminality, no matter who it is even if it is people connected to the Israeli Lobby. Is that basically right?
SE: Absolutely. Absolutely. As for the agents who are doing their job 100% – I did not come across (and since NSWBC has been in place) I have not had a single case where the agents went about covering up a case, or going after a certain target for either certain political reasons, or personal beliefs. Absolutely.
But it’s a different story when you’re talking about the Department of Justice. And again, if we have time I want to give an example of how the process takes place from FISA to the US persons, to the criminal investigations / counter-espionage investigations.
SH: Please, go ahead.
SE: OK. So, what you have is, basically, you have under FISA – and for each country, for each language, for each target, you have a separate FISA obtained, and you have a separate division in the FBI, most of them, almost all of them, in the FBI’s Washington Field Office, OK. So let’s say, and I’m going to give you an example with my case, you are targeting under FISA, which is legal, certain diplomatic entities, whether they are Embassy people, or Consulate, or related, relevant, OK. So you have this pipeline that brings in all the information, all the communications that is coming to or going from this target, this organization, this entity.
SH: OK now, let me clarify my understanding here. You’re talking about a warrant under FISA but it is still a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance warrant which means it is not the same standard of evidence – probable cause – that is necessary for the government to legally tap an American. It is a lower standard of evidence, I guess ‘reasonable suspicion’ or some such, that the person being tapped is an agent of a foreign power, or a terrorist group, but then that brings up the conflict between whether any evidence obtained accidentally that way – like you’re tapping an Israeli spy and you accidentally find an American congresswoman being bribed – then there’s the whole difficulty of turning that over into a criminal investigation separate from an intelligence investigation.
SE: Absolutely. So let’s say with the diplomatic community, the Justice Department doesn’t even have to have any reason to get that warrant. I can tell you that except for one country, every single country – that includes all the European countries – diplomatic entities are being monitored, OK. That’s a known fact – nobody wants to admit to it, but it’s a known fact. You have French translators there, you have German translators there, for German language – so those are given. OK, every single diplomatic establishment is going through this FISA, and the first person who gets all this information daily is the language specialist.
A lot of people think the FBI agents get the information, and when it needs translation, he gives it to a translator. This is not the case. It is the opposite. Before it goes to the agent, a language specialist goes through it, because this is a foreign target under FISA, and it assumes that the communication is going to be mainly in that foreign language. So you as a language specialist get all this stuff, but of course thirty, forty, or even up to 50% of this communication ends up being in English, because the diplomatic target – let’s say someone in the Israeli embassy, and that Israeli embassy has for example forty phone lines – all of them, let’s say, are being monitored.
So you’re going through that communication, and as you’re going through that, well, a lot of these phone calls go to a US person, or from a US person, and it is in English. So the language specialist at this point has to stamp them as ‘English only’ and if it is pertinent, meaning, if it has to do with espionage, or receiving money, then has to mark it as ‘extremely pertinent’ and immediately forward it to the FBI agent.
So what happens in this case, as you’re doing that, let’s say you have a congressional member who is making or receiving a phone call from this diplomatic foreign entity that is being monitored, and the language specialist is listening, and the conversation is in English, and marks it as English, but it is important because they are discussing either giving certain money to this person, or the US person is going to give certain documents or information to this foreign entity, this is considered pertinent. At this point the language specialist says ‘This is English. It is pertinent.’ and because a certain operation is going to take place – let’s say, receiving the money, or receiving the information, and therefore it may call for surveillance, meaning physical surveillance, let’s say that this receiving of the money is going to take place the next day, so the agents have to get into their van, go and make sure that this transaction actually took place. So the translator has to go right away and inform the agents, telling them ‘By the way, we received this information etc etc’ Now, once you start collecting evidence or stuff like this from a congressional person or other types of US persons, or at the State Department or the Pentagon etc, now the agents start putting this evidence together. Here the ‘target’ is foreign, it is still under FISA, there is still no wiretap on that congressperson, or that US person.
Once the agent believes he or she has enough to expose it – there are so many cases, including the surveillance proving that the transaction took place – the agents write the report (and these are the agents from counterintelligence under FISA), submit it to the FBI headquarters, and says ‘We need to get direct wiretaps on this US person because here is the evidence, and they have been involved in this and this and this, and here are all the transactions, and all the communications whether on the espionage front or the corruption front.’ The FBI headquarters takes this information, gives it the Justice Department. The Justice Department attorneys, and the head of Justice Department at that point sit and look at this information, and they have a choice: either go to court, show the evidence to a specific judge, and get warrants, not under FISA – either under criminal or counter-espionage – to directly wiretap the US person, or not to do anything. Now, it is at this stage that certain things become political. Let’s say you are looking at 1999, and you’re looking at several people in Congress, let’s say people such as Hastert, and people at the State Department…
SH: Let me just interject here real quick. “Such as Hastert” who you can read about in David Rose’s article in Vanity Fair concerning your case called An Inconvenient Patriot.
SH: I don’t want that to just be out in the air as though there’s nothing really behind it or anything.
SE: OK – I hope you can provide the link to the last piece that I wrote. But in this case, the head of the Justice Department, the Attorney General, at this point, when he gets the evidence from the agents, looks at this information and says ‘Ooh la la! I need to inform my boss, the President in the White House, and the President’s advisors because this is getting dicey.’ Because it is not Iran or Syria we are talking about. Let’s say we are talking about Turkey, an important ally, or Pakistan, or Israel.
And some of these US persons, or the US persons are the ones that they collected this evidence on happen to be one of us. So he’s not going to put himself in this really horrible position by doing his job and going to court and get it, allowing that. At this point the briefing occurs: the Justice Department either briefs certain people in the State Department, or the White House, saying ‘Oh man, look, we got this! Our agents got this, and we are now in this position.’ So, in some cases, they never go to the court to obtain the warrant to go and wiretap the person, and this has been the case many, many, many, many times. It is not only recently.
It has been the case a lot for political reasons, for the partisan reasons, for what they consider “sensitive diplomatic relations” reasons. And in some cases, in some cases, if the evidence is really, really, really bad for the US person, and if some of the agents in the FBI headquarters are feeling very, very strong about it, like you’re seeing in this AIPAC case, they finally say “OK. We are going to get the warrant and go after the US person.” The original target was, let’s say, the Israeli Embassy, not AIPAC initially, but the Israeli Embassy, and we’re looking at even mid-to-late 1990s, moving into AIPAC, and then from AIPAC with this evidence in early 2000, having the warrant to actually go and pursue the US persons.
SH: Right, and that’s how they came across Larry Franklin.
SH: And the New York Times is reporting, late last week, they said that the FBI agents, the career, gum-shoe cops, they’re still very angry. They thought they had a real case against Rosen and Weissman, and can’t understand why it was taken out from under them like that.
SE: Of course they did. And this is exactly the point I tried to make in this piece, because you have certain wanna-be journalists in the blogosphere taking this and giving this a conspiracy flavor, saying that the timing of this has to do with Goss, and getting back at Harman, and these agents have some other motives and agendas. I’ll tell you what their agenda was – they did their job, and they knew this case was going to be dropped, it was dropped two weeks after the CQ article but they knew it was going to be dropped months before this, at least one and a half months before this. So this was in desperation to say “This is wrong! We are letting the criminals go, these US persons who have been committing crimes against the US national interest.” So they did talk to this journalist, it doesn’t go to some conspiracy, motive, that some of these wanna-be journalists in the blogosphere are trying to make.
SH: So, this is a case that people have heard of, maybe at least – they can go read Justin Raimondo all about it – but the Dennis Hastert thing, this is something that is very opaque, it was reported in the one Vanity Fair article and picked up by basically nobody in the mainstream press…
SE: No-one. Absolutely no-one.
SH: And the Times of London did a three piece special on some of the things, but I think for the most part people… well, you’re referring to investigations that fall apart before they ever start, but that go on all the time, that include the most powerful people. You’ve often referred to high level people in the State Department and the Defense Department, you’re talking about all these congress-people being on the make. I mean, tell the American people, what did you overhear, Sibel. What is it that you know?
SE: Let’s take one name that has been public, because just my case alone involves several people in congress, we are looking about six or seven people just in congress, elected officials. It involves several people in the State Department and several people in the Pentagon. Now as for the congress, Dennis Hastert’s name happened to come out because it was one of the main cases…
SH: That’s the former Speaker of the House of Representatives
SE: Correct. And just, as you mentioned, no-one covered this story. No real denial came from Hastert’s office, or Hastert’s attorney. If it were me, if I was innocent, I would be going after Vanity Fair, I would do everything to clear my name. They didn’t, so they were vindicated. Not only that, only about a month ago, we get this press release that Hastert is now officially working for the Lobby that represents Turkey, and is officially announced that he is getting $35,000 per month, registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, receiving $35,000 per month from Turkey.
If this is not a vindication, if no denial was not a vindication, if the fact that the 2006 Inspector General report was not a vindication, and if some testimony from congressional members such as Grassley and Leahy is not vindication, then I don’t know what is. The mainstream media reported Hastert’s newly acquired job, the former Speaker of the House now works for the government of Turkey – and there is no tie-in saying ‘Three years ago, this and this and this and this was made known to the American people.’
SH: Right, anybody can listen to Daniel Ellsberg on this show or on Democracy Now explaining briefcases full of cash money being delivered to the Speaker of the House to thwart a resolution of no matter what description…
SE: There were a lot of different types of things that Hastert fulfilled for foreign entities. That was one of them. But what does it take for a congressman or woman to guarantee that kind of money – like $35,000 per month – from a foreign government when he leaves his or her job in congress? It doesn’t happen overnight after you leave congress. You need to do what you have to do, serving those people’s interest – even if it involves certain illegal interests – and that goes into your IOU column, and then you get out, and you get officially paid. While you’re in congress, you get unofficially reimbursed for some of these things that you’re doing, and that is through the campaign contributions etc, but the real payback comes when you finish and get out. Now, Hastert was exposed in 2005, and he is bold enough – because he sees himself, and doing this, so untouchable that he felt so bold to get this job, and in fact publicly announced it – that he can look us in the eye and say ‘What are you going to do about it?’ And that is the question, Scott – What do you do about it?
SH: I don’t know. I just do a little radio show, it’s the best idea I can come up with, and it doesn’t do any good. Let me ask you this, and I mean this in all seriousness. Now that the Rosen and Weissman case has been dropped, that really is a blow to the underhanded policy of, you know, the back-door Official Secrets Act that we have in this country known as the court-invented State Secrets Privilege, can you not get with your ACLU lawyers and just sit down and write a book and tell us every single incriminating thing you learned, classified or otherwise to whatever degree, and damn-the-consequences and bring-it-on? Come on, Sibel.
SE: Scott, believe me or not, I would do that whether the question of can-you-or can’t-you is answered or not. But you’ve got to find one organization, and find one mainstream media, and that includes a publishing house, who is willing to do it. Just find one for me and I tell you what, I’m going on the record right now here, I will do it.
SH: All I’ve got to do is find you a publishing house? I mean, that doesn’t seem impossible.
SE: Well, it’s not only a publishing house, because what happens is, regardless of the State Secrets Privilege, all these people who have worked for the FBI, anyone, the agents, the attorneys, the language specialists, as part of getting that job, you sign documents saying that in the future, if you ever write anything, whether there is the State Secrets Privilege or classification, you have to submit your work for pre-publication review.
I need to do that, OK, I have already gone through several law firms and said ‘Here it is, and they looked at it and said ‘Even the most innocent stuff there, you are facing 60-70% of this manuscript – which is ready! It has been ready for quite a while – which will be blacked out. Now once you get the blacked out version not a single person will publish it. What are you going to publish?’ Look at my Inspector General report – 90% of it is blacked out. Nobody is going to publish a blacked-out book! Then, you are in this position of going to court, and start fighting, line-by-line, everything that has been blacked out, saying this was not correct, this is not truly classification, and challenging it.
That’s why I’m telling you, find any organization that would be willing to represent this because they look at me and say ‘Sibel, this is impossible. Especially with your case, this is impossible. It is a fight that you won’t win.’
And I’m going to remind you: I have got so many emails from the people, in fact I started getting these before the election, saying, “Just wait, if we have Obama as president…” or “Now that Obama is president, you should be able to do this and that” and we need to remind people – not your listeners, because they already know – but the State Secrets Privilege not only has not been eliminated, it has been expanded under the new Obama administration.
SE: And you saw what they did with the NSA warrantless wiretapping case. And now you see it was Obama’s Justice Department that made the final decision dropping the AIPAC espionage case.
SH: Well, let me ask you this, was there not classified material, things that you weren’t supposed to say but you did anyway in the series for the Times of London?
SE: With the UK, the London piece, you’re looking at a piece that was written not only based on a conversation, an interview, with me, but with several other people, and those people they still want to remain anonymous because obviously things have not changed. Because, no matter what, even with the Vanity Fair article, in fact, their legal department, their lawyers, instead of their usual requirement of three sources, they said to David Rose ‘You need to have minimum of five sources’ because of the kind of case it is, the State Secrets Privilege. So he had to have a minimum of five sources, and instead of once double-checking, they did the triple double-checking, and each double-checking occurred under a different department because they wanted to make sure that they were protected, both against the government, and also against libel. So that piece came out not only based on Sibel Edmonds providing some information, it was done via five sources, and triple-fact-checking, and obviously nobody dared go after them. How could they?
SH: Well, as much of the story as we know, there sure seems like a hell of a lot, and I know there are real good reporters in this country, not an over-abundance of them, but there are really good journalists, and I don’t know why this whole story hasn’t been broken wide-open yet, and I don’t know what it would take to get the modern day Johnny Cochrane to represent you to actually get this thing done, but I sure wish you the best of luck, and you’re welcome to come back on the show and keep us updated with the story any time, Sibel.
SE: Thank you Scott. It is always a pleasure to be on your show.