- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

Lawmakers are calling for hearings about the FBI’s translation unit, which they say has not addressed problems of mismanagement and lax internal security brought to light by a whistleblower more than two years ago.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, sent a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, complaining that questions he began raising in spring 2002 “remain unanswered.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Hatch, Margarita Tapia, said the chairman “always considers requests for hearings very seriously. We will work with the ranking member to provide an opportunity for these concerns to be voiced. We expect Director Mueller to testify before the committee within the next few months.”

The translation issue goes to the heart of the pre-September 11 failure of the FBI, and the intelligence community in general, to stop the attacks.

Sibel Edmonds, the whistleblower whose revelations about the translation unit are already the subject of inquiries by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department, also has given evidence to the September 11 commission.

Miss Edmonds started work in the translation unit a few days after September 11.

“The way that unit was run was just terrible,” she said. “Some of the people they’d hired couldn’t even speak English, and a lot of material was being mistranslated — or not translated at all, just marked ‘not relevant’ and ignored. I couldn’t believe it.”

Translation — in particular the shortage of linguistic expertise in certain critical languages such as Arabic — always has been a problem for the FBI and a backlog of untranslated material was common, a former senior bureau official told United Press International on condition of anonymity.

Miss Edmonds has said that, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, personnel in the unit were urged by the manager to slow down their pace. She also said that the manager wanted the backlog to worsen so he could make a better case for a bigger budget.

“That is completely absurd,” said a former FBI agent who worked at the Washington field office.

Miss Edmonds also said agents left secure laptop computers lying around while they went to lunch, took classified material home with them and — even more disturbing — some had undeclared contacts with foreign organizations under surveillance.

The FBI said it cannot comment directly on Miss Edmonds’ claims.

However, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and a longtime critic of the FBI, said bureau officials acknowledged some truth to Miss Edmonds’ claims in a series of meetings with Senate staff.

“They admitted most of the facts, but denied the conclusions,” Mr. Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement. Senate staff say the bureau insisted that most of the security lapses were simple “training issues.”

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