Friday, January 14, 2005

Accusations by an FBI contract linguist fired after complaining about suspected security breaches and misconduct in the bureau’s post-September 11 foreign language translation program “had some basis in fact” and are supported by documents and other witnesses, a report said yesterday.

The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, in an unclassified summary of a secret, 100-page report issued in July, said the FBI should have “more thoroughly” investigated accusations by the linguist, Sibel Edmonds.

“The allegations, if true, had potentially damaging consequences and warranted a thorough and careful review by the FBI, which did not occur,” said Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. “The FBI’s failure to handle her allegations adequately contributed to Edmonds’ increasingly vociferous complaints, which ultimately led to the termination of her services.”

Mrs. Edmonds, a native of Iran who was raised in Turkey and speaks fluent Farsi and Turkish, worked under an FBI contract from September 2001 until March 2002, when she was terminated for using her home computer to write a memo that contained classified information. She had raised concerns regarding the FBI’s foreign language translation program, including accusations that a co-worker might have compromised an investigation.

She also complained that her termination was in retaliation for her complaints.

The FBI yesterday said an investigation into the accusations is continuing, and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has told senior bureau executives to protect employees against retaliation for raising concerns.

Mr. Fine said the evidence did not show that the co-worker, who was not identified, had disclosed classified information, but the matter should have been better investigated. He said that while the co-worker passed a lie-detector test, he described polygraph examinations as “not ideal” and said no further tests were conducted.

Citing the arrest of veteran FBI agent Robert Hanssen as a Russian spy, Mr. Fine said 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.”

FBI translators have been reviewing hundreds of thousands of hours of wiretap recordings and other electronic intercepts from counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations since the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Fine also said that while Mrs. Edmonds did not qualify for “whistleblower” protections because she was a contractor rather than an FBI employee, the bureau could not show, by clear and convincing evidence, that it would have terminated her contract absent her accusations.

“We also concluded that by terminating Edmonds’ services, in large part because of her allegations of misconduct, the FBI’s actions also could have the effect of discouraging others from raising concerns,” he said.

In a statement, Mrs. Edmonds said that after three years, “the government is finally admitting that the FBI acted improperly by firing me, and also affirming that my reports of serious problems within the agency were based on fact.” But, she said, the FBI had yet to conduct a thorough investigation into the accusations.

In a lawsuit last year, Mrs. Edmonds said she was dismissed after repeatedly complaining to FBI executives about incorrect translations of court-authorized wiretaps. She said she also told the executives that a fellow translator of Turkish at the FBI’s Washington field office with a relative at a foreign embassy might have compromised national security by passing wiretap information to an investigative target.

The unclassified summary had been sought by Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, who complained about Mrs. Edmonds’ termination and about work inside the FBI’s translation program.

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