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Jefferson Morley

Sept. 11 Allegations Lost in Translation

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2004; 9:51 AM

The sensational story of Sibel Edmonds illuminates the world of difference between the international online media and the U.S. press.

Edmonds is a 33-year-old former FBI translator whose February allegations to the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks directly challenge the credibility of the commission's star witness, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. In an April 2 interview with the http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/story.jsp?story=507514 Independent of London, Edmonds said she read intelligence reports from the summer of 2001 that al Qaeda operatives planned to fly hijacked airplanes into U.S. skyscrapers.

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"There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used but not specifically about how they would be used and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks," she said. She added that specific cities with skyscrapers were mentioned.

Edmonds said that she had provided the commission's staff with "specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily."

Edmonds took issue with Rice's assertion in a March 22 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A13881-2004Mar21.html Washington Post Op-Ed piece that the United States had no intelligence warning of al Qaeda's tactics. "That is impossible," she said.

As Rice's appearance before the commission grew into a huge news story, Edmonds's account went global. The Independent's story received respectful, extensive treatment from news sites on every continent, ranging from http://www.cronica.com.mx/nota.php?idc=117944 Cronica de Hoy (in Spanish) in Mexico City to Munich's http://www.sueddeutsche.de/ausland/artikel/632/29603/ Sueddeutsche Zeitung (in German) to the http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticle.asp?xfile=data/theworld/2004/April/theworld_April31.xmlsection=theworld Khaleej Times in the Persian Gulf to the http://www.nzherald.co.nz/storydisplay.cfm?storyID=3558620thesection=newsthesubsection=world New Zealand Herald in the South Pacific.

Edmonds's story has been almost uniformly ignored in the U.S. daily press. Her allegations have been detailed in the online magazine http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/03/26/translator/ Salon and several liberal sites are playing them up. The Independent's story was mentioned briefly on Monday in Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing blog on http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A51323-2004Apr5.html washingtonpost.com. Tim Russert briefly quizzed the Republican and Democratic heads of the 9/11 commission about Edmonds during Sunday's "Meet the Press" program on NBC. Former Clinton White House aide Paul Begala mentioned it last week on CNN's "Crossfire." But the only U.S. newspaper to give Edmonds any extended coverage was the http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20040402-064359-3845r.htm Washington Times. In January, a page-one New York Observer article on Edmonds's complaints about lax security in the FBI's translation office did not include the allegations that first appeared in the Independent.

Clearly, what we have here are two different standards of journalism: one American, one nearly global. The question is where does this difference come from?

One possible explanation is that the heart of Edmonds's story remains unconfirmed. Edmonds did work as a translator for the FBI for six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, but she was fired from her post for unspecified reasons. The documents that she says will corroborate her story have not yet surfaced and may not exist.

Perhaps U.S. news organizations are prudently laying off a story that may not be true while foreign editors are less scrupulous. As my roundup on foreign coverage of Matt Drudge's unconfirmed story about http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A47805-2004Feb17.html" >John Kerry's alleged affair showed, news sites in England, Australia and Africa are more likely to run an unconfirmed story than their U.S. counterparts.

Foreign news organizations cite several qualities that make Edmonds seem a credible witness. She won good reviews for her work at the FBI. She told her story to the Sept. 11 commission staff. When she took her complaint about lax FBI security to Congress, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, a conservative Republican, called her "very credible."

Edmonds's story is newsworthy for three reasons, according to the overseas sites.

Edmonds's accusation "starkly contradicts claims by senior Bush Administration figures that they had no prior warning of the attacks in 2001 on New York and Washington," said the http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=2729669 Scotsman, a generally conservative paper in Scotland whose editors favored the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Edmonds's charges dovetail with another pre-Sept. 11 revelation, reporter Shaheen Chughtai noted Tuesday on http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/FD0E43E1-30D9-41FB-94BD-02DD3DED4D7D.htm Aljazeera.net, the Web site of the Arab cable news channel.

Chughtai cited a Sept. 2002 NBC News report that on Aug. 6, 2001, President Bush "received a one-and-a-half page briefing advising him that Osama bin Laden was capable of a major strike against the US, and that the plot could include the hijacking of an American airplane."

And finally, Edmonds's allegations go to the very heart of the Sept. 11 probe, according to Mushadid Hussain, a leading Pakistani political commentator. Writing in the http://www.hipakistan.com/en/detail.php?newsId=en60180F_catID=17f_type=sourceday=1 Nation, the leading paper of Pakistan, he asked if Sept. 11 was "an intelligence fiasco" or the result of "a more fundamental flaw that had its origin in a policy, which simply refused to take threats from non-state actors like Al-Qaeda seriously?"

Will Condoleezza Rice address Edmonds's allegations when she takes the stand? If she does, people around the world may be more likely than Americans to know her name.

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