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August 13, 2002
Hon. John Ashcroft
Dear General Ashcroft:
We are writing jointly in order that you might allay our concern about the status of the investigation into allegations made by Sibel Edmonds, a former contract linguist in the Washington Field Office of the FBI. Although we understand that the matter is currently under investigation by the Inspector General, we are troubled that the Department of Justice, including the FBI, may not be acting quickly enough to address the issues raised by Ms. Edmonds' complaints or cooperating fully with the Inspector General's office.
By way of background, Ms. Edmonds first raised concerns about security problems and the integrity of important translations earlier this year. Unfortunately, nearly every person at the FBI who was notified of the situation reacted by questioning why Ms. Edmonds was "causing trouble." Indeed, the FBI's first internal security action in this case focused on Ms. Edmonds, instead of the allegations that she raised in good faith as a whistleblower and which bore on national security and the war against terrorism.
Ms. Edmonds has made a number of serious allegations, some of which the FBI verified during an unclassified briefing for Judiciary Committee staff on June 17. First, Ms. Edmonds has alleged that a contract monitor in her unit ("monitor") chose not to translate important, intelligence-related information, instead limiting her translation to unimportant and innocuous information. The FBI has verified that this monitor indeed failed to translate intelligence-related information, but has attributed the failure to a lack of training as opposed to a malicious act.
That conclusion is directly related to Ms. Edmond's second allegation. Ms. Edmonds alleged that the same contract monitor once worked for an organization associated with the target of a counter-intelligence investigation and that the monitor had unreported contacts with a foreign national who was a member of the target institution. Additionally, Ms. Edmonds states that some of the mistranslated recordings on which the monitor actually worked contained conversations by this same foreign national with whom the monitor had such contacts. Finally, the foreign national disclosed in recorded conversations that he handled intelligence matters. This fact was among the information that was not translated or summarized by the monitor.
Even after verifying these allegations, the FBI downplayed the importance of this matter and seemed to imply that it had ceased looking into the complaints as a security matter until after the Inspector General Office finishes its investigation. Anyone who remembers the long-time treachery of former FBI Agent Robert Hanssen would be concerned at this reaction. For years, Hanssen's bizarre actions were also written off as minor security breaches and unworthy of serious consideration. If even routine diligence had been exercised earlier, Hanssen could have been stopped from doing untold damage. The FBI needs to learn from its mistakes.
In addition to general concerns raised by this case, we have several specific concerns we wish to raise for your review. First, we have learned that a person central to the investigation -- the monitor referred to earlier -- will be leaving the country in early September, which most likely will be before the investigation is resolved. If you or your staff would like to know the identity of the monitor, please contact Inspector General Fine's office, with whom Senator Grassley's staff has been in touch. The monitor may hold dual citizenship with the United States and a foreign country and may possess a valid passport issued by that foreign country. Thus, there will be little or no assurance that the monitor will return or cooperate with an investigation in the future. Based on these facts, we would like your assurance that you are satisfied that there has been and will be no delay that will prejudice, in any way, the outcome of this investigation.
Furthermore, we would like your assurance that the Department of Justice, including the FBI, will fully cooperate in all aspects of the inquiry. For instance, we draw your attention to the fact that the FBI currently opposes depositions of the monitor and her husband as part of the investigation into this case. The FBI takes this position despite the fact that the monitor is no longer employed by the FBI, that the monitor's husband never worked at the FBI and even though the military agency that employs the monitor's husband does not oppose a deposition. Moreover, we understand that the monitor and her husband have signed a letter stating they will make themselves available for depositions. It is unclear, then, why the FBI is taking this position in the wake of such important allegations bearing on national security. We hope that you will ensure that the FBI is fully compliant with the Inspector General's inquiry as it proceeds.
Finally, we are concerned about the most crucial evidence in the case -- the recordings that were allegedly improperly translated. Because these bear directly on the veracity of Ms. Edmonds' allegations, we seek your assurance that the recordings will be properly maintained, turned over to the Inspector General's Office and promptly translated by a competent and independent authority. That way the validity of the complaint can be quickly evaluated.
We know that you share our concern that the FBI address issues bearing on national security in a prompt manner, regardless of whether or not they cast the FBI in a positive light. Only by honest evaluation can the FBI learn from its past mistakes. We thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter. We request a reply in writing by Wednesday, August 28, 2002.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy