Just when information from terrorism suspects needed urgent translation right after the Sept. 11 attack, the FBI unit that did that work deliberately slowed down to create a backlog that might win the unit more money and staff.
That's what a former translator who worked at the FBI tells Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes this Sunday, Oct. 27, at 7 PM, ET/PT.
Sibel Edmonds, hired as a translator of Turkish and other Middle Eastern languages after Sept. 11, has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the FBI, which she claims fired her for bringing the corruption to light. "Let the documents pile up so we can show it and say that we need more translators and expand the department," Edmonds says one of her supervisors urged.
When Edmonds wasn't slowing down enough, that supervisor forced her by deleting her work, she says. "The next day I would come to work and the translation would be gone," she tells Bradley. Edmonds says when she confronted the supervisor, "He said, 'Consider it a lesson and don't talk about it to anybody else and don't mention it.'"
It was frustrating for Edmonds, she says, because the agents who needed the translations were working hard. "The first two months after the September 11 event…[The agents] were working around the clock…I would receive calls from these people saying, 'Would you please prioritize this and translate it?" she says.
Edmonds was fired after bringing these and other charges to the attention of FBI supervisors and a top official in the bureau. She then went to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees the FBI.
"She's credible and the reason I feel she's very credible is because people within the FBI have corroborated a lot of her story," says Grassley. She's told her whole story in a private session of Grassley's committee and the senator believes it's time to change things.
"If [the translation unit] got word today… the Hoover Dam was going to be blown up…it takes a week or two to get it translated…you couldn't intervene to prevent [the bombing] from happening," he tells Bradley, "[The translation unit] needs to be turned upside down," says Grassley.
In its rush to hire more foreign-language translators after Sept. 11, the FBI admits it has had difficulty performing background checks to detect translators who may have loyalties to other governments, which could pose a threat to U.S. national security.
Take the case of Jan Dickerson, a Turkish translator who worked with Edmonds. The FBI has admitted that when Dickerson was hired last November, the bureau didn't know that she'd worked for a Turkish organization being investigated by the FBI's own counter-intelligence unit. And they didn't know she'd had a relationship with aTurskish intelligence officer stationed in Washington who was the target of that investigation.
According to Edmonds, Dickerson tried to recruit her into that organization and insisted that Dickerson be the only one to translate the FBI's wiretaps of that Turkish official.
When Edmonds refused to go along with her plan, she says Dickerson threatened her and her family's life.
Edmonds also says that when she reviewed Dickerson's translations of those tapes, she found that Dickerson had left out information crucial to the FBI's investigation – information that Edmonds says would have revealed that the Turkish intelligence officer had spies working for him inside the U.S. State Department and at The Pentagon.
Edmonds says she complained repeatedly to her bosses about what she'd found on the wiretaps and about Dickerson's conduct, but that nobody at the FBI wanted to hear about it – she says not even the assistant special agent in charge.
The FBI has not responded to numerous attempts to seek comment on Edmonds' allegations and other charges in Bradley's report.