Saturday, January 15, 2005

Yahoo! News - Report: FBI botched internal spying probe

Yahoo! News - Report: FBI botched internal spying probe: "Top Stories - Chicago Tribune

Report: FBI botched internal spying probe

Sat Jan 15, 9:40 AM ET Top Stories - Chicago Tribune
By Andrew Zajac Washington Bureau
A former FBI (news - web sites) linguist's allegations of possible espionage involving a colleague are credible but still have not been properly examined nearly three years after they were made, according to a new internal Justice Department (news - web sites) report released Friday.

In his review, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine also concluded that the linguist, Sibel Edmonds, was fired in April 2002 in large part because of her whistle-blowing activity and that the dismissal could have a chilling effect on the willingness of FBI employees to report wrongdoing in the future.

The 37-page assessment documents a superficial inquiry marked by sloppy interviews, shallow research and an unwillingness to look beyond what the department's investigators acknowledged was Edmonds' sometimes difficult personality.

While making no judgment on the merits of her claims of serious security breaches, the report said they "were supported by various pieces of evidence" and that "the FBI did not, and still has not adequately investigated these allegations."

In a statement Friday, the FBI said an investigation into Edmonds' allegations is ongoing. It also cited an e-mail sent last summer to bureau employees from FBI Director Robert Mueller in which he pledged "his commitment to protecting from retaliation all employees, including contractors . . . who raise good faith concerns."

The inspector general's findings are the second black eye for the nation's top law-enforcement agency in two days. On Thursday, the bureau acknowledged that it likely will scrap a highly touted $170 million computer system for tracking cases because of flaws.

Problems exposed

The report also calls further attention to the FBI's already struggling foreign-language translation program.

Last October, Fine issued a review disclosing that the bureau had a backlog of more than 100,000 hours of audio in languages used by suspected terrorists and was hard-pressed to find qualified linguists.

The shoddy internal inquiry in Edmonds' case was particularly troubling to Fine because it came barely a year after the February 2001 arrest of Robert Hanssen (news - web sites), the former FBI agent whose selling of secrets to Moscow went undetected for years, despite reports from co-workers of troubling behavior.

"The Hanssen case demonstrates that an individual reporting a security-related concern about another employee may not have the whole story, but may provide sufficient information to focus attention on a person deserving of further scrutiny," the report said in a footnote.

The Edmonds report was originally 100 pages and was completed last July, but classified "Secret."

After Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) pressed for public release of the findings, the FBI negotiated with Fine's office and produced Friday's summary, stripped of classified material. Both senators criticized the bureau for its treatment of Edmonds.

Edmonds was hired in late September 2001 as a contract employee to translate surveillance wiretaps that were in Turkish.

Some allegations valid

According to records from a lawsuit Edmonds filed to get her job back, she suspected that the co-worker, a Turkish linguist in Washington, failed to translate transcripts of recorded conversations involving people she knew, steered co-workers away from certain recordings and leaked wiretap information to acquaintances.

Edmonds also made other accusations that Fine said could not be substantiated. But he said most of the complaints involving the co-worker, who was not named and no longer works for the FBI, warrant scrutiny.

Mark Zaid, the attorney for Edmonds, said the report vindicates her. "Not only does the bureau owe her an apology but compensation for her termination," he said.

Edmonds is appealing a federal judge's dismissal of her lawsuit last summer. The judge accepted the Justice Department's argument that a trial would expose national secrets.

Zaid said Fine's findings will bolster Edmonds' appeal, but she also is suing to get release of the entire document.

The review said that Edmonds "was not an easy employee to manage" and that she had used her home computer to write some of her complaints containing classified information, which the bureau considered a security violation.

But, the report concludes, "we believe that the FBI did not take [her allegations] seriously enough" and they were "the most significant factor in the FBI's decision to terminate her services.""

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