Skip to main content /US /US

Justice probes FBI translator allegations

Justice probes FBI translator allegations

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department has launched an investigation into a whistleblower's allegations of serious problems -- including possible espionage -- among FBI translators handling top secret surveillance, government officials told CNN Wednesday.

The officials said investigators for Inspector General Glenn Fine have begun examining claims of Sibel Edmonds, an FBI contract linguist who was fired in March after she complained to superiors about the suspicious actions of a co-worker.

Edmonds told the FBI that another translator, who has not been publicly identified, belonged to an organization that was a target of FBI surveillance and had not reported contacts with a foreign government official who was under surveillance.

Edmonds and the co-worker were hired to translate sensitive wiretaps resulting from court-approved government surveillance.

An official in the inspector general's office acknowledged the probe had been opened, but declined to comment on the investigation.

Attorneys Stephen Kohn and David Colapinto, who represent Edmonds, told CNN the inspector general's investigators have already interviewed her.

Her allegations prompted Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to demand an FBI briefing, which they received Monday.

Attack on America
 CNN NewsPass Video 
Agencies reportedly got hijack tips in 1998
Intelligence intercept led to Buffalo suspects
Report cites warnings before 9/11
Timeline: Who Knew What and When?
Interactive: Terror Investigation
Terror Warnings System
Most wanted terrorists
What looks suspicious?
In-Depth: America Remembers
In-Depth: Terror on Tape
In-Depth: How prepared is your city?
On the Scene: Barbara Starr: Al Qaeda hunt expands?
On the Scene: Peter Bergen: Getting al Qaeda to talk

Leahy and Grassley sent a letter Tuesday to the inspector general asking he investigate not only Edmonds' allegations but also the FBI's use and management of contract linguists.

"Ms. Edmonds has alleged and the FBI has confirmed that another contract linguist in the FBI unit to which Ms. Edmonds was assigned failed to translate at least two communications reflecting a foreign government official's handling of intelligence for that foreign government," said the senators' letter.

"The FBI has confirmed that the contract linguist had 'unreported contacts' with that foreign government official."

The senators said they urged the inspector general to find out whether any counterintelligence inquiries or assessments were made regarding the unauthorized contacts.

The lawmakers also informed the Justice Department that "Ms. Edmonds has alleged, and the FBI has confirmed, that the FBI assigned a contract language 'monitor' to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, contrary to FBI policy that only more qualified 'linguists' be assigned to Guantanamo Bay.

"What circumstances led to the contract monitor being considered qualified for this assignment, and what were the consequences, if any, for the effectiveness of the interrogation of those being detained at Guantanamo?" the senators asked the inspector general.

The FBI's chief of language services, Margaret Gulotta, said through a spokesman that the FBI had hired 400 translators in the past two years, reducing the backlog on high priority cases while upholding strict background checks.

"We have not compromised our standards in terms of language proficiency and security," Gulotta said.

The Justice Department inspector general's office said it had no information on reported claims by another FBI agent, John Cole, about possible security problems in the screening and hiring of translators. The senators did not mention allegations by anyone other than Edmonds.




Back to the top