Thursday, March 8, 2007

An Interview With Sibel Edmonds and James Bamford

Sibel Edmonds and James Bamford had a great interview with Scott Horton yesterday.

Click here to listen. The full transcript is here.
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Some snippets:

Horton: The first question is for you Sibel: What is the State Secrets Privilege?

Edmonds: The State Secrets Privilege is an executive privilege that is based on common law – it was never turned into a law by Congress – and it was a privilege that was meant to be used rarely. And that was the case up until a few years ago, before this administration came into power. What happens is, this is when the government comes forward when there is litigation in court and says the facts involved in this litigation would hurt certain State-related secrets. They may be military secrets, or intelligence related, and as I said, this privilege has been abused repeatedly in the past five or six years.
[snip]

Horton: Now, Sibel, is it not the case that the secrets that you know would compromise national security if you were to tell us?

Edmonds: Well, no!

Actually this is exactly what my attorneys at the ACLU argue. For example, we had this public report by the Justice Department's own Inspector General's office – they issued an unclassified version of that report which basically vindicated my case – and they wanted to introduce this report into evidence, right, and the government said "No, that is covered by the State Secrets Privilege." Here is a report, a document that is readily available on the website of the Justice Department, but the Justice Department says "We consider it State Secrets Privilege, and classified."

Now, they did the same thing with my languages – the languages I speak, they called the nature of those languages as a State Secrets Privilege. They even went further, they said that where I went to school, and the topics of my university studies, they were all covered by the State Secrets Privilege. In fact, where I was born, and the countries I was raised in, they were all considered State Secrets Privilege, which is just absolutely bizarre!

And what is even more troubling is the fact that three judges in the appellate court agreed with it. Here is a government coming in this Kafkaesque situation, and claiming that my languages, my place of birth and even my date of birth, they were all covered by the State Secrets Privilege. And you have three judges sitting on the bench, saying "Okay – we agree with the government. The entire case, and this information, is considered State Secrets Privilege."

Horton: Well, there's one branch of government left, if one branch is putting State Secrets Privilege on you, and another is upholding it, then all that's left is the U.S. Congress, and I see that you guys have a petition that has come out today, which has signatories from more than 30 organizations – it's quite a list – the ACLU, Citizen Outreach, Office of Management & Budget Watch, EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Center), Government Accountability Project, Electronic Freedom Foundation, the National Coalition Against the Censorship, Downsize DC (glad to see them on there), September 11th Advocates, Citizen Outreach... and this petition is demanding hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives, right?

Edmonds: Correct. And it is very good to see that you have these various groups, some of them are active within the Civil Liberties community, others are considered whistleblower organizations, there are organizations that deal with privacy issues, and all of these organizations have come together and they are considering this case as a very important case that needs to have public hearings – because as I said, it's very troubling.
[snip]

So what we want right now is we want to have open, public hearings where we can put witnesses on the stand under oath. There are several veteran agents who are willing, who want to come forward and testify, because I was not the only person who reported these issues. These other agents reported these cases to the Justice Department, Inspector General's office, with the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, and most of these agents also have gone to the various offices in the Congress. They have gone to Senator Grassley, and Senator Leahy, for the Judiciary Committee, and some of these people have come forward and provided information to Congressman Waxman's office. So we want to have these witnesses stand there and tell the American public, tell the Representatives what really has been happening within these agencies, and the criminal activities that have been taking place there.
[snip]
Horton: Right. Now, in terms of trying to get hearings, I know that you've been as loud as you are allowed to be this whole time in trying to get an official, public investigation so that the American people can find out about this, but now is pretty good timing, it seems like. We have this new FBI agent coming forward, Gilbert Graham, who has made some allegations [.pdf] concerning the very wiretaps that you listened to Sibel.

James, can you tell us a bit of the background of this guy, Gilbert Graham, who he is, and what's important about what he's now finally come out and said publicly?

Bamford: Well, I think he's a very courageous whistleblower. He worked at the FBI in the counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism area and he worked on a very sensitive political investigation involving Turkey, corruption within the Bush administration and people that were dealing with Turkey, and money being passed and so forth. The FBI was investigating this, and he realized that the FBI was asking for warrants that were known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance warrants. These warrants, known as FISA warrants are very easy to get, it doesn't require much in the way of evidentiary information to get them, and they were using those very easy-to-get FISA warrants in order to avoid having to show probable cause to get a regular warrant, a criminal-type warrant.

So he complained to the Inspector General's office that this was illegal, and it is. That was the whole reason that they originally set up those two types of warrants, you have the easier warrants, the FISA warrant, in order to get intelligence information, but if you're trying to look into a criminal case, you need a probable-cause warrant. And the FBI decided to try the easy warrant to avoid going the legal route – so he complained about that and that was a part of the case that Sibel was involved in. What makes it very interesting is the fact that the government used the State Secrets Privilege to try to hide what was going on, which was obviously illegality and used it against Sibel so she couldn't bring any of that illegality out in her case.

Horton: And we see why it's so difficult then, to get this story out, all sides agree to go ahead and use this State Secrets Privilege on her because the FBI agents who have [found] criminality on the part of the people they were investigating, they were breaking the law in order to get that evidence.

Bamford: That's right, that's a criminal violation to try to bypass the legal requirement for getting a warrant, and instead getting a FISA warrant when you're going after a criminal case. So, again, for an FBI agent who's been there for over 20 years, to actually write a letter like that to the Inspector General's office, that's a very big decision, and a lot of times it's a career ending decision – so it requires an awful lot of courage, but it also requires somebody that knows really what's going on and to feel that the American public should know that this is going on. So there's really two elements here – one is the illegality on the part of the FBI by going this route and getting the easier warrant when they should be getting the other one, and the second element is the illegality of the case they were looking into – the fact that there are people involved in the Turkish government, there were people involved in Turkish lobbies, people involved in the Bush administration, high officials in the Bush administration who were getting payoffs, getting money, and that was what the corruption investigation was looking into.

Horton: Wow Sibel, it sure sounds like you stepped into the perfect storm here. Did you have any idea that these wiretaps, these documents that you were translating, that these had come from illegal warrants?

Edmonds: At the time, no! In fact, I did not find out about it until a few months ago when our organization was contacted by several agents. Now we have the name of one of them, and that is Special Agent Gilbert Graham. He retired in 2002, and he filed his complaints with the FBI OPR and the Justice Department Inspector General's office, he went to Senator Grassley's office, he went to Senator Leahy's office a few months before my case became public. It was a few months before Inspector General's office started investigating my case – but I was not aware of the fact at the time, and I found out about it a few months ago, and since then, two other witnesses, and again these are veterans, agents and specialists, who have come forward, providing us with information. They are willing to testify before Congress, but they don't want to become public, they are not after publicity – in fact they're trying to protect their privacy, but they are courageous enough, as Jim mentioned, to say "Look, I'm aware of this, I have documentation, we know other witnesses within the FBI."

And here is another thing, the agents themselves, we're talking about the street level agents, case agents, these are patriotic great guys. So it was not these agents going and violating these rules, but it was taking place within the FBI's administrative headquarters and the higher-ups within the Justice Department. So, no, I did not know about this until a few months ago, and it was a revelation for me, because I was like "Oh, here is one other reason that everybody wanted to cover up this case by invoking the State Secrets Privilege."

Everybody was happy in the end because on one hand you have corrupt congressional representatives – several of them, and they know who they are and they know about this case. Then, you have people in the State Department – you have at least one individual within the State Department – you have two or three individuals within the Pentagon and you also have certain well-known lobbyists. So this was a case where the Justice Department didn't want their own illegal actions, in terms of conducting these wiretap operations, to be known – so they had their own reason of quashing this thing and basically wanting to cover it up via the State Secrets Privilege.

You had the State Department wanting to have it covered up, you had the Pentagon, and then also you had the Congress not having the reason, the motivation – which should be representing the American people and fulfilling their obligations to the American people – not wanting to touch the case because it's a controversial case.

Another troubling aspect of this new case is the fact that we don't know what they did with this information that they obtained illegally. Obviously they did not transfer it to the criminal division to be investigated – so what did they do with this information? Based on what we are getting from our sources, and these are people who have recently left the Bureau, it would not be illogical to actually consider the fact that the Bureau and the Justice Department may be using this information to actually blackmail people within Congress.

Horton: That makes perfect sense, and it reminds of that great article by David Rose in Vanity Fair about your case where he talked to different officials at the FBI and the Congressional Committees that you spoke to in secret session who implicated [former House Speaker] Dennis Hastert receiving suitcases full of cash, bribes, drug money and God-knows-what.
[snip]
Horton: Alright, James Bamford, when I look into this case, I keep finding the names Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Marc Grossman, and, well, various people close to AIPAC, and what Col. Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former aide, calls "the Cheney cabal" – but in a lot of cases, it seems this story is a lot bigger than just the Cheney cabal, we're talking about widespread corruption from both parties, all different agencies. Your comment?

Bamford: Well, that's exactly right, we're just seeing one tip of the iceberg yesterday with the conviction of Libby and that was one of the rare instances where somebody was actually brought to trial. What we don't see is all the stuff that went on behind the scenes where nobody has been arrested, and nobody has been brought to trial, and that's what the State Secrets Privilege was put in to hide – and a lot of that involved money being passed, and a lot of this has been going on for years, and was being used tremendously by the Republicans who have been very big on supplying money to Turkey and very big on supplying money to people that represent Turkey.

So that's the thing that really needs to be looked into – where is this money going, where is it coming from, who is getting it, how much involvement was there with the former Speaker of the House – how much did Denny Hastert have to do with this? Those are the issues that really could be brought out if they do have a congressional hearing. The court is pretty much out of the picture at this point since Sibel's case has gone all the way to the Supreme Court and it's been turned down. So the next avenue to pursue it is by having a congressional hearing, and now that the Democrats are in power, there's a possibility of having the entire case brought out during a congressional hearing which is something that couldn't have happened during the time when the Republicans were in control of Congress – so that is the next stage, and I hope that's what is going to happen after Sibel's petition has just come out.
[snip]
Horton: Alright, well in the last few minutes here Sibel, why don't you go ahead and explain your group, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, and call for support, whatever you want.

Edmonds: Okay, well, this petition is going to be posted on all these organizations that have signed on, and you named a few of those organizations, and we have posted it on our website, NSWBC.org – that stands for National Security Whistleblowers Coalition – and in addition, in a few days, we are going to launch this public action campaign, and there will be a website where your listeners, and our supporters, the American public, can go and send this petition Congressman Waxman, Chairman Waxman's office, and urge him to set a date for this hearing and make sure that the hearing is a public hearing, and it's about the case, and to have these witnesses to stand there under oath and testify.

One other thing I would like to mention, and that's what you asked Jim about the fact that this went back to 1996, 97 – you need to realize that these people were not really out of the picture, because during those years, both say, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, they were registered foreign agents for the government of Turkey and they were actively lobbying on behalf of Turkey. And when I say Turkey, I'm not talking about Turkey the country. Certain elements, the interest groups within Turkey, so you're looking at the same people.

Marc Grossman was the ambassador of Turkey, and then in 1997 he came and took a fairly high-level position in the State Department in 1997 – so Grossman didn't come to his office during this current administration, but he's been there – so you're looking at the same cabal. The fact that their tentacles were within the government agencies, even during those years, and of course, it became that much deeper, and stronger, during this administration is very important to remember.

And so much has been public – and this is why it's important to emphasize the fact that they just can't go willy-nilly and invoke the State Secrets Privilege and hope that the case will go just away. This needs to come out completely, and we need to see some accountability. And if Congress moves forward and holds this public hearing, I can guarantee you that you are going to be seeing some major criminal indictments here because we are not talking about light-level stuff – we are talking about very serious criminal activities.

Horton: That's right. And in fact anybody who wants to really delve into the background of Sibel Edmonds case, please go to Antiwar.com and check the archives for my interview last week of Luke Ryland who is the world's best investigator on this case as far as I can tell.

Edmonds: Yes, he is.

Horton: We're out of time here. Any final closing comments from either of you?

Bamford: I just want to supply my support to Sibel's effort here. I think she's been doing a fantastic job of trying to get this out there, and all the listeners out there, I hope they join in with their support.

Horton: I'd like to add too that the Constitution is far from perfect, but the House of Representatives is un-elected, or re-elected every two years – and that means each of those individual congressmen has to do what their constituents say. If their constituents demand that something happens, they will tend to go along. They will never see the light, but sometimes they can feel the heat – so it is not a pointless task to contact your congressman and pressure them to hold these hearings. This is important stuff.

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I'm with Scott, and Sibel, and Bamford. It's important that we get these hearings, and it's important the we hold Congress' feet to the fire.

Please phone and demand hearings. Congressmen Waxman - (202) 225-3976 - and Conyers - (202) 225-5126 (Capitol switchboard - 800-828-0498)

1 comment:

Tulla said...

Interesting to know.