Justice Dept. Opposes Bid To Revive Case Against F.B.I.
By JOHN FILES -- February 26, 2005 – The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 - The government has told a federal appeals court that a suit by an F.B.I. translator who was fired after accusing the bureau of ineptitude should not be allowed to proceed because it would cause "significant damage to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."

Lawyers for the government said in a brief filed with the court on Thursday that the suit could not continue without disclosing privileged and classified information. The translator, Sibel Edmonds, was a contract linguist for the bureau for about six months, translating material in Azerbaijani, Farsi and Turkish. Ms. Edmonds was dismissed in 2002 after complaining repeatedly that bureau linguists had produced slipshod and incomplete translations of important terrorism intelligence before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Ms. Edmonds also accused a fellow Turkish linguist in the Washington field office of blocking the translation of material involving acquaintances who had come under suspicion and said the bureau had allowed diplomatic sensitivities with other nations to affect the translation of important intelligence.

"The effect of the government's posture in this case will be to discourage national security whistle-blowers," said Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who is helping Ms. Edmonds. "She is fighting for the right to prove that she was wrongfully terminated."

The case has become a lightning rod for critics who contend that the bureau retaliated against Ms. Edmonds and other whistle-blowers who have sought to expose management problems related to the antiterrorism campaign.

The A.C.L.U. joined her cause last month, when it asked the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reinstate her suit against the government. The suit was dismissed in July after Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked a rarely used power and declared the case as falling under "state secret" privilege.

The judge who issued that ruling, Reggie B. Walton of Federal District Court, had said he was satisfied with government statements that the suit could expose intelligence-gathering methods and disrupt diplomatic relations.

The Justice Department said in its brief that the appeals court should affirm Judge Walton's decision, adding: "The district court correctly recognized what the classified declarations in the record establish: the privileged information here is fundamentally implicated by Edmonds's allegations, and the case cannot be litigated without disclosure of that information, which would damage national security."

The case touches on potential vulnerabilities for the bureau, including its ability to translate sensitive counterterrorism material, its treatment of whistle-blowers and its classification of sensitive material that critics say could embarrass the bureau.

The Justice Department retroactively classified a 2002 Congressional briefing about the case and some related letters from lawmakers, but this week it decided to permit the information to be released. The inspector general of the department concluded last month that the F.B.I. had failed to aggressively investigate Ms. Edmonds's accusations of espionage and fired her in large part for raising them.

In a report that the department sought for months to keep classified, the inspector general issued a sharp rebuke to the bureau over its handling of Ms. Edmonds's accusations. It reached no conclusions about whether her co-worker had actually engaged in espionage, and it did not give details about the espionage accusations because they remain classified.

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