Sibel Edmonds on Michael Isikoff, Newsweek...
By Sibel Edmonds on 6/3/2009, 3:42pm PT  

Guest Blogged by Sibel Edmonds

Last week, 123 Real Change, announced the experimental 'Project Expose MSM' in hopes of providing readers with specific, documented cases of blackout and/or misinformation in the mainstream media, based on the first-hand experiences of legitimate and credible sources and whistleblowers.

As noted in the announcement, 123 Real Change invites all members of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, other active (covert or overt) government whistleblowers, and reporters, to publish their experiences in regard to their own first-hand dealings with the media, where their legit disclosures were either intentionally censored/blacked out, tainted, or otherwise met with a betrayal of trust.

Here is the first project report, this one based on my own first-hand documented experience. In 2003 Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff interviewed me for, and then published a story on the FBI translation program. His report knowingly omitted crucial facts, directly relevant cases, witness statements and confirmed official reports, while advancing the FBI's already-discredited point of view...

Name, title, and/or background:
Name: Sibel Edmonds
Title: Founder & Director of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC), former FBI Language Specialist.
Background: For my bio click here. For relevant case background click here.

Name of Publication and/or Editor and/or Reporter:
Publication: Newsweek
Reporter: Michael Isikoff
Editor: Unknown

Description of Disclosure and Significance:
On October 27, 2003 , Newsweek published 'Lost in Translation,' an article by Michael Isikoff on the FBI translation program, its problems, and the impact on the post-9/11 war on terror.

For more than a year prior to the publication of Mr. Isikoff's article, the following facts had become official and public:

1. My case was the FBI Translation Division's first publicly known and officially confirmed whistleblowing case. At the time that Newsweek published their article, the case had already become public. It had been filed and was being fought before the courts. Senate investigations had resulted in official public confirmations, and an FBI Inspector General's investigation was well on its way.

2. A joint Senate investigation of the FBI Washington Field Office Translation Division by Senators Grassley (R) & Leahy (D), and several press releases and statements by their offices had confirmed security breaches, possible espionage incidents, and severe mismanagement involving the FBI Translation Division. You can view a few samples of these statements and confirmation by Congress here [PDF], here, here and here.

3. There were also two separate ongoing investigations into the FBI Translation Division by the Justice Department's IG. One investigation [PDF] was focused on espionage-related reports in my case, while the other was an audit on the performance of the FBI Language Division requested by Congress. The IG's 'audit' had already been released, in August 2003, before Mr. Isikoff's article, and here is a very relevant conclusion of the IG's report [emphasis added]: "Some of the most serious weaknesses still have not been fully remedied and expose the FBI to the risk of serious compromises by other moles."

4. Several major news releases and extensive coverage of the FBI Translation Division by the MSM had already occurred. Examples include: CBS-60 Minutes segment 'Lost in Translation' (from which the title of the Newsweek article by Mr. Isikoff was taken) and Washington Post articles.

5. Other witnesses and whistleblowers had come forward to confirm serious issues and problems involving FBI translation management, hiring, and security issues. Examples include Veteran FBI Counterintelligence Operation Director John M. Cole and Veteran FBI Language Specialist Behrooz Sarshar.

6. No denial had been issued by either DOJ or the FBI regarding revelations from any of the investigations or the various media reports. In fact, during the Senate investigation the FBI had confirmed almost all allegations.

One evening, about a week before the publication of Mr. Isikoff's piece, I met with him, as a source, in the Mayflower Hotel's lounge area. I had a witness in the background to observe the meeting. During the hour-long meeting I provided him with information regarding the FBI Language Division, and gave him names of witnesses and sources who were willing to meet with him and corroborate the information I had given him. At the time, some of the sources were willing to do so on-the-record: FBI Operations Director John Cole, FBI LS Behrooz Sarshar & Amin Neshati, and certain Senate staff members involved in the investigation of my reports; while others would have done so 'anonymously' due to fear of protecting their employment. I also made his job easier by giving him relevant Congressional, IG, and legal public documents, reports, and references. Of course all the previous press coverage of these issues, and the case itself, was available to him in any news archive or online.

Back to Mr. Isikoff's lengthy article - the article did not cite a single fact mentioned above. The confirmed security problems, possible espionage cases and compromised intelligence, severe problems in hiring and vetting translators, the absence of quality & accuracy control for translation jobs that were produced…None of them were mentioned. In fact, as FBI bureaucrats and management had done consistently, the article too blamed all problems on a 'shortage' of translators.

I know Mr. Isikoff was well aware of the facts and points cited above. I had given him information, documents and sources that were 100% relevant and central to his upcoming story. I am certain he had access to other official documents and statements as well --- all available in public records.

Despite that, Mr. Isikoff's story instead advanced the FBI's already-discredited point of view that; the FBI's Translation Division's problems could be summed up as a 'shortage.' The article completely ignored and omitted established cases, problems, and severe weaknesses in the FBI's background security check of applicant translators, security measures in preventing espionage and security breaches, and quality control for translated work.

Mr. Isikoff was given the DOJ-IG audit report on the performance of the FBI Language Division. According to this report, the shortage of translators was not the only or main problem, but that the division was infested with major security problems, systemic difficulties, and an astounding lack of organization. Yet, he cherry picked the 'shortage' and completely disregarded and omitted the rest; the exact same trend and position followed by the FBI itself.

I provided Mr. Isikoff with background information which included Congressional letters and other documents on the Dickerson Case; a case characterized by Senator Grassley as "a very major internal security breach, and a potential espionage breach." In that case, Melek Dickerson was hired, given Top Secret Clearance, and placed in charge of translating sensitive intelligence (including terrorist targets) by the bureau, despite her previous membership and employment with organizations that were the targets of FBI investigations, and despite her on-going relationship with individuals who were also the targets of FBI investigations. Based on confirmations by the FBI and the United States Congress, Ms. Dickerson, in fact, blocked and mistranslated intelligence gathered from these targets.

Here is an IG report/investigation [PDF] confirming the Dickerson case.

Mr. Isikoff was also provided with another major case which involved a Pakistani translator at the FBI who was hired and given security clearance, even though her father was a Pakistani retired general who still worked with ISI (the Pakistani intelligence service) in DC, the very target of FBI counterintelligence investigations. John M. Cole, FBI Counterintelligence Operations Manager, was available to provide Mr. Isikoff with details and facts regarding this case and several others, as he had done in 2002.

I gave Mr. Isikoff names and contact information for other FBI translators who had first-hand information on other cases involving major security breaches and possible espionage at the FBI language units. One of them, Mr. Behrooz Sarshar, FBI Farsi translator, had first-hand documented information regarding an Iranian translator working for the FBI-New York Field Office who was found to be working for the target(s) of FBI counterintelligence and criminal investigations. This translator was providing the FBI targets with tips/information, and was tampering with intelligence in Farsi gathered by the FBI. The FBI asked this translator to resign and leave quietly. No criminal investigation and no damage assessment were conducted. Mr. Isikoff chose not to contact these sources.

On the major security breaches and possible espionage issues, Mr. Isikoff knowingly disregarded not only the confirmed facts on my case, and other witnesses who were available to him on additional cases, he also omitted those established by previous IG reports such as this one; Congressional reports; and misreported the 'Robert Hansen case' as the only known 'flap', as follows:

…The FBI can rightly point out that its attention to security has so far avoided any comparable flaps. "We haven't loosened our standards one bit," said Margaret Galotta, chief of the FBI's Language Service Division.

Now, a real reporter would have pressed Ms. Galotta by pointing at facts, at several IG reports, Congressional reports and statements, and established cases such as mine. But Mr. Isikoff did not. A real journalist would have given the readers the facts and the entire picture, not the misinformation fed to him by the government. Again, Mr. Isikoff did not. Not only did he write/repeat the FBI's spin and misinformation, he even went further by 'selling' it to the readers as [emphasis added] '…the FBI can rightly point out that its attention to security has so far avoided any comparable flaps.'

At the time, I didn't know who Mr. Isikoff's editor was; I still don't. Did this editor have anything to do with the 'flavor' and apparent angle/agenda given to this story? Did he have any role in sanitizing and/or removing the well-known and highly relevant cases and related witnesses, documents, facts, and investigations from a story that was focused on the FBI Translation Division, but which failed to detail well-known, and well-detailed allegations that ran contrary to the FBI's published point of view? Was it an editorialdecision at Newsweek to black-out all the current (at the time) and established related facts and information from this 1,900 word, three-page story solely focused on the FBI Translation Division?

I don't know the answer. However, I know the following facts:

  • The DOJ invocation of the State Secrets Privilege (SSP) by Attorney General John Ashcroft in my case --- the first case of SSP use/abuse by the Bush Administration --- was never reported by Newsweek at all. It's unlikely that was because it was not 'newsworthy', since most major publications, including the television news networks, deemed it important enough to at least report.
  • The DOJ's Retroactive Classification of Congressional investigations, reports, and statements, which was considered by Senator Grassley to be 'gagging the Congress,' was never reported by Newsweek.
  • The closure [PDF] of the (Federal District Court) session to all reporters and the public during the appeal hearing of my case, where I was represented by the ACLU, was also never reported, or mentioned, by Newsweek. That, despite the fact that a large group of both MSM and alternative media groups had joined in filing a motion challenging the ban on courtroom coverage.
  • The release of the IG report vindicating the core claims of my case was similarly never covered by Newsweek.
  • The security breach and possible espionage confirmed by the Senate investigation was never mentioned by Newsweek, even though they certainly seem to have known about it, as they 'borrowed' their article title from a segment aired by CBS-60 Minutes ('Lost in Translation'), which covered the espionage angle of my case in detail.

Suffice it to say that during the last eight years, throughout many outrageous gag orders, draconian uses of the State Secrets Privilege, Court Closings, Vindicating IG & Congressional Reports, Newsweek has consistently maintained one position: Blackout every fact of this particular case. You may check it out yourself by searching their archives. Your search result will come back as '0.'

I would like to know why; wouldn't you?

Response from Isikoff and Newsweek:

  • We attempted to contact Mr. Isikoff twice. To our second request he replied via email:

    sorry. No comment.

  • Despite several notices over the last week, submitted through their website's "Contact Us" page, we received no reply to our requests for comment from any Newsweek editor(s).

Project Expose MSM is an experimental project created to provide readers with specific mainstream media blackout and/or misinformation cases based on documented and credible first-hand experiences of legitimate sources and whistleblowers. Those with direct knowledge and experience are encouraged to join the project, by sharing your stories. Please E-mail me with your report, following the format described in the introductory announcement. Private information, and the privacy of sources where needed, will always be full respected.

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Sibel Edmonds is the founder and director of National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC). Ms. Edmonds worked as a language specialist for the FBI. During her work with the bureau, she discovered and reported serious acts of security breaches, cover-ups, and intentional blocking of intelligence that had national security implications. After she reported these acts to FBI management, she was retaliated against by the FBI and ultimately fired in March 2002. Since that time, court proceedings on her case have been blocked by the assertion of "State Secret Privilege"; the Congress of the United States has been gagged and prevented from any discussion of her case through retroactive re-classification by the Department of Justice. Ms. Edmonds is fluent in Turkish, Farsi and Azerbaijani; and has a MA in Public Policy and International Commerce from George Mason University, and a BA in Criminal Justice and Psychology from George Washington University. PEN American Center awarded Ms. Edmonds the 2006 PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award. Her new blog site is 123 Real Change.

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