The case of Sibel Edmonds, the former FBI translator who has doggedly tried to blow the whistle on some security-related shenanigans for years now, finally lurched into the mainstream with a story in Murdoch’s Sunday Times. Based on the last we heard from Edmonds one would expect the story to expose law enforcement failures that missed the 9/11 plot.
No, Edmonds has much bigger fish to fry.
Edmonds described how foreign intelligence agents had enlisted the support of US officials to acquire a network of moles in sensitive military and nuclear institutions.
Among the hours of covert tape recordings, she says she heard evidence that one well-known senior official in the US State Department was being paid by Turkish agents in Washington who were selling the information on to black market buyers, including Pakistan.
Now, nuclear espionage is a pretty serious claim, and without corroborating evidence one can see why US papers felt reluctant to run with it. It also explains why the libel-shy UK press laundered out the names, although some Kossack researchers claim to have filled them back in here. It’s mostly neocons.
But Edmonds is just getting warmed up. When al Qaeda attacked us of September 11, America fairly quickly rounded up a number of people who we had varying reasons to think might have been involved in planning or supporting the attacks. The problem is, according to Edmonds, that some of these guys knew enough about the above nuclear espionage to potentially bring on what they call in Washington an “accountability moment”.
Edmonds said the State Department official once again proved useful. “A primary target would call the official and point to names on the list and say, ‘We need to get them out of the US because we can’t afford for them to spill the beans’,” she said. “The official said that he would ‘take care of it’.”
The four suspects on the list were released from interrogation and extradited.
It goes on from there. Fault me if you like for not being paranoid enough, but the magnitude of Edmond’s claims helps me to understand why American reporters let the story pass. For one thing, I missed the part where they independently verified her claims. If you accuse prominent people of murder (nuclear espionage is arguably worse) then it helps to back it up. There are no Pentagon Papers here, at least not yet. The Times can independently corroborate the general background (Turkish espionage passed on to Pakistan) but not the bombshell.
In researching this article, The Sunday Times has talked to two FBI officers (one serving, one former) and two former CIA sources who worked on nuclear proliferation. While none was aware of specific allegations against officials she names, they did provide overlapping corroboration of Edmonds’s story.
One of the CIA sources confirmed that the Turks had acquired nuclear secrets from the United States and shared the information with Pakistan and Israel. “We have no indication that Turkey has its own nuclear ambitions. But the Turks are traders. To my knowledge they became big players in the late 1990s,” the source said.
In the end I’m left puzzled. I suppose that a former federal agent willing to make claims like this is news in itself, but the Times seems eager (if not quite ready) to go a step further and report the claims themselves. Until something tangible comes up that warrants stopping the presses (paging TPM Muckraker…) they should resist the urge. Citing Edmonds by name is the one thing that, for me anyway, bumps the story a step up from a Judy Miller snow job.