November 28, 2005
Supreme Court rejects FBI linguist’s appeal
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court let stand on
Monday the dismissal of a lawsuit by a former FBI linguist who
said she had been fired in 2002 for speaking out about possible
security breaches, misconduct and incompetent translation work.
Sibel Edmonds, who worked as a contract linguist at the FBI's
Washington field office from shortly after the September 11,
2001, attacks until her dismissal the following March.
Edmonds had reported to FBI management her concerns about
the quality of the translations, accusing fellow translators of
willful misconduct and gross incompetence. She also accused a
co-worker of possible espionage.
A specialist in Middle Eastern languages, she said that
numerous communications had been left untranslated or had been
The FBI has said that Edmonds was disruptive and that her
allegations were not credible.
In July 2002, she sued the FBI, the U.S. Justice Department
and various high-level officials in challenging her dismissal.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton dismissed the case after
then-Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the rarely used
"state secrets privilege."
He warned that further disclosure of the duties of Edmonds
and other translators could cause "serious damage to the
national security interests of the United States."
Walton ruled that secret declarations from Ashcroft and a
top FBI official demonstrated that the lawsuit could reveal
classified information about intelligence-gathering methods and
could disrupt diplomatic relations with foreign governments.
A U.S. appeals court, in a three-paragraph judgment, upheld
"This case was never about me; it was about the FBI's
attempt to cover up wrongdoing and mismanagement," Edmonds said
in a statement issued after the high court rejected her appeal.
"I am disheartened that the legal system has failed to hold
the FBI accountable for its actions, but I will continue to
press Congress to fully investigate security breaches within
the Bureau," she said.
In appealing to the Supreme Court, attorneys for Edmonds
described her as a whistle blower. They said the justices
should clarify the proper scope and application of the state
They also argued that the appeals court violated the First
Amendment when it excluded the press and the public from the
arguments in the case in April, without any specific findings
that secrecy was necessary.
A number of news media companies and groups supported that
part of the appeal and said the public's First Amendment right
of access to criminal cases should also apply to civil cases,
including appellate oral arguments.
Justice Department attorneys said the appeals court's
decision upholding the dismissal of the lawsuit was correct and
that further review of the case was unwarranted. They said
Ashcroft properly invoked the state secrets privilege after
personally considering the matter.