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Project on Government Oversight




LEAKED DOCUMENT: Retroactive Classification of Sibel Edmonds Congressional Briefings

June 4, 2004 


An email released today by the Project On Government Oversight and recent news media reports are raising questions about an unusual Justice Department decision to retroactively classify two Congressional briefings. The briefings were held between the Senate Judiciary Committee and the FBI in 2002 to discuss the Sibel Edmonds whistleblower case.

According to the email that was disseminated to Senate Judiciary Committee staff, the "decision to treat the information as classified from this point forward relates to civil litigation in which the FBI is seeking to quash certain information. The FBI believes that certain public comments have put the information in a context that gives rise to a need to protect the information." Click here to view the email.

Ms. Edmonds became a whistleblower in March, 2002, after reporting numerous instances of corruption, incompetence, and cover-ups while working for the FBI as a translator. The information Ms. Edmonds seeks to bring to light through her whistleblowing would have devastating consequences for the FBI, which is why such aggressive efforts have been pursued to silence her.

Citing officials who oversee and approve such classifications at the National Archives and Records Administration's Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), The New Republic reports in its June 7, 2004 issue that the FBI failed to meet two of three required standards for retroactive classification: "One, that the request is made by the head or deputy head of an agency; two, that the information being reclassified is reasonably recoverable; and three, that the office requesting reclassification inform Leonard [William Leonard, director of ISOO] and the ISOO, which must ensure that the first two standards have been met". According to The New Republic, ISOO officials had not been contacted regarding the retroactive classification and stated that it is unlikely it would be approved given that letters written by Senators Charles Grassley and Patrick Leahy citing the briefings were posted on the web, and therefore considered unrecoverable.

The New York Times first reported on the retroactive classification in a May 20, 2004 article. According to the Times, "The F.B.I. told Congressional officials that it was classifying topics including what languages Ms. Edmonds translated, what types of cases she handled, and what employees she worked with, officials said. Even routine and widely disseminated information -- like where she worked -- is now classified."
The civil litigation mentioned in the email released today by POGO appears to be the lawsuit brought by 9/11 families against "Saudi individuals, banks, corporations, and Islamic charities implicated in the financing of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda". The Justice Department has sought to block a subpoena for Sibel Edmonds to testify in that case, citing the "state secrets privilege." On June 14, the U.S. District Court will rule on that filing (see court document posted by Federation of American Scientists.)

The FBI hired Sibel Edmonds after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to help translate its backlog of transcripts and other documents. 60 Minutes is planning to re-air its piece "Lost in Translation" about the Sibel Edmonds whistleblower case.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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