Ex-FBI translator plans appeal to Supreme Court

Appeals court upholds lower court's ruling that dismissed Sibel Edmonds' lawsuit against Justice Department.

An FBI contract employee who was fired after alleging national security breaches within the bureau's translation service plans to appeal to the Supreme Court to lift a gag order that she has been under for almost three years.

Sibel Edmonds lost her latest court battle on Friday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a lower court's ruling that dismissed her lawsuit against the Justice Department. Edmonds alleges there were security breaches, mismanagement and possible espionage within the FBI's translation service in late 2001 and early 2002. She says the information she knows would lead to criminal prosecutions if aggressively pursued.

"We are going to the Supreme Court, that's for sure," Edmonds said Monday.

Edmonds, who worked under contract in the FBI's Washington field office, sued the Justice Department after being fired in 2002. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed her lawsuit last summer after former Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the state secrets privilege, which allows the government to withhold information to safeguard national security.

District Judge Reggie Walton said information about Edmonds' case would cause serious damage to the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States if publicly disclosed.

The Justice Department's inspector general issued a summary report in January concluding that the FBI failed to properly investigate charges made by Edmonds. The report also concluded that the FBI fired Edmonds mainly for bringing forth the accusations.

The appeals court heard Edmonds' case last month, but closed its proceedings to the public, despite motions to open the courtroom filed by several news media organizations.

Edmonds said her lawyers were questioned for only 10 minutes before being instructed by the judge to leave the courtroom. Lawyers for the government remained inside the room. About 20 minutes later, Edmonds said she and her lawyers were informed that the hearing was over. Edmonds and her legal team are seeking a transcript of the proceedings.

"We don't know what the government argued," Edmonds said.

During the hearing, Chief Judge Douglas Ginsberg asked if Edmonds' complaint could be resolved through an administrative hearing within the FBI. The next day, government lawyers told the court that the state secrets privilege did not give Edmonds the ability to pursue an administrative hearing, arguing that the case cannot be litigated without reference to privileged information.

The appeals court did not provide any comment with its ruling last week. Instead, the court said it sided with reasons given by the lower court.

Although Edmonds is running out of legal options, she is still pursuing her case by other means. She said she has a petition signed by more than 10,000 people asking Congress to hold public hearings on her situation. She plans to submit the petition next month.

Additionally, Edmonds has spearheaded the formation of a national security whistleblower's coalition that will seek legislation to enable national security whistleblowers to sue government managers who retaliate against them or block investigations.

If Congress does not take action, Edmonds said, the coalition will run newspaper ads publicizing the names of individual managers who are alleged to have committed wrongdoing, along with their positions and salaries.

In related news, the Senate Judiciary Committee has postponed a hearing scheduled for this Wednesday on the FBI's translation program. A committee spokesman said the hearing was postponed due to a business meeting on asbestos issues.

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