If you had to make a list of Post Titles You'd Least Expect To See At This Blog, "In defence of Israel" would probably be way up there. But in this case I'll make an exception. I've just been reading the story in The Times online edition about the former FBI translator, Sibel Edmonds, and her claim that she was witness to senior U.S. officials facilitating the transfer of nuclear technology to Pakistan via Turkish and Israeli middlemen. And I have to say that even though I relish as much as anyone the prospect of members of this Administration being outed as the criminals I believe they are, something doesn't quite ring true for me in Sibel's account of their crimes.
I haven't kept up with the ins and outs of the Sibel Edmonds case like some of the bloggers who've really been following it, but I do have some relevant background in that I used to be in the same line of work as she was. So even if I word things circumspectly, I do actually know a little bit of what I'm talking about here. My agency wasn't the FBI, and I didn't do the same languages as Sibel, but I think nonetheless there should be a certain commonality in our experience, and I'm just not seeing it.
First, it seems to me there is nothing that can complicate your prospects of doing highly-classified work as much as having once been a foreign national, or having close relatives who are or were foreign nationals (especially if the foreign country or countries in question are not friendly to us). In the worst case scenario, your foreign background can disqualify you at the outset from getting the clearances you need; at best, it can drag out the vetting process enormously. Now, Sibel Edmonds was apparently born in Iran, to Azeri-Iranian and Turkish parents, a background that would invite perhaps a little more scrutiny than usual if she required a security clearance. Yet she was hired as part of the FBI's expanded recruitment of linguists after the WTC attacks of September 2001, and within one month she was on the job. Either the FBI vetting system has gone totally belly up, or Sibel simply was not employed on the kind of highly-classified and (as Steve Clemons suggests) extremely compartmentalized work that could have given her access to the very sensitive kind of materials that would have to be involved in an espionage scenario like the one she suggests.
Second, if I understand it correctly, Sibel worked for the FBI for six months, Oct 2001-Mar 2002. (In fact the Times mentions her program was shut down in Jan 2002, so her relevant experience would really be four months, at most). It think it is a little unlikely for a linguist with six months' experience to have the seniority, access and analytical experience to be able to encounter a few of the scattered pieces of a very incomplete jigsaw, and draw them all together into the coherent picture that Sibel seems to have made out of the materials she was working with. To enter a very compartmentalized field and within six months have access to evidence of a wide-ranging conspiracy involving household names in this administration seems remarkable. I don't doubt Sibel could have heard some interesting snippets, but the amount of earth-shattering information she has drawn from a very brief stint in her job suggests perhaps a certain amount of embroidery and interpretation. I'm not accusing her of lying, because I just don't have the knowledge to do that, but something about this scenario just seems a little unrealistic.
It's very tempting to go beyond that and conjecture about what exactly might lie behind the Sibel Edmonds story, if it's more than a simple honest whistle-blower v. corrupt establishment case, but I'm going to resist the temptation to speculate. All I will say is that Sibel is telling a remarkable story and there are a very limited number of ways to explain it. The alternatives would seem to be:
1. she is telling the truth, and is correct about a monumental conspiracy at the heart of our government;
2. she's speaking in good faith, but mistaken, because she wasn't in a position to really understand the wider context of the compartmentalized material she was looking at;
3. she's lying, in which case there would be a purpose to it, and looking at which country's agents are targeted in her testimony might be a good place to start looking for what that purpose is.
I don't know what the answer is. I'd prefer option two, because the other options really stink; but I don't know for sure. I guess we all have to wait and see.