Administration Blinks; Admits Retroactively Classified Information Not Harmful to National Security

February 22, 2005 12:00 am

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Decision Likely to Have Significant Impact on Sibel Edmonds’ Appeal, Says ACLU

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department admitted today that information it had retroactively classified could be released to the public and did not pose a threat to national security. The American Civil Liberties Union said the revelation could aid government whistleblowers in their efforts to fight unlawful dismissals.

“The Justice Department’s long-overdue admission goes to the core of the ACLU’s allegations that the government is going all out to silence whistleblowers to protect itself from political embarrassment,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson, who is representing former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds in a lawsuit challenging her termination. “This is hardly an isolated case, as numerous national security whistleblowers can attest. The government is taking extreme steps to shield itself while gambling with our safety.”

In May 2004, the Justice Department retroactively classified information presented two years earlier by the FBI to the Senate Judiciary Committee during two unclassified briefings regarding Edmonds, who had repeatedly reported serious security breaches and misconduct in the agency’s translation program. An executive summary of the Justice Department’s Inspector General report into her termination concluded that Edmonds was fired for reporting the misconduct, and that her allegations, if true, could have potentially damaging consequences for the FBI.

Edmonds, a former Middle Eastern language specialist hired by the FBI shortly after 9/11, challenged her retaliatory dismissal by filing a law suit in federal court, but her case was dismissed last July after Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the so-called “state secrets privilege.” It was at that time that the Justice Department retroactively classified the two-year old briefings in attempt to bolster its “state secrets” claim. The ACLU is representing Edmonds in her appeal.

The government will file its response to Edmonds’ appellate brief on February 24th, and has indicated that portions of its response will be classified and unavailable for review by Edmonds or her attorneys. The ACLU’s Beeson said that this use of secrecy is highly suspicious in light of the Justice Department’s admission that the information retroactively classified does not pose a threat to national security.

Today’s actions came as a result of a separate lawsuit filed by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) against Attorney General Ashcroft and the Justice Department, charging that the retroactive classification in Edmonds’ case was unlawful and violated POGO’s right to free speech. When forced to defend its extreme step of retroactively classifying information, the government was unable to do so and admitted the information could be released to the public without harm to national security.

Today’s development also follows the Justice Department’s release of the full Inspector General report on Edmonds’s dismissal at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, February 18, at the beginning of a holiday weekend. The ACLU said that the executive summary released last month actually revealed more information than the full 106-page Inspector General report, as the bulk of it was redacted.

The ACLU said that the Edmonds case is part of a larger pattern by the government to silence employees who expose national security blunders. Coleen Rowley, Manny Johnson, Robert Woo, Ray McGovern, Mel Goodman, Bogdan Dzakovic, and Mike German are just a few of the other national security whistleblowers who were vilified and retaliated against.

For a web feature on the Sibel Edmonds case and more information on national security whistleblowers, go to /whistleblower.

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