A federal appeals court Thursday barred the public from hearing arguments in the case of a contractor who was fired by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, after alleging misconduct and possible espionage inside the agency. Earlier, a lower court dismissed the lawsuit after the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, argued that revealing evidence in the case could cause serious damage to the national security interests of the United States. Lawyers representing the former contractor say the government is using a veil of secrecy to cover up serious problems within the nation's premiere law enforcement agency.
Sibel Edmonds was hired as a contract translator by the FBI shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Ms. Edmonds, who is a 32-year-old Turkish-American, was dismissed from her job about six months later after repeatedly complaining to her superiors that other linguists within the bureau were producing sloppy and incomplete translations.
She also accused a fellow Turkish linguist of having an improper relationship with a foreign intelligence officer under surveillance by the FBI.
FBI officials say Ms. Edmonds' contract was terminated because she committed security violations and was a disruptive influence in her office.
Ms. Edmonds says she was fired in retaliation for expressing concerns about problems within the FBI. "There were cases that within the FBI's Washington field office of certain people, their names have become public, and again these cases have been confirmed, they had obtained top-secret clearance and while they were in there they were informing the targets of investigations," she said. "They were blocking intelligence."
Earlier this year the Justice Department's own inspector general issued a report about Ms. Edmonds' case, sharply criticizing the FBI.
The report says the agency failed to aggressively investigate her allegations of possible espionage and incompetence.
It concluded "that her allegations were, in fact, the most significant factor in the FBI's decision to terminate her services."
Ms. Edmonds sued the government, but the case was dismissed last year after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked a seldom-used power, declaring the case as falling under "state secret" privilege.
The judge who threw out the suit agreed with the government's argument that a trial could reveal intelligence-gathering methods and disrupt diplomatic relations.
The American Civil Liberties Union is supporting Ms. Edmonds and asked the U.S. federal appeals court in the District of Columbia to reinstate her lawsuit against the government.
"The very same government officials who are being accused in this lawsuit of very serious misconduct -- those aren't my own words, those are the words of the inspector general of the Justice Department, very serious allegations of misconduct within the FBI -- the same officials that have been accused of this misconduct are the ones who have the right under the states secrets privilege to prohibit information from being disclosed to the public and we think that is a very dangerous situation that ought to be fixed, somehow, by statute," said Ann Beeson, the organization's lead attorney in the case.
The case has become a focus for some critics who say the government retaliated against Ms. Edmonds and other so-called whistleblowers who have sought to expose problems related to the campaign against terrorism.
Danielle Brian is the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a non-profit group that investigates charges of fraud and abuses of power within the federal government.
Ms. Brian says it is important for people like Sibel Edmonds to reveal what they believe to be problems within their agencies. "Our experience has shown us that the government does not make the best decisions with what can be kept secret and you can assume that government agencies will always try to hide their failures through their power to withhold information," he said. "In the post nine-11 age, when what we are talking about now really does affect people's lives, it is that much more important for Sibel, and others who are in positions like her, to come forward and push back when the government essentially is a bully."
The Justice Department had no comment on the latest developments in Ms. Edmonds' lawsuit, referring reporters to public legal documents filed in the case.
In its legal brief the government argued the case cannot be litigated without disclosing information, "which would damage national security."
Lawyers representing Ms. Edmonds predict it could be several months before the appeals court reaches a decision on whether to reinstate her case.