The key premise of the article is that basically nobody in the FBI can speak Arabic - but it goes on to argue that it is ok because the FBI agents can rely on the FBI translators.
FBI Agents Still Lacking Arabic Skills
33 of 12,000 Have Some Proficiency
You are all familiar with the troubles that Sibel reported in the FBI translation unit - for starters, her boss at the time, Mike Feghali:
1) covered up key information about 911This has all been verifed, and documented, by the FBI (apart from maybe the sex thing - that might not be documented.)
2) covered up key information about other espionage crimes
3) was corrupt
4) was incompetent
5) was having sex with a foreign agent
That sounds pretty bad, right?
The problem is that he was promoted - and today is in charge of all Arabic speaking translators. That is, Mike Feghali is literally a one-man gatekeeper standing between the entire FBI and the entire Arabic world. When the FBI says that its agents don't need to speak Arabic because the FBI translators can deal with it, they are relying on one man to deliver for them - Mike Feghali.
Here's the backstory:
When Sibel joined the FBI immediately after 911, she was the first and only Turkish speaking translator. Her boss was a guy named Mike Feghali - he was in charge of two languages - Turkish and Farsi.
Feghali was hired as a contract translator (Arabic) in 1997*, and was made permanent linguist at some later point - but he was dodgy from the beginning. He kept pumping up his timesheets to $8000-$9000 month (as a comparison, Sibel was earning around $40/hour) and openly bragged about padding his expense report, and whenever he wanted to visit a city, he'd organise a 'meeting' there and take his holiday on FBI dime etc etc.
Eventually, Feghali applied for a supervisory job, he was rejected, applied again, rejected again.
The FBI was aware of his various shenanigans and opened an investigation into him - Feghali employed some fancy-name lawyer and claimed racial discrimination. The FBI dropped the charges because they couldn't be bothered fighting the case. Feghali eventually got the promotion - responsible for Turkish and Farsi desks.
I'm not sure who paid for Feghali's lawyer, but it seems to me as though someone was desperate to get Feghali in place. By any objective measure, Feghali doesn't appear to be a great manager - he didn't even have any Turkish linguists on his Turkish desk before 911 - leading to a backlog of thousands of untranslated documents and phone calls. His first (and only) three Turkish linguist hires were:
1) Sibel Edmonds - whose application had been lost for 2 years (along with a 100 or so others)Beyond that, Feghali actively dissuaded Sibel from doing any work, encouraged her to take long lunches etc, actually erased work from her computer, invited her to do her university homework in the office instead of actual translating, forged her signature on files stating that they'd been translated and that there was nothing nefarious in the documents and transcripts, and other assorted mischievous.
2) Melek Can Dickerson - an apparent spy/mole who:i) was friends with top targets of an FBI investigation,3) Kevin Taskesen - a restaurant dishwasher who failed literacy tests in both Turkish and English. He was later sent to Guantanomo to 'translate' whatever tortured confessions the
ii) worked for two organisations who were being watched by counterintelligence,
iii) worked for the "German-Turkish Business and Cultural Association, known to be a cover for MIT (Turkish intelligence) activities in Germany'
iv) was married to a guy who apparently was 'caught receiving a bribe from MIT agents' in Turkey in 1996
v) lied on her application form.
torturersinterrogators could beateke out of their victimsthe terrorists.
Feghali also tried desperately to cover up Sibel's whistleblowing and was generally unpleasant, threatening her and calling her a whore and so on.
You still with me?
OK - it's been reported that Feghali and Melek Can Dickerson spent a lot of time in his office 'with the door closed' - which I understand to mean that they were having sex (remember that Melek Can is apparently a mole/spy) and she was 'somehow' able to convince Feghali to engage in certain illegal activities. The following is from Sibel's ('Plaintiff's) FTCA lawsuit (pdf):
Plaintiffs reports included, but were not limited to, the following:That sounds pretty serious.
(a) that a contract FBI monitor, Melek Can Dickerson, who was granted a TOP SECRET security clearance by the FBI, had immediately prior to her FBI position been employed for more than two years by an organization that was a target of an ongoing FBI investigation;
(b) that Ms. Dickerson had past and ongoing association with at least two or more targets of an ongoing FBI investigation (who subsequently fled the United States);
(c) that Ms. Dickerson was translating information obtained from FBI wiretaps concerning one or more targets with whom she had past and ongoing improper contacts;
(d) that Ms. Dickerson was suspected of leaking information to one or more targets of an FBI investigation to which she was assigned to perform translation services;
(e) that Ms. Dickerson had improperly instructed Plaintiff and another monitor not to listen and translate certain FBI wire-taps because she knew the subjects and was confident that there would be nothing important to translate concerning those subjects or their conversations;
(f) that Plaintiffs supervisor, Supervisory Language Specialist ("SLS") Mike Feghali, issued instructions that assisted Ms. Dickerson in carrying out misconduct;
(g) that in December, 2001 and again in January, 2002 Ms. Dickerson threatened to disclose Plaintiffs true identity to the target organization thereby jeopardizing the lives and safety of Plaintiff and her family members, who were citizens of and resided in Turkey, because Plaintiff refused to go along with Ms. Dickerson s scheme to block translations and because Plaintiff reported her concerns about Ms. Dickerson s wrongdoing to FBI management;
(h) that both as a result of misconduct by Ms. Dickerson and SLS Feghali, and as a result of gross incompetence in the FBI, numerous translations were improperly conducted or not conducted, which threatened intelligence and law enforcement investigations related to the September 11 th attack, and other ongoing counter-terrorist, counter-intelligence and law enforcement investigations;
(i) that work order documents concerning translations related to the September 11 th investigation were falsified and contained forgeries of Plaintiffs name and/or initials;
(j) that SLS Feghali issued an instruction forbidding Plaintiff from raising her concerns to the FBI Special Agent assigned to the case, or others, without the permission of SLS Feghali
(k) that extremely sensitive and material information was deliberately withheld from translations; and
(I) that FBI management had failed to take corrective action in response to Plaintiff's reports and serious concerns, and instead retaliated against Plaintiff for reporting her concerns.
There's also this from Paul Sperry in Feb 2004:
"When linguist Sibel Dinez Edmonds showed up for her first day of work at the FBI, a week after the 9-11 attacks, she expected to find a somber atmosphere. Instead, she was offered cookies filled with dates from party bowls set out in the room where other Middle Eastern linguists with top-secret security clearance translate terror-related communications.Got that?
She knew the dessert is customarily served in the Middle East at weddings, births and other celebrations, and asked what the happy occasion was. To her shock, she was told the Arab linguists were celebrating the terrorist attacks on America, as if they were some joyous event. Right in front of her supervisor, one translator cheered:
"It's about time they got a taste of what they've been giving the Middle East."
She found out later that it was her supervisor's (Feghali's) wife who helped organize the office party there at the bureau's Washington field office, just four blocks from the J. Edgar Hoover Building.
"This guy's wife brought the date-filled cookies for the celebration," Edmonds, 33, recalled."
OK - now back to the WaPo article I mentioned above:
"FBI officials said it is not crucial for agents... to know Arabic or other foreign languages, because they rely primarily on documents or interviews already translated by FBI linguists... The number of translators proficient in Arabic has grown from 70 in September 2001 to 269 as of July."The Arabic linguists are the frontline, and the FBI now has lots of them!
There's only one problem? Mike Feghali is now in charge of "Arabic language units of the FBI's counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations"
Mike Feghali is the bottleneck between all of the FBI and any Arabic speaking terrorists. Do you feel safer? Do you think that he's become more diligent since he got promoted for being negligent? Do you think that he's become more competent since he got promoted for being incompetent? Do you think that he's become less susceptible to being bribed? Do you feel comfortable knowing that the FBI knows all of this and still promoted him to be the key bottleneck?
Lest we forget, Feghali was in charge of the Farsi desk (I'm not sure if he is directly to blame for this) when, according to Sibel's open letter to the 911 Commision:
More than four months prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in April 2001, a long-term FBI informant/asset who had been providing the bureau with information since 1990, provided two FBI agents and a translator with specific information regarding a terrorist attack being planned by Osama bin Laden...We also know that Sibel translated wiretaps in July 01 from some guy who was in prison on drugs charges who was sending 'blueprints, pictures and building material for skyscrapers' to be 'hand-delivered to a remote, remote border location in the Middle-East' and
Four months prior to the terrorist attacks the Iranian asset provided the FBI with specific information regarding the ‘use of airplanes’, ‘major US cities as targets’, and ‘Osama Bin Laden issuing the order. ’
"To make matters worse, Sibel also translated other wiretaps from the same jailed Iranian guy - recorded a few days after 911 - in which he and an associate were congratulating each other about the attacks."Our man, Mike Feghali, refused to send this information to the FBI field agents who had requested the translations. In fact, even when the FBI agents sent a repeat request, after 911, to the translation unit urging them to take another look because they strongly suspected that this guy was involved in 911 and that these particular calls were significant (presumably becuase they knew who was on the other end of the phone calls), Feghali simply lied, again, and told the FBI field agents that there was nothing of interest in these intercepted calls.
Let me repeat. Feghali is the one guy who stands between the Arabic speaking world and the FBI.
Speaking about pre-911 warnings, on September 10:
"At least two messages in Arabic are intercepted by the NSA. One states “The match is about to begin” and the other states “Tomorrow is zero hour.”... The messages were sent between someone in Saudi Arabia and someone in Afghanistan. The NSA will claim that they are not translated until September 12... because analysts were “too swamped.”"Remember when Feghali's wife organised the celebratory post-911 office party for the FBI translators with the date-filled cookies in party bowls? As it happens, Mrs Mike Feghali is a translator too. For the NSA.
On September 12, she translated the “tomorrow is the zero hour” intercept.
* A reader notes:
"Mike Feghali was already working as an FBI linguist... in the first half of 1991. As I recall, it was during this time that he went from being a contract linguist to a full-time FBI employee."