The Sunday Times Online reported today that…
…foreign intelligence agents had enlisted the support of US officials to acquire a network of moles in sensitive military and nuclear institutions. [...]
…one well-known senior official in the US State Department was being paid by Turkish agents in Washington who were selling the information on to black market buyers, including Pakistan…
“He was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.”
– For Sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets Sunday Times Online, 1/6/08
The source is Sibel Edmonds, an FBI translator fluent in Farsi and Turkish, who was assigned to a backlog of untranslated documents and wiretaps in 2002. Following what she saw as an unsuccessful effort in late 2001 to enlist her in espionage similar to that reported above, Edmonds reported the Americans involved to the FBI — and was fired for her trouble in March 2002.* In his 2005 Vanity Fair piece “An Inconvenient Patriot,” David Rose described what came next:
But being fired is one thing. Edmonds has also been prevented from proceeding with her court challenge or even speaking with complete freedom about the case.
On top of the usual prohibition against disclosing classified information, the Bush administration has smothered her case beneath the all-encompassing blanket of the “state-secrets privilege”—a Draconian and rarely used legal weapon that allows the government, merely by asserting a risk to national security, to prevent the lawsuits Edmonds has filed contesting her treatment from being heard in court at all. According to the Department of Justice, to allow Edmonds her day in court, even at a closed hearing attended only by personnel with full security clearance, “could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the foreign policy and national security of the United States.”
Using the state-secrets privilege in this fashion is unusual, says Edmonds’s attorney Ann Beeson, of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It also begs the question: Just what in the world is the government trying to hide?”
Now we have a better idea.
Remarkably, Ms. Edmonds couldn’t get any major American news organization to agree to publish her allegations naming names. It’s really a bit of a shame the story is getting crushed by ObamaNewHampshireIowaEdwardsClintonHuckabeeRomney, and one may wonder why Ms. Edmonds took so long to go to foreign media with her story, which even as reported in outline form before now seemed like a huge scandal. The answer may have to do with libel laws abroad, or at least in the U.K., that are more protective of public figures than they are in the United States. Certainly no names were named in the Times Article.
However, Ms. Edmonds has now published a “State Secrets Privilege Gallery” on her own web site (“Just A Citizen“) with unlabeled photographs of well known Defense Department and intelligence figures like Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Brent Scowcroft, and Congressmen Dennis Hastert, Richard Livingston, Stephen Solarz, and Art Lantos, to name a few — the full list is spelled out by lukery (“Let Sibel Edmonds Speak”). The intent appears to be to imply names to put to the allegations in the Times story, without taking the legally fraught step of connecting every dot in writing.
Whoever the weak links in the American chain turn out to be, the nexus of espionage that Edmonds’ story describes is unsettling indeed:
The Turks and Israelis had planted “moles” in military and academic institutions which handled nuclear technology. Edmonds says there were several transactions of nuclear material every month, with the Pakistanis being among the eventual buyers. “The network appeared to be obtaining information from every nuclear agency in the United States,” she said.
If the Israeli angle is true as well, it seems plausible that they were trying to get information about how to build “better” nukes of their own, though I suppose there are Israelis who’d sell nuclear plans to Pakistan. The Times provides a timeline of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development at the end of the story, and most reactions understandably focus on that country.* Jim Henley (“Unqualified Offerings”) writes, “The thing that most struck me is how much, over the decades, Pakistan has acted not at all like a client state of the US.”
The Turkish Connection
True. I’d add, though, that most of the article tends to point our good friend Turkey’s way in that respect. The Congressional involvement implied by Ms. Edmonds’ photo gallery is certainly all connected to Turkey; sometimes the worthy Congressmen involved were impressed that Turkey has been willing to work with Israel diplomatically and militarily, sometimes they’ve been impressed with Turkish money (Livingston’s lobbying firm is on an annual $1.8M retainer by the Turkish government), and sometimes both. Edmonds says Mr. Hastert may not have been willing to wait to get out of office before pocketing his payoffs. Rose:
[Edmonds] reported hearing Turkish wiretap targets boast that they had a covert relationship with a very senior politician indeed—Dennis Hastert, Republican congressman from Illinois and Speaker of the House since 1999. The targets reportedly discussed giving Hastert tens of thousands of dollars in surreptitious payments in exchange for political favors and information.
What sort of political favors? In an interview with Amy Goodman, Rose says that in secret testimony, Edmonds told Congressional investigators that Speaker Hastert may have sold out his support for the Armenian Genocide Resolution in 2000, withdrawing it just before a final vote:
One of the Turkish targets of these wiretaps claimed that the price for getting Dennis Hastert to withdraw the resolution would be $500,000. Now, I do emphasize there’s no evidence at all that he received such a payment, but that is what is said to have been recorded in one of the wiretaps.
Thus, it’s not all about nukes; denial of the Armenian Genocide is a centerpiece of Turkish policy, since acknowledging it would invite reparations claims — and might undermine the political legitimacy of a Turkish republic that has long and strenuously denied many of its founders’ responsibility for that genocide.
But it is likely very much about money in any case. Since 9/11, Turkey is the 7th largest recipient of military “aid” from the United States,** and Turkish military officials — who wield constitutional power in that country as designated arbiters of the secular tradition in that country — are both well placed and not reluctant to profit from sidelines, or recycle some of that largesse in ambitious ways. Entrepreneurism being universal, and absolute power notoriously corrupting absolutely, it would be little wonder if Turkish military and intelligence might go into all kinds of unexpected business sidelines.
We’ll just have to hope that responsible, upstanding people in Islamabad — and not Al Qaeda — were the final destination for any nuclear secrets said entrepreneurs got their hands on.
CROSSPOSTED TO “American Street”
* Indeed, I wonder if Benazir Bhutto’s assassination was an additional reason Edmonds went to the Times. The stated reason, however, was that she “approached The Sunday Times last month after reading about an Al-Qaeda terrorist who had revealed his role in training some of the 9/11 hijackers while he was in Turkey.” Joseph Cannon (“Cannonfire”) writes the story was probably this one about Louai Sakka (or Sakra), an Al Qaeda operative now jailed in Turkey. The “hall of mirrors” feeling about the story deepens in that Sakka is apparently linked to many Western intelligence services, according to a CooperativeResearch.org article citing the 9/11 Commission and media reports.
** $1.325 billion from 2002-04, according to PublicIntegrity.org. Countries receiving more aid — or “aid” — were Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Afghanistan, and Colombia, with figures ranging from $9 billion to $2 billion over the same time period.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I’d be remiss not to mention that I’ve often written often about the Armenian Genocide and the struggle to have it acknowledged as such. (See, e.g., 90 years ago: Armenian Genocide Begins and Another Day, Another Turkish New Lira for the Washington Post) While I like to think I’d feel this way in any case, I’m married to an Armenian American.