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Treason at the State Department: A Whistleblower’s Story

The UK's Sunday Times recently broke the story of an FBI whistleblower kept from speaking publicly about a State Department official suspected of selling nuclear secrets. Annie Jacobsen digs a bit deeper into this shadowy tale and wonders why American media outlets have greeted the revelations with stunning silence.

by
Annie Jacobsen

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January 30, 2008 - 9:05 am

Two weeks ago, the London Sunday Times broke an exclusive story about FBI translator-turned-whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. For five years, the U.S. government has prevented Edmonds from speaking publicly on what she knows, claiming State Secrets Privilege. The Times got the exclusive on the story, eerily titled “For Sale: West’s Deadly Nuclear Secrets,” by talking to a number of Edmonds’ close associates who were not under a gag order, and by filling in pieces of the puzzle from Sibel Edmonds herself.

According the Times article, the U.S. government sought to gag Edmonds from revealing that corrupt government officials – specifically, State Department official Marc Grossman – were directly involved in the stealing and selling of nuclear secrets to foreign agents. In her role as translator, Edmonds listened in on, or translated, hundreds of secretly intercepted conversations between State Department officials and foreign nationals from 1996 to 2002.

Exclusively, Edmonds told the Times about an FBI case file marked 203A-WF-210023. One arm of the FBI denied the file’s existence to the Times; another arm of the FBI provided the Times with a signed document confirming its existence. All of the info in the file predates A.Q. Kahn – the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb – admitting he had been secretly selling nuclear weapons technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea.

Edmonds told the Times, “I can tell you that that file and the operations it refers to did exist from 1996 to February 2002. The file refers to the counterintelligence programme [sic] that the Department of Justice has declared to be a state secret to protect sensitive diplomatic relations.”

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, was one of the few American journalists to report on the Edmonds story after it broke in England. Last week in the American Conservative he wrote, “Nothing deserves more attention than the possibility of ongoing national-security failures and the proliferation of nuclear weapons with the connivance of corrupt senior government officials.” And Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who released The Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, lambasted the mainstream American press for ignoring the story in the Brad Blog:

For the second time in two weeks, the entire U.S. press has let itself be scooped by Rupert Murdoch’s London Sunday Times on a dynamite story of criminal activities by corrupt U.S. officials promoting nuclear proliferation. But there is a worse journalistic sin than being scooped, and that is participating in a cover-up of information that demands urgent attention from the public, the U.S. Congress, and the courts.

Why has the mainstream media ignored such an important story? This reporter spoke to a number of Edmonds’ colleagues on the subject. One member of the National Security Whistleblower Coalition (NSWC) – over which Edmonds presides – shared Ellsberg’s disbelief at the lack of coverage on the Edmonds story; Ellsberg is also a NSWC member.

A current employee of the Department of Homeland Security, who spoke to PJ Media on the condition of anonymity, had this to say: “It is mind-boggling. I’ve sent personal emails to my contacts at ABC, at CBS, at the New York Times, and the Washington Times. No one is even responding to my emails. They call me back about other things, but as far as Sibel [Edmonds] is concerned, anything touching on that subject gets overlooked, gets ignored.”

“Why?” this reporter asked.

“Reporters are terrified of the State Secrets Privilege and being subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury. No one wants to wind up like Judy Miller – in jail.”

The State Secrets Privilege, born of a controversial 1953 Supreme Court ruling, has been invoked with growing frequency. It allows the executive branch of government to deflect and derail litigation against the government on grounds that adjudicating such a case would damage national security. In January 2008, Senators Kennedy and Specter introduced legislation to reduce the power of this privilege. Most importantly, the legislation would establish that the courts, not the executive branch, would be the governing body to review evidence and decide if information is covered by the privilege or not.

Over the weekend, the Times broke a third story on the Sibel Edmonds case. In “Tip Off Thwarted Nuclear Spy Ring Probe,” the paper linked Valerie Plame to the Edmonds case. But even more important, the paper interviewed former CIA agent Philip Giraldi, who suggested that if true, what State Department official Marc Grossman did “in violating US law on nuclear exports” could possibly constitute treason.

A high-ranking State Department official accused of treason? For how long will the mainstream press ignore this terrifying story?

According to his biography, Marc Grossman was a career foreign service officer from 1976 to 2005. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1994 to 1999 and as Under Secretary, Political Affairs for the U.S. Department of State from 2001 to 2005.

Annie Jacobsen writes about aviation security and homeland security for a variety of newspapers, magazines and blogs. She is the author of the book, Terror in The Skies, Why 9/11 Could Happen Again.

Annie Jacobsen writes the "Backstory" blog (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/back-story/) for the Los Angeles Times Magazine.
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