For years, I've been hearing the name "Sibel Edmonds," without being able to make sense out of her story, in part because the U.S. government has been blocking its publication under the State Secrets Act. Now, the London Times has run a long article, "For sale: West's deadly nuclear secrets," about the West Asian-born American citizen who worked for the FBI as a translator in 2001-2002. And it's hot stuff:
According to Google News, this story that appeared in a famous English newspaper on Sunday has not appeared in the American mainstream media yet as of late Monday. Am I breaking the law by quoting the London Times?
One of Edmonds’s main roles in the FBI was to translate thousands of hours of conversations by Turkish diplomatic and political targets that had been covertly recorded by the agency.
A backlog of tapes had built up, dating back to 1997, which were needed for an FBI investigation into links between the Turks and Pakistani, Israeli and US targets. Before she left the FBI in 2002 she heard evidence that pointed to money laundering, drug imports and attempts to acquire nuclear and conventional weapons technology.
“What I found was damning,” she said. “While the FBI was investigating, several arms of the government were shielding what was going on.”
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.
They were helped, she says, by the high-ranking State Department official who provided some of their moles – mainly PhD students – with security clearance to work in sensitive nuclear research facilities. These included the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory in New Mexico, which is responsible for the security of the US nuclear deterrent.
In one conversation Edmonds heard the official arranging to pick up a $15,000 cash bribe. The package was to be dropped off at an agreed location by someone in the Turkish diplomatic community who was working for the network.
The Turks, she says, often acted as a conduit for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s spy agency, because they were less likely to attract suspicion. Venues such as the American Turkish Council in Washington were used to drop off the cash, which was picked up by the official.
Edmonds said: “I heard at least three transactions like this over a period of 2½ years. There are almost certainly more.”
The Pakistani operation was led by General Mahmoud Ahmad, then the ISI chief.
Intercepted communications showed Ahmad and his colleagues stationed in Washington were in constant contact with attachés in the Turkish embassy.
Intelligence analysts say that members of the ISI were close to Al-Qaeda before and after 9/11. Indeed, Ahmad was accused of sanctioning a $100,000 wire payment to Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, immediately before the attacks.
The results of the espionage were almost certainly passed to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist.
Khan was close to Ahmad and the ISI. While running Pakistan’s nuclear programme, he became a millionaire by selling atomic secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea. He also used a network of companies in America and Britain to obtain components for a nuclear programme.Khan caused an alert among western intelligence agencies when his aides met Osama Bin Laden....
In researching this article, The Sunday Times has talked to two FBI officers (one serving, one former) and two former CIA sources who worked on nuclear proliferation. While none was aware of specific allegations against officials she names, they did provide overlapping corroboration of Edmonds’s story.
One of the CIA sources confirmed that the Turks had acquired nuclear secrets from the United States and shared the information with Pakistan and Israel. “We have no indication that Turkey has its own nuclear ambitions. But the Turks are traders. To my knowledge they became big players in the late 1990s,” the source said.
Justin Raimondo has lots more background here at Antiwar.com, including the claim that the crooked spy who was #3 in the State Department was Marc Grossman, who had been U.S. ambassador to Turkey in 1994-1997. Pakistan blew off its first nuclear bomb in May 1998, so the timing of his ambassadorship is interesting (but infinitely far from conclusive). Grossman is now vice-chairman of the Cohen Group lobbying-consulting firm, headed by former Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen.
Something that finally dawned on me in in recent years is that a lot of the countries that Americans don't take seriously, such as Italy, Mexico, and Turkey, are actually very interesting places. We Americans think of Italy as populated by comic Mario Brothers characters, but to Italians today, and to anyone who has tried to make sense of the Niger Yellowcake Forgery, it's still almost as Machiavellian a place as it seemed to Shakespeare. As I wrote in 2005:
Most Americans feel a deep aversion toward conspiracy theories. To label something as a "conspiracy theory" is to dismiss it out of hand. Americans believe they believe in high-minded principles and believe their enemies believe in evil ideologies. Thus, when members of our government decided to respond to 9/11 by invading Iraq, lots of educated Americans suddenly decided that Osama and Saddam were united by their ideology of Islamofascism, thus justifying the Iraq Attaq. Nobody, including all the alleged Islamofascists, had ever heard of "Islamfofascism" before, but the term quickly became popular among certain classes of Americans. Suggestions that the various players in the Bush Administration were motivated by less principled reasons were denounced as conspiracy theories.Similarly, we think of Turkey as the Mexico of Europe (and we try to think of Mexico as little as possible), but Turkey turns out to be just as byzantine as you would expect the old Byzantine Empire to be.
In Italy, in contrast, conspiracy theories are most people's preferred explanation for how the world works, for the simple reason that, in their part of the world, conspiracies are the main mechanism for actually getting anything done. The notion that political operators would favor something on principle seems laughable. The political is personal, in the sense that if you want to understand historical events, you need to understand the connections among the players.
For example, Turkey's foreign minister from 1997-2002, Ismail Cem, was a member of the Donmeh, a tiny, little-known, but powerful hereditary group of Salonikan crypto-Jewish followers of Sabbetai Zevi, the 17th Century false messiah and apostate. The strong ties between Israel and the Turkish state are helped by the ethnocultural affinities of a sizable fraction of the Turkish elite.
Does any of this make Sibel Edmonds' story true? No, but it's some background to consider when contemplating the Imperial Fun House.