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FBI translator's allegations involved in firing, report says

WASHINGTON -- A classified Justice Department investigation has determined that a whistle-blower's allegations of security lapses in the FBI's translator program were at least partly responsible for her firing, the bureau director told senators.

The department's inspector general, Glenn Fine, did not conclude that the FBI had retaliated against the translator, Sibel Edmonds, when she was fired in April 2002, FBI Director Robert Mueller wrote July 21 to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Associated Press obtained his letter yesterday.

Mueller acknowledged he was concerned by Fine's determination that allegations by Edmonds "were at least a contributing factor in why the FBI terminated her services," the director wrote, quoting from the classified report.

Edmonds alleges she was fired after complaining to FBI managers about shoddy wiretap translations and telling them an interpreter with a relative at a foreign embassy might have compromised national security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by passing information from an FBI wiretap to the target of an investigation.

Edmonds's lawyer, Mark Zaid, said the Justice Department informed him yesterday it will consider his request for copies of the report and some supporting documents. The department is working on a version of the report that would be stripped of its classified information and could be released publicly.

The department's report concluded the FBI failed to adequately pursue Edmonds's allegation that her colleague committed espionage, Mueller wrote. He said the FBI conducted a "relevant investigation," but he promised to review the case and conduct a further investigation if necessary.

Mueller said he asked the inspector general to help determine whether FBI employees should face disciplinary action. He also promised to report such an outcome to the Senate committee.

This month a federal judge dismissed Edmonds's lawsuit against the government over her firing. The judge agreed with assertions by Attorney General John Ashcroft and a senior FBI official that a suit could expose intelligence-gathering methods and disrupt relations with foreign governments.

Edmonds is appealing the ruling.

Mueller told senators that the Justice Department investigation into Edmonds's firing, which remains classified, determined that Edmonds did not qualify for formal whistle-blower protection because she was a contract worker, not a full-time FBI employee.

Mueller promised to write another bureauwide memorandum warning supervisors against retaliating against employees who reveal internal problems.

"I want all FBI employees, as well as our contractors . . . to know that I encourage them to raise good-faith concerns about mismanagement or misconduct," Mueller wrote.

Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, have said they will ask the Justice Department to release an unclassified version of the inspector general's report.

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