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Classified Life: Sibel Edmonds’ Story
(Image: Sibel Edmonds)

Classified Life: Sibel Edmonds’ Story

(Image: Sibel Edmonds)

Sibel Edmonds is a former language specialist for the FBI, where she reported serious acts of security breaches and cover-ups – for which she was retaliated against and ultimately fired. Her memoir, “Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story,” takes readers on a journey inside the FBI after 9/11, and through the halls of Congress and a stonewalling judiciary.

In late September 2001, Edmonds took a job as a translator at the FBI. The bureau was desperate for Middle Eastern language speakers and Edmonds, who spent her childhood in Iran and Turkey and is fluent in Farsi, Turkish and Azerbaijani, was eager to help. She had no idea that she would find herself targeted for uncovering espionage within the FBI and witness a stunning cover-up.

Having experienced living under tyranny in both Turkey and Iran, Edmonds knows full well what can happen when government is allowed to act in secrecy. Her sobering experiences as an intimidated and disregarded whistleblower are at once unnerving and a wake-up call for all Americans who, willingly or unwillingly, traded liberty for illusive security in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

After her firing, court proceedings were blocked by assertion of the state secrets privilege, and the US Congress has been gagged and prevented from taking up or even discussing her case through retroactive classification issued by the Department of Justice.

In “Classified Woman,” Edmonds tells the full story for the first time.

Edmonds is the editor of Boiling Frogs Post and a founder-director of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. Edmonds has an MA in public policy from George Mason University and a BA in criminal justice and psychology from George Washington University.

The following excerpt is the prologue to her book. -Peter Handel (a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area).


I threw my carry-on into the backseat. Once behind the wheel, I paused to take a mental inventory of what I would need: passport, check; traveler’s checks, check; cash in dollars and Turkish lira, check

I looked at my watch: half past three. I gazed on our townhouse, reflecting; the third Christmas in a row with no jolly wreath on our door or festive lights decorating the trim. I had a little less than two and a half hours to get to the airport, which was less than fifteen minutes away, to purchase my tickets to JFK with a continuing flight to Istanbul, get on the plane, and take off. I couldn’t procrastinate any longer, so I started the engine, pulled out of our driveway, and headed north toward Reagan National Airport.

The gray, windy December day promised a heavy downpour, precisely mirroring my mood. I tightened my grip on the wheel to steady my shaking hands. I’d left a short note for my husband telling him it was time for me to go and face whatever awaited me there. I was not going to miss the chance to see my grandmother one last time. I would not let them erase me from my family’s map.

Until a few years earlier, before the dark journey began, we frequented the country at least once a year, and my family paid us annual visits. Then came the nightmare; changing everything, turning our life upside down.

I had plotted the trip in secrecy, something I had never done in all our years of marriage. I knew he would do everything he could to stop me from taking this trip. It was, after all, a matter of life and death.

I turned right into the airport entrance and squinted to make out the signs to long-term parking. My vision blurred, and I realized it was not poor visibility but tears. My determination, my will, began to melt with each passing second. I passed the parking entrance and continued on. I made two more turns around the airport, tears still falling, before I took the exit. Now I was crying out loud; sobbing. The pangs, pain, fear, rage and everything else I had bottled up in me for the past four years began to pour out; a floodtide of grief.

Yes, this was true acceptance, full acknowledgment. I could never ever go back. I would never see my extended family again. My past, my ties, my bonds and heritage all had been wiped out – completely and forever.

In my country of origin I have been branded as a spy for the United States of America. There I have been characterized as a “traitor against the country” and named as “the enemy of the state.”

According to Turkish government insiders, there exists an outstanding warrant for my arrest and incarceration. The moment I set foot in that country, I’ll be arrested and jailed under its so-called State Treason Laws, and be prosecuted in a military tribunal without access to outside representation. This is only if I’m lucky, since the likely fate that awaits me is to be taken – disappeared – and added to the list of tens of thousands of “unexplained” missing persons.

I am no longer able to visit Turkey or any of my family there, including my beloved grandmother. The ties that connect me to my past have been permanently severed. My family members have been warned and threatened to cease all contacts with me. The bonds that connect me to my friends as well, even those from childhood, no longer exist.

Instead of driving directly back home, I exited left, to the quiet Potowmack Landing, a sailboat marina in a quaint little harbor on the Potomac River facing the airport’s runways. The place seemed deserted. Considering the now steady rain, I wasn’t surprised.

I parked in an isolated, gravelly space, pulled up the zipper on my gray fleece jacket and tucked in my knitted scarf before stepping out. I walked to the pier, ignoring the razorlike wind and rain hitting me in the face.

The view was beautiful, soft and melancholy. The masts on many of the boats were strung with multicolored lights, but the cheery decorations only darkened my mood.

Across the river, despite the poor visibility and encroaching night, I could make out the famous landmarks of Washington, DC; of its past, its government. The Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, the Capitol … I smiled bleak and bitterly, for once upon a time I’d seen them with different eyes and marveled at all they represented. They served as reminders of our democracy, the Bill of Rights and a government of the people, by the people, for the people. They used to fill me with a sense of pride and contentment. Now they carried an awful, different meaning; one that evoked in me fear, disappointment, distrust, rage and sadness. These feelings were mingled with futility, a sense of desperation that things would never be fixed, and pessimism too – about the chances of ever recovering what is lost; or even if that were possible.

I felt deep pangs when I thought about this government, this monstrous new entity, taking over. I felt all the wounds, inflicted on me directly; they began to ooze and bleed. I couldn’t go back to where I came from, but I didn’t want to stay here either. I was too tired to fight. I had battled for four long years nonstop and been defeated in every single one. They had taken nearly everything from me, everything I was. Here I was now, a woman excluded from her nation’s laws, protections and rights; a woman whose very existence has been attacked; a woman who has been shut up by the government she so once admired.

By the media and the public I’m commonly referred to as the State Secrets Case, the Gagged Woman or the Classified Whistleblower.

Among legal experts I’m cited as “the most egregious case of unjustified secrecy and classification”; “the most gagged woman in the known history of the States”; and “the unprecedented case in application of State Secrets Privilege.”

Many of my old friends and associates consider me “too dangerous to associate with,” “too risky to get close to,” and “a reason to land us on a government watch list.”

The United States government has declared me “a woman who knows too many sensitive secrets”; “a woman who should remain gagged”; and “a person who should be classified at every level and in every aspect.”

The United States government has officially declared my birthplace, my heritage, as Top Secret Classified Information containing State Secrets.

My birth date has been designated classified, and its divulgence a serious threat to the United States’ sensitive diplomatic relations. The United States judicial system has agreed with this designation and ruled for its enforcement.

I am forbidden to reveal my mother tongue; all languages I speak have been banned from being officially stated. Per the government’s demand, the federal courts have ruled against those who tried to ask me what languages I’m fluent in.

My employment history has been classified as top secret. Those who have requested this information have been prevented by court orders.

My education background, including college degrees and areas of study, are designated as classified and covered by the State Secrets Privilege. The government has claimed that divulgence of my education pedigree would jeopardize our nation’s security and sensitive secrets.

The First Amendment right has been officially and formally taken away from me. I am excluded from the protection of freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment does not apply to me. My right to due process and access to the courts has been officially taken away. In 2002, the Department of Justice invoked the State Secrets Privilege, barring my cases from moving forward in the courts. The United States federal courts have obliged.

The U.S. Congress is forbidden to discuss my case or refer to me. The Justice Department has issued a formal gag order to Congress with regard to my case. My right to petition Congress has been taken away.

I looked up at another plane that had just taken off, blinking away raindrops as I followed it across the sky. I wondered if it was the plane I had planned to be on, now taking off without me as I sat there in the rain, pondering how I’d come to this point. With my family taken from me, my past erased, my voice gagged, and most of my identity classified, I felt incapable of taking charge of my life or whatever was left of it. What had gotten me to this point was a set of turning points imposed on me, all beyond my control. For four years I’d been gripping a steering wheel that was simply not connected. I knew what I wanted: an untraveled road, a different car, a brand-new start; but I didn’t know how. All I knew at this time was that I had to step out of this person I’d become – no, actually molded into – during those past four years: the whistleblower and the gagged woman; the Classified Woman.

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