by Chris Gourlay, Jonathan Calvert, Joe Lauria
January 6, 2008
A WHISTLEBLOWER has made a series of extraordinary claims about how
corrupt government officials allowed Pakistan and other states to
steal nuclear weapons secrets.
Sibel Edmonds, a 37-year-old former Turkish language
translator for the FBI, listened into hundreds of sensitive
intercepted conversations while based at the agency’s Washington
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. Edmonds described
how foreign intelligence agents had enlisted the support of US
officials to acquire a network of moles in sensitive military and
Among the hours of covert tape recordings, she says she heard
evidence that 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. The name of the official – who has held a series of top
government posts – is known to The Sunday Times. He strongly
denies the claims.
However, Edmonds said:
“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
She claims that the FBI was also
gathering evidence against senior Pentagon officials – including
household names – who were aiding foreign agents.
“If you made public all the
information that the FBI have on this case, you will see very
high-level people going through criminal trials,” she said.
Her story shows just how much the West
was infiltrated by foreign states seeking nuclear secrets. It
illustrates how western government officials turned a blind eye to,
or were even helping, countries such as Pakistan acquire bomb
The wider nuclear network has been monitored for many years by a
joint Anglo-American intelligence effort. But rather than shut it
down, investigations by law enforcement bodies such as the FBI and
Britain’s Revenue & Customs have been aborted to preserve diplomatic
Edmonds, a fluent speaker of Turkish and Farsi, was recruited by the
FBI in the aftermath of the
September 11 attacks. Her previous
claims about incompetence inside the FBI have been well documented
in America. She has given evidence to closed sessions of Congress
and the 9/11 commission, but many of the key points of her testimony
have remained secret. She has now decided to divulge some of that
information after becoming disillusioned with the US authorities’
failure to act.
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
“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.
“I heard at least three transactions
like this over a period of 2½ years. There are almost certainly
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
program, 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 program.
Khan caused an alert among western intelligence agencies when his
aides met Osama Bin Laden.
“We were aware of contact between A.Q. Khan’s people and Al-Qaeda,” a former CIA officer said last
week. “There was absolute panic when we initially discovered
this, but it kind of panned out in the end.”
It is likely that the nuclear secrets
stolen from the United States would have been sold to a number of
rogue states by Khan.
Edmonds was later to see the scope of the Pakistani connections when
it was revealed that one of her fellow translators at the FBI was
the daughter of a Pakistani embassy official who worked for Ahmad.
The translator was given top secret clearance despite protests from
Edmonds says packages containing nuclear secrets were delivered by
Turkish operatives, using their cover as members of the diplomatic
and military community, to contacts at the Pakistani embassy in
Washington. Following 9/11, a number of the foreign operatives were
taken in for questioning by the FBI on suspicion that they knew
about or somehow aided the attacks.
Edmonds said the State Department official once again proved useful.
“A primary target would call the
official and point to names on the list and say, ‘We need to get
them out of the US because we can’t afford for them to spill the
beans’,” she said. “The official said that he would ‘take care
The four suspects on the list were
released from interrogation and extradited.
Edmonds also claims that a number of senior officials in the
Pentagon had helped Israeli and Turkish agents.
“The people provided lists of
potential moles from Pentagon-related institutions who had
access to databases concerning this information,” she said.
“The handlers, who were part of the diplomatic community, would
then try to recruit those people to become moles for the
network. The lists contained all their ‘hooking points’, which
could be financial or sexual pressure points, their exact job in
the Pentagon and what stuff they had access to.”
One of the Pentagon figures under
investigation was Lawrence Franklin, a former Pentagon
analyst, who was jailed in 2006 for passing US defense information
to lobbyists and sharing classified information with an Israeli
“He was one of the top people
providing information and packages during 2000 and 2001,” she
Once acquired, the nuclear secrets could
have gone anywhere. The FBI monitored Turkish diplomats who were
selling copies of the information to the highest bidder.
“Certain greedy Turkish operators
would make copies of the material and look around for buyers.
They had agents who would find potential buyers.”
In summer 2000, Edmonds says the FBI
monitored one of the agents as he met two Saudi Arabian businessmen
in Detroit to sell nuclear information that had been stolen from an
air force base in Alabama.
She overheard the agent saying:
“We have a package and we’re going
to sell it for $250,000.”
Edmonds’s employment with the FBI lasted
for just six months. In March 2002 she was dismissed after accusing
a colleague of covering up illicit activity involving Turkish
She has always claimed that she was victimized for being outspoken
and was vindicated by an Office of the Inspector General review of
her case three years later. It found that one of the contributory
reasons for her sacking was that she had made valid complaints.
The US attorney-general has imposed a state secrets privilege order
on her, which prevents her revealing more details of the FBI’s
methods and current investigations. Her allegations were heard in a
closed session of Congress, but no action has been taken and she
continues to campaign for a public hearing. She was able to discuss
the case with The Sunday Times because, by the end of January
2002, the justice department had shut down the program.
The senior official in the State Department no longer works there.
Last week he denied all of Edmonds’s
“If you are calling me to say
somebody said that I took money, that’s outrageous . . . I do
not have anything to say about such stupid ridiculous things as
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
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
How Pakistan got the bomb, then sold it
to the highest bidders
1965 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,
Pakistan’s foreign minister, says:
1974 Nuclear program becomes
increased priority as India tests a nuclear device
1976 Abdul Qadeer Khan, a
scientist, steals secrets from Dutch uranium plant. Made
head of his nation’s nuclear program by Bhutto, now prime
1976 onwards Clandestine network
established to obtain materials and technology for uranium
enrichment from the West
1985 Pakistan produces
weapons-grade uranium for the first time
1989-91 Khan’s network sells
Iran nuclear weapons information and technology
1991-97 Khan sells weapons
technology to North Korea and Libya
1998 India tests nuclear bomb
and Pakistan follows with a series of nuclear tests. Khan
2001 CIA chief George Tenet
gathers officials for crisis summit on the proliferation of
nuclear technology from Pakistan to other countries
2001 Weeks before 9/11, Khan’s
aides meet Osama Bin Laden to discuss an Al-Qaeda nuclear
2001 After 9/11 proliferation
crisis becomes secondary as Pakistan is seen as important
ally in war on terror
2003 Libya abandons nuclear
weapons program and admits acquiring components through
Pakistani nuclear scientists
2004 Khan placed under house
arrest and confesses to supplying Iran, Libya and
Korea with weapons technology. He is pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf
2006 North Korea tests a nuclear
2007 Renewed fears that bomb may
fall into hands of Islamic extremists as killing of Benazir
Bhutto throws country into turmoil