FBI Arrests Former Translator

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FBI agents at work (Illustrative photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FBI agents at work (Illustrative photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A former FBI translator from Virginia was arrested on charges of obstructing a federal investigation over his connection to a terror suspect.

The indictment against Abdirizak Wehelie, 66, was unsealed May 6, 2019. Wehelie worked as a contractor, translating for the FBI from 2012 to 2015. In December 2012, a man targeted by the FBI because of his connections to the Al-Shabab terrorist organization in Somalia called Wehelie and left him a voicemail using Wehelie’s name, according to court documents.

The call was monitored as per a court order. The next day, Wehelie was given the job of translating the call. In the translation, instead of identifying himself as did the man on the phone, Wehelie marked himself down as an “unidentified male.”

When the FBI questioned Wehelie about the translation in 2016, he admitted that he had failed to identify himself. However, he also told the FBI he never had an actual conversation with the terror suspect and he didn’t know the suspect well.

A subsequent FBI investigation found the two had close to 180 phone contacts between 2010 and 2017.

If convicted, Wehelie faces 25 years in prison. He was released on an unsecured $20,000 bail bond (meaning that only if he jumps bail is he obligated to pay).

However, the story doesn’t end there. Wehelie’s son Yusuf is currently serving a 10-year prison term for transporting weapons. Yusuf is said to have told an undercover informant that he wanted to carry out a shooting attack at a military recruitment center in the name of ISIS. In 2016, he also reportedly told undercover agents he wanted to join ISIS in Libya.

In 2010, Yusuf and another son, Yahya, were prevented from returning to the U.S. because they were on a no-fly list. The brothers were detained in Cairo after a trip to Yemen. That designation was eventually changed and the brothers were allowed back into the U.S.

The dilemma of the FBI when hiring contract translators (which are, most likely, much needed) is highlighted by this story. In this case, kudos go to the agency for correctly reading the signs and being on top of the situation.



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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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