A federal judge in Virginia will allow a whistleblower to move ahead with a lawsuit that accuses the largest U.S. Army supplier of foreign language interpreters of deploying unqualified translators to Afghanistan.
Judge Leonie M. Brinkema ruled Friday in favor of Paul Funk, a former employee who once oversaw the screening of linguists for the company, Mission Essential Personnel (MEP). Funk alleged in his lawsuit that the company allowed unqualified translators to be sent to the battlefield to work alongside American troops. He alleged that some translators cheated on oral exams, while others fell short of proficiency requirements but were sent to Afghanistan anyway.
In holding that the case could move forward, the judge said it raised issues that are "so critical, when you think about how our soldiers rely upon the interpreters in Afghanistan."
"Let the light be shone upon the situation, and at the end of the day … it will be resolved," she said.
MEP spokesman Sean Rushton said the company is "confident in the judicial system and looks forward to presenting our position more fully, which we believe will lead to a ruling in our favor."
"Our view is that the plaintiff's lawsuit lacks key information, which deprives it of a legal basis to proceed further," he said.
In a court hearing last week, lawyers for MEP argued the case should be dismissed. They said that Funk's allegations were unsubstantiated and false. "Mr. Funk would like you to skip across the wave tops and look at the broad sea," attorney Anthony H. Anikeeff told the judge, according to an official transcript of Friday's court proceedings.
"The point is that, while he alleges this grand scheme," said Anikeeff, "I call it like a cotton candy fraud case, where there's lots of ethereal wrapping around a core, but what's missing is just dig down a little bit … there isn't a single allegation of any kind of fraud."
Friday's ruling marked the latest twist in a case that raises questions about the quality of the translators who work alongside American troops as they attempt to build alliances with Afghan citizens and gather intelligence about Taliban fighters. MEP has obtained contracts worth more than $1 billion to supply translators, and officials with the company have told ABC News they are living up to the terms of those contracts.
While the company agreed that translators were required to meet oral language proficiency standards, they argued that the U.S. military had waived the reading and writing proficiency requirements for Dari and Pashto speakers. In their brief to the court, MEP said the proficiency requirements changed periodically as part of a "dynamic contractual relationship between the government and MEP to address the evolving needs of the Afghan war."