FBI arrests US linguist in Iraq for sending classified information to “love interest” with ties to terrorists
A Minnesotan working in Iraq on behalf of the U.S. military was charged Wednesday with turning over highly “sensitive classified national defense information” about informants to a foreign national with ties to the Hezbollah terror organization and putting their lives at risk.
Lebanese-born Mariam T. Thompson, a one-time resident of Rochester, was charged in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia with delivering defense information to aid a foreign government and appeared in court later Wednesday.
Thompson, 61, was arrested by FBI special agents last Thursday at an unspecified overseas U.S. military facility, where she worked as a contract linguist and held a “Top Secret” government security clearance. If convicted as charged, Thompson faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Thompson turned over information to a co-conspirator who was a romantic interest of hers, has connections to Hezbollah and whose relative worked for the Lebanese government, according to federal prosecutors.
“While in a war zone, the defendant allegedly gave sensitive national defense information, including the names of individuals helping the United States, to a Lebanese national located overseas,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement accompanying the U.S. Justice Department’s announcement of Thompson’s arrest. “If true, this conduct is a disgrace. … This betrayal of country and colleagues will be punished.”
Timothy Slater, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, added, “Today’s announcement is a testament to the U.S. government’s commitment to protecting the U.S. from the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that can put our country at serious risk of damage — damage to people and damage to our country’s capabilities. Human assets are the core of the U.S. government’s intelligence, and they have our assurance that we will go above and beyond to protect them.”
U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Shea for the District of Columbia said, “The conduct alleged in this complaint is a grave threat to national security, placed lives at risk, and represents a betrayal of our armed forces.”
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint:
In late December, a day after U.S. airstrikes against Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and the same day protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Iraq to protest those strikes, audit logs show a notable shift in Thompson’s network activity on Pentagon classified systems, including repeated access to classified information she had no need to access.
Specifically, from Dec. 30 to Feb. 10, she accessed dozens of files concerning informants, including their actual names, personal identification data, background information, and photographs of the informants, as well as communication cables detailing information the sources provided to the U.S. government.
A court-approved search of Thompson’s residence on Feb. 19 in Iraq turned up a handwritten note in Arabic tucked under her mattress that included classified information from defense computer systems, names of informants, and a warning to someone targeted by the Defense Department who is affiliated with a terror organization with ties to Hezbollah. The note also advised that the informants’ phones should be tapped.
The charge against her is the latest in a series of cases as the government sharpens its counterintelligence focus by seeking to stop the flow of U.S. secrets overseas.
A little over a year ago, the government charged a former Air Force counterintelligence agent, Monica Elfriede Witt, with sharing secrets with the government of Iran, including the names of agents run by military intelligence whose cover was blown and the identities of her former co-workers. Witt defected to Iran and remains a fugitive.
In November, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former CIA officer, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for conspiring to deliver classified information to China. Lee’s disclosures as the agency’s informant network in China was collapsing, although prosecutors did not accuse him in court of involvement in the destruction of the spy network.
The New York Times contributed to this report.
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