15 November 2007

Lebanese-born former C.I.A. officer pleads guilty

Beirut / Washington - A Lebanese-born C.I.A. officer who had previously worked as an F.B.I. agent pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges that she illegally sought classified information from government computers about the radical Islamic group Hezbollah.


The plea agreement by the defendant, Nada Nadim Prouty ( pictured with lawyer as they leave court) , appeared to expose grave flaws in the methods used by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct background checks on its investigators.

Ms. Prouty, 37, who also confessed that she had fraudulently obtained American citizenship, faces up to 16 years in prison.

Court papers do not specifically say why Ms. Prouty sought information about Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant group that is based in southern Lebanon, from the F.B.I.’s computer case files in June 2003, the month she left the bureau to join the C.I.A.

There is no accusation in the documents that she passed information on to Hezbollah or any other extremist group.

The plea agreement noted, however, that Ms. Prouty’s sister and her brother-in-law attended a fund-raising event in Lebanon in August 2002 at which the keynote speaker was Sheikh Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah. Sheikh Fadlallah has been designated by the United States government as a terrorist leader.

The plea agreement said that in 2003 Ms. Prouty specifically went searching for computerized case files maintained by the F.B.I.’s Detroit field office in an investigation that centered on Hezbollah although she “was not assigned to work on Hezbollah cases as part of her F.B.I. duties and she was not authorized by her supervisor, the case agent assigned to the case, or anybody else to access information about the investigation in question.”

The C.I.A. would not describe Ms. Prouty’s duties at the agency, apart from describing her as a “midlevel” employee, nor would it say if she traveled abroad as part of her duties or had been considered undercover.

Government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the investigation with reporters, said Ms. Prouty was an “operations” officer at the C.I.A., meaning she was involved in some way in basic espionage work, not as an analyst or translator.

As part of the plea agreement, she agreed to resign from the C.I.A. and give up any claim to American citizenship.

“It is fitting that she now stands to lose both her citizenship and her liberty,” Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general, said in announcing the guilty plea, which was entered in Federal District Court in Detroit.

Mr. Wainstein, who runs the Justice Department’s national security division, said Ms. Prouty “engaged in a pattern of deceit to secure U.S. citizenship, to gain employment in the intelligence community and to obtain and exploit her access to sensitive counterterrorism intelligence.”

She pleaded guilty to one count each of criminal conspiracy, which has a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; unauthorized computer access, which has a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, and naturalization fraud, which has a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In her plea agreement, Ms. Prouty, who lived mostly recently in Vienna, Va., close to the C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va, acknowledged that her crimes began shortly after she entered the United States from Lebanon in June 1989 on a one-year student visa.

She acknowledged that after overstaying her visa, she had illegally offered money to an unemployed American man to marry her in 1990, which allowed her to remain in the United States as his wife, although the couple never lived together.

She then submitted a series of false and forged documents to obtain American citizenship, which she was granted in 1994. She obtained a divorce the next year and worked in a series of jobs, including as a waitress and hostess in a chain of Middle Eastern restaurants in the Detroit area owned by her brother-in-law.

In 1997, she was hired as a special agent of the F.B.I., which has been under pressure for years to hire more agents and other employees who speak Arabic for terrorism investigations. She was assigned to the bureau’s Washington field office, given a security clearance and placed in “an extraterritorial squad investigating crimes against U.S. persons overseas,” the Justice Department said in a statement to reporters.

Ms. Prouty acknowledged two sets of illegal computer searches at the F.B.I. The first, in September 2002, involved case files that contained her name, her sister’s name or her brother-in-law’s name. The second, in June 2003, involved files from a national-security investigation of Hezbollah that was being conducted in Detroit, which has one of the nation’s largest Arabic-speaking communities.

The court papers say Ms. Prouty’s crimes first became known to the F.B.I. in December 2005 and have been under investigation for nearly two years. The documents suggest that she came under scrutiny as part of an investigation of her brother-in-law, Talal Khalil Chahine, in a scheme to funnel millions of dollars from his restaurant to people in Lebanon. Mr. Chahine is a fugitive from tax evasion charges filed in Michigan.-(nyt,yl)

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Lebanon Time-Line

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