Pentagon linguist pleads guilty to passing secrets in Iraq to man linked to Hezbollah

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A female linguist who worked for the Pentagon in Iraq pleaded guilty to handing over classified information about on-the-ground human sources who were assisting the United States to a Hezbollah-tied foreign national with whom she was romantically linked, the Justice Department announced on Friday.

Mariam Taha Thompson, 63, was charged last May in federal court with “transmitting highly sensitive classified national defense information to a foreign national,” who she believed would provide the information to Lebanese-based Hezbollah, a foreign terrorist organization tied to Iran. Court records show Thompson signed an extensive statement of facts in late January admitting to the covert plot, and she pleaded guilty on Friday. Thompson faces a maximum sentence of up to life imprisonment.

During a Friday plea hearing, the Justice Department said Thompson “admitted that, beginning in 2017, she started communicating with her unindicted co-conspirator using a video-chat feature on a secure text and voice messaging application” and that she “developed a romantic interest in her co-conspirator.” Thompson “learned that the unindicted co-conspirator had a family member who was in the Lebanese Ministry of the Interior, and that the unindicted co-conspirator claimed to have received a ring from Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Lebanese Hizballah,” the agency said.

A 12-page FBI affidavit put together by Special Agent Danielle Ray said the information that Thompson passed along “included classified national defense information regarding active human assets” and that by compromising the identities of these human assets, Thompson placed the lives of both the human assets and U.S. military members in “grave danger.”

After a U.S. airstrike killing Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in early 2020, the “unindicted co-conspirator” started asking Thompson to provide “them” with information about the human assets who had helped the U.S. to target the Iranian spy chief, and Thompson admitted she understood “them” to be Lebanese Hezbollah, according to the Justice Department.

“Thompson jeopardized the lives of members of the U.S. military as well as other individuals supporting the United States in a combat zone when she passed classified information to a person she knew was connected to Lebanese Hizballah, a foreign terrorist organization which intended to use the information to hurt this country,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers said Friday. “To describe this conduct is to condemn it. She will now be held to account for this disgraceful personal and professional betrayal of country and colleagues.”

The DOJ said the investigation into Thompson, who worked at a U.S. military facility in Iraq as a contract linguist with a top-secret government security clearance, revealed that prior to her February 2020 arrest, she had used her access to classified national defense information to provide her co-conspirator with the identities of at least 10 clandestine human assets, including their true names and photographs as well as cables showing the intelligence these assets provided to the U.S. and at least 20 U.S. targets. Prosecutors said Thompson “intended and had reason to believe that this classified national defense information would be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of Lebanese Hizballah.”

The audit of Thompson’s computer logs showed a “notable shift” in her network activity just one day after the U.S. launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and on the same day Iranian-backed protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy, revealing “repeated access to classified information she had no need to access.”

The violent storming of the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, in early January followed the Iraqi government’s condemnation of U.S. airstrikes targeting Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia in the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces guided by Soleimani and his adviser Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, who were subsequently both killed in a U.S. airstrike. The U.S. blamed Kata’ib Hezbollah for attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq in December 2019 that resulted in the death of a U.S. contractor.

A court-authorized FBI search of Thompson’s living quarters in February 2020 “led to the discovery of a handwritten note in Arabic concealed under Thompson’s mattress,” the Justice Department said in March 2020. The note contained “classified information” from Pentagon computers, identifying assets by name and warning a “target who is affiliated with a designated foreign terrorist organization with ties to Hezbollah.”

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Hezbollah was founded in the 1980s in Lebanon but now operates on multiple continents on behalf of Iran, from which it receives the bulk of its funding, although money from Hezbollah’s operations makes its way back to Iran’s coffers. Hezbollah has been tied to a spate of terrorist attacks against the U.S., including the 1983 Marine barracks bombing that killed 241 U.S. service members in Beirut. Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds Force, guided many of Hezbollah’s operations.

“The United States entrusted the defendant with highly-sensitive classified information regarding one of its most critical tools — human intelligence in an active combat zone,” acting U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips of the District of Columbia said Friday. “The defendant’s complete betrayal of that trust placed the lives of American men and women on the battlefield, and their allies, in grave danger. Thompson’s arrest and prosecution demonstrate that those who intentionally compromise classified information that is entrusted to them will face swift and dire consequences.”

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