Politics

Defense Department linguist in Iraq charged with espionage, shared secret names with romantic interest, prosecutors say

Key Points
  • A Defense Department linguist has been charged with espionage after allegedly sharing classified information about active human intelligence assets with a person connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
  • Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, was arrested last Thursday at a U.S. Special Operations Task Force facility in Erbil, Iraq, where she worked as a contract linguist, and held Top Secret security clearances.
  • Thompson shared the true names of intelligence sources with a co-conspirator, "in whom she had a romantic interest," court records say.
Members of the Shiite Mehdi army militia carry Lebanese Hezbollah flags as they rally in Baghdad's neighborhood of Sadr City in 2006.
Ahmad Al-Rubaye | AFP | Getty Images

A Defense Department linguist has been charged with espionage after allegedly sharing classified information about active human intelligence assets with a person connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah, authorities said Wednesday.

Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, was arrested last Thursday at a U.S. Special Operations Task Force facility in Erbil, Iraq, where she worked as a contract linguist, and held Top Secret security clearances, according to court records.

Authorities said Thompson shared the true names of intelligence sources with a co-conspirator, a Lebanese national in whom she had a romantic interest."

That person had a relative who worked for the Lebanese government, and also "has apparent connections to" Hezbollah, the Iran-backed group in Lebanon, which the State Department has designated a terrorist organization, according to the Justice Department.

The linguist, court records say, confessed her actions after she was arrested, and claimed she provided information to her co-conspirator at the request of that person.

"By compromising the identities of these human assets, Thompson placed the lives of the human assets and U.S. military personnel in grave danger," the Justice Department said in a statement.

Thompson, who previously lived in Rochester, Minn., was due to appear Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on a charge of delivering defense information to aid a foreign government.

"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," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers.

"If true, this conduct is a disgrace, especially for someone serving as a contractor with the United States military. This betrayal of country and colleagues will be punished," Demers said.

Authorities said that on or around Dec. 30, a day after American airstrikes against Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, and the same day that protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Iraq over those strikes, there was "a notable shift in Thompson's network activity on United States Department of Defense classified systems."

That activity included repeated access to classified information that she had no legitimate need to access, according to court records.

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For the next six weeks, Thompson accessed approximately 57 files concerning eight human intelligence sources, which included "true names, personal identification data, background information, and photographs of the human assets," court records say.

The files also contained "operational cables detailing information the assets provided to the United States government," records say.

When Thompson's living quarters were searched on Feb. 19, investigators found a handwritten note, in Arabic,  concealed under her mattress, according to court records.

The note contained the true names of three human intelligence assets, and said those people were collecting information, records say.

"The Note further instructs that the human assets' phones should be monitored and a named individual ... should be warned," according to records.

The target to be warned is "affiliated with a designated foreign terrorist organization with ties" and was "in fact, a target of the United States," record says.

Investigators later learned that Thompson, in a separate communication, gave information to the co-conspirator "identifying another human asset and the information the asset had provided to the United States, as well as providing information regarding the techniques the human assets were using to gather information on behalf of the United States."

Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah said in a statement, "The Department of Defense is aware that the Department of Justice charged a DoD contractor with serious criminal offenses."

"DoD will continue to cooperate with the DOJ throughout its investigation. DoD is taking all necessary precautions, including the protection of U.S. forces," Farah said.

- Additional reporting by Amanda Macias