Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hiring spies to be spies

Nov 13, 2007 - This story will be underreported.
An illegal immigrant from Lebanon with ties to the militant Islamic group Hezbollah lied her way through background checks to become an agent for both the FBI and CIA, and then used her position to obtain information about her relatives and a U.S. investigation into the group, authorities said Tuesday.
Nada Nadim Prouty, 37, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, unauthorized computer access and naturalization fraud in federal court in Detroit and agreed to cooperate with authorities in an investigation into the security breaches.

Prouty’s case is a major embarrassment for the FBI and CIA, which supposedly had tightened their screening and monitoring of personnel after CIA officer Aldrich Ames and FBI Special Agent Robert Hanssen were caught selling secrets to foreign governments. But officials stressed that the investigation has not uncovered any evidence that Prouty gave Hezbollah or its operatives classified information.

Law enforcement officials said a multi-agency probe is underway to determine how the breaches occurred and what Prouty might have done with the information she accessed from FBI computers and whether she obtained information from the CIA.

“It is hard to imagine a greater threat than the situation where a foreign national uses fraud to attain citizenship and then, based on that fraud insinuates herself into a sensitive position in the U.S. government,” U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy in Detroit said in a statement.

In her signed plea agreement, Prouty admitted to accessing FBI computer files on Hezbollah first in 2000 and again in 2003, when she accessed case files into a top-secret national security investigation into the militant group that was being conducted by the FBI.

At the time, Prouty’s brother-in-law was a suspected Hezbollah operative who owned a Detroit restaurant where Prouty had worked as a waitress and was suspected of having strong ties to senior Hezbollah officials in Lebanon, the group’s headquarters.

Prouty also was accused of improperly taking classified information home with her while at the FBI and of working with other Lebanese nationals in what appeared to be a conspiracy to gain U.S. citizenship through fraudulent marriages and then to obtain government law enforcement, intelligence and military jobs with security clearances.

The investigation is being conducted by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, with assistance from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and the Internal Revenue Service, officials said. ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said it was too early to say what kind of security breaches might have been involved.
The breaches seem severe just from what they know now.
The U.S. government has designated Hezbollah, also known as the “Party of God,” as a global terrorist organization. The Shiite group also has financial ties and other links to Iran. Hezbollah also has had a significant fundraising presence in the United States, particularly within large Middle Eastern enclaves in cities such as Detroit and Dearborn, Mich.

Prouty came to one of those enclaves in Michigan in 1989 on a one-year, non-immigrant student visa. After overstaying her visa, she obtained a fraudulent marriage in 1990 by paying an unemployed U.S. citizen in Detroit to marry her, court records state.

From there, Prouty forged her way into obtaining U.S. citizenship and worked as a waitress and hostess at a Middle Eastern restaurant chain called La Shish Inc. that was owned by a suspected Hezbollah operative named Talal Khalil Chahine. Chahine even wrote a letter for submission into Prouty’s immigration file attesting to the validity of Prouty’s false marriage, the court papers said.

In 1999, Prouty was hired by the FBI as a sworn agent and sent to its Washington, D.C., field office, where she worked on a squad that investigates crimes against citizens working overseas. She was not assigned to work on investigations involving Hezbollah.

The next year, Prouty’s sister, Elfat El Aouar, married Chahine. And less than a month later, Prouty accessed the FBI case management system, “without authorization, and beyond her authorized access,” to query her own name and that of her sister and Chahine. She also began taking “an unknown quantity” of classified information home with her, against FBI policy, court records state.

In August 2002, Prouty’s sister and Chahine attended a fundraising event in Lebanon where the keynote speakers were Hezbollah leader Sheik Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah and Chahine himself, who authorities said was suspected of being a senior member of the organization.

The next summer, Prouty illegally accessed the FBI computers again. This time, she accessed the bureau’s Automated Case System to obtain information about a national security investigation into Hezbollah that was being conducted by the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, court records showed.

Later that year, Prouty joined the CIA and remained there until earlier this month.

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