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FBI Arrests Military Translator on Espionage Charges


FILE - The FBI seal is seen before a news conference at FBI headquarters in Washington, June 14, 2018.

An American military translator based in Iraq has been arrested and charged with passing the names of intelligence assets to a Lebanese national with suspected ties to the Hezbollah terror group, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, formerly of Rochester, Minnesota, was arrested by FBI special agents on February 27 at a U.S. special operations base in Irbil, Iraq, where she had worked as a contract translator since December. She faces charges of delivering defense information to aid a foreign government and was scheduled to make her first appearance in federal court Wednesday afternoon in Washington.

In a statement, Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah said the department was aware of the charges against Thompson and that it was “taking all necessary precautions, including protection of U.S. forces.” The company that had apparently hired her as a contract linguist for the U.S. military declined to comment.

According to the Justice Department, an FBI investigation leading to Thompson's arrest showed that she had used her top secret U.S. government security clearance to access dozens of classified military computer files on human intelligence sources over a six-week period beginning December 30, a day after U.S. strikes against Iranian-backed forces in Iraq.

The files included “true names, personal identification data, background information and photographs of the human assets, as well as operational cables detailing information the assets provided to the United States government,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Romantic interest

An FBI search of Thompson’s living quarters on February 19 found a handwritten note in Arabic with classified information that she intended to pass to the unidentified Lebanese, according to court papers. In interviews with FBI agents after her arrest in Iraq, Thompson claimed to have had a romantic interest in the man and to have passed along the information at his request.

The note found under a mattress included names of human assets and instructions that an individual affiliated with a terrorist organization being targeted by the United States be warned. Thompson later told agents that she relayed the information “by memorizing the classified information that she had viewed, writing it down and then using the video feature of a secure direct messaging application on her cellular phone to transmit her notes of the classified information to the co-conspirator.”

An emergency search warrant served on an unidentified service provider the day before her arrest turned up further evidence of her alleged crime: an image of an “apparent screenshot” of Thompson’s video chat with the man during which Thompson is holding a note that identifies a human source by name, according to court documents.

Thompson told FBI investigators the target of her romantic pursuit was influential because his nephew worked for Lebanon’s interior ministry. She described Hezbollah as “bad," and said that that Hezbollah members were “terrorists” and that they “kill people.”

The group was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in 1997.

Thompson's national origins and date of immigration to the United States could not be immediately determined. According to her LinkedIn profile, she attended the Arabic University in Beirut from 1977 to 1979 and received her GED from Rochester Community College in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1991.

Began work in 2006

Beginning in 2006, she started working as a translator and cultural adviser for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan and then in Iraq again, all through U.S.-based contractors. During more than three years in Iraq in the 2000s, she participated "in hundreds of combat patrols to assist coalition leaders in their engagements with key Iraqi leaders," General David Petraeus, then the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, wrote in a glowing 2010 “letter of endorsement” posted on Thompson's LinkedIn page.

While serving in Afghanistan, Thompson, who went by "Mary," "provided essential information to the theatre-level command which affected policy and operations throughout the country," Petraeus wrote, recommending her for a job as a leader of a U.S. military "human terrain team" or as a cultural adviser.

Since 2016, Thompson has been employed by Worldwide Language Services to work as an "Arabic linguist" for U.S. special forces in Syria, according to her LinkedIn profile. The Fayetteville, North Carolina, company bills itself as a “leading international organization that has provided elite operational combat interpreters and translators to support U.S., allied and coalition forces for two decades.”

Robin Dickenson, human relations director for the company, declined to comment on Thompson's employment status.

Lynn Davis contributed to this report.