US linguist sentenced to 23 years for exposing classified information to Hezbollah
CHICAGO: Lebanese-American Mariam Taha Thompson was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Wednesday after she admitted to turning over classified national defense information to Hezbollah, designated by the US as a terrorist organization based in Southern Lebanon.
Thompson, 62, from Rochester, Minn., was a contracted linguist for a US Special Operations task force in Iraq and had top secret clearance. She agreed to plead guilty in exchange for leniency, a US Justice Department official said in a statement.
According to court filings, Thompson acknowledged that she passed information to a Lebanese man who she believed would pass the sensitive information to Hezbollah agents. Her contact sought to obtain detailed information on individuals who may have been involved in the Jan 3, 2020 assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force Commander Qasem Suleimani.
“Thompson’s sentence reflects the seriousness of her violation of the trust of the American people, of the human sources she jeopardized and of the troops who worked at her side as friends and colleagues,” John Demers, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s national security division, said in a statement
“That Thompson passed our nation’s sensitive secrets to someone whom she knew had ties to Lebanese Hezbollah made her betrayal all the more serious. Thompson’s sentence should stand as a clear warning to all clearance holders that violations of their oath to this country will not be taken lightly, especially when they put lives at risk.”
Thompson admitted that, beginning in 2017, she started communicating with the Lebanese man using a video-chat feature on a secure text and voice messaging application. Over time, Thompson developed a romantic interest in her co-conspirator.
She learned that the unindicted co-conspirator had a family member who was in the Lebanese Ministry of the Interior and also had strong ties with Lebanese Hezbollah.
In December 2019, while Thompson was assigned to a special operations task force facility in Iraq, the US launched a series of airstrikes in Iraq targeting Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed foreign terrorist organization. These airstrikes culminated in a Jan. 3, 2020 strike that resulted in Suleimani’s death, as well as the founder of Kata’ib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Following Suleimani’s death, the unindicted co-conspirator began asking Thompson to provide “them” with information about the human assets who had helped the US target Suleimani. Thompson admitted that she understood “them” to be Lebanese Hezbollah, including an unnamed high-ranking military commander.
After receiving this request for information in early January 2020, Thompson began accessing dozens of files on human intelligence sources, including names, personal identification data, background information and photographs of the human assets, as well as operational cables detailing information the assets provided to the US government.
She used several techniques to pass this information on to the unindicted co-conspirator, who told her that his contacts were pleased with the information and that a Lebanese Hezbollah military commander wanted to meet Thompson when she came to Lebanon.
When she was arrested by the FBI on Feb. 27, 2020, Thompson had used her access to classified national defense information to provide her co-conspirator with the identities of at least eight human assets, at least 10 US targets, along with multiple tactics, techniques and procedures. Thompson said she knew the classified national defense information she provided could risk the lives of US sources and troops.
“The defendant’s decision to aid a foreign terrorist organization was a betrayal that endangered the lives of the very American men and women on the battlefield who had served beside her for more than a decade,” acting US attorney Channing Phillips for the District of Columbia said.
“Let today’s sentence serve notice that there are serious consequences for anyone who betrays this country by compromising national defense information.”
FBI officials who worked with the Justice Department said the information Thompson provided to her Lebanese contact put the nation’s security at risk.
“By knowingly distributing classified information that would be passed onto a designated foreign terrorist organization, Mariam Thompson put our national defense in danger,” assistant director Alan Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division said.
“The men and women of the FBI will continue to work tirelessly to defeat hostile intelligence activities targeting the US and hold those who assist our adversaries accountable.”