A US military translator who was based in Iraq was charged on Wednesday in Washington federal court with passing the names of US informants to people linked to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
An indictment said Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, formerly of Rochester, Minnesota, was a contract linguist with a “top secret” security clearance who began working with US Special Forces in Erbil, Iraq in mid-December.
It said that one day after US airstrikes December 29 on installations of an Iraqi Shiite militia allied with Iran, Thompson began accessing US military computer files with the identities of US sources and information they had provided.
After Thompson was arrested on February 27, she admitted to investigators that she passed the information on the informants, together with a warning for a Hezbollah-linked target of US military intelligence, to a Lebanese national whom she had “a romantic interest in,” according to the charges.
The Lebanese national is related to a Lebanese government official and “has apparent connections to Hezbollah,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
“Thompson accessed dozens of files concerning human intelligence sources, including 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 US government,” the Justice Department said.
Thompson was charged with transmitting national defense information to representatives of a foreign government - Hezbollah of Lebanon - the maximum penalty for which is life imprisonment.
“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,” John Demers, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
“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.”
The Justice Department said that during its investigation, it discovered audit logs showing a “notable shift” in Thompson’s network activity on the Defense Department’s classified systems.
The discovery came on December 30, 2019, a day after the United States launched air strikes against Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and the same day that protesters there stormed the US Embassy in response.
Files on human intelligence sources
The information Thompson was looking up involved dozens of files on human intelligence sources she had no need to access, including their names, photographs and other personally-identifiable information, the department said .
In February, FBI agents searched her living quarters on the base and discovered a handwritten note written in Arabic under her mattress, according to a sworn statement from an FBI agent contained in a court filing.
The note had the names of US intelligence informants. The note said these sources were collecting information for the United States, and suggested that their phones be monitored and their target should be warned, according to the sworn statement.
In subsequent interviews with the FBI, Thompson she waived her Miranda rights and told the agents she had passed along the information from the note to a Lebanese foreign national, according to the statement.
Court documents identify the person only as a co-conspirator whom Thompson had a romantic interest in. She told the FBI she did not know if he was with Hezbollah, which was first designated as a terrorist group by the United States in 1997, according to the court filing.
To share the intelligence, Thompson claimed she had memorized the classified information, wrote it down and conveyed it to the co-conspirator through a secure messaging application on her phone, according to the filing. She apparently later amended her statement, saying she was 70 percent sure she had not transmitted the note.
However, investigators said in the court filing they had developed solid evidence to suggest Thompson was sending the person details about the human intelligence sources, including information she wrote on a second Arabic note.