Accused of transmitting highly sensitive classified national defense information to Hezbollah, a U.S. Defense Department linguist was recently charged with one count of unlawfully retaining defense information, one count of transmitting the information to a representative of a foreign government, and one count of conspiracy.
On December 30, 2019, a day after U.S. airstrikes against Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, and the same day that protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Iraq to protest those strikes, Mariam Taha Thompson, a Pentagon contractor working as a linguist in Iraq, began accessing Defense Department classified systems and secret information that she had no need to access. Between December 30, 2019, and February 10, 2020, Thompson reportedly viewed 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 U.S. government.
According to an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint, Thompson accessed at least 57 confidential files concerning eight human intelligence sources over the course of six weeks. She allegedly gave the highly sensitive information to a foreign national whose relative worked for the Lebanese government.
Involved in a romantic relationship with her co-conspirator, Thompson memorized the information at work before transmitting the classified intelligence via an app. According to the Justice Department, Thompson’s co-conspirator also has ties to the terrorist organization, Hezbollah.
On February 19, 2020, federal investigators searched Thompson’s living quarters and discovered a handwritten note in Arabic concealed under her mattress. The note contained classified information from Department of Defense computer systems, identifying human assets by name, and warning a Department of Defense target who is affiliated with a designated foreign terrorist organization with ties to Hezbollah. The note also instructed that the human assets’ phones should be monitored.
On February 27, 2020, FBI agents arrested Thompson at an overseas U.S. military facility, where she worked as a contract linguist and held a Top Secret government security clearance.
“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.”
“The conduct alleged in this complaint is a grave threat to national security, placed lives at risk, and represents a betrayal of our armed forces. The charges we’ve filed today should serve as a warning to anyone who would consider disclosing classified national defense information to a terrorist organization,” stated U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea for the District of Columbia on Wednesday.
“Today’s announcement is a testament to the U.S. government’s commitment to protecting the U.S. from the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that can put our country at serious risk of damage – damage to people and damage to our country’s capabilities,” asserted Timothy Slater, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “Human assets are the core of the U.S. government’s intelligence, and they have our assurance that we will go above and beyond to protect them.”
Thompson has been charged with one count of unlawfully retaining defense information, one count of transmitting the information to a representative of a foreign government, and one count of conspiracy. If convicted, Thompson faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.