Washington: A US military translator who was based in Iraq was charged 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 identities of such informants are among the government’s most closely held secrets, and law enforcement officials said Ms. Thompson endangered the lives of the sources as well as those of military personnel.
Possible death penalty
The officials suggested that the potential loss of classified information was grave and that the prosecution was one of the most serious recent counterintelligence cases they had seen.
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 United States 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.
“If true, this conduct is a disgrace, especially for someone serving as a contractor with the United States military,” John C. Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement. “This betrayal of country and colleagues will be punished.”
She faces three charges of violating espionage laws. Under the statute, she could face up to life in prison and possibly the death penalty if the information she revealed led to the death of any of the informants.
Ms. Thompson was living in Erbil, Iraq, working on contract as a linguist. As tensions between the United States and Iran increased in the final days of December, investigators discovered, Ms. Thompson’s activity on classified systems did as well. For the next six weeks, she accessed secret government files that contained the true names and photographs of American intelligence sources and government cables that outlined the information they provided to their handlers.
Ms. Thompson’s purported espionage was discovered Dec. 30, days after American airstrikes on Hezbollah’s Iraqi arm and shortly before the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani of Iran in a Jan. 3 drone attack that was a serious escalation of President Trump’s growing confrontation with Iran.