U.S. Defense linguist charged with transmitting classified intelligence

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government said on Wednesday it had charged a Defense Department linguist with transmitting classified intelligence to a foreign national linked to the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah, saying she revealed the names of key American assets and put their lives at risk.

Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, formerly of Rochester, Minnesota, was arrested by FBI agents at an overseas military base in Irbil, Iraq, on Feb. 27. She was due to make an initial appearance on Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Reuters could not immediately determine who is representing Thompson in the case.

“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 Dec. 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 U.S. Embassy in response.

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 U.S. 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% 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.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Paul Simao and Leslie Adler