Pentagon Linguist Charged With Passing Classified Info to Person With Links to Hezbollah

March 4, 2020 Updated: March 5, 2020

A contractor for the Department of Defense (DOD) has been arrested and charged with passing highly classified information, including the names of U.S. human intelligence sources, to a foreign national with apparent ties to the terrorist group Hezbollah, the Justice Department announced.

Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, who formerly resided in Rochester, Minnesota, allegedly began accessing the classified information on or about Dec. 30, 2019, the day after U.S. airstrikes against Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, investigators said in an affidavit (pdf). It was also the same day protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Iraq.

Thompson allegedly accessed approximately 57 files concerning human intelligence sources, including true names, personal identification data, background information, and photographs of the human assets, and operational cables detailing information the assets provided to the U.S. government during a six-week period from Dec. 30, 2019, to Feb. 10, prosecutors said. They indicated that Thompson had no need to access such information.

Investigators searched Thompson’s living quarters on Feb. 19 and found a handwritten note in Arabic hidden under her mattress. The note contained DOD classified information, identifying the human sources by name. It also had a warning for a DOD target who has ties with Hezbollah, along with instructions that the human sources’ phones should be monitored, the affidavit said.

Agents confirmed that the human sources named in Thompson’s note were collecting information for the U.S. government and that the information found on the note was classified at the “Secret” level, meaning that “unauthorized disclosure reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.”

Thompson was arrested by FBI special agents on Feb. 27 at a U.S. military facility at Erbil, Iraq, where she worked as a linguist. She also held a top-secret government security clearance and had access to top-secret information.

When questioned by FBI investigators, Thompson admitted that she had passed the classified information in the note to a co-conspirator, who she admitted was a romantic interest, and who had asked her for the information. Investigators alleged that Thompson knew that the co-conspirator was a foreign national whose relative worked for the Lebanese government. The investigation also found that the co-conspirator has apparent ties with Hezbollah.

Investigators say that Thompson also admitted to providing to the co-conspirator information of another human source and the information the source had provided to the United States along with information regarding the techniques used to gather information for the United States.

“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,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers 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.”

If convicted, Thompson faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan