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West Hills Man Indicted on Charges of Spying for Hussein in the 1990s

William Benjamin pleads not guilty to allegedly infiltrating anti-regime groups.

September 21, 2006|Joe Mozingo | Times Staff Writer

A 64-year-old man from West Hills has been indicted on charges that he secretly worked for Saddam Hussein's intelligence services throughout the 1990s by infiltrating groups in the United States considered hostile to the former Iraqi regime, the FBI announced Wednesday.

William Shaoul Benjamin was arrested Sept. 14 for allegedly acting as a foreign agent without registering with the attorney general, as required by law. He also was charged with lying under oath to immigration officials.

Benjamin pleaded not guilty Monday and was released on a $500,000 bond.

At his ranch-style home in West Hills, Benjamin declined to comment. He referred questions to his attorney, James Blatt, who did not return several phone calls.

According to the federal grand jury indictment, returned in June and unsealed Sept. 14, Benjamin is accused of working for the Iraqi Intelligence Service from 1993 to 2001, under the codename "9211."

The indictment alleges that Benjamin met with intelligence service officers in Iraq and Tunisia, and received three payments totaling $8,500, as well as two bottles of whiskey.

The indictment reveals only this about what Benjamin allegedly did for the Iraqi government: "Defendant Benjamin would infiltrate groups and organizations located in the United States that were considered by the Iraqi Intelligence Service to be hostile to the government of Iraq under the leadership of Saddam Hussein. [He] would collect information regarding these groups and organizations, and the individuals in them, and provide this information to co-conspirators who were Iraqi Intelligence Service officers."

The indictment did not say which groups were allegedly infiltrated. Several local Muslim leaders with ties to the Iraqi community said they had never heard of Benjamin.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Judith Heinz, who is prosecuting the case, would not comment.

If convicted on all counts, Benjamin faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.

In May, a Palestinian man was sentenced in Indianapolis to 13 years for what prosecutors said was a plot to sell U.S. intelligence secrets to Hussein's regime. Prosecutors stopped short of saying that the man, Shaaban Hafiz Ahmad Ali Shaaban, actually had classified information and said the deal never went through, according to the Associated Press.

Times staff writer Amanda Covarrubias contributed to this report.

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