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Ex-agent's security breach detailed

The illegal immigrant from Lebanon accessed sensitive CIA and FBI files, court papers say.

December 06, 2007|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

DETROIT — An illegal immigrant from Lebanon who became an agent for the FBI and CIA allegedly used her access to sensitive U.S. government secrets to help her brother-in-law, a suspected major fundraiser for the terrorist group Hezbollah, according to new details concerning a national security breach that emerged Wednesday.

In court documents and interviews, federal authorities said that as part of a criminal conspiracy, Nada Nadim Prouty, 37, illegally accessed top-secret FBI investigative files on five occasions and most likely shared the information with the suspected Hezbollah operative. When she pleaded guilty to unauthorized computer access and naturalization fraud charges three weeks ago, authorities revealed only that Prouty had accessed the FBI's Hezbollah files once, and said nothing about her sharing information about ongoing investigations with anyone else.

On Wednesday, prosecutors said Prouty illegally accessed the FBI's Hezbollah investigative files in 2002 and 2003, at a time when she was a Washington, D.C.-based FBI field agent who was not working Hezbollah cases. Prouty accessed them electronically, "without authorization and in excess of her authorized access," the prosecutors said in a court filing.

At the time, her sister's husband, Talal Khalil Chahine, 51, was under investigation by the FBI in Detroit for his suspected ties to Hezbollah. The Lebanon-based group was designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization in 1997.

The Detroit suburb of Dearborn is home to the largest Lebanese community outside of Lebanon, and for years the FBI's Detroit field office has had numerous investigations underway into Hezbollah's fundraising network here. Authorities say the group is supported by donations from wealthy local supporters and a wide array of criminal activities.

Authorities now believe Prouty was illegally accessing the FBI files to determine for Chahine and perhaps others what the FBI knew about the group's presence here, and that she accessed an investigative file on Chahine, according to the court filing and interviews. At the time, Chahine was suspected of raising large sums of money for Hezbollah within the local community and of meeting with top Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon.

Prouty's lawyer, Thomas W. Cranmer, said he could not comment on the prosecutors' allegations.

Chahine was not available for comment, but has denied wrongdoing in a statement to a local newspaper. He was indicted in 2005 for allegedly skimming millions of dollars in profits from his successful chain of Middle Eastern restaurants here and sending the money to Lebanon. He fled the country and is believed to be in Lebanon.

Federal prosecutors and the FBI had no official comment on the disclosures, which were contained in a superseding grand jury indictment of Chahine.

Several federal law enforcement officials familiar with the case said Prouty's actions were alarming, and that she essentially committed espionage on behalf of a terrorist organization by knowingly accessing and sharing internal FBI information on Hezbollah with Chahine at a time when she appeared to have known of his ties to the group.

One senior federal law enforcement official said an ongoing damage assessment focused on what information Prouty -- who started working for the FBI in 1999 and the CIA in 2003 -- passed onto Chahine and perhaps others with connections to Hezbollah here. Officials also are trying to determine whether the information undermined any of the FBI's long-running investigations into the organization.

The Justice Department has formally accused Prouty of taking home classified information improperly, and the damage assessment focuses on whether any of those files pertained to Hezbollah and whether she shared them with Chahine, said the law enforcement official.

"The damage as we see it is that the information has been compromised and accessed unlawfully with bad intent," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Of particular concern: Prouty at least twice accessed case files that contained an identification number for a "classified human source of information" being used by the FBI in Hezbollah investigations, the court filing said. That means that she could have compromised an undercover informant or witness who was working with the FBI, according to the official.

As part of her plea, Prouty of Vienna, Va., is required to cooperate in ongoing investigations and submit to polygraph tests about her relationship with Chahine and other matters.

The federal law enforcement official and a second counter- terrorism official also disclosed that the FBI began investigating Prouty after agents began hearing that Chahine, an influential power broker in Dearborn, had an inside source at the FBI who was feeding him information about its investigations into his activities and into Hezbollah.

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