A Minnesotan working at a U.S. military facility in Iraq was charged Wednesday with turning over highly “sensitive classified national defense information” about informants to a Lebanese national with ties to the Hezbollah terror organization and putting their lives at risk.
Lebanese-born Mariam T. Thompson, a longtime resident of Rochester, was charged in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia with delivering defense information to aid a foreign government, appeared before a judge Wednesday and remains in detention without bail.
Thompson, 61, was arrested by FBI special agents last Thursday at the Pentagon’s Special Operations Task Force facility in Erbil, Iraq, where she worked since mid-December as a contract linguist and held a top secret government security clearance. If convicted as charged, Thompson faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Thompson turned over information to an undisclosed co-conspirator who was a romantic interest of hers, has connections to Hezbollah and whose nephew worked for Lebanon’s Ministry of the Interior, according to federal prosecutors.
“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 accompanying the U.S. Justice Department’s announcement of Thompson’s arrest. “If true, this conduct is a disgrace. … This betrayal of country and colleagues will be punished.”
Timothy Slater, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, added, “Today’s announcement is a testament to the U.S. government’s commitment to protecting the U.S. from the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that can put our country at serious risk of damage — damage to people and damage to our country’s capabilities. Human assets are the core of the U.S. government’s intelligence, and they have our assurance that we will go above and beyond to protect them.”
U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea for the District of Columbia said, “The conduct alleged in this complaint is a grave threat to national security, placed lives at risk, and represents a betrayal of our armed forces.”
Under questioning by the FBI after her arrest, Thompson admitted to her romantic connection with her co-conspirator, according to prosecutors. She also characterized Hezbollah as “bad … they kill people” and said its members are terrorists.
Thompson’s professional biography on LinkedIn notes that she has been working since August 2016 for World Wide Language Resources, a company based in North Carolina that has been providing “elite operational combat interpreters and translators to support US, Allied, and Coalition Forces for two decades,” according to its website.
Court and property records in Minnesota show Thompson has lived in Rochester as far back as 1992 and as recently as last year. She lived for many years in a home on 2 acres on NW. 18th Avenue, said a real estate agent who listed the home for a time until it went off the market.
Realtor Mary Kuehn said Thompson ran a home cleaning service in Rochester. Kuehn said she heard Thompson tell her story a few years ago in a speech to the Business Network International chapter during which she spoke of her letter of endorsement from now-retired Gen. David Petraeus, among other government honors.
“She spoke many languages,” Kuehn said, recalling that after Thompson’s husband died in 2002, she was “trying to support her numerous [adult] children” who were living with her.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint:
In late December, a day after U.S. airstrikes against Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and the same day protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Iraq to protest those strikes, audit logs show a notable shift in Thompson’s network activity on Pentagon classified systems, including repeated access to classified information she had no need to access.
Specifically, from Dec. 30 to Feb. 10, she accessed nearly five dozen files concerning eight informants, including their actual names, personal identification data, background information and photographs of the informants, as well as communication cables detailing information the sources provided to the U.S. government.
A court-approved search on Feb. 19 of Thompson’s living quarters at the Special Ops facility in Iraq turned up a handwritten note in Arabic tucked under her mattress. It included classified information from defense computer systems, names of three informants who were collecting intelligence on behalf of the United States, and a warning to someone targeted by the Defense Department who is affiliated with a terror organization with ties to Hezbollah. The note also advised that the informants’ phones should be tapped.
The charge against her is the latest in a series of cases as the government sharpens its counterintelligence focus by seeking to stop the flow of U.S. secrets overseas.
A little over a year ago, the government charged a former Air Force counterintelligence agent, Monica Elfriede Witt, with sharing secrets with the government of Iran, including the names of agents run by military intelligence whose cover was blown and the identities of her former co-workers. Witt defected to Iran and remains a fugitive.
In November, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former CIA officer, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for conspiring to deliver classified information to China. Lee’s disclosures came as the agency’s informant network in China was collapsing, although prosecutors did not accuse him of involvement in the destruction of the spy network.
The New York Times contributed to this report.