National Security

Defense Department Linguist Charged With Passing Highly Classified Intel to Hezbollah Operative

Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah attend a rally
Supporters of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah attend a rally / Getty Images

A linguist working for the Defense Department was charged with passing "highly sensitive classified national defense information" to a foreign national affiliated with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group.

Mariam Taha Thompson is charged with compiling classified U.S. government information "regarding active human assets, including their true names" and passing it to Hezbollah operatives, the Department of Justice announced on Wednesday.

"By compromising the identities of these human assets, Thompson placed the lives of the human assets and U.S. military personnel in grave danger," the Justice Department said in a statement on Thompson's 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," 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."

"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," U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Timothy J. Shea said in a statement. "The charges we've filed today should serve as a warning to anyone who would consider disclosing classified national defense information to a terrorist organization."

FBI agents arrested Thompson in late February at an overseas U.S. military facility, where she was employed as a linguist holding top secret security clearance. A search of Thompson's living space revealed Arabic-language documents containing classified U.S. materials.

"Starting on or about December 30, 2019," the Justice Department said, "audit logs show a notable shift in Thompson's network activity on United States Department of Defense classified systems, including repeated access to classified information she had no need to access."

The department said that for six weeks after that "notable shift" began, Thompson "accessed dozens of files concerning human intelligence sources, including true names, personal identification data, background information, and photographs of the human assets, as well as operational cables detailing information the assets provided to the United States government." She transmitted the data to a Lebanese individual tied to Hezbollah "in whom she had a romantic interest."

Thompson's first appearance before a U.S. magistrate judge is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. The espionage charge could bring a maximum penalty of a life sentence in prison.