March 5 (UPI) -- Prosecutors have charged a Minnesota woman working as a translator for the U.S. military in Iraq with giving classified defense information to a man connected to an Iran-backed group designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice said Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, allegedly gave information, including the names of human assets, to a Lebanese man with ties to Hezbollah who she was romantically interested in. The prosecutors said by doing so she "placed the lives of the human assets and U.S. military personnel in grave danger."
"If true, this conduct is a disgrace, especially for someone serving as a contractor with the United States military," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. "This betrayal of country and colleagues will be punished."
If guilty, she faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for delivering defense information to aid a foreign government.
Thompson was arrested Feb. 27 at an overseas U.S. military facility where she worked and held a Top Secret government security clearance, prosecutors said. According to the complaint, she was assigned mid-December to a Special Operations Task Force facility in Erbil, Iraq.
Her arrest followed an investigation that revealed she began accessing classified information she had no need of within the Department of Defense systems on Dec. 30 -- a day after the U.S. military conducted airstrikes against Hezbollah in Iraq and the same day protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in the Middle Eastern country.
The complaint details that by Feb. 11, she had accessed roughly 57 files concerning eight human intelligence sources, including their real names, personal identification data, photographs and operations cables, among other information.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents performing a court-authorized search of her Erbil residence on Feb. 19 discovered a handwritten note in Arabic under her mattress that contained the real names of three human assets who were collecting information for the U.S. government, prosecutors said.
"The note further instructs that the human assets' phones should be monitored and a named individual should be warned," read the complaint.
One of the assets, the complaint continued, is affiliated with a designated terrorist organization that is not Hezbollah.
"Agents also confirmed that the note contained national defense information classified at the SECRET level, meaning its unauthorized disclosure reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security," the complaint stated.
During an interview with an FBI agent, she said she gave the information to the man at his request and that she was romantically interested in him, the prosecutors said, adding that further investigation revealed the man to be Lebanese with connections to Hezbollah.
According to the complaint, Thompson memorized the classified information that she had viewed, wrote it down and then transmitted it to her co-conspirator using the video feature of a secure smartphone application.
The complaint details that data provided to the FBI by an Internet service provider contained an apparent screenshot from a messaging video chat of Thompson displaying a second handwritten Arabic note to her co-conspirator that explained how an asset was gathering information and contained the real name of an asset not on the note found under her mattress.
"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," said U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Shea. "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."