She had nothing to hide, she told the agents as they departed with her computers. When they left, they presented her with a summons to appear before a grand jury in Washington.
She hired a lawyer.
* * *
Months passed. Todd heard nothing more from the FBI. But at work, she believed Cosgriff started freezing her out.
Then, on Dec. 13, 2007, he summoned her to his office. An intelligence report had come in about a possible Iran-backed attack on U.S. personnel in Bahrain. The report, which she guessed originated with the local CIA station, said the attacks were to be led by Bahrain’s top Shiite religious figure, Isa Qassim.
Todd thought the report was fishy. Although Bahrain’s Shiites did oppose the U.S.-backed Sunni monarchy, they’re Arabs, eternal enemies of the Persian Iranians. And Qassim himself, it happened, had warned Todd just the previous day that anti-monarchy demonstrators might attack places frequented by U.S. personnel.
The report “looked like a fabrication by someone trying to kill two birds with one stone, by making the Bahraini Shia appear to be anti-U.S. terrorists who also happened to be taking orders from Iran,” Todd said. “I knew, really knew, that the Bahraini Shia were trying to ensure U.S. personnel were nowhere near the possible violence.” She suspected the intelligence report was cooked up by Bush administration hawks.
Cosgriff “asked me if I could go out and verify the information at the source — an informant in Dirza, a Shia village — saying that he realized it was dangerous,” Todd said.
Cosgriff declined to answer questions for the record about his meeting with Todd; a retired senior naval officer familiar with his thinking said he did not issue an order.
Todd’s boss, Martin Adams, recalled the event. “I saw the incoming report,” Adams said. “Someone — I do not remember who, but it was a junior officer — brought it to the office I shared with Gwenyth and showed it to her and to me. Subsequently, Gwenyth got a call, asking her to go down and see Cosgriff — an unusual event in itself. When she returned, she said she had to work that evening, as Cosgriff had asked her to go out to confirm the information in the report.”
But first, they called Cmdr. Carl Inman, the assistant Fleet N2, or intelligence officer. “He was very surprised Cosgriff had called me, not him,” Todd said. Inman said he could not recall that.
According to Todd and Adams, however, the three decided that going at night to Diraz, a restive Shiite area seven miles north of Manama, was too dangerous. Instead, she’d try a foreign businessman in town who had good contacts among leading Shiites.
That night, she met at a Manama restaurant with the businessman and a Shiite dissident, a man the CIA station chief had once warned her was a “terrorist” but who she was confident was not. It soon became clear they were being watched by Bahraini security men, she said.
The dissident batted away the report. The last thing the Bahraini Shiites wanted, he said, was to antagonize the Americans. But violence definitely could erupt between protesters and security forces, he said. U.S. personnel should steer clear.
Todd returned to the base at 10:30, but at the gate, her security badges didn’t work. A glitch, she thought. She talked the guard into letting her in and wrote up a warning report.
At 2 a.m., Inman came in. “This is important,” she remembered him saying. “It has to go out now.”
Inman did recall that “we then made sure the right people had her information, her observations and her analysis.”
Exhausted, Todd walked out of her office — for the last time, it turned out.
At 7:30 the next morning, her badge still wasn’t working. Again she wangled her way past a guard. An “agitated” Inman appeared.
Go home, he said. “The front office is very upset.” He couldn’t say more.
“Freaking out,” Todd went to a nearby Starbucks. She called Cosgriff, but got shunted to an adjutant, who told her: “You have to come in for an explanation.”
Now wary, Todd refused.
The next day, her computer access was shut down. The day after that, Cosgriff’s chief of staff called to demand she come in to turn in her badges. Instead, she gave them to Adams for delivery.
Then came a stunning revelation: Todd said she learned from a friend that her access had been suspended the same day Cosgriff had dispatched her into the night to verify the threat report.
What? Todd said she felt the room spin. Cosgriff had given her a sensitive assignment — to meet a suspect Shiite — after her clearances had been suspended? It didn’t make sense.
Ten days later, on Christmas Eve, her contract was abruptly terminated without explanation. Stripped of clearances, she was not only out of a job, it appeared, but finished altogether, her career in tatters.
* * *
As the holidays passed, she gloomily assessed her prospects. Huxtable, her Australian navy captain, presented her with an escape plan: Go to Perth, his next duty assignment. Get a house for us. Wait for me there.
She gathered up her daughter and fled. While she appealed to the Navy for an explanation, she solicited recommendations from old colleagues, hoping she might find work again, somehow, in foreign policy. Many stepped forward.
Adm. John W. Miller, now 5th Fleet commander, called her judgments “sound and invariably on the mark.”
Todd’s departure from Bahrain was “a serious loss,” Inman wrote. “Her appraisals of events are almost uncanny in their accuracy.”
Huxtable finally arrived from Bahrain, and she busied herself in wildlife restoration at a national park, helping rescue injured kangaroos.
Then, events in Bahrain caught up with her. On Feb. 27, 2008, a letter from Cosgriff’s chief of staff, Capt. Joe Sensi, arrived via “unregistered snail mail.” It was dated Dec. 13, 2007, the day of her strange intelligence mission. For the first time, she read that her contract had been terminated because of “unreported foreign contacts ... financial irresponsibility ... [and] the disclosure of classified information to unauthorized persons.”
Todd shot back a six-page response, demanding a “detailed substantiation.”
“I have no unreported foreign contacts,” she said in the letter. “On the contrary, every contact of interest I have come across during my time at [Naval Forces Central Command] I have factored into my reporting to the Command.” She referred to several, including “the meetings I knew Mr. Cabelly had arranged between Sudanese and Bahraini businessmen.”
Next: “If there were concerns about my finances, they were never brought to my attention.”
Next: “I have not knowingly disclosed classified information to any unauthorized person.” Her clearances routinely had been renewed.
Finally, Todd demanded “a full explanation” of why the Navy had violated personnel rules in canceling her clearances without notice or a chance to appeal.
The Navy’s response: “As ... the manual states, commanding officers will suspend individual access to classified material as warranted.”
* * *
Her first year of exile passed slowly in Perth. On March 29, 2009, “in a lovely ceremony on a bright sunny day in the garden of our landlady,” she and Huxtable exchanged vows. They moved to Canberra, where her husband took a new post.
Things seemed to have died down at last. But on Oct. 27, 2009, the Justice Department unsealed its indictment of Robert Cabelly. According to the indictment, he had violated sanctions on Sudan, as well as engaged in money laundering, passport fraud and making false statements. Cabelly entered a plea of not guilty to all counts.
And to her alarm, Todd discovered she had been included as an unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator. Her lawyer warned her not to step on American soil until things were resolved.
Then came the oddest incident of all, according to Todd.
One night in February 2011, Todd said, she was preparing dinner when the doorbell rang.
On the doorstep was a man who introduced himself as “Bill Phelps, a consular officer from the American Embassy.”
He explained to Todd and her husband that Chinese hackers had been compromising U.S. passports, and he was warning ex-pat Americans about it. He was at the H’s. Could he see her papers, please?
“Mine begins with T,” she said. “My name is Todd.” She nodded at her husband, Charles. “He’s an H.”
The man appeared flustered. “Oh, wait, let me think,” she recalled him saying. “R, S, T. ... Oh, yeah, T’s were compromised, too.”
Todd said she “smelled a rat ... somebody connected with U.S. intelligence.” Huxtable was incensed. They told the man to leave.
Sure enough, “Phelps” returned the next day and confessed.
“I lied — I’m with the FBI, and we want to talk to you,” Todd recalled him saying. He wanted her to come to the embassy for a video conference with Washington officials to discuss her relationship with Cabelly. The FBI did not respond to requests to confirm Todd’s account, which she first provided to Australian television immediately after the incident.
It had been a comically clumsy ruse, but Todd wasn’t laughing. Neither was Huxtable, who alerted his superiors that the FBI was evidently conducting some kind of “rogue investigation” in Australia, an egregious violation of protocol.
Todd asked the agent whether he could guarantee her immunity if she came to the embassy. No, he said. Forget it then, she replied.
She called her lawyer in Washington. He made a few inquiries and told her that she had been dropped from the indictment months before: There had been a misunderstanding about the cash Cabelly had brought her in 2006 for the emergency surgery, she said.
* * *
Todd understands her story sounds improbable. Indeed, she spends at least part of every day spinning various conspiracy theories through her mind.
For a long while, she admits, “I thought I was perhaps being paranoid.” But when the mysterious FBI agent showed up, she decided somebody really was out to get her.
The question was who — or who first?
She wondered if maybe the whole Bahrain catastrophe came down to the FBI trying to pressure her to give up information they thought she had on Cabelly.
On the other hand, she thought it curious that the FBI man had showed up only days after she had been quoted in the New York Times harshly criticizing the Bush administration’s Bahrain policy, which was “consciously ignoring at best the situation of Bahraini Shiites.”
Was somebody in Washington still smarting over her Dec. 13, 2007, refutation of its intelligence report linking Shiite protesters to Iran?
Or was hers a classic Washington tale of a strong woman slapped down for standing up to powerful men? “Sisterhood” wasn’t a word that came easily to Todd’s lips, but now she felt a kinship to Valerie Plame, the CIA operative outed by Bush officials because her diplomat husband challenged their case for invading Iraq.
Todd swings from theory to theory.
“If you want my opinion, I am 100 percent convinced that this is about my thwarting plans to provoke war with Iran,” Todd said at one point.
One former official familiar with the events in Bahrain agreed. “She got on the wrong side of some powerful people,” he said on condition of anonymity in exchange for discussing anything about the case.
The Justice Department will not discuss anything about the Cabelly case. The FBI did not respond to requests to discuss the Australia incident, Todd or Cabelly.
Cabelly’s travails, however, may be reaching closure. A sentencing hearing, scheduled for June, was postponed, under seal.
* * *
Eighteen months later, Todd is still afraid to come home, lest the Cabelly case pop up and bite her again. Her parents have visited from Vermont, where they are retired, on a few holidays. Once in 2008 they gathered in Toronto, where she was meeting her lawyers.
At 47, she’s no longer a high-level player in big-think Middle East strategy (though, judging by her e-mail exchanges with past and present senior officers, Navy leaders still welcome her advice). She worries: The drumbeat for a military attack on Iran, she says, is being pounded “by the same people who gave us Iraq.”
“What happened to Gwenyth in Bahrain was shocking,” said her father, Kenneth Thompson, “but having spent much of my working life in the State Department, I know that such things are possible. The only way to curb such abuses of power is to make the facts public.”
Her continued inquiries to the Navy have been bounced from office to office. She complained to the Navy’s Inspector General Hotline, which responded that it “will neither confirm, nor deny, receipt of your Hotline complaint via email of 28 Feb 2008.”
After a Freedom of Information Act request, the Navy Central Command said it has no records of Cosgriff and Fallon discussing a plan to move the big decks, no records of the intelligence report on Shia unrest, no warning report by Todd and Inman on Dec. 14, and no “records related to the revocation of Ms. Todd’s security clearance.”
The Defense Security Service indicated that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had a classified file on her; NCIS says it is working on a FOIA response.
In desperation in February 2011, Todd wrote to two high-ranking Navy officers, including Miller, who had provided her such a glowing recommendation in 2009.
“Can either of you help me?” Todd beseeched. “I do not want to cause more damage, but this whole situation is un-American. I just want to know the facts, and then I will shut up.”
Miller, who assumed command of the 5th Fleet this year, told her he would look into it. She is certain he will. As of press time, however, help has yet to come.
Jeff Stein, The Post’s former SpyTalk blogger, is a longtime Washington reporter and editor. To comment on this story, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.