By Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
A Lebanese national who fraudulently gained U.S. citizenship through a sham marriage managed to obtain sensitive jobs at both the FBI and CIA, and at one point used her security clearance to access restricted files about the terrorist group Hezbollah, according to court documents filed yesterday.
U.S. officials say there is no evidence that Nada Nadim Prouty, 37, passed secrets to Hezbollah or to other groups the United States considers terrorist. But Prouty's ability to conceal her past from two of the nation's top anti-terrorism agencies raised new concerns about their vulnerability to infiltration.
"It is hard to imagine a greater threat than the situation where a foreign national uses fraud to attain citizenship and then, based on that fraud, insinuates herself into a sensitive position in the U.S. government," said U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy in a statement announcing a plea agreement with Prouty.
Prouty lives in Vienna and has worked for the CIA since 2003. She pleaded guilty in federal court in Detroit to charges of conspiracy, naturalization fraud and unauthorized computer access. In addition to losing her CIA job, she has agreed to forfeit her U.S. citizenship and to face additional penalties, possibly including fines and a prison term.
Prouty came to the United States as a college student and paid an unemployed acquaintance to enter into a false marriage in 1990 so she could gain U.S. citizenship, according to court documents. She got a job as an FBI special agent in 1999, gaining a security clearance and a post with the bureau's Washington Field Office investigating overseas crimes.
In 2000, she accessed restricted FBI computer files on Hezbollah, according to court documents, apparently to see whether family members had been linked to the Lebanon-based group. Prouty also improperly took home unspecified classified documents, according to her plea agreement. Justice officials said there is no indication that the classified records were shared with others.
In June 2003, she left the FBI to join the CIA's operations division, accepting what was described as a mid-level position that would have included multiple security clearances and the ability to work undercover.
FBI spokesman Stephen Kodak said Prouty underwent a full background investigation before she was hired, including interviews with her current and former husband and with family and friends in Lebanon. Prouty also passed an FBI polygraph test with "no deception noted," Kodak said.
"These are some of the challenges that we have to realistically face when we're out there trying to hire so many people, especially those who have foreign-language backgrounds or who weren't born in this country," Kodak said. He said that no one else has been charged in the case but that "the investigation is ongoing."
Prouty's sister and brother-in-law at one time attended a fundraiser in Lebanon featuring a speech by Sheik Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, whom the U.S. government identifies as a terrorist and as an ideological leader of Hezbollah. But a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because details of the probe remain classified, said that "at this point, there is no reason to treat this as a counterterrorism case" involving a hostile group.
The case marks yet another serious security breach at the FBI, which has come under repeated criticism for lackluster security procedures after the 2001 arrest of Robert P. Hanssen, a longtime Soviet and Russian spy. In an October report, the Justice Department's inspector general concluded that the FBI is still vulnerable to espionage because it has not implemented several key security measures after that case, including improvements to its background check system.
The report said that lapses in the FBI's internal security program prevented its officials from detecting breaches by Leandro Aragoncillo, a former FBI intelligence analyst who provided national defense documents to former and current Philippine officials. He was arrested in 2005 and in July was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Prouty's case is also notable because of her ability to gain improper access to files in the Automated Case System, the FBI's antiquated computer network. The FBI has bungled repeated attempts to replace ACS and is unlikely to have a new system in place for several years.