By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 1, 2008
A Fairfax County police sergeant pleaded guilty yesterday to illegally using police computers to check license plate numbers for a friend, not knowing that the friend was the target of a federal investigation and that the license plates were on cars used to surveil the friend.
Sgt. Weiss Rasool, 30, joined the county police in 2000 and is assigned to patrol the McLean district. He has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation, Officer Don Gotthardt said.
During a brief hearing in federal court in Alexandria, Rasool pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of unauthorized computer access. The maximum sentence is one year in prison, though sentencing guidelines call for probation or up to six months.
In a statement of facts filed by the government and signed by Rasool, authorities said Rasool used the Fairfax police computer system June 10, 2005, to access the Virginia Criminal Information Network and the National Crime Information Center to check three license plates. After learning that the plates were registered to a leasing company -- which authorities say Rasool had reason to believe was providing vehicles to federal investigators -- Rasool told his friend that the plates had been traced to a company, not an individual.
That phone call was being monitored by federal agents on a wiretap authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, court records show. The subject of the surveillance has since been convicted of felonies in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, but a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to identify him yesterday.
The agents could tell from the phone call that Rasool and their target had spoken before, court records state. And because Rasool was not conducting a police investigation or other official business, he was breaking the law by accessing the state and federal databases.
In addition, authorities said, Rasool checked his own name and others in the national crime database more than 15 times to determine whether he or other individuals were registered in the Violent Crime and Terrorist Offender File, also a federal violation when not done as part of a police investigation. Rasool is a native of Afghanistan and a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Outside the courtroom, Rasool declined to discuss specifics of the case. But he said he had not intended to harm an investigation or damage the United States.
"I couldn't serve in the military because of family issues," Rasool said. "But this country's done so much for me. I will defend it, protect it and serve it until the last drop of my blood."
Rasool's attorney, James W. Hundley, said Rasool "didn't divulge any information he shouldn't divulge." He said a member of Rasool's mosque asked the police officer to "check license plates he was concerned about" on vehicles he suspected had been following him.
Hundley said Rasool told his friend that he would be able to provide only limited information, mainly whether the cars were registered to companies or individuals. He found they were registered to a company, Hundley said, and left a voice-mail message to that effect.
The cars apparently were being used for federal surveillance, Hundley said. He said that he did not know the name of the person being watched and that Rasool "had no reason to believe this person was the subject of an investigation."
Rasool only recently learned of the investigation, Hundley said, apparently after the target was convicted of immigration offenses and deported.
Hundley said Rasool was checking the federal terrorism "watch list to see if he or others close to him were incorrectly listed. None of them were, and he never divulged it. And anyone that was on the watch list, he didn't divulge that either."
Rasool is scheduled to be sentenced April 15.