Tom Diaz


In Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on May 28, 2009 at 3:26 pm

“I’m beginning to think it’s possible that Hizbollah put a mole in our government. It’s mind-blowing.”

Richard Clarke, former NSC official, comment posted on website of  The Centre [sic] for Counterintelligence and Security Studies.

The latest edition of the Transnational Threats Update from the Center for Strategic and International Studies devotes a section to the expanding global reach of the terrorist para-state Hezbollah.  Here is the introduction:

Hezbollah, founded in 1982 following the Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation of southern Lebanon, has expanded into a global organization spanning several continents. Although Hezbollah is concerned primarily with domestic Lebanese affairs, it has been tied to international acts of terror and is now said to be operating throughout the globe, including in the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East.

“Hezbollah’s Global Reach,” Center for Strategic and International Studies,  Transnational Threats Update, April 2009

There is more of interest from this report — especially about Hezbollah’s operations in the Western Hemisphere — to be read below, but at the outset the CSIS update sets the stage for a review of the intriguing case of FBI special agent and CIA operative Nada Nadim Prouty:

On June 24, 2003, NADA NADIM PROUTY, while employed as a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, intentionally accessed the FBI Automated Case Support (ACS) computer system to obtain information from a national security investigation being conducted by the FBI’s Detroit, Michigan field office. The case number was DE-74791. The subject matter of the investigation was the designated foreign terrorist organization, Hizballah. Defendant was not assigned to work on Hizballah cases as part of her FBI duties, and she was not authorized by her supervisor, the case agent assigned to the case, or anyone else to access information from the investigation in question. At the time, defendant PROUTY knew that she was permitted to access information from the ACS system for official business only and that the information was available only to persons having a legitimate need to know.

“Factual Basis for Guilty Plea” in Rule 11 Plea Agreement filed on November 13, 2007 in the case of United States of America vs. Nada Nadim Prouty, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Michigan, Docket No. 07-20156

The criminal case of former FBI Special Agent and CIA employee Nada Nadim Prouty is intriguing — to say the least.

Nada Nadim Prouty

Nada Nadim Prouty

The excerpt from her plea agreement (above) describes what some observers suspect was the ultimate act of  a breath-taking penetration of the most sensitive areas of the U.S. government by the Lebanese Shiite terrorist para-state Hezbollah. Anyone who thinks that Prouty’s plea agreement is all there was (or is) to this case might reflect on the stakes here — for both sides.  By copping to three counts (conspiracy, immigration fraud, and unauthorized computer access), Prouty saved herself the inconvenience of a jury trial on all counts and a potentially harsher judgment and sentence.  Her plea also saved the government the embarrassment of airing in public how Hezbollah — through this otherwise obscure Lebanese illegal immigrant — appears to have eaten the lunches of the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service watchdogs, and the counterintelligence arms of the CIA and the FBI.  Trying a case on more serious charges quite likely also would have involved the risks of using classified information that might expose intelligence sources, the methods used, and the information they have yielded about Hezbollah and its leaders. But, it wasn’t just Prouty who was part of the alleged conspiracy.  Here is a relevant excerpt from a short article in Newsweek (“A Tale of Two Women,” November 17, 2007):

The story has a familiar ring: a Lebanese woman arrives in the United States on a student visa, obtains citizenship through a fake marriage, lands a security job with access to government secrets and ends up in court. In November, it was Nada Prouty, who worked for the FBI and CIA and illegally tapped into computer files detailing investigations into Hizbullah activities (her brother-in-law was a suspected Hizbullah fund-raiser) until she was arrested. Last week, in almost identical circumstances, Samar Spinelli, 39, was brought before a Michigan judge for marriage fraud. She joined the Marines after arriving from Lebanon in 1989 and served two tours in Iraq. Coincidence? According to court papers and Justice Department sources, the two women studied together in Lebanon, came to the United States and paid two Detroit brothers, Chris and Jean Paul Deladurantaye, to marry them for citizenship. When agents began investigating Prouty, they contacted her FBI employment references. One was Spinelli.

In other words, two illegal immigrants, exploiting marriage fraud, were backstopping each other’s penetration of — or innocent employment by — U.S. military and government agencies.  Nothing on the public record confirms that Prouty was a Hezbollah mole.  And, of course, it must be said that it is possible that when Prouty peeked into those highly classified and ultra-sensitive files she was merely acting to satisfy her own passing curiosity.  Okay, maybe she admittedly did enter into a fake marriage, did conspire with others to conceal her illegal status, did lie to the INS, did lie to the CIA, and did lie to the FBI.  But being a serial liar who sneak peeks into secret national security investigation files doesn’t necessarily make her a spy for Hezbollah.

On the other hand, there is a series of dots that, if connected, draw at the least a disturbing picture.

Some Dots to Connect

1.  Hezbollah has a world class counterintelligence service. Hezbollah’s apologists like to emphasize the social good works it undoubtedly does in Lebanon for its Shiite constituency.  They either don’t know or choose to ignore the fact that Hezbollah is also one of the best and most feared terrorist organizations in history — in addition to having fashioned a formidable paramilitary force with which to confront not only its sworn enemy, Israel, but anyone else who gets in its way.  Its operatives have bloodied their hands in Iraq helping to kill U.S. military personnel by means of improvised explosive devices, one of Hezbollah’s strong points.  Some observers have opined that Hezbollah has the best light infantry in the world.  Hezbollah’s deep and singular relationships with Syria — which historically sees Lebanon as part of Greater Syria — and Iran, whose militant mullahs created Hezbollah in the early 1980s and of whose terrorist force Hezbollah is an elite appendage, add more layers of potential to its sinister designs.  It is in and through Iran that Hezbollah is killing American soldiers today in Iraq. A blood-stained organization like Hezbollah has lots of enemies.  It is thus in need of good counterintelligence.  The classic functions of counterintelligence are (1) to keep enemy intelligence agents and infiltrators out of one’s business, using both physical and intellectual means, and (2) to penetrate one’s enemies to learn their secret plans, using both infiltration and technological methods. “Hezbollah has a very robust counterintelligence capability,” retired FBI agent Ken Piernik — who was once in charge of the unit monitoring Hezbollah in the United States — told me when I was researching Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil with my co-author, television producer Barbara Newman. We cited in the book the example of the secret visit of a small team of counterterrorism agents from the FBI’s New York field office to the Tri-Border Region of South America (recounted to us by one of the agents who is now a senior counterterrorism official):

There was no official welcoming party for the FBI agents. Only the minimum advance notice had been given to the host country’s officials. This was to be a quiet surveillance of Hezbollah operatives in the region, done with a level of discretion only one notch above undercover work. Before the agents could complete the short walk across the tarmac to the terminal building, however, the chirping of their pagers joined the drone of the buzzing insects. Someone in New York urgently needed to talk to them.

The news was sobering. A fax had just arrived at the New York field office. It contained only a picture of the agents–as they left their plane minutes before. The implicit message was clear: We know you’re here. We’re watching. It was a classic example of Hezbollah’s superb counterintelligence, another reason why American officials consider the group to be so dangerous.

Lightning Out of Lebanon, Pages 93-94

Hezbollah’s counterintelligence program is backed up by the worldwide service of the Iranian diplomatic and intelligence services.  Their diplomats provide in-country points of contact, expertise, and use of the diplomatic pouch privilege, and constantly seeks to exploit or enlist the aid of the Lebanese diaspora.

2.  “Friends of Theirs” — A Connected Gang of Three

Friends of Theirs Number One: Nasrallah and Ahmedinijad

Friends of Theirs Number One: Hassan Nasrallah and Iran's Holocaust-denier-in-Chief Mahmoud Ahmedinijad

Friends of Theirs Number Two:  Ahmedinijad and Syria's Assad

Friends of Theirs Number Two: M. Ahmedinijad and Syria's Bashar al-Assad

3.  Nasrallah has personally directed a wave of Hezbollah infiltrators into the United States in the past. No later than the early 1990s, Nasrallah and other Hezbollah shot-callers decided to flood the United States with operatives.  Their primary mission would be to raise funds — principally through criminal schemes — and to obtain “dual use technology” — technology that has  both military and civilian uses and is restricted for export. These operatives would use or manipulate members of the Lebanese diaspora.  The cells they created would also be available as infrastructure in place should the day come when Hezbollah and its friends, Iran and Syria, decide to unleash a terrorist attack within the United States.

A Young Mohammed Hammoud and Nasralllah (With Beard)

A Young Mohammed Hammoud and Nasralllah (With Beard)

It appears that Nasrallah was personally involved in the decision and with the operatives selected to go to the United States.  The leader of the Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mohammaed Hammoud, about whom we wrote in Lighting Out of Lebanon, personally knew Nasrallah since his early teens at least.  Hammoud placed direct calls to Nasrallah from the United States. Among the items that the FBI seized when it took down the cell (on charges of providing material support to a terrorist organization) were apparently “dual use” photographs.  These were pictures taken at such sites as the White House — useful as mementos and as surveillance tools for attack planning.

Souvenir or Surveillance?  Hezbollah Cell Leader Mohammed Hammoud (Right) and Cousin at the White House

Souvenir or Surveillance? Hezbollah Cell Leader Mohammed Hammoud (Right) and Cousin at the White House

The CSIS Transnational Threats Update summarizes another infiltration that we wrote about at length in Lightning Out of Lebanon:

To date, there have been no confirmed cases of terrorists transiting the U.S.-Mexican border to carry out attacks within the United States. Hezbollah members and supporters are known, however, to have entered the United States via Mexico, including Salim Boughader Mucharrafille and Moahmoud Youssef Kourani.  Mucharrafille was arrested in 2002 for smuggling 200 people, including some suspected Hezbollah supporters, into the United States, while Kourani illegally crossed the border in 2001 and was later charged with and convicted of providing “material support and resources…to Hezbollah.”

Please note the qualifying phrase “to carry out attacks within the United States.”  If and when the Hezbollah-Syria-Iran terrorist consortium decides to attack within the United States, it will have at least some infrastructure and long experience in penetrating our borders through a variety of means.

Nada Prouty's brother-in-law Talal Chahine sitting in a place of prominence to the right of Hezbollah Spiritual Leader Sheikh Modhammed Fadlallah, who issued the fatwa authorizing the Marine Corps barracks bombing of October 1983. At the time of the above photos, Prouty was a FBI Special Agent.  (Caption and photo from Centre

Nada Prouty's brother-in-law Talal Chahine sitting in a place of prominence to the right of Hezbollah Spiritual Leader Sheikh Modhammed Fadlallah, who issued the fatwa authorizing the Marine Corps barracks bombing of October 1983. At the time of the above photos, Prouty was a FBI Special Agent. (Caption and photo from Centre for Counterinelligence and Security Studies)

4. Nada Nadim Prouty also had family connections to Hezbollah. According to the criminal information filed in Prouty’s case, her sister and brother-in-law (a fugitive) not only appeared at a Hezbollah fund-raiser in Lebanon, but her brother-in-law spoke at the event:

In August 2002, Elfat El Aouar and Talal Khalil Chahine … attended a fund raising event in Lebanon. The keynote speakers for the event were Chahine and Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah…Sheikh Fadlallah had previosuly been designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist based upon his status as a leading ideological figure with Hizballah.

We wrote in considerable detail about Fadlallah in Lightning Out of Lebanon. Suffice it to say that his fatwahs have meant death for many of Hezbollah’s enemies, including U.S. servicemen killed in the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut.

Are these family connection mere coincidence?

5.  As European Union Dithers About Continuing to Fund Terrorist Para-state, Hezbollah’s Foreign Service Traffics in Drugs. Hezbollah seems poised to realize its long-held dream of dominating Lebanon’s “legitimate” government.  One would hope that the United States would cease sending aid to Lebanon should that happen.  After all, would we help New York City if La Cosa Nostra seized formal control?  But the European Union, on cue, can be expected to dither. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s “foreign service” continues to generate funding for the para-state, in large degree through global criminal enterprises.  Here is the CSIS report on Hezbollah’s ongoing operations in the Western Hemisphere:

Hezbollah has long been involved in narcotics and human trafficking in South America, particularly along the tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. The organization’s reach, however, appears to be spreading beyond the tri-border area and into Mexico. Evidence suggests that Hezbollah is developing ties to Mexican narcotics syndicates that control transit routes into the United States. These ties worry U.S. officials in light of the ongoing and increasingly violent war between Mexican authorities and narcotraffickers, which appears to be destabilizing Mexico. Current and former U.S. law enforcement, defense, and counterterrorism officials believe that Hezbollah is using narcotics trafficking routes to smuggle drugs and people into the United States — operations that not only finance the group’s activities but also threaten to increase Hezbollah’s ability to smuggle operatives and weapons into the United States.

Taking this all together, it seems apparent to many that Hezbollah has become a true terrorist para-state.  Not quite a national entity de jure nor recognized as a nation by the civilized world, but de facto operating as a dark state.  It can be expected to continue to position itself in the Western Hemisphere, trafficking drugs, “partnering” with cartels and other traffickers, piggy-backing on Iran’s tightening bonds with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and perhaps other leaders antithetical to democratic governance, and infiltrating the United States homeland — establishing clandestine infrastructure and perfecting means and channels of covert entry.

Other than that, dear readers, have a nice day.

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