New FBI Probe of Bomb Plot Highlights Administration’s Tough Stance on Leaks

May 18, 2012

National Journal on May 16, 2012 released the following:

“By Yochi J. Dreazen and Olga Belogolova

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the Associated Press had first reported that a recent bomb plot had been foiled by an undercover Saudi Arabian intelligence operative. That was first reported by The Los Angeles Times.

The FBI has launched a criminal probe designed to identify the government officials who leaked key details of a foiled al-Qaida bomb plot, the latest indication of the Obama administration’s unrelenting push to find and punish those sharing classified information with the media.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, said that the agency was trying to identify which officials had spoken to reporters about the foiled attack, helping the Associated Press report that the scheme was part of an al-Qaida plot to down a U.S.-bound airliner with an sophisticated underwear bomb. The agency is also looking for who told media outlets that the plot was broken up with the help of an undercover agent working for the Saudi Arabian intelligence service, a detail first reported by The Los Angeles Times.

The Saudi assistance doubtlessly saved significant numbers of American lives, and Mueller — like other Obama administration officials — warned that future cooperation could be hampered by the disclosure of the Saudi role.

“Leaks such as this threaten ongoing operations, puts at risk the lives of sources, makes it much more difficult to recruit sources, and damages our relationships with our foreign partners,” Mueller said. “And consequently, a leak like this is taken exceptionally seriously, and we will investigate thoroughly.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, pressed Mueller on whether the information had been leaked by the administration for political gain, likening the details on the bomb plot to what he described as the “authorized leaks from the White House about the operation to kill Osama bin Laden.” The FBI director declined to answer the question.

The hearing offered an unusually vivid illustration of the Obama administration’s hard-line approach to the news media.

The administration took office with a promise of unprecedented transparency, including – in a sharp change from the Bush administration — posting the names of those visiting the White House onto its website. The White House also offered strong support for a so-called shield law preventing reporters working national-security stories from being forced to identify confidential sources.

But those moves have been increasingly outweighed by the administration’s aggressive effort to crack down on those responsible for sharing classified information with the news media.

The White House’s main tool has been the Espionage Act, a 1917 law passed during the height of World War I as a way of finding and punishing officials passing useful information to enemy countries. The legislation had been used to bring cases against suspected leakers a grand total of three times in the previous 91 years; the Obama administration has invoked it to prosecute six such cases in the past three years alone. If the FBI believes it has found the official or officials who spoke to the AP, that tally will increase to seven.

The first case brought under the Espionage Act targeted Thomas Drake, a whistle blower from the National Security Agency who was indicated for giving a reporter information detailing massive waste, fraud, and inefficiencies at the secretive agency. The Justice Department’s case against Drake fell apart days before the trial was set to begin last summer, highlighting the difficulties of winning convictions in such cases.

That hasn’t stopped the administration from trying. In January, the Justice Department indicted John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer accused of providing classified information about waterboarding and other controversial interrogation methods to journalists and misleading the agency while trying to get permission to publish a memoir about his time there. The case is ongoing.

The others facing potential prison time for their dealings with the media are former FBI translator Shamai Leibowitz, State Department contractor and analyst Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, and Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of leaking thousands of classified military and State Department documents to online whistle-blower WikiLeaks. Leibowitz was sentenced to 20 months in prison in 2010 for leaking classified information to a blogger regarding Israel’s efforts to influence Congress and public opinion; the other cases are continuing.

The new investigation began earlier this month when news leaked that the CIA had helped to foil a Yemeni-based attempt to use a sophisticated underwear bomb to bring down a Western airliner. The Los Angeles Times soon reported that an undercover Saudi agent had penetrated the al-Qaida affiliate there, volunteered for the supposed suicide mission, and then secreted the bomb safely into the hands of other intelligence operatives.

The leak infuriated the Saudis, who said it put the agent at risk and endangered other undercover operatives elsewhere in the field. The unnamed agent and his family were subsequently placed into protective custody. The anger was felt just as fiercely in Washington, where an array of powerful lawmakers warned that disclosing the source and method of the information would make the Saudis less likely to work with the U.S. in the future and make it harder to foil new plots.

The AP has defended its reporting, with spokesman Paul Colford saying in a written statement that the news service “acted carefully and with extreme deliberation in its reporting on the underwear bomb plot and its subsequent decision to publish.”

That argument fell on deaf ears on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, with Mueller saying that he didn’t want to say the leak would have a “devastating” impact on U.S. intelligence gathering efforts — but then effectively saying just that.

“The relationship with your counterparts overseas are damaged and which means that an inhibition in the willingness of others to share information with us where they don’t think that information will remain secure,” he said. “So it also has some long-term effects which is why it is so important to make certain that the persons who are responsible for the leak are brought to justice.”

Those who leaked the new information may or may not be caught. But the ferocity of Mueller’s comments mean that the administration’s war against those who disclose such information won’t wind down anytime soon.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Federal appeals panel to hear CIA leak case

May 18, 2012

The Boston Globe on May 18, 2012 released the following:

“By Zinie Chen Sampson
Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va.—A federal appeals panel will hear the case of an ex-CIA officer charged with leaking classified information about Iran’s nuclear program to a New York Times reporter.

Federal prosecutors will ask the panel Friday to reverse a pretrial ruling limiting the scope of reporter James Risen’s testimony in the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling. They argue that the First Amendment doesn’t shield journalists from disclosing their sources during criminal prosecutions brought in good faith.

The judge ruled that Risen must testify at Sterling’s trial, but narrowed his testimony to four issues.

Prosecutors say Sterling was a key source in Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War.” They’re also challenging the court’s decision to strike two government witnesses and allow disclosure of the identities of covert CIA operatives to Sterling’s lawyers.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Defense Demands Info in Terror Case

April 18, 2012

Courthouse News on April 18, 2012 released the following:

“By NICK MCCANN

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – A federal judge ordered the government to hand over certain communications to the public defense team representing a man accused of plotting to detonate a truck full of explosives during a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in 2010.

Attorneys for 20-year-old Mohamed Mohamud have been building a case that their client was entrapped by the government when he was a teen-ager, and undercover FBI agents coaxed him into the attack.

Mohamud’s public defenders for months have been fruitlessly trying to get information from the prosecution, which claims that the information they seek is confidential, nonexistent, or inadmissible at trial.

Mohamud was arrested on Nov. 26, 2010 after undercover agents foiled the bomb plot they apparently helped him hatch. Mohamud pleaded not guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

Investigators said in an affidavit that the Somali-American planned “a spectacular show” and did not care if he killed innocent people. The affidavit claimed Mohamud told an undercover agent that he “had been thinking of committing some form of violent jihad since the age of fifteen.”

The defense team said in federal court filings last year that the government knew about their client’s “vulnerabilities” and noted “the sophisticated efforts used to induce Mr. Mohamud to cooperate with undercover agents.”

“The initial discovery demonstrates that, regardless of opinions or activities that raised governmental interest, extensive evidence remains in the government’s possession that may be helpful in establishing the lack of predisposition to commit the charged crime,” according to the Memorandum in Support of Second Motion to Compel Discovery.

Mohamud’s attorneys say the government won’t let them see key pieces of information crucial to their case.

Because many of the issues deal with classified information, Tuesday’s hearing centered on the government’s duty to disclose exculpatory information to the defense, without detailing many specifics of the disputed information.

Mohamud entered U.S. District Judge Garr King’s courtroom in handcuffs wearing a blue jumpsuit, and appeared to be smiling and talking with his defense team before the proceedings.

Mohamud had shaved his curly hair and kept his head low throughout the proceedings.

Public defender Stephen Sady referred to a “whole universe of statements by Mr. Mohamud” that the government won’t let the defense see.

“We have nothing to work with five and a half months before trial,” Sady said.

The government claims it has disclosed all of the information needed.

Most of the information the defense wants relates to the government’s undercover operations in seeking out Mohamud when he was a teen-ager.

For example, Sady referred to evidence that Mohamud was placed on a no-fly list 10 days before he was contacted by an undercover agent. Much of the dispute over disclosure regards those communications, between Mohamud and the undercover agent he knew as “Bill Smith.”

“According to previous pleadings, the government apparently views ‘this case’ to encompass only the interactions between Mr. Mohamud and the undercover agents,” the defense team wrote in its February memorandum for the motion to compel discovery. “Such a narrow view is not supported by the case law on entrapment,” it continued.

Prosecutor Ethan Knight bristled at Sady’s request for information about Portland’s participation in the nationwide Joint Terrorism Task Force “and any other political interests related to the investigation of Mr. Mohamud.”

Knight said that argument was based on a “speculative notion that agents acted unethically for a political purpose.”

Judge King denied the request for information about the Joint Terrorism Task Force, as well as the request for disclosure of grand jury proceedings against Mohamud.

However, the judge agreed with some of Sady’s arguments on the government’s duty to disclose necessary information that is not classified or privileged as work product.

King said he will deliberate on certain issues, such as the disclosure of information relating to government infiltration of Mohamud’s mosque, which Sady called “fairly chilling undercover activity.”

Regarding the “Bill Smith” emails, Knight took the position that there was no more information about that agent that would benefit the defense.

Judge King disagreed, and ordered the prosecution to produce information about “Smith” to the defense. He noted that the information sought is not likely to be classified, but if it is, it can be dealt with before trial.

The judge also ordered production of transcripts of Smith’s conversations with Mohamud, to be made available “for attorneys’ eyes only.”

“Smith” first contacted Mohamud in 2009, and the two discussed Islam and other topics before talking about jihad in America.

“It looks like there has been some action against the west in the last few weeks,” the agent wrote in December 2009. “i cant tell you how easy it should be to bring any community here in the west to its knees.”

Mohamud responded, “brother, i don’t think you should talk about such issues, especially online.”

The prosecution contends that Mohamud picked the time and date of the attack, and that “Smith” had “provided [Mohamud] numerous opportunities to steer him away from violence.”

All disclosures in the case are to be filed by Aug. 7. Mohamud’s trial is set to begin Oct. 2.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Maryland scientist Stewart Nozette sentenced for passing secrets to supposed Mossad agent, expresses regret

March 21, 2012

The Washington Post on March 21, 2012 released the following:

“By Del Quentin Wilber
A 54-year-old Maryland scientist said Wednesday that he regretted supplying classified information in exchange for cash to a person he believed was a member of Israeli intelligence but was really an undercover FBI agent.

Stewart D. Nozette of Chevy Chase, who had previously pleaded guilty to attempted espionage in a deal with prosecutors that set his sentence at 13 years, was officially sentenced Wednesday to that term by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman during a lengthy hearing in the District’s federal court. Friedman also sentenced him to just over three years in prison – a term to run concurrently with his espionage sentence – in an unrelated fraud and tax case.

At the end of the proceeding, which included the playing of secretly recorded video of Nozette meeting with an undercover FBI agent posing as a member of the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, Nozette spoke publicly for the first time since his arrest in October 2009.

“I regret failing to report” to authorities that he was approached by a man he suspected of being an Israeli agent, he told Friedman. The scientist added, “I accept full responsibility for this error” and noted the meetings occurred just as his life began to “snowball downhill.” His lawyers have said he was contemplating suicide at the time and was angry at how he was being treated in the fraud investigation, making him an easy target for FBI agents seeking a big arrest. They noted that he at first refused to provide the undercover agent classified information.

In pleading guilty to attempted espionage in September, Nozette admitted he passed secrets to the undercover agent in exchange for more than $20,000. The agent approached Nozette in September 2009 and they had a series of secretly recorded meetings at the District’s Mayflower Hotel. The undercover agent also arranged to exchange information, questions and money with Nozette through a “dead drop,” which was a P.O. Box in the District. In those exchanges, Nozette provided classified information about “satellites, early warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against a large-scale attack, communications intelligence information, and major elements of defense strategy,” court records show.

Though the sentencing was largely a formality, both sides took pains to paint divergent pictures of Nozette, who was once one of the country’s leading space scientists who had access during his career to key defense programs.

Prosecutors say Nozette was motivated to become a traitor by greed and played a video clip in court of the final meeting between Nozette and the undercover agent. “I’ve crossed the Rubicon,” Nozette calmly tells the agent, because he would no longer be able to pass a government polygraph. Nozette adds that his initial price of $50,000 was too low and suggests that the Israeli government pay him at least $2 million.

“He agreed to be a traitor to the United States with a smile on his face,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Asuncion told the judge.

Defense lawyers countered that Nozette was under enormous strain when FBI agents began to target him in the sting operation. At the time, Nozette was actually working as an undercover informant for the government in the hopes of getting a reduced sentence in a fraud and tax case tied to contracting work he provided federal agencies. He pleaded guilty in early 2009 to charges of conspiring to defraud the U.S. government and to commit tax evasion, admitting that over a number of years he had filed false invoices for work totaling $265,000 and evaded more than $200,000 in taxes.

While investigating that case, federal agents in 2007 stumbled across classified information on his home computer and an e-mail he sent in 2002 threatening to provide classified information to an unidentified country or Israel. Agents trailed Nozette for a year, his lawyers said, but discovered no evidence that he provided any classified information to a foreign power. In 2009, the FBI launched its sting.

Bradford Berenson, one of Nozette’s attorneys, on Wednesday accused the government of entrapment and of “ignoble, dishonorable conduct.” He said there was no evidence that Nozette would ever have passed secrets to a foreign government absent the FBI operation. Instead of launching a sting operation, agents should have questioned Nozette or spoken to his attorneys, Berenson said.

Berenson and Nozette’s other lawyers, Robert Tucker and John C. Kiyonaga, argued that the government carefully tailored the sting to take advantage of the scientist’s frustrations with the fraud case and his sympathy for Israel.

The hearing was a final chapter in the legal saga involving Nozette, a scientist who has a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is credited with developing a satellite-based radar system that helped discover water on the moon during a 1994 mission.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.