Somewhere in that Great Safehouse in the Sky, James Jesus Angleton is shaking his head.
The CIA's late, legendary Chief of Counter-Intelligence (CI) must be saddened over the deplorable state of his craft. Thirty-four years after his forced resignation from the CIA, Angleton's zeal for ferreting out moles and double-agents has all but vanished in an intelligence community now ruled by expediency and political correctness. While it is true that Mr. Angleton was fooled by some notable spies (most notably, the British turncoats Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Anthony Burgess), his record in counter-intelligence was far better than those who now ply that most demanding of trades.
If we could channel Angleton, he'd probably say that CI hit a new low last week, with the conviction of Nada Nadim Prouty. In terms of skill and intrigue, the 37-year-old Lebanese woman is hardly a match for Philby or Burgess, but history may record that she also inflicted grave damage on national security. Equally damning, the Prouty case illustrates that today's spy catchers are hard-pressed to find the most obvious plants; we can only wonder how many big espionage "fish"--on the scale of Rick Ames or Robert Hanssen--remain undetected.
As you've probably heard, Ms. Prouty pleaded guilty last week to charges of fraudulently obtaining U.S. citizenship, unlawfully obtaining information from a government computer system, and defrauding the United States. It was all part of an (apparently) successful effort to obtain information on our efforts to monitor Hizballah, the terrorist group which counts Prouty's brother-in-law as a long-time fund-raiser. Did we mention that Ms. Prouty worked for him during two extended periods in the 1990s? Or that the same man wrote a letter
affirming to the validity of her sham marriage to a U.S. resident--which provided the basis for her fraudulent citizenship?
Never mind those early red flags. With citizenship papers in hand, the one-time waitress gained employment as an FBI Special Agent, and later, as a CIA operative. During her time with the FBI, Prouty accessed the agency's Automated Case System (without authorization) to obtain information on her brother-in-law and a separate national security investigation into the terror group, conducted by the FBI's Detroit field office.
But it gets better. While working for the FBI, Nada Prouty obtained a security clearance. And, at some point, she gained a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (TS/SCI) clearance, giving her access to some of the nation's most vital intelligence information. The FBI reports that Ms. Prouty didn't work on Hizballah-related cases during her time with the agency, but that doesn't mean she couldn't access intelligence files on the terrorist organization.
Indeed, during her time as a CIA employee (2003-2007), Prouty almost certainly had access to Intelink, the classified intranet of the intelligence community. With Prouty working on the inside, Hizballah was in a position to gain valuable insights on our collection activities and, possibly, sources within the group. While the Justice Department says there's "no evidence of actual espionage" and "no evidence [Prouty] was working as a spy," they did tell CBS News:
"..she is accused of passing information to sympathizers of Hezbollah, a group the U.S. has labeled a terrorist organization."
We'd love to get Jim Angleton's take on that one. In his day if it "looked like a spy, and acted like a spy," well, you get the idea. Incidentally, Debbie Schlussel, who's been on this story since Day One, notes that a later version of the CBS story claims Prouty was also accused of "improperly taking classified information home with her." But, the government says there's no evidence of actual espionage. In other words, Ms. Prouty was quite adept at covering her tracks--or the feds are afraid of where their trail might lead.
As Ms. Schlussel observes, the trail of corruption and incompetence in the Prouty case is simply stunning. Her brother-in-law, accused of funneling up to $20 million to Hizballah, was allowed to flee the country in 2003. Prouty's family ties to terror came to light more years ago, but she remained on the FBI payroll, and then moved on to the CIA. In fact, her resignation from the agency took effect on November 6, 2007--one week before she entered a guilty plea on those federal charges. And, in case you're wondering, Ms. Prouty is facing a sentence of less than 12 months in jail--or possibly, no prison time at all, along with three years' supervised probation and a $2500 fine, under a federal plea deal.
Obviously, the Justice Department is anxious to close the books on Ms. Prouty, as is the CIA. Still, there are a number of unanswered questions about this affair, issues that demand a Congressional investigation. Among them:
--When was Ms. Prouty's original National Agency Check (NAC)--a requisite for a Secret-level clearance--completed? Was there anything in that review that raised suspicions?
--When did Prouty obtain her TS/SCI clearance? The date is essential, since an SSBI investigation (required for that clearance) covers every detail of your life for the preceding 10 years, a period which included her sham marriage and association with Hizballah fund-raisers? If Prouty gained her TS/SCI clearance during her FBI career, then the 10-year review would have covered those events?
--Who was interviewed in connection with her SSBI? Federal screeners are trained to look for inconsistencies or gaps in information provided by interviewees. Given Prouty's checkered past, it seems that everyone's "story" matched--suggesting an elaborate, well-rehearsed effort to plant a spy in the U.S. security apparatus--or agents overlooked obvious clues.
-- For example, how did Prouty's former "neighbors" explain the fact that she never lived with her "husband?" Or what did the husband have to say about his absentee "wife?" These were obvious red flags that demanded further inquiry, but either no one asked, or the answers were ignored.
--Was Ms. Prouty "read in" to any Special Access Required/Special Access Programs (representing the most sensitive intelligence information)? Did any of these programs relate to Hizballah and/or other terrorist organizations?
--What types of search queries did Prouty perform on Intelink? Did she have access to the system during her days at the FBI, or did it begin with her transfer to the CIA? What was revealed by a search of her agency computer(s)?
--How did Prouty manage to pass at least two polygraphs during her tenure with the federal service? Did she pass a polygraph before receiving any counter-interrogation/counter-poly training for the CIA (if she did, that would provide even more evidence of a plant operation).
--What liaisons (if any) did she perform with other intel agencies? Were any of these activities related to Hizballah and/or other terrorist groups?
--What type(s) of classified information was found at Prouty's home, or on her personal computer?
--How can the feds conclude that "no espionage occurred," despite her obvious ties to Hizballah (and the transport of classified material to her home)?
Debbie Schlussel reminds us that Islamic terror groups have long vowed to infiltrate U.S. intelligence and security agencies. The Prouty case suggests that the infiltration effort is well underway--and how easy it may be for their operatives and plants to gain access to our most sensitive intelligence information.
Four decades after he left the CIA, revisionists remember James Angleton as a paranoid, a man whose obsession with enemy moles and outside manipulation ultimately became counter-productive, both for the agency and the wider intelligence community. But, it also seems likely that CI agents of the Angleton era would have instantly spotted Prouty as an obvious plant, someone unsuitable for federal employment, let alone a security clearance.
Sometimes, a little paranoia is good for the soul--and national security.
ADDENDUM: If you thought the Prouty fiasco couldn't get any worse, guess again. Michelle Malkin has a link to an article in today's New York Post. Turns out that Ms. Prouty is married to a senior State Department official, who has held sensitive posts in the Middle East. Ms. Malkin also found this item from the New York Daily News, which has some interesting observations from CIA officials on the scandal:
Several other CIA officers also shrugged off her pleading guilty to rifling FBI files for information on family members and a Hezbollah counterterror case in Detroit.
"As far as I can tell, she was just looking out for her family," another senior official said.
God help us.