Monday, November 19, 2007

The Prouty File

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.


Mick Kraut said...

There have been some changes over the years to the NAC and the SSBI.

The NAC does not verify employment or education, only criminal background and a credit report. My company's 3rd party background check is actually more stringent than the NAC/LAC and with results reported much faster (72 - 96 hours).

Currently the SSBI only goes back 10 years or to your 16th birthday, which ever is SHORTEST. During the Clinton Admin the SSBI period of review was lowered to 7 years. The SSBI does verify employment however, I think we know how that was missed. When the investigators are made up largely of recent college grads with a minimum of training and deadlines/quotas to meet, they dont have the time or wherewithall to ferret this sort of thing out...
They target the things they understand; financial problems, run-ins with the law, drug/alcohol issues...the real potential dangers simply are not easy for the average investigation to uncover through SSBI or even the poly process...

Mick Kraut said...

Sorry for the double post...

"Who was interviewed in connection with her SSBI? Federal agents are trained to look for inconsistencies or gaps in information provided by interviewees."

They arent Federal agents these days...they might have an OPM badge, but for the most part they are part time contractors for USIS and predominately kids right out of college with a minimum of training...some are retired FSO types but how investigatory is their background going to be from years of processing Visit Certs and crossovers?

Brian H said...

After deep cogitation, I have concluded the following: peacetime is very bad for national security. It permits and encourages the proliferation of complacent incompetence in the intelligence and diplomatic and defense communities which is immune to learning and upgrading. We're doomed.

Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked to you here:

Unknown said...

Mick--Good points, I've incorporated them into the original post. Regarding the SSBI, I still believe the review period would have covered the sham marriage and her employment by her brother-in-law, the Hizballah fund-raiser.

I'm guessing that Prouty obtained her TS/SCI ticket during her FBI employment. With her background/language skills, it's doubtful that the FBI had her chasing white-collar criminals or bank robbers. Assuming that she was cleared no later that one or two years into her FBI career, then her SSBI would have dated back to the late 80s.

Additionally, I am aware that most of the security clearance interviews/screening is done by contract employees. Unfortunately, I was in a hurry to finish the post, and didn't want to include the explanation--a bit sloppy on my part. They do carry a badge, and identify themselves as federal representatives, or at least that's the drill among reps working for the Defense Investigative Service (DIS).

However, your points regarding what they look for are spot-on: the contractors/federal retirees/recent college grads working for DIS and other screening agencies are ill-equipped to spot hostile intelligence plants and other serious threats to national security. Instead, they're adept at spotting the folks with financial issues, past substance abuse problems, or run-ins with the law. So, when they deny a clearance to Private Snuffy because he bounced a couple of checks at the BX, they can congratulate themselves and justify their annual performance bonus.

Terrorist groups and hostile intel services are well aware of the weaknesses in our screening process. That's why it's likely that Prouty is only the tip of the iceberg. During our post-9/11 "outreach" to the Arab community, we hired more than a few folks with a questionable past, and gave them a pass, so that certain three-letter agencies could gain needed language skills. Prouty is an example of how far a plant can advance in minimal time. And, it's very likely that Hizballah (and other terrorist organizations) have other moles, still buried in our intel and security establishments.

It's Angleton's "Fifth Man" theory, writ large.

Storms24 said...

Can't disagree with the criticisms and noted deficiencies regarding the overall clearance process or the superficial treatment the investigators give to these checks… Given her cultural, ethnic, and language skills background (and perhaps even her gender), Prouty et al likely benefited from a review process that favored their names on the payroll over a potential loss of classified information.

But I worry that the Prouty affair (and some earlier posts regarding PRP’s at Minot) are the results of a much deeper problem: the unwillingness or inability of those in command to exercise their discretion and deny someone a clearance without a mountain of documented evidence to back up their decision (and, even then, it would be best if the subject signed a confession as well). How many co-workers and former supervisors of Robert Hanssen later reported the “feeling” something was amiss? How intense was the pressure to bend to political correctness in the case of Abdurahman Alamoudi? Even during your own tour of duty, how many security clearances were revoked due to some “discrepancy” brought to light during a periodic re-investigation of a 14N3 or (gasp) pilot? Are we na├»ve enough to believe that there weren’t any discrepancies or is it that no one (insert, “commander”) wanted the hassle of having to justify why their access to national security information should be restricted?

But then again, when Congressional staffers, former Presidential advisors, and New York Times reporters are all given a pass on the charge of mishandling classified information…

A.C. McCloud said...

Since the stories say she was present in Baghdad for debriefing of captured AQ operatives, who are Sunnis, perhaps the CIA figured they could use a Druze Muslim with family ties to Hizballah to gain info. IOW, they let her proceed forth knowing she was a mole until at some point she become expendable enough to dump. Admittedly a stretch, but I'm no expert.

It's just hard believing the FBI, then CIA, could possibly miss her sham background. Very hard.