Linguist Mariam Taha Thompson, 62, was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Wednesday for passing the classified names of American intelligence sources in Iraq to her romantic interest, a man linked to the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah.
Thompson, a Lebanese-born U.S. citizen who resided in Rochester, Minnesota, was working overseas as a linguistics contractor for the U.S. military in 2017 when she began a video chat relationship with a man identified only as her “unindicted co-conspirator” in public documents.
Thompson developed a romantic interest in the man, fully aware that he had ties to both the dismal Lebanese government and Hezbollah. Among other things, he allegedly boasted of receiving a ring as a personal gift from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Thompson was reportedly assigned to a Special Operations Task Force facility in Erbil, Iraq, in December 2019 when the U.S. launched airstrikes against the Iran-backed terrorist organization Kataib Hezbollah (KH), which had been attacking bases where American personnel were stationed, killing a civilian contractor to the U.S. military in one instance. A U.S. airstrike in January 2020 killed KH founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis along with Iranian terrorist mastermind Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
After Soleimani’s death, prosecutors said Thompson’s co-conspirator asked her to provide information about the American assets in Iraq that helped the U.S. military target the Iranian general. Thompson testified in court that she knew the information would be passed along to the Iran-sponsored Lebanese terrorist organization and divulged it anyway.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Thompson “began accessing dozens of files concerning human intelligence sources, including true names, personal identification data, background information and photographs of the human assets, as well as operational cables detailing information the assets provided to the U.S. government.”
“When she was arrested by the FBI on Feb. 27, 2020, Thompson had used her access to classified national defense information to provide her co-conspirator with the identities of at least eight clandestine human assets; at least 10 U.S. targets; and multiple tactics, techniques and procedures,” DOJ said.
Thompson, who pleaded guilty to the charges in March, said her co-conspirator told her “his contacts were pleased with the information and that the Lebanese Hezbollah military commander wanted to meet Thompson when she came to Lebanon.”
The FBI confirmed it arrested Thompson in February 2020 at an unspecified “overseas U.S. military facility” where she was still working as a contract linguist with a Top Secret security clearance.
A search of her living quarters reportedly discovered a handwritten note in Arabic hidden under her mattress, containing “classified information from Department of Defense (DOD) computer systems, identifying human assets by name” and warning a Hezbollah operative that DOD investigators were on their trail. The note recommended monitoring the phones of the human assets Thompson had identified. The FBI also found a screenshot of classified information on her phone.
Thompson waived her Miranda rights after she was arrested and admitted she was passing classified information to a “romantic interest,” claiming at the time she thought he might be affiliated with Hezbollah or a rival Lebanese Shiite political party called Amal. Thompson told FBI agents she thought Hezbollah was a “bad” group with “terrorist” members but, in court filings, she allegedly said she knew the classified information she was passing would end up in Hezbollah’s hands.
DOJ officials and federal prosecutors called Thomspon’s conduct a “disgrace,” a “betrayal of country and colleagues,” and a “grave threat to national security.” Prosecutors wanted a 30-year sentence since her activities “posed real threats to U.S. troops and allies.”
Thompson asked for leniency at her sentencing Wednesday, claiming she “loves” America and its soldiers and “did not set out to hurt them, or do damage to our national security.”
“I just wanted to have someone to love me in my old age, and because I was desperate for that love I forgot who I was for a short period of time,” she said, pleading that she would not be able to spend time with her grandchildren if she spends the rest of her life in prison.
U.S. District Judge John D. Bates described Thompson as “a sympathetic individual with an otherwise inspiring life story who served her adopted country alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria” and sentenced her to 23 years, noting that she could be out of prison by the age of 81 with good behavior.
Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said Thompson’s sentence “reflects the seriousness of her violation of the trust of the American people, of the human sources she jeopardized, and of the troops who worked at her side as friends and colleagues.”
“The defendant’s decision to aid a foreign terrorist organization was a betrayal that endangered the lives of the very American men and women on the battlefield who had served beside her for more than a decade,” said acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia.
“This case should serve as a clear reminder to all of those entrusted with national defense information that unilaterally disclosing such information for personal gain, or that of others, is not selfless or heroic; it is criminal,” said Assistant FBI Counterintelligence Director Alan E. Kohler, Jr.