A former US military linguist was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Wednesday after pleading guilty to leaking secrets to Lebanon's Hezbollah through a lover she had never met.
Mariam Taha Thompson, 63, was assigned to a US Special Operations Task Force in Iraq in December 2019 shortly before the assassination of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani.
But the linguist fell into a honeytrap, sharing classified information about human intelligence sources with a co-conspirator with whom she had built a relationship using a secure messaging application.
As part of her guilty plea in March, Thompson admitted she believed the classified information she was passing to a Lebanese citizen would be passed to Hezbollah, which Washington has designated a foreign terrorist organisation, the US Department of Justice said.
“Thompson’s sentence reflects the seriousness of her violation of the trust of the American people, of the human sources she jeopardised and of the troops who worked at her side as friends and colleagues,” said John Demers, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“That Thompson passed our nation’s sensitive secrets to someone whom she knew had ties to Lebanese Hezbollah made her betrayal all the more serious.”
The Justice Department said Thompson admitted that, beginning in 2017, she started communicating with her co-conspirator using a video-chat feature on a secure text and voice-messaging application.
The relationship turned romantic, a Justice Department indictment said, with Thompson planning to move back to Lebanon, where she was born, to marry the unnamed person upon her retirement.
Thompson learnt that her paramour had a relative in Lebanon’s Interior Ministry and boasted of receiving a ring as a personal gift from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Prosecutors said the linguist’s behaviour turned traitorous after the killing of Suleimani and militia commander Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis in a missile strike at Baghdad airport in January 2020.
After the strike, she was asked by her online lover to provide information to "them" on the human intelligence assets who had led the US to Suleimani and Al Muhandis.
She understood “them” to be Hezbollah.
Prosecutors said Thompson used her top-secret security clearance to provide information on at least eight "clandestine human assets" and 10 US targets, as well as US tactics and procedures.
According to The Washington Post, Thompson made a tearful appeal for leniency and apologised to anyone she had endangered.
"Your Honour, I love this country, and I love our soldiers ... I did not set out to hurt them or do damage to our national security," she told the judge, the Post reported.
“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.”