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Feds Nab "Sleeper" Spy for Iraqi Intelligence By: Glenn Jeffers
Chicago Tribune | Monday, September 06, 2004

Federal authorities arrested a Des Plaines man Monday, saying he entered the country as a "sleeper" spy for the Iraqi intelligence service and charging him with lying on his U.S. citizenship application to conceal his role.

After the arrest of Sami Khoshaba Latchin, 57, prosecutors said he became a naturalized citizen after making false statements to immigration officials in 1999 and planned to "lay low" until contacted by his Iraqi handler.

Latchin entered a not guilty plea at a hearing Monday.

According to a federal indictment returned July 21 and unsealed Monday, Latchin worked for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, known as the Mukhabbarat, the foreign intelligence arm of the Iraqi government.

The indictment said that in addition to failing to disclose his ties to Iraqi intelligence, Latchin, a Baath party member, lied about overseas trips he made in 1994, 1996 and 1997.

Latchin, who was born in Dohuk, Iraq, and has lived in the United States for nearly 11 years, told authorities he was traveling on vacation when, in fact, he met with his Iraqi intelligence handler and received payment for his services, the indictment alleges.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer remanded Latchin to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago pending a detention hearing Sept. 7.

Federal defender Mary Judge, Latchin's attorney, said Monday she would fight her client's detention but declined to comment further.

At a news conference after the hearing, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald stressed that authorities were charging Latchin only with making false statements. Latchin was "ordered basically to come to this country and lay low as a sleeper," Fitzgerald said. "Anyone who comes to live in the United States and lies about their membership in the intelligence service of a hostile foreign government must realize that . . . the government will bring appropriate charges."

If convicted of making false statements, Latchin faces 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines, federal prosecutors said. Fitzgerald also said prosecutors would seek to have Latchin's citizenship revoked.

Fitzgerald downplayed the timing of the arrest, which came more than six weeks after a federal grand jury returned the indictment of Latchin. Fitzgerald would not comment on the delay.

"We thought it was important to wait, but it's important that we now move forward," he said.

Fitzgerald said authorities learned of Latchin's alleged involvement with the Mukhabbarat 1 1/2 years ago while reviewing FBI intelligence.

Neighbors said Monday that federal agents arrested Latchin at his third-story condominium in the 9300 block of Bay Colony Drive in Des Plaines around 6 a.m. A relative at Latchin's home declined to comment.

Dressed in an olive-green button-down shirt and black slacks, Latchin arrived at Pallmeyer's courtroom for his arraignment in handcuffs shortly before 11 a.m. Monday.

During the brief proceeding, Assistant U.S. Atty. James Conway called Latchin an "Iraqi intelligence spy" assigned to "assimilate himself into [U.S.] culture."

Conway said Latchin lied during a July 22, 1999, interview with an immigration official concerning answers from his 1998 application for U.S. citizenship.

Under oath, Latchin denied affiliation to any association or group and claimed he had worked for only two businesses in the last five years: Service Service Inc. of Schiller Park and St. Louis-based Huntleigh USA, a passenger and baggage-screening service that contracted with a number of airports, including O'Hare International.

Federal officials said Latchin was employed by the Mukhabbarat while he worked at O'Hare from 1995 to 1997 for Service Service and then Huntleigh, officials said.

Latchin worked at the airport again in April 2000 for Prospect Airport Services Inc., a Des Plaines company providing airline-related contract services to major carriers, city aviation spokeswoman Annette Martinez said.

But Fitzgerald said Latchin's work experience was not related to his dealings with the Mukhabbarat.

Neighbors in Des Plaines were shocked at the news of Latchin's arrest. Neighbor Grace Morgan, 55, described Latchin as a nice person who occasionally helped her with her garbage.

"The family kept to themselves, but were nice people," Morgan said. "[Latchin] always said, `Hello.'"

Latchin faced financial problems in recent years.

He filed for personal bankruptcy on Oct. 9 in Chicago, according to court records.

He had about $55,000 in credit card debt and owed $23,000 on a 2000 Cadillac Escalade and $6,000 on a 1998 Ford Taurus.

Latchin was unemployed at the time of the filing, and his wife, Stella, was an airline gate agent for almost six years with American Eagle Airlines, earning about $37,000 annually, according to court records.

The bankruptcy was discharged on Jan. 30.

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