Despite using a sham marriage to fraudulently obtain citizenship and having multiple personal connections to a suspected Hezbollah financier, Nada Nadim Prouty, a 37-year-old illegal alien from Lebanon, rose quickly through the FBI, then the CIA.
While at the FBI, Prouty conducted unauthorized searches to see what law enforcement had on her, her sister (who is now in jail for tax evasion) and her sister's husband, a suspected Hezbollah financier, who is now on the lam. From her plea agreement earlier this month, where she pleaded guilty to three counts, we also know that Prouty illegally accessed top-secret FBI information about an investigation into Hezbollah.
So why are the Feds downplaying the case? And why is much of the mainstream media playing along? Most important, why is she going to do less jail time than many petty thieves?
Given the major lapses exposed by this embarrassing episode, the FBI and CIA understandably want the story to go away. With the mainstream media, it appears to be part of a much larger problem, wherein the threat of domestic Islamist terrorism is largely ignored.
Here's the backstory: Prouty came to America in 1989 on a student visa. After it expired the next year, she schemed to stay in the country by marrying a U.S. citizen. The two never lived together and did not consummate the marriage. She received her citizenship in 1994, and divorced her paper husband in 1995.
When the FBI went looking for more Arabic speakers, Prouty was snapped up in 1999. But this is where the stunning series of security breaches begins.
How did the top-secret security clearance process not pick up a phony marriage where she had done very little to cover her tracks? Consider that, according to the Detroit Free-Press, she never paid her contractual husband the promised several hundred dollars.
It appears the reason that neither the FBI nor the CIA detected that the first husband was just a pawn in her fraud is simple: They never talked to him. The Free-Press quoted the man's current wife saying that the first they've heard from law enforcement was just a few months ago.
Prouty didn't wait long to break the law. In September 2000 — one month after her sister, Elfat El Aouar, married suspected Hezbollah financier Talal Khalil Chahine — Prouty checked the FBI database to see what the agency had on herself, her sister and her new brother-in-law. Mr. Chahine, as it happens, had a pre-existing relationship with Prouty, serving as her boss in the early 1990s and filing a statement testifying to the validity of her fake marriage.
Shortly before she was hired by the CIA, Prouty went digging into FBI files again in June 2003, this time pulling up top-secret information about a Detroit field office investigation into Hezbollah.
The timing was suspicious. Her sister and brother-in-law, both Detroit-area residents, were allegedly already neck deep in Hezbollah fundraising at this point. They not only attended a Hezbollah fundraiser in Lebanon in August 2002, but Chahine was also one of the two keynote speakers. The other was Hezbollah spiritual leader Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. The two keynoters were even photographed sitting next to each other.
Despite stealing classified information on Hezbollah while having strong connections to someone who has spoken at a Hezbollah fundraiser and is now a fugitive from tax evasion charges stemming from a plot to funnel $20 million to Lebanon, Prouty is facing just six to 12 months in jail, according to the terms of her plea bargain.
What's truly mind-bending, though, is the lengths to which U.S. officials are going to portray this as nothing more than a case of fraudulent citizenship. Prouty easily could have passed sensitive information on to her sister and brother-in-law, two people close enough to Hezbollah to help lead a fund-raiser for the terrorists.
No matter how trivial the government claims the case is, there are more than enough questions for a media feast. Yet aside from the Detroit papers, the L.A. Times and Newsweek, few major print outlets did much investigation. The New York Times stressed the Hezbollah angle, but buried the story on page 21. The Washington Post ran the story on page A3, but buried the Hezbollah connection. Neither famed paper did a follow-up.
But this drama became completely absurd in the pages of the NY Daily News. Paraphrasing a “source,” the article declared: “She was so good that some in the agency want to hire Prouty back one day.”
That’s not all. The article offers an explanation with a deceptive doozy: “‘There is no indication at this point that she was engaged in espionage’ for Hezbollah while at the CIA, said a senior U.S. official familiar with the case.” Notice the careful phrasing. Prouty’s plea bargain suggests only espionage while at the FBI, not at the CIA.
As dangerous a precedent as it is that Prouty can get a slap on the wrist for potentially harming national security, the real travesty is that without sufficient media pressure, the FBI and CIA might not take the necessary steps to prevent someone else who might do even more damage.