The Prouty affair and the links to Hezbollah are infamous. For violent non-state actors (VNA) such as Hezbollah, aggressive counterintelligence is a significant weapon in its arsenal. This is where Hezbollah and other VNA enjoy their greatest intelligence coups. By penetrating adversary intelligence organisations.
The penetration of an adversary’s intelligence organisation provides VNA like Hezbollah with great operational security (OPSEC) and an increase in its prospects of surviving. It can learn about its opponent’s intentions and also capabilities from within. The Nada Nadim Prouty affair appears, at first glance, to be one of these instances. A Hezbollah asset penetrating deep within the United States Intelligence Community.
2. The importance of intelligence penetrations for VNA.
The importance placed on a penetration like the one supposedly undertaken by Nadim Prouty for Hezbollah is clear. Consequently, Abu Bakr Naji, the purported head of media and propaganda for Al-Qaeda (AQ) describes such works as “equal to that of a martyrdom operation.” (source)
The most coveted of these penetrations are the ones that target Western powers. Examples of this are the Nadim Prouty affair and the case of Humam al-Balawi.
3. The background of the Prouty/Hezbollah case.
The Nadim Prouty affair is one of the most damning examples of lapses of counterintelligence in the West. Nada Nadim Prouty entered the United States legally under a student visa, which she overstayed. Prouty managed to gain US citizenship by marrying a US citizen, in what was a sham marriage in 1989. Whilst studying for her master’s degree, one of her teachers suggested that she apply for the FBI. Undoubtedly, Prouty leveraged her Arabic language skill set to gain employment at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This was the US was seeking to employ Arabic speakers in the late 1990s early 2000s. Following her role at the FBI, she moved to the Central Intelligence agency in 2003.
4. The accusations against Nadim Prouty.
Prouty was accused of accessing FBI files without the authorisation of her superiors regarding Hezbollah. The plea agreement submitted to the court says that Prouty specifically went searching for computerized documents relating to Hezbollah. A group that Prouty was not assigned to work on. The Lebanese terrorist organisation has representatives within the government of Lebanon. She was further accused of then exfiltrating these documents back to Lebanon via her family ties in the country. (source) The searches they accused Prouty of conducting include searches for herself, her sister and her brother-in-law. The prosecutors also accused her of running searches on Hezbollah directly.
The investigation into Prouty began whilst she was abroad hunting terrorists. At this time, in 2004, the Federal Government was looking into the large middle eastern community in Detroit. It was Prouty’s links to known sympathises of Hezbollah that shone the light on her.
Prouty also accepted it herself that to gain US citizenship she was involved in a sham marriage. The only aim of which was to allow her to gain US citizenship. In order to gain US citizenship, Prouty submitted a number of false and fraudulent documents that verified her marriage and allowed her to become a US citizen under the name Nada Nadim Deladurantaye. (source)
5. Prouty pleads guilty.
On the 13th of November 2007, Nadim Prouty pleaded guilty to three charges that were subsequently brought against her. These included the following.
- Count 1 – information conspiracy. This charge was for unlawfully accessing a federal computer to view information on her family and the terrorist organisation Hezbollah.
- Count 2 – Unlawful computer access
- Count 3 – Naturalisation fraud – this charge pertains to her illegally becoming a US citizen.
Moreover, if convicted fully by the laws of the United States, Prouty would have faced 16 years in prison and a fine of up to $600.000. As part of her guilty plea Prouty also agreed to give up her US citizenship.
According to court records, in 2000 she accessed FBI computers to search for family ties to Hezbollah. It is theorised that she wanted to know if the FBI had linked any of her family to the terrorist organisation. The court records also show that Prouty took home classified documents that were related to her searches on Hezbollah.
6. The link between Hezbollah and Prouty.
The link between Prouty and Hezbollah is because of her sister and brother-in-law, Talal Khalil Chahine. Prouty is believed to have worked for Chahine in his Detroit-based restaurant chain. Chahine is currently a fugitive accused of tax evasion, accused of hiding $20 million through his restaurants and funnelling that money back to Lebanon.
Importantly, the US Federal government believed Chahine had direct links to Hezbollah. This is because he attended a fundraiser in 2002, where he was a keynote speaker along with Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah. A designated terrorist by the US government and a key ideological figure within Hezbollah. (source)
When this all came to light in the media, they branded Prouty a traitor. Someone who had defrauded the US government and was actively working with Hezbollah, a known terrorist organisation. One media outlet consequently dubbed her the name ‘Jihadi Jane’. (source)
7. A patriot who loves the US.
Although Prouty pleaded guilty to the charges against her, she has since revoked those guilty pleas. Saying that they were a mistake and she had to decide between fighting the case and pleading guilty. Moreover, Prouty and her family simply could not afford to fight the case. (source)
Furthermore, Prouty believes herself to be a patriot. A person who put her life on the line to serve her country. They stationed Prouty in Baghdad as a CIA case officer after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. During her time in Iraq, she went on raids with US special forces, interviewed terrorists, and was part of the team that provided intelligence that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein. A former CIA station chief, Bob Grenier, believed that her achievements and class as a case officer saved many American lives. (source) Despite the accusations made against her Prouty still stands by her achievements and her love for the US.
8. Prouty was cleared by the CIA of Hezbollah links.
Ultimately, the CIA cleared Prouty of all charges relating to espionage. The investigation involved many polygraph tests as well as in-depth interviews, which she passed with flying colours. The Agency wrote to the court exonerating Prouty of all charges relating to the case.
“This letter is to inform you that the CIA conducted a debriefing of Nada Prouty, which began on 28 January 2008,” wrote the CIA’s Office of Security – a very tough bunch of professional sceptics. “It included a polygraph interview.”
“Ms Prouty was fully cooperative during those processes,” the CIA explained. “The agency did not identify any information that Ms Prouty cooperated or engaged in unauthorized contact with a foreign intelligence service or terrorist organization.” (source)
Prouty, like many others, has fallen victim to a media witch hunt. In which she lost her job along with her citizenship to a country that she loves. A country that she has put her life on the line for frequently. Serving in the CIA for Prouty was an honour and privilege.
9. Did US Counterintelligence fail?
Nada Nadim Prouty was cleared of the charges against her. Did the US IC fail with its counterintelligence? The answer is one that is not always clear. The resulting investigations into Prouty revealed potentially devastating flaws in the CIA and FBI means of conducting background checks. And although at first glance this may seem like an immigration failure. The CI capabilities of both the CIA and FBI should have picked up Prouty’s apparent lies around her citizenship and the links of her family members to Hezbollah. What is clear is that the Prouty incident is an embarrassment to the US IC, which had reportedly tightened its background screening checks following the Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen affairs. (source)
Although cleared of all charges, the only repercussion was her loss of citizenship and a $975 fine. There were mistakes made by the vetting process of the FBI and CIA. Prouty’s sham marriages, she admits herself, were wrong and should have been picked up before the US government employed her. The Nadim Prouty affair should serve as a warning to the West’s intelligence communities (IC). That VNA like Hezbollah are able and willing to conduct complex penetrations of their ICs and that CI of states should be higher on the list of priorities. The Silberman-Robb report highlighted that both AQ and Hezbollah conduct intelligence operations within the US. (source)