Thanks to lax background checks, even after 9/11, the Hezbollah spy who managed to obtain sensitive jobs at the FBI and CIA is not the first terrorist supporter to infiltrate the U.S. government.
An alleged al-Qaida operative also infiltrated the Environmental Protection Agency, according to federal investigators and court documents obtained by WND.
The case, details of which are revealed here for the first time, involves Waheeda Tehseen, a Pakistani national who obtained a sensitive position with the EPA in Washington as a toxicologist even though she was not a U.S. citizen.
Like the Lebanese national suspected of passing secrets to Hezbollah, Tehseen lied about her citizenship on her government application, a falsehood that the government failed – in both cases – to catch in its security background investigation.
In hiring Tehseen in 1998, the EPA also missed another red flag in her file – her husband’s ties to Pakistani intelligence, which has a long history of clandestine support for both the Taliban and al-Qaida. Her husband served as a major in the Pakistani military specializing in intelligence.
FBI investigators say that while Tehseen had access to classified information as a toxicologist, she and her husband ran a charitable front for Osama bin Laden’s inner circle in Peshawar, Pakistan. She even got colleagues to donate to the front – called Help Orphans and Widows, or HOW – which, among other things, operated an orphanage and madrassa for more than 200 boys on the Pakistani-Afghan border.
Investigators say Tehseen, a “very devout” Muslim who wears a hijab, was really acting as a conduit for money funneled to bin Laden from the Missouri-based Islamic American Relief Agency, which the Treasury Department has blacklisted for helping fund bin Laden’s operations overseas. Treasury has frozen IARA’s assets, and the FBI has conducted raids on its offices.
Investigators also suspect the building she used for the orphanage doubled as a safehouse for al-Qaida.
“She had big-time contacts with al-Qaida, including with people just once removed from bin Laden himself,” said an FBI special agent familiar with the case.
The EPA bought Tehseen’s story that HOW was a legitimate charity. In 2002, her supervisors even presented her with the agency’s “Unsung Hero Award” to honor her charitable work, court records show.
The certificate, a copy of which was obtained by WND, reads: “For providing care, funds and needed articles through your own resources and contacts to isolated refugee camps often not reached by international aid groups.”
On top of her $90,000 salary, the agency awarded her six cash bonuses.
“She even got the EPA to pay for her many trips to Pakistan, claiming she was visiting sick relatives or orphans,” the FBI agent told WND. “It was a pack of lies.”
In 2004, federal agents arrested Tehseen as she was preparing to board a flight to Pakistan on behalf of her charity. They raided her half-million-dollar home in a leafy subdivision in Fairfax, Va. – located not far from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ home – where they executed a search warrant for all documents and other items related to her charity.
Tehseen later pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud, and was deported to Pakistan. Sources say her husband is now working for the Pakistani government in Islamabad.
It’s not clear if Tehseen, 49, stole classified information for al-Qaida, but investigators suspect espionage is probable, as she produced highly sensitive health-hazard documents for toxic compounds and chemical pesticides. Tehseen also was an expert in parasitology as it relates to public water systems, a terror target of al-Qaida.
“She’s a classic example of an al-Qaida sympathizer who infiltrated our government and our society, and worked and lived among us for years and years, and even started a family here,” the agent said of Tehseen, who had a fourth child while living in America for 17 years.
Former WND Washington bureau chief Paul Sperry was the first journalist to expose the threat of Islamist espionage in his bestselling 2005 book, “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington.”
Quoting FBI officials who have worked counterterrorism and counterespionage cases in the D.C. area, Sperry warned that terror-support groups posing as Islamic charities, think tanks and other nonprofits have conspired to run infiltration operations against the U.S. government to collect intelligence.
Yet it wasn’t until October 2004, according to Sperry, that the Justice Department convened a high-level meeting to discuss the possibility of infiltration from Muslim NGOs, or nongovernmental organizations.
Secret Islamist spy plan
He cites a document, seized by federal agents and translated from Arabic, that reveals a secret plan to spy on U.S. agencies.
“Our presence in North America gives us a unique opportunity to monitor, explore and follow up,” it states. “We should be able to infiltrate the sensitive intelligence agencies or the embassies in order to collect information.”
Shockingly, the U.S. security agencies they’ve targeted for infiltration have not made it very hard for them.
John M. Cole, who in 2004 retired from the FBI as program manager for foreign intelligence investigations covering Pakistan and Afghanistan, says he observed serious security lapses involving the screening and hiring of Arabic and other translators at the bureau.
“We have serious problems with the hiring of language specialists,” he told Sperry. “Background investigations are not being conducted properly, and we’re giving people TS/SCI (top secret/sensitive compartmented information) clearance who shouldn’t have it.”
He says at least a dozen translators still on the job have major “red flags” in their files. “And we have espionage cases because of it,” Cole claimed.
One such red flag popped up in the file of an FBI translator hired after 9/11, who had also emigrated from Pakistan. And like Tehseen, she had a relative connected to Pakistani intelligence.
In fact, the translator is the daughter of a retired Pakistani general whose name showed up in the FBI’s Automated Case System, according to Cole. He says the bureau had opened a case file on her father in the 1980s, when he was the military attach? stationed at Pakistan’s embassy in Washington.
U.S. intelligence lists Pakistan among the top 10 spy threats in the world.
It was a major red flag, and Cole recommended rejecting her application. But the Urdu and Pashto translator, who is married to a State Department official, nonetheless was hired and given Top Secret/SCI clearance. The bureau has since promoted her, and even hired her sons.
Sperry reports that, desperate for Arabic translators after 9/11, the FBI hired even Arab taxi-cab drivers in the Washington area, cutting corners on background investigations to get them on the job.
“They just grabbed a bunch of Arab people off the street and said, ‘Oh, we’ll do the background checks later,’” said former FBI special agent Emanuel “Manny” Johnson Jr., who worked closely with Farsi translators as a squad supervisor in the Washington field office.
They also turned to other local Muslims recommended by Washington-based Muslim leader Abdurahman Alamoudi, now a convicted terrorist who helped al-Qaida raise funds in the U.S.
In fact, FBI Director Robert Mueller made direct appeals to militant Islamic groups in his haste to hire translators to clear huge backlogs of untranslated terror intercepts and other materials. Many of them are the same Muslim NGOs now listed by federal prosecutors as members of the dangerous Muslim Brotherhood, as well as unindicted co-conspirators in a major ongoing terror-financing case involving America’s largest Muslim charity.
At the same time, Mueller snubbed hundreds of Arabic-speaking Sephardic Jews in New York who applied to help the bureau, as WND first reported.
FBI a ‘mole house’
As a result of the rush through what normally would be a rigorous security clearance process, the FBI’s language squad in Washington is now a “mole house” for radical Arabs and Muslims, claimed former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds.
She says she knows of at least two former FBI translators, both female, who tipped off targets of FBI terror probes after becoming romantically involved with them. One spoke Arabic and was working on an al-Qaida case, and the other translated Farsi in an Iranian case out of the New York field office.
And according to a post-9/11 investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, a male FBI translator from the Middle East was fired for taking gifts from foreign targets and then lying about it.
“A language specialist was dismissed for unauthorized contacts with foreign officials and intelligence officers, receipt of things of value from them, and a lack of candor in his ‘convoluted and contradictory responses’ to questions about his contacts,” the inspector general found, according to a November 2002 report cited by Sperry in “Infiltration.”
Recently, the inspector general reported that the FBI still has not fixed weaknesses in its internal security program – including personnel security – making it highly vulnerable to foreign moles, including those spying for terror groups.
Nada Nadim Prouty is the latest failure of the FBI vetting system. She worked as a special agent for the bureau from 1999 through 2003, before joining the CIA as an analyst. She made it through the FBI academy even though she fraudulently obtained her citizenship and had family ties to Hezbollah in her native Lebanon.
The CIA also missed the red flags in her background. Prouty earlier this month resigned from her job as a midlevel CIA operations officer, after working at the agency for three years. She worked for the division of Langley that runs covert operations.
Prouty has pleaded guilty to secretly obtaining information about ongoing FBI terror investigations. She’s suspected of passing it on to relatives tied to the terror group Hezbollah.
‘Nitwits’ in Washington
“The average Marine lance corporal has more security awareness than the nitwits charged with protecting us in Washington,” a senior U.S. military intelligence official told WND. “The FBI might as well put out a sign: ‘Double agents wanted, no experience necessary.’”
Prouty isn’t the first Arab agent to raise security alarms at the FBI.
Special agent Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, an immigrant Muslim from Egypt, twice refused on religious grounds to tape-record Muslim terrorist suspects, hindering investigations of a bin Laden family-financed bank in New Jersey, as well as Florida professor Sami al-Arian, who recently was convicted of terrorism despite Abdel-Hafiz’s refusal to cooperate in the case.
In an exclusive interview with Sperry, reported in “Infiltration,” Abdel-Hafiz confided that he respected al-Arian.
“These people think Sami al-Arian is an idiot,” he said, referring to fellow agents investigating him. “But Sami al-Arian is a very smart man.”
After 9/11, agents complained that Abdel-Hafiz was not helpful in running down al-Qaida leads in the FBI’s office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he had been stationed. They said he wore Arab headgear and robes on work assignments there, and even made a pilgrimage to Mecca on bureau time.
Agents who later visited the office after Abdel-Hafiz was reassigned noted that secret documents and files had been carelessly scattered across tables and even wedged behind cabinets.
Despite the complaints and other red flags in his file, Abdel-Hafiz was kept on the job, and is still in the bureau after threatening to sue for Arab discrimination – a legal tactic that has protected other suspect Arab employees at the bureau.
William Gawthrop, a former senior Pentagon counterintelligence official, warns that U.S. security agencies should use extreme caution in employing Arab immigrants and Muslims. He says giving them a direct role, either as agent or translator, in investigations involving other Arabs or Muslims “invites conflict.”
“Recent examples of a Muslim FBI agent and other Muslim law enforcement personnel declining to investigate their fellow Muslim are very probably concrete expressions of conscientious decisions rooted in a clearly articulated religious and legal doctrine,” Gawthrop said in a recent Pentagon briefing obtained by WND.