The Persecution of Nada Prouty


On Sunday, 60 Minutes ran a piece on the investigation of Nada Prouty, a former CIA and FBI operative accused of espionage and supporting terrorism. Prouty was a naturalized citizen from Lebanon who traveled all over the world investigating terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, including, she says, enduring gunfire while pregnant and investigating terror plots in Iraq. She apparently came under investigation because her brother-in-law has ties to Hezbollah, and she was eventually accused of passing on classified information about the investigation of him and her sister.

Prouty was eventually cleared of the espionage charges. An internal CIA investigation completely exonerated her. But while investigating her, federal officials found that she had arranged a sham marriage at the age of 19 to stay in the country. She agreed to waive the 10-year statute of limitations to plead guilty to two felony counts of immigration fraud, and one count of illegally accessing an FBI computer (a charge she now denies).

But pleading guilty wouldn't be the end of it: prosecutors didn't have the evidence to make a terrorism case in court so they made one in the media.

In a November 2007 press release the prosecutors said, "It's hard to imagine a greater threat" than someone like Nada Prouty. They said that she had "exploit[ed] her access to sensitive counter-terrorism intelligence."

And, later, the Detroit office boasted it had uncovered "the only known case of an illegal alien infiltrating U.S. intelligence agencies with potential espionage implications," as if Prouty had plotted from the age of 19 to infiltrate the CIA. All the worse, there it was, a word never uttered in court—"espionage."

Prouty was branded a traitor in the national news media.

At her sentencing, a number of colleagues at both the FBI and the CIA vouched for Prouty. Federal Judge Avern Cohn chastised the Justice Department for convicting Prouty in the media and praised her for her service. He fined her $975 for her crimes. But Prouty was stripped of her citizenship. The government then attempted to have her deported back to Lebanon, where she'd almost certainly have been killed. A federal judge blocked the deportation, but Prouty is now barred from holding a job or traveling 50 miles beyond her home in Virgina.

The U.S. Attorneys who prosecuted Prouty managed to gin up quite a bit of right wing rage. In the New York Post, conservative commentator Debbie Schlussel dubbed Prouty the first "Jihadi Jane" (and for the record, Schlussel's sticking with her story). The U.S. Attorneys who pursued Prouty didn't manage to win a conviction on anything remotely resembling espionage, but they did manage to win awards for their investigation.