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Prouty Case Highlights CI Woes

The case of Nada Prouty, both a former FBI Special Agent and a CIA operative, is another shocking indication of the degradation of our counterintelligence capabilities. Still, unnamed intelligence officials are beginning to discount the roles she played while working for the intelligence community and consequently the damage she may have caused:

[H]er role was limited. “This is not John Dillinger or Reilly Ace of Spies,” said [an anonymous senior US official]. “She took an illegal shortcut to the American dream, then she made some inappropriate computer searches. At this point, there is no reason to treat this as a counterintelligence case.

The “shortcut” mentioned would be her sham marriage to a US citizen, done to gain citizenship herself. This is apparently a trait that runs in the family.

As to her “inappropriate computer searches,” it is important to keep in mind that government intelligence databases are not the Internet, and their use is not akin to googling for ex-boyfriends. Her searches – and apparently the delivery of those search results to those who did not have a right to see them - were focused on Hezbollah-linked family members. Prouty’s brother-in-law, Talal Khalil Chahine, is a fugitive from US justice and believed to be living in Lebanon. Prouty’s sister is serving 18 months in prison for her part in a scheme to route $20 million to individuals linked to Hezbollah.

Prouty was one of the literal handful of FBI Special Agents who knew Arabic and was familiar with the Middle East prior to 9/11; she was later one of the precious few Arabic speakers the CIA had on station in Iraq interrogating detained al-Qaeda operatives. Assessing the negative impact she may have had on our intelligence capabilities has nothing to do with where she fell out on the government pay scale and everything to do with the fact that she was a vital cog in the machine. As J. Michael Waller points out:

Prior to 9/11, when presented with evidence of Islamist networks in the Washington, DC area, [Prouty] dismissed the evidence as of little importance. Those close to the matter trusted her judgment at the time, though after 9/11 US authorities, under the direction not of the FBI but the Justice Department, raided the offices in those networks, made several arrests, and got several terrorist-related convictions.

This is a point that cannot be stressed enough. People like to think that the intelligence community if chock full of the nation's best minds on every subject. Truth be told it is generalism that is rewarded and true expertise receives nominal recognition and middling compensation. An agency like the Bureau, with so little Middle Eastern expertise, would have subjected Proudy's conclusions to little scrutiny, just like DIA deferred to the judgment of Cuban expert (and mole) Ana Montes.