(AP) The publisher of a Chicago-based Arabic newspaper was arrested Wednesday on charges of secretly gathering information on Iraqi opposition figures as an agent of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service.
Khaled Abdel-Latif Dumeisi, 60, was charged based partly on a dossier seized in a Baghdad safehouse in April as U.S. troops moved in and Saddam’s regime was crumbling, federal officials said.
Finding the dossier capped an FBI investigation of Dumeisi going back at least four years that drew on interviews with informants, including a former Iraqi intelligence officer, federal officials said.
An FBI affidavit said the Chicago-based publisher told unnamed informants that he received training in Baghdad on how to gather information and was paid $2,000 or $3,000 to monitor Iraqi opposition activities in America. Dumeisi gathered information on one U.S.-based critic of Saddam’s regime by using a pen containing a hidden microphone and camera, a device provided to him by intelligence agents, the affidavit said.
Dumeisi was not charged with espionage because he did not spy on the United States and officials said they do not think he was an officer of the Iraqi intelligence service. But they said he reported to the intelligence service and violated U.S. law by acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and conspiring to do so. Agents of foreign governments are required to register with the Justice Department.
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald described the charges as serious. “Those who gather information in the United States about people living in America for the purpose of providing the information to hostile governments should understand that the FBI will pursue them vigorously and the government will bring charges in appropriate cases,” Fitzgerald said.
Federal officials said the dossier detailing the activities of an agent code-named “Sirhan” was found in the safehouse by members of an Iraqi opposition group and turned over to the FBI. They allege Sirhan was Dumeisi’s code name.
Federal officials said unnamed informants identified Dumeisi as having contact with Iraqi intelligence agents attached to Saddam’s mission to the United Nations — including one who was expelled as a spy.
The tall, softspoken Dumeisi appeared at midafternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward A. Bobrick, who set July 17 for a bond hearing. Until then Dumeisi will be housed in the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Dumeisi listened through an interpreter as Bobrick asked him whether he understood the charges and answered in barely audible monosyllables.
Defense attorney James Fennerty told reporters afterward that neither he nor Dumeisi had read the complaint but added: “He doesn’t believe that he has done anything wrong.” Dumeisi, head of a company that publishes the Arabic Al-Majhar newspaper, has been in the country for a decade as an unregistered alien and lives in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn.
Immigration records show he applied for citizenship but was denied after failing to provide the required documents. Officials said he identifies himself as a Palestine-born Jordanian citizen.
Court papers indicated that FBI agents had been in contact with Dumeisi at least as early as September 1999. Dumeisi told agents in an interview then that he had once-a-week contact with members of the Iraqi mission to the United Nations, according to the affidavit. He was asked in the interview about Iraqi intelligence but said he spoke with members of the mission only for journalistic purposes.
Court papers said that in Chicago Dumeisi at times appeared to be speaking in code to a phone caller and that he prepared bogus press credentials showing that an alleged Iraqi intelligence agent named Kassim Mohammed was a representative of Dumeisi’s Al-Majhar newspaper. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.