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Ex-interpreter posing as US intelligence officer attempted to influence Iraqi government

JESSICA BIDWELL/STARS AND STRIPES

By MAXINE BERNSTEIN | The Oregonian (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 8, 2018

Prosecutors will ask for a year of probation for an Iraqi national living in Beaverton, Ore., who misrepresented himself as a U.S. intelligence officer in a letter to the prime minister of Iraq and in a phone call to an Iraqi member of parliament.

The Nov. 8, 2015, letter, written on a fraudulent letterhead from the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, urged Iraq's leader to appoint a certain man as director of Iraq's intelligence service, pledging U.S. support for the candidate. It was signed, "William J. Peterson.''

In a phone call to a member of the Iraqi parliament during the spring of 2016, a man who identified himself as "Dr. William'' from the U.S. government said he was interested in getting the member appointed as speaker of the Iraqi parliament.

Iraqi officials alerted the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, who contacted the FBI, concerned the caller and letter writer was interfering with U.S. political initiatives in Iraq, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel wrote in a sentencing memo filed Wednesday.

The FBI traced the phone call to Wathiq Al-Ibraheemi, 34.

Al-Ibraheemi in January pleaded guilty to unlawfully using the official insignia of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a misdemeanor.

He served as an interpreter for U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq about 10 to 12 years ago. In 2009, he immigrated to the United States, sponsored by an Army officer with whom he had worked in Iraq, under the U.S. Significant Public Benefit Parole Program. The program allows the homeland security secretary to temporarily admit foreign nationals into the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.

Al-Ibraheemi lived with the U.S. officer and his family. In 2012, he moved with the officer to Oregon.

Al-Ibraheemi moved to Beaverton and enrolled as an engineering student at Portland State University, according to court papers.

Last March, the FBI raided Al-Ibraheemi's home and seized his laptop and other belongings. A forensic analysis revealed that Al-Ibraheemi had downloaded the insignia of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence before the date when the fraudulent letter was sent to the Iraqi prime minister, according to prosecutors.

A witness interviewed by the FBI said an image of the national agency's official seal was taken off the internet for use on the letter and that Al-Ibraheemi created the document with another, unidentified individual, attempting to pass it off as an official document, the prosecutor's memo says.

In the letter, Al-Ibraheemi passed himself off as the U.S. chief of the Middle East Section in the Office of the Deputy Director for Intelligence. He wrote, or had written, that it was a critical time for Iraq, that its government could not fail and the United States fully supported its efforts to eliminate corruption.

He wrote that he cared deeply about Iraq after spending a career trying to shape a stable, Democratic Iraqi government. He was very critical of Gen. Zuhair al-Gharbawi, who was director of Iraq's intelligence service, at the time, and said the United States supported appointing Dr. Mosdeq Al-Janabi in his place.

"Gen. Zuhair is ineffective in his position to the detriment of Iraq's national security,'' the letter said. "It is our assessment that Dr. Mosdeq is very capable to perform the duties of INIS (Iraq National Intelligence Service) Director. He is not a member of any political party, and has no record of corruption or allegiances with foreign governments.''

The writer noted that the letter should be considered highly classified and not shared, and asked that it be returned, without copying it.

The letter instead was forwarded to the U.S. ambassador in Iraq. A short time later, the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community verified the letter was fraudulent.

"A communication to a head of state would be undertaken only by the Director of National Intelligence or his designee,'' wrote an assistant inspector general of investigations. There was no "William J. Peterson'' employed with the U.S. intelligence office and no such "Middle East section'' in the office.

When Al-Ibraheemi entered his guilty plea, he initially told U.S. District Judge Michael A. Mosman that he "didn't know at the time'' that possessing the official insignia was illegal.

"Now I do know it, and am taking full responsibility,'' he said, at the plea hearing.

He later clarified in the hearing, saying, "I know at the time I shouldn't have downloaded it, possessed it, yes ... I'm not an expert in the law, even close.''

Under the plea agreement, both Al-Ibraheemi's lawyer Colin Hunter and prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of probation. Sentencing is set for Tuesday.

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