A former news reporter and press secretary for four members of Congress was charged Thursday with being a paid Iraqi intelligence agent and trying to contact her distant cousin — the White House chief of staff — to alter U.S. policy.
Susan Lindauer, 41, was taken into custody in her hometown of Takoma Park, Md., and made a brief court appearance in Baltimore, where lawyers argued over whether she should be granted bail.
“I’m an antiwar activist, and I’m innocent,” Lindauer told WBAL-TV outside the Baltimore FBI office. “I did more to stop terrorism in this country than anybody else. I have done good things for this country. I worked to get weapons inspectors back to Iraq when everyone else said it was impossible.”
Charged with conspiring to act
She was charged with conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Iraqi Intelligence Service and with engaging in prohibited financial transactions with the Iraqi government. The indictment makes no mention of her congressional staff work. She was not directly charged with espionage.
She could get up to 10 years in prison on the most serious charge.
The indictment said she accepted $10,000 for working for the intelligence service from 1999 to 2002, including payments for lodging at the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad and expenses during meetings in New York City with Iraqi agents.
According to the indictment, Lindauer delivered a letter “to the home of a United States government official” on Jan. 8, 2003, in which she described her access to members of dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime “in an unsuccessful attempt to influence United States policy.”
The U.S. official was not identified. But federal sources told NBC’s Pete Williams that the official was Card, Lindauer’s second cousin. The sources said it was Card who alerted authorities to his relative’s activities. A government official, speaking on condition on anonymity, later told The Associated Press that Card was the recipient of the letter.
White House: No personal contact since 2001
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the last time Card recalls seeing or talking to Lindauer was during January 2001 inaugural events. McClellan said the FBI interviewed Card about his contact with Lindauer and that Card cooperated fully.
Card told the FBI that Lindauer had tried to contact him on behalf of the former regime several times. The indictment did not specify a motive.
The Iraqi Intelligence Service is the foreign intelligence arm of the government of Iraq that has allegedly played a role in terrorist operations, including an assassination attempt against former President Bush.
The U.S. government said that the agency also was involved in bombings during the first Gulf War, and has intimidated and killed Iraqi defectors and dissidents living abroad.
The arrest came as a surprise in Washington, where Lindauer had a long history as a journalist and a political aide.
Ex-reporter, congressional aide
Lindauer worked at Fortune, U.S. News & World Report and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before beginning her career as a political publicist.
She worked for Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., in 1993 and then-Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in 1994 before joining the office of then-Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., as press secretary in 1996. From March to May 2002, she worked for Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.
Chris Fitzgerald, a spokesman for Wyden, now a senator, said the office had heard Thursday of Lindauer’s arrest and expected to issue a statement later in the day.
“She worked for us a short period of time,” he said.
Braun’s current spokeswoman, Loretta Kane, said the former senator did not remember Lindauer.
Lindauer was a temporary, full-time reporter on the metro desk of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for a few months, from April 27, 1987 to July 17, 1987, John Joly, a spokesman for the newspaper told The Associated Press.
She then worked as an editorial writer for The Herald in Everett, north of Seattle, from Aug. 3, 1987, to July 25, 1989, according to an AP review of that newspaper's records.
The Seattle Times reported that Lou Wein, former editorial page editor for The Herald of Everett, who hired Lindauer as an editorial writer, called her brilliant but "erratic."
"I can believe it," he said, when he heard about the allegations.
Multiple visits to Iraq alleged
According to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Lindauer made multiple visits from October 1999 through March 2002 to Iraq’s U.N. mission in Manhattan.
There, she met with several members of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the foreign intelligence arm of the government of Iraq that allegedly played a role in terrorist operations, including an attempted assassination of former President George H.W. Bush, the indictment alleged.
The government said she accepted payments from the Iraqis for her services and expenses totaling $10,000, including $5,000 that she received during a trip to Baghdad in February and March 2002, where she met with Iraqi intelligence officers.
Her acceptance of the money and her willingness to bring it home from Iraq violated a law prohibiting transactions with a government that sponsors international terrorism, the government said. The indictment did not specify a motive.
Brothers charged last year
The accusations against Lindauer were included in an expanded indictment in the case against Raed Rokan Al-Anbuke, 28, and Wisam Noman Al-Anbuke, the sons of Iraq’s former liaison with U.N. weapons inspectors.
The brothers were charged last year with acting as Iraqi government agents and with conspiring to do so, prosecutors said. The indictment said Lindauer conspired with the brothers.
On Jan. 8, 2003, prosecutors said, Lindauer tried to influence U.S. foreign policy by delivering to the home of a U.S. government official a letter in which she conveyed her access to and contacts with members of Saddam’s regime.
Card alerted authorities
The indictment said Lindauer met twice in Baltimore, in June and July, with an undercover FBI agent who posed as a Libyan intelligence representative who was seeking to support resistance groups in postwar Iraq. It said she discussed the need for plans and foreign resources to support those groups.
According to the indictment, she continued to correspond with the undercover agent until last month and followed the agent’s instructions to leave packages on two occasions in August in “dead drop” operations.
More than a half-dozen FBI agents could be seen searching Lindauer’s residence in Takoma Park, a city known for its liberal views. Her neighbors recalled her as friendly.
Joao Luiz Vieire de Castro, 39, described Lindauer as “a regular American who walks her dog in the mornings and the afternoon.”
But Malvina Lacey, Lindauer's next-door neighbor, said, “She lives in a fantasy world.”