FBI translator fled to Syria to marry Islamic State leader

'It's a stunning embarrassment for the FBI,' said a former State Department official


News Desk May 02, 2017
German-rapper turned IS leader, Denis Cuspert. PHOTO: CNN

A former FBI translator with national security clearance fled to Syria under false pretenses to marry an IS militant, CNN reported on Monday.

Daniela Greene was hired by the FBI in 2011 as a contract linguistic, she was moved to the Detroit office in 2014 to work "in investigative capacity" on the case of a German militant referred to as ‘Individual A’ – who the broadcaster identifies as her husband Denis Cuspert aka Abu Talha al-Almani.

In a video released in April 2014, Cuspert can be seen declaring allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. A German-rapper turned IS leader, Cuspert praised Osama bin Laden, threatened former US President Barack Obama and held a severed head in a video. His recruitment tactics in the virtual world had brought him on the US and Europe intelligence departments' radar.

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During investigation, Greene outlined social media accounts used by the IS leader but kept access to one Skype account to herself. The same year she informed the bureau of her travelling plans to Europe to visit her family, but the FBI agent left the country on a one-way ticket to Istanbul. She then travelled to the city of Gaziantep – from where Cuspert is believed to have helped her cross the border. The couple then got married.

It took two months for her to realise things were amiss. "I was weak and didn't know how to handle anything anymore," she wrote in an email to an unidentified person on July 8. "I really made a mess of things this time."

Five weeks after she left, the United States issued an order for her arrest. She was arrested upon return in August 2014 after she managed to escape the war-torn country.

The newspaper found federal court records – with court ordered redacts – where US prosecutors termed Greene’s behaviour as "egregious" deserving of "severe punishment", with the US Attorney Thomas Gollice adding that she had "violated the public trust, the trust of the officials who granted her security clearance, and the trust of those with whom she worked and, in doing so, endangered our nation's security."

Despite noting that Greene’s "conduct skirted a line dangerously close to other more serious charges," the prosecutors at the Justice Department seem to have been lenient as they charged her with a minor offence and asked for a reduced sentence as well. According to an analysis by the Centre on National Security at Fordham University, dozens of Americans arrested for IS related offences have been given, at an average, 13 and a half years prison sentences.

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When approached by the news site, a Justice Department official said the verdict was "in line" with similar cases without elaborating on any. The prosecutors also asked the judge to seal Greene’s identity after she agreed to full cooperation. "Unsealing these documents will allow appropriate public access to and knowledge of the circumstances of this case," the official said.

Upon inquiry by CNN, the FBI replied with a statement saying it "took several steps in a variety of areas to identify and reduce security vulnerabilities. The FBI continues to strengthen protective measures in carrying out its vital work." However the agency did not comment on what those steps were.

While Greene refused to divulge any details to the newspaper saying if she talked "my family will be in danger", her attorney, Shawn Moore said his client was "smart, articulate and obviously naïve". "She was just a well-meaning person that got up in something way over her head," Moore said

"It's a stunning embarrassment for the FBI, no doubt about it," said a former State Department official, John Kirby, emphasising that Greene couldn’t have entered Syria without the top IS leaders’ approval.

Kirby, who is a now a correspondent on national security for CNN, said outsiders risk "getting their heads cut off" so "for her to able to get in as an American, as a woman, as an FBI employee, and to be able to take up residence with a known ISIS leader, that all had to be coordinated."

Cuspert was believed to have been killed in an airstrike in Raqqah in October 2015 by the Pentagon until August 2016, when they issued a statement claiming he was alive. "It now appears that assessment was incorrect and Denis Cuspert survived the airstrike," the press release said. A day later, Greene was released from federal prison.

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