Monday, March 15, 2004


Did you know that we’ve been living in a continuous state of national emergency since 1990? That’s just one of the surprises contained in the indictment against accused “spy” Susan Lindauer.

Before we take a close look at this indictment, I’d like to ask her far-right critics to recall the case of Randy Weaver. Hard to believe, but twelve whole years have passed since the shoot-out. I still recall my initial reaction: “Screw him. He’s a racist. Exactly the kind of guy I don’t like.”

Right-wingers countered: “Just because you don’t like the guy doesn’t mean you can countenance what the government did to him. There’s a principle at stake.” This argument was spot on, as I finally had to admit after educating myself about the Weaver affair.

Can we expect right-wingers to adopt a similar stance in the case of Susan Lindauer, an anti-war activist whom they don’t like? Doubtful. Attitudes have hardened in the past dozen years, and today’s rightists care more about agit-prop than about principle.

So don’t be surprised if the agitators keep calling her a spy and a traitor -- even though the indictment charges her with neither spying nor treason.

The charges

The primary charge against her is a violation of Section 951 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code. In other words, she allegedly functioned as an agent of a foreign government without first notifying the Attorney General.

The indictment claims she conspired with two men: Raed Noman Al-Anbuke and Wisam Noman Al-Anbuke. Yet a close reading indicates that the charges against these two men are separate issues. The document gives us no indication that Susan Lindauer even knew these fellows. Perhaps she did; perhaps not. At the moment, we have no information beyond the text in hand, which does not mention a single instance of the three working together. Where’s the conspiracy?

For now, we shall skim the sections of the indictment dealing with the Noman Al-Anbukes and concentrate on the “overt acts” ascribed to Susan Lindauer. What, specifically, did she do?

Alas, the indictment will displease those who like specifics. It tells us that on two separate occasions -- October 14, 1999 and September 19, 2001 -- Susan Lindauer “met with an officer of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) in Manhattan.” No further information on these meetings.

Nothing indicates she knew this officer was a spy. I doubt that he wore a t-shirt with the word “SPOOK” emblazoned on the front, and he probably didn’t wear a baseball cap bearing an “Iraqi Intelligence” logo. Foreign spies operate under cover, often posing as diplomatic personnel or businessmen. That’s why it’s called “spying.”

The indictment does not name this officer. We can presume, however, that he met many people during his sojourn in New York -- business people, real estate agents, hot dog peddlers, cab drivers, etc. If we can yell “Traitor!” at any American who exchanges words with a foreign spy -- even one operating under cover -- then all citizens must avoid all foreigners, and we must behave like the unhappy denizens of Stalin’s USSR.

The indictment goes on to charge that “on or about October 2001, SUSAN LINDAUER, a/k/a “Symbol SUSAN,” accepted a task given to her in Manhattan by an officer of the IIS.” That’s it. A “task.” This word could indicate anything, even the purchase of a cup of coffee. I suspect this “task” was innocuous -- otherwise, the indictment would favor us with specifics.

By comparison, we do get specifics in the charges against Raed Noman Al-Anbuke, who “in or about 2001” met with an IIS agent and provided information about Iraqi expatriates. The charge against Wisam is even more detailed: He divulged the “location and employment of an Iraqi expatriate, the son of a former Iraqi diplomat.” Then we learn that Raed “facilitated a meeting” between an Iraqi spook and an Iraqi dissident.

Why are the charges so detailed against Raed and Wasim, while those against Susan remain so vague as to justify the adjective “Kafkaesque”?

Now we come to the sections involving money. The media has implied that Susan, motivated by greed, accepted pay-offs for treason. The indictment indicates something quite different.

“In or about January 2002, SUSAN LINDAUER, a/k/a/ “Symbol SUSAN,” met in Manhattan with an officer of the IIS and accepted payment from the IIS for travel, lodging, and meal expenses in the amount of $232.77.” The indictment contains four similar paragraphs. On each trip, she receives a similar amount of money to cover expenses. Considering the cost of a trip to New York City, I would say she practiced frugality.

At this point, let’s pause and take stock. What do we have so far?

An Iraqi spook operating under cover strikes up a relationship with an American woman. They meet six times. On four of those occasions, he picks up her travel expenses. We do not know what they discussed, or what kind of story he has told her.

For reasons given below, I believe he used diplomatic cover. No law prevents an American from talking to a diplomat.

Does the government allege that Susan gave this man classified information? No. I doubt that she had access to any.

Why did they meet? The indictment does not say. Our strongest clue comes from Susan Lindauer’s own words to the media: “I have done good things for this country. I worked to get weapons inspectors back to Iraq when everyone else said it was impossible.”

Many will call this statement naïve. I won’t argue. Recall, however, that at the time of these meetings, people around the world hoped that Iraq could avoid war if weapons inspectors regained access to the country.

More recently (mintues ago, as of this writing) she has told the press that she had hoped the FBI would interview an official in Baghdad "about an alleged meeting between a Sept. 11 hijacker and an Iraqi agent in Prague." Readers will recall the tale then in circulation -- and since debunked -- that Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi agent in Prague. (Atta was in the United States at the time.)

More ingenuousness. American officials knew full well that the Atta/Iraq claim had no basis. And if they didn't know, no blandishments from Iraq would have set their minds at ease.

Here is my preliminary deduction, based on the few facts so far available: This IIS officer, no doubt pretending to be something other than an IIS officer, led Susan to believe that she could somehow help the U.N. inspectors re-enter Iraq. Maybe the Iraqis really believed that little Lindauer, journalist and sometime congressional aide, could help avert war. If so, then they were the ones being naïve.

Nothing in this barrage of ingenuousness reeks of genuine disloyalty. So far, I see no evidence that Susan Lindauer wanted Saddam Hussein to do anything other than that which George W. Bush demanded: Allow weapons inspectors into Iraq.

We can extrapolate from the above a possible explanatory scenario for the most damning charge against Susan: That on February 23, 2002, she traveled to Iraq and met with several IIS officers at the Al Rashid hotel. She received $5000, presumably to cover her expenses. Inexplicably, this figure metastasizes to $10,000 later in the document. I don’t know which figure is correct (if either is), but even the higher figure seems too low for espionage. At any rate, the document does not mention spying.

Did she know that the people she met were IIS officers? The indictment does not say, but we can presume they operated under cover. Did she help these men in any way? We have no reason to believe she did, since the document makes no such allegation. What was her objective? Not one scrap of evidence indicates that she had anything on her mind other than the return of U.N. weapons inspectors and her hope that the FBI could interrogate the Iraqis over the Prague matter.

Few jurors will consider those goals ignoble.

Nearly a year after this meeting, she wrote a letter to a “United States Government official,” not named in the indictment but identified in the press as White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, her distant relative. At this time, all we know about this letter is that “LINDAUER conveyed her established access to, and contacts with, members of the Saddam Hussein regime, in an unsuccessful attempt to influence United States foreign policy.”

Here we get a clue that the IIS officers acted under diplomatic cover: Had she known they were spooks, Susan would not have mentioned them -- certainly not to Andrew Card! Neither is it likely that they introduced themselves to her with the words: “Hi, we’re Saddam’s henchmen.” No, in all likelihood they said they were diplomats. Movies and television dramas give most people the impression that diplomats -- even the ones employed by thuggish regimes -- are civilized “John Gielgud” types.

Had she conducted any espionage, had she desired anything other than the inspectors’ return, would she have brought her actions to the attention of the White House Chief of Staff? The phrase “an unsuccessful attempt to influence United States foreign policy” sounds ominous -- until one recalls that nearly everyone writing a government official hopes to influence policy.

As far as we know, all we have here is a case of an Iraqi "diplomat" rather desperately meeting with an American woman who possesses far less influence than he hopes. And he tells her: “Please, find some way to let your government know that we’re sincere. We want to cooperate...”

If that scenario (or anything near it) is true, where’s the crime? Someone trained in the technicalities of the law may have an answer. But change the question to “Where’s the harm?” and even the cleverest lawyer will sound like Porky Pig as he stutters a response.


In writing to Andrew Card, Susan Lindauer announced herself as a naïf. Not only did she have no hope of averting a war decided upon long in advance, she brought herself to the attention of the White House.

The Republican smear machine always needs new fuel. Susan had the perfect resume: A left-wing journalist. An anti-war Democrat. Worked for Carol Moseley Braun, a possible nominee for vice-president. At a time when the Republican party line labeled all war opponents traitors, a case against Susan Lindauer would damn by association every Democrat she ever met -- perhaps even every Democrat, period.

Readers who consider the above scenario unlikely should recall the case of Britain’s left-most Member of Parliament, George Galloway. “Evidence” was found in Iraq indicating that he took a pay-off from Saddam Hussein. The key document turned out to be a forgery. Forgeries don’t make themselves. This one was the work of pros.

Enter John Ashcroft’s FBI.

After Lindauer’s letter to Andrew Card, she became the target of an FBI sting. We read that she met with an undercover man from the Bureau posing as a Libyan intelligence officer, with whom she “discussed the need for plans and foreign resources to support resistance groups operating within Iraq.”

This strangely-worded passage makes little sense. At the time (summer of 2003), newspapers carried stories about warming relations between Libya and the United States. Why would the FBI choose such a guise? Even someone as ingenuous as Susan Lindauer must have wondered why Libya would help the Iraqi resistance when it did not lift a finger to help Saddam Hussein. Besides, how could this unimportant woman in Baltimore affect events in Iraq in any way?

Something here does not add up.

What was the true nature of this encounter? Did Lindauer know beforehand that she was meeting an “intelligence officer,” or did the FBI plant gain her confidence by pretending to be something else? Did she know beforehand that the Iraqi resistance would be Topic A, or did the undercover man surprise her by bringing up the subject? Why do we receive zero details as to what Susan actually said?

Keep in mind: An undercover cop can testify that he “discussed” a crime with you even if your only part in the conversation consisted of the words “Don’t do it.”

The indictment goes on to allege that, pursuant to instruction from the FBI agent, Susan Lindauer “left documents in a designated location in Takoma Park, Maryland.” And that’s it. No further information. Once again, we get so few details we might as well be looking at a child’s picture of a cow eating grass.

At first glance, this procedure sounds like the “dead drop” tactic we read about in spy books. But “designated location” can mean any place -- including a receptionist’s desk. And for all we know, “documents” could refer to a newspaper clipping, or a Pizza Man discount coupon.

We have one excellent reason to suspect that this “document” is innocuous: If it were otherwise, the indictment would describe it.

In your imagination, turn back the clock to 1997. Suppose that the government issued so vague an indictment against a militia leader. In response, the right-wing media would no doubt damn the FBI as a den of prevaricators. Does the FBI become incapable of questionable tactics when it tries to entrap a liberal?

The victims of COINTELPRO might have an opinion on that score.

National Emergency

Finally, we come to the most surprising aspect of this indictment. During a state of national emergency -- and according to this document, we have lived in such a state since August 2, 1990! -- the International Emergency Economic Powers Act grants the President broad authority over many types of transactions.

The administration can “investigate...prevent or prohibit, any acquisition, holding, withholding, use, transfer, withdrawal, transportation, importation or exportation of, or dealing in, or exercising any right, power, or privilege with respect to, or transactions involving, any property in which any foreign country or a national thereof has any interest in by any person, or with respect to any property...”

As I read this act, the administration can prosecute WalMart for doing business with China. It can prosecute you for buying a bar of Belgian chocolate. In fact, the president can do pretty much anything. After all, it’s a national emergency.

Remember when Susan received that money from the Iraqis as reimbursement for her travel expenses?

The government claims that her receipt of this money violated Executive Order 12722, which declared a national emergency and specifically prohibited trade with Iraq. But does this order truly apply in the case of Susan Lindauer’s ninny-noodle attempt at pseudo-diplomacy? Obviously, she did not visit Baghdad to sell widgets; “trade” was not the issue. Moreover, the order specifically exempts journalists. And she’s a journalist.

The right-wing media will continue to speak ominously of Susan Lindauer’s “tradecraft,” as though she had conducted Le Carre-esque spookery. But the government does not accuse her of spying. If a jury finds against her, it will do so on very technical grounds. Most Americans do not know that “acting as an unregistered agent” is a crime, and those who do know may not understand that “agent” is a word capable of very broad definition.

Ignorance of the law is, of course, no excuse. As further evidence comes out, we may learn that Susan Lindauer was guilty of something worse than doing her dunderheaded best to bring in the U.N. inspectors. I doubt it. But we cannot know for sure at this time.

As matters stand, the case remains shrouded in a troubling haze. I am no lawyer, and I haven’t read many criminal indictments. But I have read a few -- and I’ve never before seen one so amorphous as the list of charges levied against Susan Lindauer. Perhaps the rest of the government’s case will be more detailed and substantive.

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