Iraqi-American Man Accused Of Spying On Iraqi Dissidents In The U.S. Goes On Trial In Chicago

Tuesday, April 3rd 2007, 5:57 pm
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ The trial of an alleged ``sleeper agent'' for Saddam Hussein's intelligence service began Tuesday with a federal prosecutor accusing him of spying on Iraqi dissidents in the United States.

Sami Latchin, a 59-year-old Iraqi-born U.S. citizen, is accused of spying on U.S.-based critics of the deposed Iraqi dictator, who was hanged Dec. 30.

``There is a spy in this room,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney James M. Conway told jurors in the courtroom of U.S. District.

Latchin is not accused of espionage _ an offense that involves obtaining U.S. military secrets. Prosecutors say his spying was aimed only at Iraqi civilians in the United States.

The former airline employee was arrested in August 2004, when prosecutors unsealed an indictment charging him with making false statements to immigration authorities on a U.S. citizenship application.

Authorities claim he failed to disclose in the application that he had been a member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Latchin also neglected to say that he had been a member of the Iraqi government's foreign intelligence arm and said three overseas trips were vacations when, in fact, he met with his intelligence handler, the indictment said.

Three former Iraqi intelligence officers are expected to testify against him during the trial. Defense attorney Mary Higgins Judge called them ``professional, career, trained liars.''

``By definition their job involves trickery, deceit and pretending,'' she said. ``It is what they have done all their lives.''

Two of the three former Iraqi intelligence officers expected to be the government's chief witnesses are planning to testify under pseudonyms _ ``Mr. Khalil and Mr. Ali'' _ out of concern about reprisals.

The third, Muhammad Al-Dani, will testify under his real name, prosecutors said. All three will testify in disguise to ensure that any sympathizers of the old regime won't be able to identify them by their appearance.

Latchin's attorney said Al-Dani had been paid ``close to a million dollars'' as a government witness and suggested he had to come up with testimony to justify the money. She called it his ``million-dollar story.'' Conway said the amount was closer to $700,000 or $800,000.