As we wait and wonder what eventually will happen with the various investigations into FBI misconduct –- in both their protection of Hillary Clinton and their surveilling of the Trump campaign –- here’s another story of how the secret activities of federal agents can go horribly wrong.
The Houston Chronicle ran a stunning story on Friday about Leatrice Malika De Bruhl-Daniels, a 45-year-old career officer with impeccable credentials, having worked at the FBI as an investigative specialist and then spending eight years as a special agent with NCIS, the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service. NCIS protects Navy and Marine Corps secrets and handles criminal, intelligence and terrorist investigations in ports around the world. But De Bruhl-Daniels is charged with doing just the opposite --- she ‘s alleged to have tipped off her new boyfriend, who was under investigation at the time as a suspected terrorist, that he was being surveilled.
She’s been on indefinite suspension since May without access to secure material. (At least in this case they had enough sense to revoke her security clearance.) She’s free on bond and is staying with her mother in Charlottesville, Virginia, while awaiting trial on charges of attempting to obstruct, influence or impede justice. She denies the charges and will plead not guilty.
In the meantime, prosecutors are seeking extradition of Syrian businessman and suspected terrorist Nidal Diya, who is currently free on bond in Toronto, so he can be tried on charges of using fraudulent Guatamalan and Argentinian passports in Texas and Louisiana. Three other co-defendants also face trial for passport and tax fraud. Diya had been the target of a counterterrorism investigation by the FBI, but, according to court documents, De Bruhl-Daniels warned him that he was being investigated as a possible terrorist and might be arrested if he traveled to America.
The romantic link between this agent and a terrorist-suspect sounds like a story out of “Homeland,” but unlike the bipolar and highly impulsive Carrie Mathison, De Bruhl-Daniels has apparently had smooth sailing as a federal agent before this happened, having been characterized as an exemplary employee. Ironically, while she was stationed at NCIS headquarters in Norfolk, she served as the spokesperson for a program aimed at reducing sexual assault in the Department of the Navy and was quoted as advising fellow employees to “do what is right morally.”
It all started in 2015, when De Bruhl-Daniels was sent to the U.S. Consulate in Dubai at the busy port of Jebel Ali, to serve as the liaison on criminal, counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. Through a friend at the consulate, she met Diya in June of 2016, according to court documents. Diya apparently told her he didn’t know why the State Department had refused to renew his U.S. visa, and De Bruhl-Daniels was just the person to help him. She used her top-secret security clearance to find out from officials what was holding things up.
That's how she learned that Homeland Security officials suspected he was involved in an illegal shipment of oil from the United States to Iran. (Editorial aside: Hey, this was going on during the Obama administration. What would have been wrong with shipping oil, or billions of dollars in cash, or just about anything else, to Iran? But I digress.) In February of 2017, she inquired further at the State Department and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) about his visa and received a response from a State Department staffer. It said that Diya’s “entire family” had set off red flags for counterterrorism officials.
But the romance was already blossoming. On March 9, an HSI agent and a Commerce Department agent spoke with her on a secure video call, warning her to avoid contact with Diya. She didn’t tell them she was already interested in him romantically. On March 29, Diya hosted an elaborate birthday bash for her at his Dubai residence, likely spending tens of thousands of dollars. Attendees included NCIS, State Department and Naval officials. (It’s not clear from the story if these officials came as guests to keep an eye on Diya or the two of them together at that point.) In May, when she approached investigators to suggest that Diya would make a good confidential source, they warned her yet again to keep her distance from him and not to tell him they were watching him.
But it appears that by this time, she was not thinking rationally. In late June, she sent herself an email that consisted of musings about her feelings for the suspected terrorist. “I’m deeply attracted to you and I can’t think about you like that,” she wrote. “It’s not right.” In mid-July, she was informed by an FBI agent that Diya and another suspect were still under scrutiny. The agent asked for a full accounting of her encounters with Diya, and she said she’d consult with her supervisor. It’s believed that possibly even that same day, the agent informed her that Diya and the other suspect were officially under FBI investigation.
So...she (allegedly) warned him. According to court documents, she told him that if he traveled to the U.S., he would most likely be arrested. They got on a plane, anyway, but for a nine-day holiday in Greece, which apparently they’d already been planning. (She’d emailed about how much she was looking forward to it.) She later told federal authorities that he had given her $1,400 for the trip.
Following the trip, she saved a transcript of the texts between the two of them on her iPad. Here’s a sampling:
“(It’s) poss ur phones are being monitored,” she said. If agents suspected her of “acting as some kind of dbl agent,” he should tell them they were just friends. “Whatever they have on u is more than just suspicion so it’s serious,” she warned him. “They know stuff and if u lie u may never see American soil!”
In December, federal agents interviewed her, but there was a lot she didn’t tell them: that she’d had a romantic relationship with Diya, that she’d warned him not to to go the U.S., that he’d given her gifts, and even that her 23-year-old son had taken a job with him.
To quote the Houston Chronicle story: “It’s a rare case that falls into a unique category: criminal reckonings for federal law enforcement officials accused of abusing their access to top-secret information.” Now wait just a doggone minute. I wonder if the writer, as he typed that line, was thinking at all of the mishandling of top-secret information that went on at the FBI, DOJ and State Department around the same time as this case. We’ve got Hillary’s deliberate concealment of classified information as she risked its security by sending it through her private email server, Hillary's destruction of subpoenaed documents that (one may assume) included classified material, James Comey’s failure to hold her accountable, various FBI leaks relating to the Steele dossier and the “Trump/Russia” investigation, and the abuse of the secret FISA process by FBI and DOJ officials.
Where are the “criminal reckonings” for all that?
And when FBI Director Christopher Wray and other top law enforcement officials go on in the most idealistic way about the fine men and women in public service (another example: Chief Justice John Roberts going on about the non-partisanship of judges), just remember that there will always be exceptions to such generalizations. Some of those exceptions will be pretty glaring; others we'll never even know about. It’s not a perfect world; that’s why we have congressional oversight and inspectors general. Idealism is great, but it has to come with a dose of reality.