"Nada Prouty served her country loyally, with distinction, and, as universally acknowledged by her colleagues, with great personal courage as a CIA covert officer. This tale of rampant trampling of citizen's rights is a vivid reminder of the responsibility of citizens to be vigilant against unaccountable government overreach if we hope to keep a strong democracy, where the rule of law prevails and where a citizen is presumed innocent until proven guilty."
-Valerie Plame, author of Fair Game
When Nada Prouty came to the United States as a young woman, she fell in love with the democracy and freedom of her new home. After a childhood in war-torn Lebanon with an abusive father and facing the prospect of an arranged marriage, she jumped at the chance to forge her own path in America-a path that led to exciting undercover work in the FBI, then the CIA. As a leading agent widely lauded by her colleagues, she worked on the most high-profile terrorism cases in recent history, including the hunt for Saddam Hussein and the bombing of the USS Cole, often putting her life on the line and usually getting her man.
But all this changed in the wake of 9/11, at the height of anti-Arab fervor, when federal investigators charged Prouty with passing intelligence to Hezbollah. Lacking sufficient evidence to make their case in court, prosecutors went to the media, suggesting that she had committed treason. Prouty, dubbed "Jihad Jane" by the New York Post, was quickly cast as a terrorist mastermind by the relentless 24-hour news cycle, and a scandal-hungry public ate it up.
Though the CIA and federal judge eventually exonerated Prouty of all charges, she was dismissed from the agency and stripped of her citizenship. In Uncompromised, Prouty tells her whole story in a bid to restore her name and reputation in the country that she loves. Beyond a thrilling story of espionage and betrayal, this is a sobering commentary on cultural alienation, the power of fear, and what it means to truly love America.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Nada Prouty was an undercover spy for the FBI and CIA for over a decade, working on a host of high-profile terrorism cases, including the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. She was also part of the team that developed the intelligence on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. Today, Prouty cares for her two young children, speaks about her experience nationwide, and awaitsthe reinstatement of her citizenship.
Read an Excerpt
The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of an Arab American Patriot in the CIA
By Nada Prouty
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 2011 Nada Prouty
All rights reserved.
"DON'T SHOOT— I'M AN AMERICAN"
Looking down the barrel of the M16 shoved in my face, I did what any patriotic American would do: I proclaimed my allegiance to the USA. "I'M AN AMERICAN; I'M AN AMERICAN!" I screamed. I wanted to believe that the young Marine would be curious enough about my Arabic accent to ask questions before pulling his gun's trigger.
An hour earlier, I had been thanking God for my Arab features. I relied on them to help me move, without raising alarms, through Baghdad's spiderweb of streets in search of contacts. Now I was praying for this Marine to believe what I was telling him. Despite my accent and my Arab garb, I was most assuredly on his side. I was CIA, an agent on the hunt for intelligence about Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia in the fall of 2003. He was a young Marine serving his country. What could go right here? I asked myself.
He had noticed my vehicle, which had stopped at the entrance to the Green Zone some time before. Impatient Iraqi drivers had lined up behind me, beeping their horns and yelling at me to move. One by one they were ushered forward and allowed entrance. Sweat ran down my back and trickled down my face as I sat in my non– air-conditioned car, breathing fumes from the decrepit jalopies that passed slowly around me.
When the line thinned, the Marine looked my way suspiciously. He began walking toward my vehicle, pointing his weapon, trigger finger resting and ready on the frame of the gun. He ordered me to step out of my car immediately. I wanted to follow his directions, but I feared exposing the Colt machine gun nestled under my flowing abaya. That would only escalate the situation. I waited for him to get closer so I could explain to him that I was a government employee returning from a mission outside the Green Zone.
The Marine cautiously approached the unmoving car that, even by my own assessment, appeared to be a prototypical suicide vehicleborne improvised explosive device (SBVIED). I could see a mix of fear and hesitation in his piercing blue eyes. My attempt to alleviate his concern by reaching for my identification badge, tucked deep inside my disguise, only made things worse. He moved his finger to the trigger. My mouth was dry, and swallowing was painful. My fumblings, as if for a detonator, exposed the machine gun hidden under the abaya.
To him, it must have looked like show time. I looked Arab and spoke accented English. I carried a weapon and was inside a suspicious vehicle. He had to make a split-second decision—on which both our lives hinged. Slowly, I raised my hands, palms out, empty. His finger relaxed just enough on the trigger to give me hope. I locked in on those blue American eyes and screamed: "I'm an American; I'm an American!"
"Is right here." And, ever so gently, keeping one hand raised, with my free thumb I managed to slide the abaya aside enough to reveal the tag hanging around my neck. He looked carefully at the picture and the data there and moved his finger off the trigger. He'd chosen not to engage me with fire. Had I been in his place, I don't know if I would have done the same.
"Good enough, ma'am. Welcome to the Green Zone." He breathed the words hard.
"Thank you, soldier, for going by the book. You have a safe night, now," I managed.
HOURS BEFORE THIS SHOWDOWN, I had received an urgent phone call.
"Sahar, I need to talk to you now. Now!"
My intelligence contact was triggering an emergency meeting. I hoped that he was not in danger or asking to see me for the wrong reasons. Informants sometimes wished to talk to me about their marital problems when what I really needed was to gather intelligence about possible violent attacks. I could help direct people to safe areas if I caught wind of an impending attack, but I had a hard time calming angry spouses.
"OK, Ali," I answered. "I will meet you at one of our agreed-upon locations—location three to be precise—at 4:00 P.M."
"I'll see you there, Miss Sahar."
"Inshallah," I assured him.
Ali was supposed to add two hours to the time I gave him. I hoped he would remember that detail.
I began to prepare for our appointment. First, I went to my supervisor, Ken, to let him know that I would be conducting a meeting that evening. I told him the pickup location, the timing, and the rally and rescue location in case things got out of hand. Next, I started working on my gear. I tested my GPS system with a current reading of my location and confirmed that the reading was accurate. I also made sure the GPS battery was fully charged.
Then, on my handheld radio—also ready for action—I contacted base.
"This is Assassin calling to let you know that I will be making a move tonight, departing the Green Zone at about 4 P.M. and returning at about 8P.M. The meeting location is Hay Al Sha'b."
"Copy, Assassin," came the answer from base.
I reviewed my map for the possible routes to my pickup location. I mused on how odd it was that I knew my way around Baghdad better than I knew the streets of my neighborhood in Northern Virginia. I tested my cell phone for a signal and battery power; both were fine. I picked up my backpack and made sure I had replenished my supply of water and PowerBars. In the 100-degree heat, the PowerBars had melted to liquid in their plastic pouches. Being pregnant, a fact I had discovered only a few weeks earlier, I had not kept any food down all day, but I wanted to be on the safe side and try to eat later if I could. Also in my backpack was the black abaya, my head scarf, and the rest of my disguise. The abaya helped me blend in and hide my gear.
At the firearms check location, I loaded my 9mm Glock, putting an extra round in the chamber. More rounds mean more fight. I also made sure I had plenty of extra fully loaded magazines. Finally, I grabbed my Colt Commando—a smart and dangerous weapon I had dubbed "Buba." Buba and I had a fine relationship. He was my silent partner who protected me. In return, I kept him clean and out of sight. And, when no one was looking, I spoke to him.
"I hope that I don't have to use you today, Buba, but if I do I know that you will be there for me," I told him.
Almost ready, I went to the bathroom and threw up again. This was a good thing. There was absolutely nothing left in my stomach, so I wasn't worried about throwing up again anytime soon. Still, just in case, I packed a couple of plastic bags. I knew Ali would have additional bags, as the last time we met I had had a continuous spell of vomiting.
Weeks earlier, I had learned that I was pregnant with my daughter Evangelina. The first time I tried to learn the reason behind my symptoms, I was not successful. I had missed my monthly cycle and was pretty sure I was pregnant, so I decided to visit the American military hospital in the Green Zone to confirm my suspicions. I did not know where to go, so I roamed around looking for a doctor. When I located one, he told me that because he was not equipped with a lab able to verify pregnancy with a simple blood test, the best he could do was to give me an ultrasound. The doctor was busy, so I told him I would wait in the waiting room. A couple of soldiers arrived and I started to talk to them. One was waiting for a prescription, while the other wanted the doctor to check on his recovering wound. I told them that they could both see the doctor ahead of me, since my exam was not urgent. In truth, I was very anxious and could not contain my excitement. My thoughts were racing ahead to all the cute baby clothes and shoes and the smell of baby shampoo when I heard the door to the hospital's main entrance burst open. A soldier was rushed through on a gurney, unconscious and bleeding heavily. Thoughts of babies and nurseries fled. I suddenly felt selfish and inconsiderate. How could I take time away from the doctor? My question was trivial in comparison to the life-and-death struggles of our men and women in uniform. I went back to my room and cried. I don't cry easily, so I blamed the war and my wayward hormones.
Now ready to leave the firearms check station, I headed to the carpool and checked out a vehicle to drive to another location inside the Green Zone, where I checked out one of the junkers. I put on my bulletproof vest and then draped my abaya over myself, hiding Buba. Finally, I took a deep breath and said my prayer.
"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."
My conversion to the Catholic faith had begun shortly before my assignment in Baghdad. I had been attending Mass regularly with my husband, Gordon, after we were married in 2001 at our local Catholic church. One busy and stressful day, when I was readying to depart for Baghdad, I visited the church for some sanity and composure. As I sat in the quiet and stared at the crucifix, I felt the presence of a spirit. I felt calm and at peace within myself. I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted the Lord in my life. I wanted it immediately. However, because the Catholic conversion course was a long process that I could not attend at the time, I promised myself that I would complete the course when I returned.
To me, the strongest pillar of faith has always been one's individual relationship with the Lord. I had grown up a Druze in Lebanon. There is no nutshell description of the Druze religion, which is an amalgam of Muslim, Christian, Sufi, and Pentateuch teachings and beliefs—in other words, a sort of Lebanese condition. There is a definite mysticism to it, and the Druze strongly believe in a supreme being. I had never practiced this religion in Lebanon, but its mysteries and otherworldliness intrigued me at times. I suppose I was similarly susceptible to the mysteries of Roman Catholicism. But most importantly, my marriage to Gordon made me want to share his faith, so I had talked with him about converting. Although official conversion would be months away, I considered myself Catholic on the day I sought the sanctuary of the church.
My prayer finished, I covered my hair with a head scarf before exiting the safety of the Green Zone to drive along the ruined streets of Baghdad. Because one never knows who might be hanging around the Green Zone checkpoint, I wanted to make sure that I was not being followed. Driving always reminded me of the status of the many neighborhoods that made up the city. I learned which streets had recently been barricaded and whether the closures were temporary or permanent, noting the changes on my map, and I'd share my findings with my colleagues at the end of the day.
My route to meet Ali took me along streets where buildings had totally disappeared. Open shops sat next to lots piled with rubble. I saw a little girl holding her mother's hand as they walked through the wreckage of someone's once-grand, elaborate home. I could see myself in that little girl. Twenty years earlier, I had walked through eerily similar destruction in Beirut. War is very efficient at creating chaos. Certainly my life—and no doubt the life of the young girl I had passed—had been traumatized by war. As resilient as children can be, adapting to war can take its toll; I had friends who processed the trauma-related stresses into such behaviors as bedwetting and stuttering. I wondered about the impact of the war in Iraq on this little girl, hoping that she had a strong family or some other support structure to help her get through these difficult times.
These trying circumstances illustrate the context in which my fellow CIA operations officers and I served in Baghdad in 2003. Admittedly, my colleagues' European features prevented all but a small number of them from passing as locals. And among those who could pass, none of them had the language and training to operate independently on the city's streets in the way I could. My duties in Baghdad were always very intense, but I welcomed this daily struggle, knowing that I was contributing directly to saving the lives of both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. As a covert CIA officer, I conducted an average of two to three high-risk meetings a day when I was serving in Baghdad. Moving across the enormous and chaosstrewn landscape of Iraq meant inviting violence and deception from many quarters. We all got very little sleep and could never be sure who might be friend and who might be foe.CHAPTER 2
WHERE I'M COMING FROM
My parents were Druze, a minority religious faction amounting to approximately 7 percent of the Lebanese population. The Druze religion started as a religious- philosophical movement in Egypt in the tenth century. The Druze consider their faith a blend of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and believe that their spiritual message was inherent in the prophetic voices of Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad.
Although they recognize the ethical and spiritual practices of these monotheistic religions as wholesome, the Druze argue that individuals who continue to commit transgressions can still be forgiven by God if they fast and pray. Because of this belief, strongly held by Druze in modern Beirut and in the secluded mountains east of the city, the Druze eliminated all elements of ritual and ceremony, leaving no fixed daily liturgy, no defined holy days, and no pilgrimage obligations. Instead, because the Druze perform their spiritual reckoning directly with God, the certainty of their belief requires no special days of fasting or atonement. The Druze religion is also secretive and closed to converts.
Lebanon has two major religious groups: Christians and Muslims. The Druze, though generally despised by these majority groups, have allied themselves, at various times, with either or both to ensure Druze survival.
The Druze inheritance in me ebbs and flows as the need arises. These elastic abilities are what make me both a "world traveler" (a euphemism, apparently, for "traitor," according to the New York Post) and a good officer. But there are those who don't believe I am who I say I am: a patriotic American who has consistently put her life on the line to gain justice for American citizens and who, while at the CIA, went up against some of the most dangerous terrorists on the planet.
These people have little idea of what goes into being a good CIA officer. The truth is you have to be a little slippery sometimes. You have to play a role, and it helps to be a part of the world your enemy is coming from. I'll tell you this: the Druze are respected in the Middle East. They are not wild-eyed mystics; they are not moles; they are not slipping-in-behind-the-flower-cart bomb bearers. Instead, they work in sensitive offices of several Middle Eastern governments, or they emigrate and become decorated US Marines, or they line up with their Jewish colleagues in the Israeli Defense Forces. Their long history of serving the people who make history—and this often means picking the strongest dog in the fight—is a matter of public record. The Druze are very international; they get around. And I am lucky to have some of this blood flowing in my veins.
Naturally, my detractors declined to consider the complexity of my background, favoring caricature over truth. Too bad—they might have learned, from my life's struggles, a thing or two about the ethnic divisions in the Middle East, about the nature of assimilation and true patriotism, or simply about how to combat terrorism by recognizing the best tools America has for effective intelligence gathering. But they chose to avoid any serious examination of all of this.
My Druze background is not necessarily a bad thing. Being born Druze is a little like being from the projects: because you live that reality, you're aware that you know more than the talking heads. And if that point of origin makes you more versatile than the average Joe, that's good. And you don't lose that identification easily; it's always a part of you. It makes you work hard, makes you prove yourself at every challenge. A Druze in Lebanon is always a bit of an outsider. As a Druze, you might be seen by others as a member of an odd cult or group, but this group has a historical reputation for being good ministers and confidantes and advisors to the power brokers. A loyal Druze makes a good ally.
Excerpted from Uncompromised by Nada Prouty. Copyright © 2011 Nada Prouty. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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Table of Contents
'Don't shoot - I'm an American'
Where I'm Coming From
Coming to America
Joining the Fold
Late Al Qaeda Nights
September 11th, 2001
Over to the Dark Side