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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Affirms Conviction of Iraqi ‘Sleeper Agent’

(CN) - The 7th Circuit refused to overturn the conviction of a former spy for Saddam Hussein who came to the United States as an unwitting "sleeper agent" for the Iraqi Intelligence Service and obtained U.S. citizenship by lying on his application.

Sami Latchin actively served in the IIS from 1979 to 1993, and was selected as one of the sleeper agents in Hussein's plan to plant spies around the world to gain positions of influence, gather intelligence and influence policy in favor of Hussein's Ba'athist regime.

"All spy programs, of course, operate on deception - the spies pretend to be people they aren't," Judge Evans wrote. "But Saddam's plan took it to a whole new level - not even the spies would know they were part of the program until they were activated many years down the road."

The only sleeper agent planted in the United States, Latchin insisted he went there to "retire." But the government produced evidence that Latchin made several trips to Eastern Europe to meet with "Ali," his handler, who gave him a code name and a cover story should he run into trouble. Ali also paid Latchin $24,000 a year for his services - an amount Latchin later explained as "retirement pay."

He settled in Chicago, where he worked as a counter agent at O'Hare International Airpot. In 1998, he successfully applied for naturalization.

"That may strike the reader as a shock," Evans wrote. "How could a spy for Saddam Hussein - whether past or present - acquire citizenship so easily? According to the government, only by lying."

On his application, Latchin listed O'Hare as his only employer over the last five years. When asked to identify all past and present affiliations with organizations, associations, foundations and other groups, Latchin wrote "none."

Finally, Latchin admitted to having traveled outside the United States since becoming a permanent resident, but claimed he had gone on "vacation."

Based on the evidence, a jury concluded that Latchin had obtained citizenship illegally and had acted as an Iraqi spy.

Latchin urged the federal appeals court in Chicago to overturn his conviction and restore his citizenship. He argued that a false statement is only "material" if the truth would've prevented him from becoming a citizen. And because no one at the Immigration and Naturalization Service said they would've denied his application outright had they known he was affiliated with the IIS, Latchin said the government failed to prove its case.

But the government didn't need to prove ineligibility; Latchin had to prove his eligibility, and he failed to do so, the court ruled.

"It defies common sense to think that the INS would have naturalized a man who worked for years as a spy for a hostile regime and who had at least some ongoing relationship with the IIS," Evans wrote.

Furthermore, the jury had plenty of evidence to convict Latchin as a foreign agent.

Evans rejected Latchin's final argument - that the court erred in revoking his citizenship - as being "at war with statutory law and common sense."

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