WASHINGTON - An Arabic-language newspaper publisher was arrested yesterday in Chicago on charges of being an agent of Saddam Hussein, spying on the Iraqi opposition in the United States with such James Bond-style gear as a pen containing a hidden microphone and camera.
Khaled Abdel-Latif Dumeisi was accused of funneling information on Iraqi opposition groups in the United States to secret agents working under diplomatic cover at the United Nations, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
Dumeisi, 60, is charged with failing to register as a foreign agent, and could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. Arrested at his home in a Chicago suburb yesterday morning, Dumeisi made a brief appearance in federal court, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward Bobrick set a July 17 preliminary hearing.
The complaint spins a tale of phony press credentials and journalistic Deep Throats, including a girlfriend of an unidentified Iraqi opposition leader, who allegedly betrayed her lover by supplying to Dumeisi lists of phone numbers he called. Those who know Dumeisi in the small world of Arab-American news media said he is a minor player, publishing a once- or twice-monthly newspaper that has shifted its focus over the years but emphasized Iraq in recent months, often criticizing U.S. policy to remove Hussein.
According to the complaint, Dumeisi was recruited by Iraqi agents in 1998, about the same time he started Around-the-World News, a publishing company whose periodicals included the monthly Al-Mahjar, which had offices in suburban Burbank, Ill. The government said the arrest was triggered by a dossier found in April at an Iraqi Intelligence Service safe house in Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Justice Department officials stressed Dumeisi was not being charged with espionage but said the charge against him was "serious." Federal law requires that individuals other than diplomatic officers who work for foreign governments register with the attorney general.
"Those who gather information in the United States about people living in America for the purpose of providing the information to hostile governments should understand that the FBI will pursue them vigorously," U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in a statement.
Dumeisi's attorney, James Fennerty, said his client has been cooperating with federal authorities since 1999.
Dumeisi is Palestinian-born but holds a Jordanian passport, and has lived legally in the United States for about a decade, according to his lawyer.
Richard B. Schmitt and Eric Slater are reporters for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.