Examiner : Navy says documents allegedly leaked by Phoenix sailor dangerous

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Navy says documents allegedly leaked by Phoenix sailor dangerous

By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, The Associated Press | February 27, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The Navy would have immediately changed plans had it known that details of ship movements had been leaked to suspected terrorism supporters, a retired top Navy official testified Wednesday at the trial of a former sailor on terrorism charges.

Hassan Abu-Jihaad, 32, of Phoenix, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges alleging he provided material support to terrorists and disclosed classified national defense information.

If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

Abu-Jihaad, an American-born Muslim convert formerly known as Paul R. Hall, is accused of leaking information that could have doomed his own ship. He was a Navy signalman and received an honorable discharge in 2002.

He is accused of passing along details that included the makeup of his Navy battle group, its planned movements and a drawing of the group's formation when it was to pass through the Straits of Hormuz on April 29, 2001.

Files found on a computer disk recovered by authorities from an alleged terror supporter's home also included the number and type of personnel on each ship and the ships' capabilities and ended with instructions to destroy the message, according to testimony.

Retired Rear Adm. David Hart Jr., who was involved in planning the development of the battle group and was the commander, testified Wednesday that he would have immediately alerted his supervisor in 2001 had he known that a battle group document was in the hands of suspected terrorism supporters. He said he would have sought an opportunity to change the time and nature of the operation.

"It was a very vulnerable period of time for us," Hart said. He noted earlier that naval officials had taken steps to protect sailors after 17 sailors were killed in the 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.

Hart also said that sailors were typically in a heightened state of readiness through Strait of Hormuz, a busy narrow Persian Gulf waterway where they are frequently challenged by Iranian officials.

Hart confirmed that the information Abu-Jihaad is accused of leaking was sensitive and classified.

But on cross-examination, Abu-Jihaad's attorney, Dan Labelle, said the Navy wasn't shy about letting the world know when it was deploying ships to the Persian Gulf because it wanted to project strength and deter a crisis.

"I think that's fair to say," Hart responded.

Hart testified that some information in the leaked documents was incorrect, including a claim related to the vulnerability to a small craft attack. But Hart testified that he was still concerned because even if the allegedly leaked details were not precisely accurate, they would have given away the key tactical element of surprise.

Referring to ship movements, Hart said, "That could be an important piece of information."

Defense attorneys introduced a ship log indicating that the battle group passed through the Strait of Hormuz on May 2, 2001, not April 29. But Hart also testified that the plan did call for passing into another area on April 29 that is sometimes confused with the Strait of Hormuz.

The documents indicated that ships would pass through the strait in a dual formation, which did not happen, Hart said. He also called a diagram that showed a submarine on each side of the ships "tactically unfeasible."

Prosecutors noted that a title on the document appeared only on one column of the ships, suggesting a single formation.

Prosecutors acknowledge that they don't have direct proof that Abu-Jihaad leaked details of ship movements. But they introduced e-mails he exchanged with a Web site operated by suspected terrorism supporters.

Prosecutors also introduced a document showing Abu-Jihaad had a secret security clearance, saying that could have given him access to the ship movements.

He was charged in the same case that led to the 2004 arrest of Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist accused of running Web sites to raise money, appeal for fighters and provide equipment such as gas masks and night vision goggles for terrorists. Ahmad is to be extradited to the U.S.

Abu-Jihaad is being prosecuted in New Haven because the federal investigation first focused on a Connecticut-based Internet service provider.

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