Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tangled U.S. Objectives Bring Down Spy Firm

Washington Post

After a federal jury in New York swiftly convicted a major Afghan heroin trafficker and Taliban supporter named Haji Bashir Noorzai, the government promptly issued the usual celebratory news release thanking the men and women of the DEA and FBI for their "countless sacrifices" in making the case.

Left out was any credit to the party most responsible for the government's victory: an unusual three-man private intelligence firm called Rosetta Research and Consulting.

At the instigation of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Rosetta agents lured Noorzai to America and delivered him right into the feds' hands. He spent 11 days in an Embassy Suites Hotel in Manhattan in 2005, enjoying room service and considering himself a guest of the U.S. government -- until he was arrested. He was imprisoned for three years awaiting his trial, which concluded in September. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced in January.

Noorzai's capture should have been Rosetta's finest hour. Instead, it led to the company's downfall. A close examination of the case reveals how a spy firm trafficking in sensitive intelligence for profit got sandwiched between conflicting government goals: Noorzai, one of the company's best sources, was considered an asset by the intelligence side of the government, even as the law enforcement side considered him a criminal.

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