Trial Goes on Against Accused Iraqi Spy

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former Iraqi intelligence officer identified documents in federal court Wednesday bearing the name of an Iraqi-born American citizen accused of working in the United States as a spy for former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Referred to only as “Mr. Sargon” to protect his identity, the witness said he recognized documents belonging to the Iraqi Intelligence Service that were signed by defendant William Shaoul Benjamin, 67, of Los Angeles.

The testimony came in Benjamin’s trial on charges of conspiracy, failing to register as an agent of a foreign government and making false statements. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith Heinz said Tuesday during opening statements that Benjamin was a paid informant for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the foreign intelligence arm of the Iraqi government, after coming to the United States in 1992.

Benjamin was to “penetrate and monitor” expatriate Assyrian Christians, a minority group in Iraq, Heinz said.

Among the documents shown in court to “Mr. Sargon” was a receipt of Benjamin receiving $2,000 in 1994 from Iraqi officials and a memo to the accounting department in the Iraqi intelligence division seeking approval to pay Benjamin.

When asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Janet Hudson whose name appeared on the files, the witness responded through an interpreter: “According to the documents I have, Mr. William Shaoul.”

Benjamin’s attorney, James Blatt, deferred his opening statement until later.

In initial testimony Tuesday, “Mr. Sargon” said he had been an intelligence officer in Iraq from July 1979 until April 2003, when Saddam’s government was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion.

He said Saddam’s government had a unit, “M-40,” known as the Department of Enemy Activities, that investigated anti-Iraqi groups outside of the country, including Assyrians.

Benjamin, who wore headphones to listen to an interpreter, was born in Iraq and is Assyrian Christian. Prosecutors portray Benjamin in court documents as a traitor to his own community by first working for Iraqi intelligence while in Iraq and then serving as a paid informant between 1993 and 2001. Code-named “9211,” Benjamin traveled to Iraq to train with intelligence officers, authorities said.

As compensation, Benjamin received separate payments of $2,000, $2,500 and $4,000 between 1994 and 1996, as well as two bottles of whiskey from Iraqi intelligence officers, court documents show.

FBI agent Ted Oehniger testified he recovered Iraqi files from an opposition group known as the Assyrian Democratic Movement in 2003 that showed Benjamin worked for Iraqi intelligence while living in the United States.

Oehniger recognized Benjamin’s picture in one of the files because he had interviewed him in 1999 after receiving an anonymous letter accusing Benjamin of being part of a terrorist organization.

The allegations were never substantiated, Oehniger said, adding that Benjamin was cooperative and became a source for the FBI for a short time.

Prosecutors also accused Benjamin of failing to provide details about working for Saddam’s government when he applied for U.S. citizenship in 2001, and falsely declared that he had renounced allegiance to Iraq.