Shaaban Hafiz Ahmad Ali Shaaban, 53, maintains he is a victim of mistaken identity and that the authorities have confused him with a dead twin brother who worked for the CIA.
When his trial opens on Monday US prosecutors will repeat accusations that Shaaban attempted to reveal the identity of CIA agents to Iraqi officials in late 2002, shortly before US-led forces began their war to overthrow Saddam’s government.
An FBI-led investigation into Shaaban lasted more than a year and resulted in his arrest in March. A federal grand jury indicted him that month on charges of illegally procuring naturalisation and a driver’s licence, acting as a foreign agent, violating sanctions against Iraq and conspiracy.
The truck driver from Greenfield, about 20 miles east of Indianapolis, will represent himself when jury selection starts on Monday in a US district court.
“My case is a political case, all charges are false”
Shaaban Hafiz Ahmad Ali Shaaban, Defendant
“My case is a political case, all charges are false,” he wrote in late November to Laura Briggs, court clerk for the US District of Southern Indiana.
“I can’t defend myself by myself, but I will be forced to take this step at the end, because I will not go to trial with an attorney who will topple me,” he claimed.
In December, a judge agreed to Shaaban’s request to represent himself at trial.
William Dazey, who had been Shaaban’s public defender, has turned down repeated requests from journalists to discuss the case over the past 10 months.
Prosecutors declined to discuss the case as they prepared for trial. But court filings show they plan to call at least two witnesses who will be disguised and identified only by pseudonyms.
In a 30 December filing, prosecutors Sharon Jackson and Timothy Morrison wrote that the prosecution of the case involves reviewing classified information, Arabic and Russian translation issues and international witnesses.
One witness expected to testify is a former agent in the Iraqi intelligence service. Court records contend he met with Shaaban at the Al-Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad in November 2002 to negotiate terms of the sale of US intelligence information for $3 million.
An undercover FBI agent who prosecutors say met Shaaban in 2003 is also expected to testify. Their testimony could shed light on Shaaban’s background, which court records indicate is a maze of contradictions spanning a half-dozen countries, his indictment including more than a dozen names.
He first told Homeland Security officials they were looking for his cousin but later said his dead twin was at fault.
Shaaban told Homeland Security officials he was born in Jordan to a Lebanese mother and an Azerbaijani father, but that he spent considerable time in Russia, where he received a doctorate in mining from a Moscow university.
Prosecutors have said Shaaban was trained as a spy in the former Soviet Union and, after emigrating to the US, legally changed his name in 1997 to Joe Brown. Despite the name change, court documents say he used the alias Shaaban Hafed on a naturalisation application in 2000 and became a
US citizen illegally.
They allege he also illegally obtained an Indiana commercial driver’s licence in 1999 using the Hafed alias. From the start, government officials have said Shaaban’s case is about preserving national security in a post-September 11 world.
National security claim
Michelle Mangold, the acting customs agent in charge for Indianapolis, said when Shaaban was indicted: “The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were created because individuals like Shaaban were able to exploit gaps in the nation’s immigration system.”
Shaaban contends he was a covert US agent hoping to pass along information he thought would save the lives of American troops.
“I am not a terrorist,” he told Homeland Security officials. “I will be against anybody who [would] do anything against America.”
If found guilty of all charges, Shaaban could face up to 65 years in prison and more than $1.5 million in fines.