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Feds: FBI worker in Detroit wed ISIS operative

Mark Hicks, The Detroit News

An FBI worker in the agency’s Detroit division once journeyed to Syria and married an ISIS operative she had been assigned to investigate, federal court records reveal.

Daniela Greene, a contractual linguist fluent in German, was granted top secret security clearance before she joined the Michigan office in early 2014, where her duties included helping investigate a man reportedly involved with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, according to a motion filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., that year.

That document and others related to the case had been ordered sealed but were unsealed in 2015.

CNN first reported on the incident this week and identified the ISIS member, listed only as “Individual A” in the court filings, as Denis Cuspert, a former German rapper.

Two years ago, the State Department designated him “a specially designated global terrorist” who joined ISIS in 2012, became a recruiter and appeared in videos on its behalf, including one “in which he appears holding a severed head he claims belongs to a man executed for opposing” the group, officials said.

Though aware of Cuspert’s allegiance and work to lure fighters, Greene, whom FBI officials had cleared to travel to Germany to visit family, instead trekked to Turkey in June 2014 then arranged with him to cross the border into Syria, where they wed and lived, federal officials claim.

During their time together, Greene allegedly told Cuspert she worked for the FBI and that the agency was investigating him. But within weeks of their marriage, she apparently had a change of heart.

“I was weak and didn’t know how to handle anything anymore I really made a mess of things this time,” she wrote in an email to an unidentified person in the United States on July 8, 2014.

In another message the next day, Greene said: “I am gone and I can’t come back. I am in Syria. Sometimes I wish I could just come back. I wouldn’t even know how to make it through if I tried to come back. I am in a very harsh environment and I don’t know how long I will last here, but it doesn’t matter, it’s all a little too late.”

Later that month, Greene acknowledged that she would “probably go to prison for a long time if I come back, but that is life. I wish I could turn back time some days … God willing I can arrange things, but better to write my mother in my mother tongue only, few people can read that.”

Greene returned to the United States in early August 2014, and was arrested, court records show. Greene was charged with making false statements involving international terrorism, which carries a maximum sentence of eight years behind bars, according to prosecutors.

Citing her lack of criminal history and cooperation with investigators, the government requested that she be sentenced to 24 months. Greene was released in August 2016, records show.

While she immediately cooperated with authorities and “admitted her guilt to the government at an early stage,” prosecutors still called her conduct “egregious.”

“... She endangered our national security by exposing herself and her knowledge of sensitive matters to those terrorist organizations,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Gillice wrote in court filings. “Her escape from the area unscathed, and with apparently much of that knowledge undisclosed, appears a stroke of luck or a measure of the lack of savvy on the part of the terrorists with whom she interacted.”

Shawn Moore, an attorney who represented Greene, said Tuesday that security issues, the sealing of the case and attorney-client privilege prevented him from commenting. However, “Daniela is a smart but naive woman who got into something that was way over her head.”

Another attorney listed as having represented Greene did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

Greene could not immediately be reached.

Representatives of the FBI Field Office in Detroit referred questions to the agency’s national leaders, who issued a statement: "As a result of this case the FBI took several steps in a variety of areas to identify and reduce security vulnerabilities.  The FBI continues to strengthen protective measures in carrying out its vital work."

Last year, Pentagon officials told the New York Times that Cuspert had survived a 2015 airstrike, despite an earlier report that he had died.