Some recent posts by Jim Henley about the Miami “Seas of David Cell” got to me to wondering about whatever happened with another case of the (possibly) “in over their head” crowd closer to home. In March 2004, Susan Lindauer — a.k.a. “Symbol Susan” to the FBI — was snared in my home town of Takoma Park, Maryland, by an investigation that ultimately charged her with working as an unregistered foreign agent, which is illegal under Title 18, section 951 of the United States Code.
The charge actually seemed oddly weak, given that Lindauer allegedly did the following:
o. On or about June 23, 2003, SUSAN LINDAUER, a/k/a “Symbol SUSAN,” met in Baltimore, Maryland, with a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) acting in an undercover capacity as a member of the Libyan intelligence service seeking to support resistance groups in post-war Iraq (the “UC”), and discussed the need for plans and foreign resources to support these groups operating within Iraq.
Naturally, this was what got a lot of attention when the arrest was made. But I should think it could have resulted in a charge of treason, or at any rate something like espionage that was considerably weightier than “failure to register as a foreign agent.” The “failure to register” charge seems to better fit many of the more innocuous contacts she made with Iraqis up to then — and it’s not exactly small potatoes, either: the maximum penalty includes a ten year prison term.
But what might happen to Ms. Lindauer instead could be worse. In February, 2006 the Seattle Weekly‘s Rick Anderson reported there had still been no trial:
She is confined to a federal mental facility in Texas, perhaps never to get her day in court, according to friends, officials, and public records. Mostly unnoticed, a New York federal judge has found her incompetent to stand trial and ordered further evaluation. She is being held past her scheduled release date, which had been sometime early this month, and, she tells friends, might be forcibly medicated as part of her treatment.
As of today, there has still been no trial and no decision on Lindauer’s fate.
The Seattle Weekly article mentions fellow Takoma Park blogger JB Fields, who came into the story by chance: he rents a room from Lindauer. Struck by several elements of this story, Fields has made it his job to keep the world informed of Lindauer’s case, even though he told Anderson he’s not sure she’s innocent of wrongdoing: “I wonder what she really did—what evidence there might be that I don’t know about. But I sure would like to see due process observed.” Fields is not dismissive of the prosecution’s case — there are apparently Iraqi videotapes of Lindauer accepting money which may have done more to trigger her prosecution than the subsequent “Libyan agent” farce.
But Fields resists the psychiatric diagnosis some relatives and lawyers are trying to push. In late April, he published a March 2004 psychiatric evaluation he discovered among Lindauer’s things, marked “In case I don’t return,” and which Ms. Lindauer had solicited after her arrest. The examining psychiatrist wrote:
Thought content was free of hallucinations, delusions, homicidality, or suicidality. She expressed confidence in an acquittal. Judgment and insight were fair. Cognition was grossly intact. [...] I do not believe there is grounds for a psychosis diagnosis. [...] In the light of the improvement in the patient’s clinical status, there does no longer appears to be a clinical reason for her to reside in a supervised setting.
The psychiatrist found a “stress-induced bout of hypomania” but prescribed nothing more than psychotherapy and actually discontinued some medication she’d been on.
Fields’ and Lindauer’s revelation had the hoped-for effect of throwing courtroom psychiatric testimony into doubt. Once judge Michael Mukasey — a reasonable, conscientious guy by Fields’ account — learned about it, he held a June 3 hearing attended by Lindauer (who was held in a New York City facility by this time). However, a June 13 followup hearing was cancelled on grounds that the judge reportedly had all the information he needed, and the case remained in limbo as of this weekend. Fields had been pessimistic, writing in late May:
It’s pretty clear that Susan will be returned to Carswell for medication after the hearing of the 13th. The only thing that will prevent that would be if somebody were to come forward for the funding for a private institution.
Carswell is a Bureau of Prisons facility near Fort Worth, Texas that “…provides specialized medical and mental health services to female offenders.” Or, it would seem, the merely accused. Personally, I react very negatively to the thought of being held in a mental institution and medicated. Looking back over things, there seems a circularity to logic where anyone who would do all this stuff must be nuts, ergo Lindauer is delusional. Sprinkle in some flaky vibes from Lindauer, and one begins to fear for Lindauer’s fate in a whole new way. Reflecting on a hearing he attended, Fields wrote:
It seemed to me there was a hunger, among the professionals testifying, for Susan to become a patient. The opinion of many, including some with direct experience in federal mental [facilities], is that if Susan gets sent to Carswell it is likely she will die there. The parallels with Martha Mitchell, during Watergate, are just numbing.
Most of Lindauer’s actions seem to fit a “reach exceeding her grasp” description. She was after nothing less than single-handedly ending sanctions and then brokering a peace deal between Iraq and the U.S. in the months before the Iraq war. Sure, that sounds crazy and was a huge long shot, to put it mildly — but she had apparently built up some Middle East and intelligence contacts, at least on a casual basis, while pursuing a theory of hers about the Pan Am 103 disaster.*
And no doubt she felt her ace in the hole was that she really was related to then White House chief of staff Andrew Card. Far from concealing her activities from anyone, she actually delivered a detailed message about her talks with Iraqis to Card as early as December, 2001 (well before the January 8, 2003 message mentioned in the indictment).** While her writing is breezy and affected, and the notion of a random citizen conducting diplomacy with Iraq is admittedly pretty far out, it doesn’t strike me as flat out delusional, much less traitorous or evil.
Many of the counts of her indictment would probably stand up to jury scrutiny — e.g., videotaped acceptance of money. Whether that rises to the level and intent of the Title 18 law cited in the indictment, I don’t know, although it probably does violate executive orders listed there.
From what I can tell, Ms. Lindauer deserves her day in court, at least as opposed to being judged mentally incompetent. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to have been terrifically well served by her court-assigned defense; relevant witnesses haven’t been deposed, and she doesn’t seem to have trusted them enough to have given them the psychiatric information Fields found. Most importantly, the competence defense has possibly put her in worse jeopardy than criminal proceedings would have.
My feeling right now is that it would be a waste of resources if this goes to trial, let alone if she’s put away for ten years. At this point, Ms. Lindauer has already spent over a year in custody as it is — and under particularly trying circumstances, judging by what both she and Fields report about Carswell. Maybe other peoples’ need for justice and protection would be served by yet more incarceration, but not mine.
* This theory makes something else intriguing about the point “o.” of the indictment cited above — the word “Libyan.” That’s because the FBI must have been aware of Lindauer’s previous cause — her insistence that it was not Libyan intelligence that had been involved in the Lockerbie Pan Am Flight 103 bombing. (She believed it was the Syrians.) Thus, being approached by a “Libyan intelligence agent” must have been all but irresistible to her — and it seems at least as likely to me she was suspicious of the agent and interested in proving him false — as indeed he was — as that she was actually cooperating with him (or her) in the way suggested by the indictment. Based on speaking with a former tenant, Fields says that Lindauer suspected the agent was no Libyan. Whether she knew he was a fake or not, I think for an FBI agent to pose as a “Libyan” itself verged on entrapment in Lindauer’s case.
** Fields has posted a collection of Lindauer’s letters to Andrew Card, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell on his blog site, including the January 2003 message to Andrew Card (page 1, 2) mentioned in the indictment. Letter dates range from 12/23/2000 to 1/22/2003; as Fields points out elsewhere, it’s unknown whether all were delivered.
SELECTED “JAY’S POLITICS” LINDAUER HEARING POSTS (all 2006): February 22, April 24, May 5, May 10.
PREVIOUS “NEWSRACK” LINDAUER POSTS: Symbol Susan (March 11, 2004); Susan Lindauer update (March 22, 2004: Gazette story).
EDIT, 6/27: JB Fields, not Jay Fields; “Based on speaking” footnote sentence rearranged for clarity.