The Cable

Virginia man charged with spying on Syrian Americans

The FBI arrested and charged Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, 47, a resident of Leesburg, VA, for spying on Syrian-American protesters in the Washington area on behalf of the Syrian government.

The Justice Department announced the arrest and charges in a Wednesday press release, alleging that Soueid was involved "in a conspiracy to collect video and audio recordings and other information about individuals in the United States and Syria who were protesting the government of Syria and to provide these materials to Syrian intelligence agencies in order to silence, intimidate and potentially harm the protestors."

The Syrian government has vehemently denied the accusation that it is gathering information on protesting Syrian-Americans and punishing their families back in Syria. But last month, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told The Cable that he had evidence of multiple family members of Syrian-American protesters being rounded up and tortured by the Syrian regime.

Soueid, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was arrested on Tuesday and will appear before a judge this afternoon. He  is charged with conspiring to act and acting as an agent of the Syrian government in the United States without notifying the attorney general, as required by law; two counts of providing false statements on a firearms purchase form; and two counts of providing false statements to federal law enforcement.

The indictment charges Soueid with making video and audio recordings of Syrian-American protesters, including personal conversations with them, and providing them to the Syrian intelligence services. He also provided protesters' phone numbers and e-mail addresses and also gave that information to officials at the Syrian embassy in Washington, the indictment alleges.

In June, according to the indictment, the Syrian government paid for Soueid to travel to Syria, where he met with Syrian officials and also directly with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In July, he bought a Baretta pistol but lied about his address on the registration forms. In August, he was interviewed by the FBI and allegedly lied about his activities.

If convicted on all counts, he could face a maximum of 40 years in prison.

"Spying for another country is a serious threat to our national security, especially when it threatens the ability of U.S. citizens to engage in political speech within our own borders," said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The Cable

If you have a ticket on Iran’s Mahan Air, it’s canceled

The Treasury Department sanctioned the Iranian commercial airline Mahan Air as part of the U.S. government response to the alleged Iranian-backed assassination plot on the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

Treasury announced in a press release early on Wednesday that Mahan Air would be sanctioned due to its financial, material, and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF). On Tuesday, Treasury announced sanctions on four IRGC-QF officials who it alleges were involved in the plot to hire a Mexican cartel to bomb a Washington restaurant in order to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir.

"Mahan Air's close coordination with the IRGC-QF -- secretly ferrying operatives, weapons and funds on its flights -- reveals yet another facet of the IRGC's extensive infiltration of Iran's commercial sector to facilitate its support for terrorism," said Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen, in a statement. "Following the revelation about the IRGC-QF's use of the international financial system to fund its murder-for-hire plot, today's action highlights further the undeniable risks of doing business with Iran."

The new sanctions make it illegal for any Americans to do business with Mahan Air and freeze the airline's assets in the United States. The airline also provides assistance to the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, the Treasury Department alleged.

Further retaliatory measures from the U.S. government are expected. The State Department has been reaching out to several countries to explore options for tightening multilateral sanctions. And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are demanding tougher measures to punish Iran for its role in the alleged plot. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is calling for Treasury to sanction the Central Bank of Iran, which he says would collapse the bank and cripple the Iranian currency.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that, in addition to the plan to kill the Saudi envoy, the Iranian agents -- who were working with a DEA informant they believed was a representative of Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas -- also discussed plans to bomb the Israeli embassy in Washington and the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Argentina.

Attorney General Eric Holder pledged on Tuesday that, "The United States is committed to holding Iran responsible for its actions."