The Case Against Nada Prouty

Scott Pelley Investigates The Case Against The Former Terrorism Fighter; Was She A Patriot Or A Traitor?

This story was first published on March 28, 2010. It was updated on June 4, 2010

Nada Prouty's identity was once a closely held national secret. She was an FBI agent, then a CIA officer with top security clearances who penetrated terrorist organizations overseas. Her fellow CIA officers say she risked her life often, volunteering for dangerous missions. And because she's originally from Lebanon, she speaks native Arabic, a rare skill for an American intelligence officer.

But Prouty's daring career was destroyed. In those years after 9/11 when rooting out terrorists at home was an obsession at the Department of Justice, federal prosecutors launched investigations and even Prouty was accused of supporting terrorism. Was a traitor exposed? Or did America lose a patriot?

This past March, Prouty stepped out of the shadows to tell her story for the first time.

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"I love the country. I believe in the country. I believe in everything that this country stands for," Prouty told "60 Minutes" correspondent Scott Pelley.

She acknowledged this was dangerous work. "I embraced the mission. The mission became my family. The mission became my life. And I would have given anything to protect the mission."

Prouty's missions for the FBI and CIA read like a history of America's fight against terrorism. She investigated the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, the attack on Americans at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and, in Pakistan, she interrogated a terrorist who killed 20 people on a Pan Am plane and got him to confess.

"Nothing prepares you to meet a terrorist, a real-life terrorist, someone who's killed Americans, someone who's vowed to always kill Americans," Prouty explained.

Asked what happened to the terrorist she interrogated, Prouty told Pelley, "He's in a jail in Colorado, where he gets to see daylight one hour a day."

And she admitted she's happy about that. "It brought justice. This is what we're about. We're about bringing justice to the families of the victims," she said.

Pursuing justice for the FBI led her to much more dangerous missions at the CIA. She worked in Iraq during the most violent period of the insurgency. Armed with an assault rifle, she went on raids with U.S. Special Forces troops. She interrogated suspected terrorists, and she was part of the team that developed the intelligence on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein.

Her CIA boss at the time said "many officers in the CIA were unwilling to serve in this deteriorating, high-risk and thankless environment. Mrs. Prouty did not waver."

While in Iraq, Prouty's bulletproof vest had to be altered for an extraordinary reason: she was pregnant at the time.

"People watching this interview right now are asking themselves, 'Why would she do that?'" Pelley asked.

"Yes, and I ask myself now, looking at my child, how could I put her life in danger? But that's what I wanted to do. I couldn't look at our Marines that are standing outside, guarding us, and tell them, 'Hey, I'm pregnant, I'm shipping out.' I knew what my contributions were. And I wanted to protect the lives of our soldiers," she said.

Prouty was born into war, growing up amid the conflict in her native Lebanon. At age 19, she came to the U.S. to get a degree in accounting. And years later, while studying for a master's degree, one of her teachers suggested she apply to the FBI.

Prouty had to wait two years while the FBI ran a background investigation. She was cleared in 1999 and became a rising star. After two more background investigations she got one of the nation's highest security clearances. And in 2003 she joined the CIA.

"She was absolutely dogged. She would never quit," Bob Grenier remembered. He met Prouty when he was CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan.

He retired in 2006 as a 27-year veteran, who headed the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center.

"She was involved in virtually all the high profile terrorism cases during those years," Grenier said.

"And became one of this country's most experienced officers in doing all of those cases?" Pelley asked.

"Yes. Young as she was, and as few years as she actually had in service, she was tremendously experienced," Grenier said.

Asked if she saved American lives, Grenier said, "I think that's fair to say."

But while Prouty was hunting terrorists overseas, an investigation began back home that would destroy her career. The Bush administration was working to break up terrorist financing. And by 2004, federal prosecutors in Detroit were looking at the large Arab-American population around Dearborn, Mich.

Suspicion fell on a Lebanese-American restaurant owner named Talal Chahine. And as it happened, Chahine was married to Prouty's sister. In 2005, FBI agents came to CIA headquarters to ask Prouty a few questions.

"They showed me a picture of my brother-in-law, with a spiritual leader at that time, I didn't know who he was, but with a spiritual leader from Hezbollah," Prouty remembered.

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