Documents reveal affair between Federal agent and terror suspect
The email from a federal agent in Dubai about her jet-set affair with a suspected Middle Eastern terrorist could have been torn from a supermarket paperback.
“I can’t stop thinking about…you. I haven’t slept for days,” Leatrice Malika De Bruhl-Daniels wrote, according to federal court documents. “I’m deeply attracted to you and I can’t think about you like that. Don’t worry, I will still fight for your visa situation as much as I can.”
As U.S. officials continued to investigate the Syrian businessman who’d thrown the federal agent a lavish birthday bash and helped treat her to a Greek vacation, she reportedly texted him, “I don’t want to think u hv lied to me since I put my neck out there for u.”
De Bruhl-Daniels, 45, a career federal law enforcement officer from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., is now facing federal charges in Houston of hampering the FBI’s counterterrorism investigation of 46-year-old Nadal Diya, and Diya has been charged with using fake travel documents. Both face a mid-December trial date that is likely to be postponed.
It’s a rare case that falls into a unique category — criminal reckonings for federal law enforcement officials accused of abusing their access to top-secret information. Cases involving misconduct prompted by romantic attachments are even more unusual.
“I can probably count on the fingers of one hand how many times that’s happened,” said Mervyn M. Mosbacker, Jr., a former U.S. attorney who has defended several federal agents. “You don’t go into a job like that unless you are really committed to the goals of the agency.”
Agent denies guilt
De Bruhl-Daniels, who is free on bond and awaiting trial at her mother’s home in Charlottesville, Va., appeared briefly before a Houston magistrate in late October where she pleaded not guilty to attempting to obstruct, influence or impede justice. She and her federal public defender have declined to comment about the case.
Jeff Houston, a spokesman for the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, said De Bruhl-Daniels has been on indefinite suspension since May without access to secure material. He declined to comment further.
Prosecutors are seeking extradition of Diya, who is free on bond in Toronto, on charges that he used fraudulent Guatemalan and Argentinian passports in Texas and Louisiana. Three other co-defendants, in Houston and Montgomery County, also face prosecution for passport and tax fraud.
De Bruhl-Daniels met Nadal Diya while she was stationed in the United Arab Emirates as a special agent with the NCIS. During their affair, she provided him warnings that he was being investigated as a possible terrorist and could be arrested, according to court documents.
Prior to her indictment, NCIS officials clearly considered De Bruhl-Daniels to be an exemplary employee.
She invested a good portion of her life in federal service, working at the FBI as an investigative specialist and then for eight years as a special agent with NCIS, a federal agency charged with protecting Navy and Marine Corps secrets that inspired a popular CBS procedural drama. The agency handles criminal, terrorism and intelligence investigations in ports around the world.
While De Bruhl-Daniels was based at the agency’s office in Norfolk, she was NCIS spokesperson for a crime reduction program aimed at reducing sexual assault in the Department of the Navy. She is quoted in a 2012 Defense Department press release explaining, “Drugs and alcohol will impair a person’s judgment and may increase sexual desire.” She is also quoted advising fellow employees to “do what is right morally.”
Met the businessman in Dubai
In 2015, De Bruhl-Daniels was dispatched to the U.S. Consulate in Dubai as a liaison on criminal, counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations at the booming commercial port of Jebel Ali.
It was there she met Diya in June 2016 through a friend at the consulate, according to documents. Diya mentioned he did not know why the State Department had refused to renew his U.S. visa, and De Bruhl-Daniels used her top-security clearance to ask officials what was holding up the process.
She learned that Homeland Security investigators thought Diya might be connected to an illegal shipment of oil equipment from the U.S. to Iran. In February 2017, she made further inquiries with the State Department and Homeland Security Investigations or HSI about his visa, documents show. A State Department staffer wrote back saying Diya’s “entire family” had set off red flags for counterterrorism officials.
On a secure video call on March 9, 2017, an HSI agent and a Commerce Department agent in Houston warned De Bruhl-Daniels once again to avoid contact with Diya. However, De Bruhl-Daniels did not tell them that by then she had a personal relationship with him, according to their account.
Court filings indicate that this was when romance began to blossom between the agent and the suspect.
On March 29, Diya hosted a catered birthday bash for De Bruhl-Daniels at his Dubai residence that was attended by NCIS, State Department and Naval staff. He hired a D.J. and paid for special lighting. Witnesses told investigators the whole event likely cost tens of thousands of dollars.
In May, records show De Bruhl-Daniels approached investigators again, suggesting to the FBI that Diya would make a good confidential source. This time a legal attache told her to keep her distance and warned her not to tell him about the investigation.
In late June, De Bruhl-Daniels sent herself an email with the subject line “Thoughts to ND,” musing that the smell of his cologne made her forgetful, so she wanted to write down her thoughts. “I’m deeply attracted to you and I can’t think about you like that. It’s not right,” she wrote, according to court records.
The NCIS agent promised to work on fixing her boyfriend’s visa situation and noted she was looking forward to Greece where they would have “the best time ever,” according to documents.
In mid-July, an FBI agent in Houston informed De Bruhl-Daniels that both Diya and another suspect were still under scrutiny. The FBI agent asked for a full accounting of her encounters with Diya, and De Bruhl-Daniels said she would consult with her supervisor about it, according to court documents.
Prosecutors contend that shortly after that call, possibly on the same day, the federal agent disclosed to Diya that he and another suspect were the target of an FBI probe, court records allege.
She warned him if he traveled to the U.S. he would probably be arrested. The couple then left for a nine-day holiday in Greece, paid for in part by Diya, who, she later told authorities, gave her $1,400.
Following the trip, De Bruhl-Daniels saved a transcript of texts between the two of them on her iPad. The document included the statement, “(It’s) poss ur phones are being monitored,” according to evidence. The iPad log also included a message that if agents suspected her of “acting as some sort of dbl agent,” he should tell them they were just friends.
“Whatever they hv on u is more than just suspicion so it’s serious,” the transcript says, “They know stuff and if u lie u may never see American soil!” De Bruhl-Daniels alerted prosecutors of the existence of this transcript, records indicate.
When federal agents interviewed her in December 2017, she did not mention that she had been romantically involved with Diya, that he’d given her gifts or that she’d warned him not to enter the U.S., documents show.
De Bruhl-Daniels also failed to mention that her 23-year-old son had taken a paid job with Diya, according to allegations.
In the meantime, Diya is now charged with attempting to use fake foreign passports in Houston, Conroe and Lake Charles, Louisiana.
A few federal agents have been charged in similar cases
Others agents who have become entangled in similar situations over the years include James J. Smith, a special agent with the FBI’s Los Angeles bureau who was convicted in 2004 after admitting a 20-year affair with a double agent for the Chinese government. There’s also the case of Richard Miller, another FBI agent in Los Angeles, who was sentenced to prison for espionage and bribery after becoming involved with a KGB spy.
An FBI agent in Manhattan was convicted in 2011 of lying about an affair with a confidential source in an identity theft investigation. And in 2009 an FBI agent in Phoenix admitted he attempted to influence a criminal case in which he’d become romantically involved with the wife of a suspected gang leader.
But Mosbacker, a defense attorney and who was U.S. Attorney based in Houston during the Clinton Administration, said such liaisons are rare.
“By and large, federal agents are really good at what they do and they do things by the rules,” he said.