Almost as instantly as she hit the global news cycle as a reputed U.S. traitor and alleged spy for Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government, former Seattle newspaper journalist Susan Lindauer dropped off the radar. Once the headlines faded in 2004, the public might have assumed she was convicted and sent to prison. But for the moment, Susan Lindauer's strange story remains incomplete. 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.
The Spy-cific Northwest
Journalists, sailor, diplomat — spies. Why is Washington so spooky? (March 24, 2004)
An ex–Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter and former U.S. Senate and House aide, Lindauer, 43, was charged in March 2004 with conspiring to act as a spy and being an unregistered Iraqi agent. U.S. prosecutors allege the antiwar activist accepted $10,000 from Hussein's intelligence unit over five years and sought to support resistance groups after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She insisted her efforts—principally, to get economic sanctions lifted against Iraq—were misunderstood. She was not specifically charged with spying or espionage. The bigger question, however, was always her sanity. She had a history of mood swings and paranoid fears. People were watching her, she often said, although, as it turned out, federal agents indeed had set up surveillance and tapped her phone. Still, if she betrayed her country, did she do so knowingly?
Her mental illness is now official. Two court-appointed doctors determined, according to a ruling last fall by U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey, "the defendant is suffering from psychotic disorder not otherwise specified, delusional disorder, hallucinatory phenomena, and mood disturbance that render her mentally incompetent to the extent that she does not understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against her and is unable to assist properly in her defense at this time." Lindauer is undergoing observation to determine if she'll ever be able to defend herself in court, perhaps aided by antipsychotic drugs.
Friends say her mental state seems to have worsened during incarceration since October. "It's not clear when she's getting out now," says J.B. Fields, a federal employee with a low-level security clearance who rents a basement apartment from Lindauer at her Takoma Park, Md., home, and who talks with her regularly. "She has her good days and her bad days," he says, based on conversation when Lindauer calls from Texas. "On days when she gets emotional or scared, everybody's evil, you know."
In a letter written to her second cousin, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, two months after Sept. 11, 2001, Lindauer made no secret about her activism or her emotional mission to aid Iraqi citizens. The letter, a copy of which she gave to basement tenant Fields, is apparently one of at least two she sent or gave to Card in 2001 and 2003. The undisclosed second letter, mentioned in the indictment, is being used to prosecute her. In the first letter, written Dec. 2, 2001, Lindauer indicates she was working back channels of government and meeting with officials at the Iraqi embassy, which prosecutors say she in fact did. She wrote Card about conversations with Iraqi diplomats and extended an olive branch on behalf of Hussein's government—in hopes, she said, of getting U.S. economic sanctions lifted against Baghdad. "I am truly praying, Andy," she stated, "that this correspondence will trigger some sort of response from you, so that this ugly quagmire in Iraq can begin to heal. Iraq is hoping for a reply through formal channels, but I would be willing to carry any response as well." After his relative's arrest, Card would not say whether he might have sparked an investigation of the sometimes-journalist by turning over that or the other letter to the FBI. The FBI would say only that Card was interviewed as part of the probe.
Lindauer, known also to prosecutors by the unexplained alias of "Susan Symbol," got out on bail, secured by her Maryland home, in 2004. She was awaiting trial until last September, when Judge Mukasey, after reading the assessments of two psychiatrists, decided more thorough observation was needed. He ordered Lindauer to turn herself in on Oct. 3 at Carswell federal medical center in Fort Worth, which specializes in mental-health services for female offenders. Sanford Talkin, Lindauer's court-appointed New York attorney, says he can't discuss the ongoing case. However, his firm recently sent an e-mail "To the Concerned Friends of Susan Lindauer," stating: "Please be assured that our office is working very hard on Susan's behalf. We understand the frustration some of you have expressed with the length of time it has taken to resolve this matter. I promise you that the decision of whether to take this case to trial or not is entirely Susan's to make. If she wants her day in court, that is what she will have. Our office has expended thousands of hours in preparing Susan's defense. Every decision has been made with Susan's best interests in mind. Additionally, Susan's Uncle Ted, a lawyer himself, has been kept appraised of everything we have done, and continue to do, to defend Susan. We appreciate your concern and would suggest the best way to assist Susan would be to send her letters of support. This is a difficult time, and she could use encouraging words from her friends to help her get through it."
Bridget Kelly, a spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia in New York, said they could not comment. Garcia's office did provide a copy of the Sept. 22, 2005, court order in which Mukasey directed Lindauer to surrender at Carswell or face rearrest. Unable to pay travel expenses, Lindauer was provided airfare from Baltimore to Fort Worth by the government. She was committed "for a reasonable period, not to exceed four months, to determine whether there is a substantial probability that in the foreseeable [future] she will attain the capacity to permit a trial," the order states.
"I got a call from her Feb. 4," says renter Fields. "They are talking about forcibly medicating her. She sees women around her, in Carswell, who can't hold their own silverware to eat because of medications, and she doesn't see how such treatments make anyone more fit for trial. Seems a lot like the way the Soviets used to treat dissidents." Lindauer told another friend she was being guarded like a terrorist at Carswell, and a relative of Lindauer who recently attempted to visit her was turned away, Fields says. He supports Lindauer but isn't convinced of either her guilt or innocence. "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."
Lindauer, who was raised in Alaska and graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts in 1985, went to work in 1987 as a reporter at the P-I, and in 1989 was an editorial writer at The Herald in Everett. She also worked as a writer and researcher at U.S. News & World Report and Fortune. Co-workers here remembered her in part for erratic behavior and mood swings. A Snohomish County merchant sought an antiharassment order against her because of quirky phone calls Lindauer allegedly made asking the merchant to "cast spells" on The Herald. She is the daughter of John Lindauer, a onetime newspaper publisher and former Republican nominee for governor of Alaska. In D.C., however, Susan Lindauer served only Democrats. She was an aide to Rep. Peter DeFazio and then-Rep. Ron Wyden, who is now a senator, both of Oregon, in 1993 and 1994. She also served as press secretary to now-ex-Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois for a few months in 1996, and in 2002 Lindauer worked two months for Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California. After Lindauer was arrested, congressional spokespersons described Lindauer as mostly a short-termer who handled no sensitive documents.
According to the federal indictment, covering the years 1999 through 2004, Lindauer met with members of Hussein's Iraqi intelligence service who were posted at the United Nations in New York. She returned from a 2002 trip to Iraq with $5,000 cash given her by Iraqi agents, the U.S. alleges. She later received another $5,000 and conspired to support Iraqi resistance with a man she thought was a Libyan intelligence agent—in reality, an FBI agent. In January 2003, prosecutors allege, Lindauer, as an unregistered foreign agent, delivered the second letter to the home of Card that apparently makes a case against invading Iraq, which happened two months later. The Justice Department characterized that letter as "an unsuccessful attempt to influence United States policy." News reports and Web sites revealed that in earlier years she had also written to Republican donors as well as to then-President-elect Bush. The Bush letter came off as either artless or illusionary. Lindauer boasted of her "regrettably extraordinary gift for counterterrorism" and claimed she had prevented assassination attempts on world leaders.
In contrast, the December 2001 letter from Lindauer to Card, a copy of which Fields has now posted on his personal Web site (jayspolitics.blogspot.com), seems rational. She said Iraqi leaders hoped to demonstrate their good faith to create a climate for talks with the U.S. and were willing to allow resumption of weapons inspections. They'd also cease firing on U.S. aircraft patrolling the No-Fly Zone and would cooperate "on terrorism issues per specific requests made by President Bush." The situation offered a potential foreign-policy victory for Bush, she wrote, noting "his praises would be sung wildly in the Arab Street." Iraq, she concluded, "has to accept its responsibilities, and I'm trying very hard to help achieve that goal, with the greatest hope that the regional insecurities and instabilities of the Middle East will become more diminished if my efforts succeed." Fields says, "It must have crushed her when Bush went to war" 15 months later.
Lindauer is in part accused of conspiring with Raed Al-Anbuke and Wisam Al-Anbuke, sons of a former Iraqi liaison to U.N. weapons inspectors. The Al-Anbukes, like her, are charged with failing to register as foreign agents or lobbyists. Lindauer said she was an activist, not a lobbyist. She had worked to get U.S. economic sanctions lifted against Libya as well as Iraq because of their effects on civilians, she claimed. Lindauer has long believed in the radical notion that Syrian agents, not the Libyan government, caused the terrorist airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 (though Libya has accepted responsibility). While working as an aide to Wyden in 1994, she gave a sworn deposition to the commission probing the bombing. She told investigators she was under "intense surveillance" at the time and that her house was bugged. She also claimed she'd "survived several assassination attempts."
Within 10 years, by 2004, she had allegedly become something of a spy, or, as the government nebulously defines it, worked in concert with others to "act" as one. If so, it was unconventional spycraft. She had disclosed her Iraqi connections directly to the White House through the letters to Card, she openly discussed some of her intentions with friends, and met in New York with Iraqi agents, presumably some of the more intensely surveilled operatives on U.S. soil. Her friend Fields suspects she saw herself more as diplomat than spy. "I admire her for having the courage of her convictions to try to put an end to the sanctions," he says. "Her philosophical approach was one that favored peaceful resolution, and [she] was horrified at the consequences that were befalling poor Iraqi citizens. When she is calm, I find that she is pretty factual."