NEW YORK – A federal appeals court Monday upheld the conviction of a former Navy sailor serving a 10-year prison sentence after he leaked details about ship movements to a London-based Web site operator that supported attacking Americans.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected defense arguments seeking to overturn the 2008 conviction of Hassan Abu-Jihaad of Phoenix. He was a signalman aboard the USS Benfold who was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2002.
Abu-Jihaad was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison by a federal judge in New Haven, Conn., after he was convicted on charges that he disclosed classified national defense information. Prosecutors at trial had labeled him a traitor. A message for comment left with Abu-Jihaad's defense lawyer was not immediately returned Monday.
In upholding the conviction, the three-judge appeals panel ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was constitutional and was used properly in the investigation to obtain evidence related to overseas communications.
Abu-Jihaad was accused of leaking details of ship movements to London-based Azzam Publications, an organization that in 2001 maintained web sites that openly espoused violent jihad against the U.S., the appeals court said.
The leaked information included the makeup of his Navy battle group and a drawing of the formation the group would use to pass through the dangerous Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf in April 2001. The ships were not attacked.
In 1997, Abu-Jihaad changed his name from Paul Raphael Hall to Hassan Abu-Jihaad, the surname of which translates to "Father of Jihad," the appeals court said.
"This curious choice appears not to have raised any concern in the United States Navy when, in January 1998, Abu-Jihaad enlisted," the appeals court said. It said the Navy cleared Abu-Jihaad to receive classified national defense information from 1998 to 2002.
"The Navy's trust was misplaced," the court said.
It said he leaked classified information about the movements of Navy ships destined for the Persian Gulf to unauthorized people who supported violent attacks and who posted information on websites that contained links to Osama bin Laden's 1996 order to attack Americans and which solicited aid for the Taliban.
Abu-Jihaad's leak came just months after the 2000 USS Cole bombing, which killed 17 American sailors.
His leaks were discovered after investigators found files on a computer disk recovered from a suspected terrorist supporter's home in London that included the ship movements, as well as the number and type of personnel on each ship and the ships' capabilities.