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Justice Dept. Eyes U.S. Firm’s Payments to Foreign OfficialsThe Justice Department is probing the relationship between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a small investigative firm that helped American officials make a headline-grabbing arrest of an Afghan warlord.Under scrutiny are several payments that the firm, Rosetta Research and Consulting LLC, may have made to foreign government officials, including an Afghan diplomat in London, court documents suggest.Little is publicly known about the now-defunct Rosetta, which was founded in 2003 by a former Treasury Department researcher, Michael Patrick Jost. The firm’s goal was to “develop highly sensitive information regarding the funding of terrorist activities worldwide and to make commercial use of this information,” according to a description of the firm offered in court papers.“Rosetta sought and obtained millions of dollars of investments,” according to the court filing “and developed relationships with high levels of officials in the FBI” and Department of Defense. The firm played a central role in helping law enforcement officials develop contact with an Afghan warlord, Bashir Noorzai, whom the government is now prosecuting in New York for heroin distribution, Mr. Noorzai’s lawyer claims in court documents filed yesterday.Details about Rosetta are emerging in Mr. Noorzai’s case because his attorney, Ivan Fisher, is alleging that Rosetta violated the law in its pursuit of Mr. Noorzai on behalf of the government.In a twist to the case, Mr. Jost yesterday filed a sworn affidavit on behalf of Mr. Noorzai describing an investigation into Rosetta that was conducted by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General. The investigation centers on the FBI’s relationship to Rosetta. Despite a sale’s pitch by Rosetta delivered to senior FBI officials, the FBI never signed a contract for the firm’s services, according to Mr. Jost’s account, which was confirmed by a former federal official. “They came to the FBI proposing to rent us their extensive database about people in the Middle East,” the former official said.Mr. Jost’s account raises questions about whether individual FBI employees improperly shared information with Rosetta and whether Rosetta bribed foreign officials with the knowledge of some FBI employees.In 2006, Mr. Jost told the Justice Department investigators that an FBI employee “had been looking up information in FBI databases and forwarding it to Rosetta,” according to his testimony. The FBI employee, who is not identified in Mr. Jost’s account, was considering taking a job with Rosetta, according to Mr. Jost.The investigators reviewed Rosetta’s financial records, Mr. Jost said, adding that he identified some payments as going to “an Afghan diplomat serving in London.” Other money, potentially millions of dollars, Mr. Jost said, “went to government officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” A spokeswoman for the inspector general, Cynthia Schnedar, declined to comment. During its short existence, Rosetta’s main enterprise was to develop a relationship with Mr. Noorzai, the Afghan’s lawyer, Ivan Fisher, claims in court papers he filed yesterday. Rosetta had obtained from a source in the Office of the Secretary of Defense a list of individuals whom “our government believed could provide strategic assistance in interfering with” terrorism, Mr. Fisher claims in court papers.Mr. Noorzai, who was the head of a million-man-strong tribe in Southern Afghanistan was on that list, Mr. Fisher’s letter to the court claims. Mr. Noorzai may have been an attractive figure to American foreign policy officials because of his extensive track record with the Central Intelligence Agency over the years.He had helped recover unused Stinger missiles dating back to the war with the Soviet Army in Afghanistan and returned them to American officials, according to news accounts.Rosetta employees offered to deliver Mr. Noorzai to the FBI.“They were proposing that they could bring him to us with a grant of immunity and he would tell us about bin Laden and where he hides out,” the former official said. “The FBI did not go for it. When private business comes to you like that, wanting to make money off of the flesh trade so to speak, it’s kind of unsavory.”Rosetta, according to Mr. Fisher, did get access to Mr. Noorzai, by bribing foreign officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates.One recipient of the payment, an Afghani diplomat stationed in London, put Rosetta in touch with a former Pakistani intelligence official, who also received payment from Rosetta, to arrange for an introduction with Mr. Noorzai, according to Mr. Fisher’s court filing. Mr. Fisher’s account does not provide exact figures for the alleged payments. Nor does the account make clear exactly on the behalf of which government agency, if any, Rosetta was pursuing Mr. Noorzai.Mr. Noorzai made several trips to Dubai to meet with Rosetta employees he believed were representatives of the American government, according to transcripts of those conversations that have been reviewed by The New York Sun. Mr. Noorzai knew these two contacts as “Mike” and “Brian.” Mr. Noorzai has said he had only seen Osama bin Laden once in passing.Mr. Noorzai was under the impression that American officials would help install him in the new Afghanistan government, according to his court filings.In April of 2005, under the pretense of working out such a deal, Mr. Noorzai flew to New York and spent two weeks in a hotel at the Embassy Suites in Lower Manhattan talking with agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration. He was arrested and spent the last three years awaiting trial on drug charges.Before Mr. Noorzai arrived, there was at least one meeting in Washington with DEA agents, a federal prosecutor, and Mr. Jost, according to Mr. Fisher. According to Mr. Fisher, a disagreement ensued over whether to arrest Mr. Noorzai when he arrived or not. Rosetta’s position was to provide safe passage to Mr. Noorzai, Mr. Fisher said. Only then did the law enforcement officials inform Mr. Jost that Mr. Noorzai had already been indicted on the heroin charges, according to Mr. Fisher’s account.In court papers, Mr. Fisher argues that the safe passage Rosetta employees promised to Mr. Noorzai is binding on the federal government, and he urged a federal judge to release Mr. Noorzai.
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