Baghdad Boy

What was really behind Farris Hassan's trip to Iraq? Ask his father, who has a fascinating and checkered past.

The bust occurred in Feinstein's house one morning after an unidentified man flew from Europe to South Florida to take a look at the documents.

"There must have been 20 or 30 agents who plowed into the house with rifles, shotguns, automatic weapons," Feinstein remembers. "It was unreal. They arrested everybody."

He said that his FBI handlers told him the investigation led to the breakup of a plot to assassinate Rajiv Ghandi, then India's prime minister. While such plots were common (Ghandi was killed by a suicide bomber in 1991), I couldn't find independent verification of that allegation, though there is no reason to suspect Feinstein of lying.

The State Department clearly suspected that Hassan had terrorism on his mind.

"Any time you have people trying to obtain fake passports, the possibility of terrorism raises its head," a government spokesman said after Hassan's arrest.

The charges, however, were later dropped, and Hassan was allowed to continue living and practicing medicine in the United States.

"The FBI got Hassan to work with them," Feinstein says. "They sat him down and scared the shit out of him."

If Feinstein is correct, Hassan has been in the employ of the U.S. government. But with the hated Hussein out of power, where does the doctor stand now?

Well, he's sounding to me a lot like the South Florida version of Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile and leader of the self-styled Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi, a convicted bank embezzler, had close Pentagon ties and spread lies to help encourage popular support for the war. After that, he was accused of spying on behalf of the Iranian government. Today, he seems to be back in America's good graces and was named Iraq's oil minister this past spring. The Iraqi people, however, largely despise him, as evidenced by his abysmal showing in the recent Iraqi election. Preliminary returns show that he failed to win election to the new Parliament and that his Iraqi National Congress was shut out across the land, winning only half of 1 percent of the vote.

Like Chalabi, Dr. Hassan has a dubious past and unsettling ties to Iran. But what about the propaganda? That's where his son Farris comes into the picture. Before leaving for Iraq, the Young Republican sent out an e-mail to friends that began: "There is a struggle in Iraq between good and evil, between those striving for freedom and liberty and those striving for death and destruction... Those terrorists are not human but pure evil."

Ah, the robotic parroting of the architects of the war, the utter lack of intelligent analysis, the mind-numbing repetition of the e word... Dick Cheney couldn't have put it better.

I asked the boy's Baghdad-born mother, Shatha Atiya, if her son might be taking on the radical tendencies of his father. Atiya, a tall and striking 48-year-old psychologist who divorced Dr. Hassan in 1999, seemed horrified by the suggestion.

"Nobody should ever confuse Farris' simplicity and naivete with something that happened with his father 20 years ago," she told me.

I asked her, on a whim, if her ex-husband is linked to the CIA. She laughed. "I'm not going to talk about him," she said. "You'll have to ask him yourself."

That's one of many questions that will have to go unanswered for now. One reason for that is Farris never showed last Tuesday night, proving Zarrella right. Instead, he gave an exclusive interview to MSNBC that aired Monday and Tuesday nights. In it, he basically admitted that his father knew about his travel plans and offered that, while in Lebanon, he'd visited the offices of the Islamist group Hezbollah, which has carried out countless terrorist acts.

"With each group of persons I immersed myself, I changed my persona," he told interviewer Rita Cosby. "When I was with Christians, I told them that I was a Lebanese Christian, an American Christian, and my name was Jason.

"And when I met with the Hezbollah leader... I told [him] that I work for a school newspaper and that I wanted to show Americans that Hezbollah is, in fact, a good organization that's fighting for the Shiite people in Lebanon."

So the kid's a chameleon and, apparently, a born liar. I wonder what role he was playing while immersed with Rita Cosby. Oh yeah, it was the idealistic rich American boy who played hooky from school to promote democracy.

Forget journalism. This kid's got a future with the CIA.

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