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Crime & Courts

Secrecy sought for FBI agent in Tampa terrorism trial

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Published:   |   Updated: September 30, 2013 at 09:10 PM

TAMPA — The undercover FBI employee who helped build a case against a man accused of plotting a terror attack in Tampa is actively involved in other investigations, said a prosecutor, who urged a judge to provide an extraordinary level of secrecy to the agent’s testimony at the upcoming terrorism trial.

Sami Osmakac, a naturalized citizen from Kosovo, is scheduled to go on trial Oct. 21 on charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered machine gun. He was arrested last year following an FBI sting operation. Authorities said he planned to attack a busy Tampa night spot, then take hostages and demand the release of Muslim prisoners.

U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven said she will issue a ruling as soon as possible on the prosection’s request that the undercover agent testify in a courtroom closed to spectators. Under the prosection’s request, Osmakac’s family, the media and other spectators would be allowed to listen to the testimony in another room and view video recorded evidence with the agent’s face obscured.

The prosecution is also proposing a number of other precautions, including allowing the undercover agent to testify using a pseudonym and a light disguise, and permitting him to enter and leave the courthouse through a nonpublic entrance.

The prosecution also wants the judge to limit the defense’s cross-examination, prohibiting any questions that might elicit the agent’s identity.

Defense lawyer George Tragos and Gregg Thomas, a lawyer for The Tampa Tribune, objected to closing the courtroom. Tragos also objected to any prohibition on his cross-examination that would affect his probable entrapment defense. Tragos said he would not ask the agent about ongoing or future operations.

Tragos said he planned to focus on “the bureau’s efforts to target people who are young, financially destitute, radical Islamists.”

Tragos said Osmakac was not associated with any terrorist organization and said he wants to know why the undercover agent targeted a “lone wolf.” Tragos said he wants to know if the agent has “a history of taking to these people and convincing them to go ahead with their bombing and providing the materials. Is this his modus operandi?”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney said questions about the agent’s past cases were irrelevant to the Osmakac case and that the defense merely needs to focus on the decisions and actions made in Osmakac’s case.

Sweeney said she submitted a classified brief to Scriven giving information about the agent’s testimony in previous cases.

Tragos said he should have access to transcripts of any trial testimony because that would have taken place in public and be public record. Sweeney agreed that the trial testimony is public record but said the identity of what cases the agent previously was involved in is classified.

Tragos said clearing the courtroom of spectators would create the impression for jurors that the agent was a special witness deserving of special credibility and attention. Tragos said Osmakac planned to have up to six family members in the courtroom, including his parents, two brothers and two sisters.

Thomas said the trial is “an important case for the public to be able to see.” He argued that reporters need to be present in court to observe the demeanor of the agent.

Sweeney suggested the possibility of erecting a cloth screen during the agent’s testimony, blocking the public from seeing the agent, but allowing spectators to remain in the courtroom.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

813-259-7837

Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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