Judge: Terrorism Defense Can Use Undercover Cop’s Pics

A Brooklyn federal judge affirmed on Wednesday that defense attorneys in a terrorism trial can use an undercover cop’s image and name in their case, as long as the information was not obtained through discovery. Prosecutors had challenged Judge Sterling Johnson’s earlier order on grounds that the officer’s photographs were not publicly available and disclosing them would compromise her efficacy as an undercover officer, despite The Daily Beast’s reporting that this reporter was able to find a photo within minutes of searching.

The officer is involved in the case of two Queens women, Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui, accused of plotting to build bombs for a terror attack. She is known undercover as Melike Ser. Defense attorneys want to use her images and real name to question her credibility, seek out a pattern of entrapment, and seek out others who may have interacted with her. During a January hearing, the judge suggested a niqab or burqa during testimony may be a compromise between the two sides.

“That this brave officer’s identity is public [...] is certainly cause for great concern,” Sterling wrote in his original order. “But this Court cannot unscramble a scrambled egg. The Court cannot pretend that this information is not already in the public domain.”

The U.S. attorney’s office suggested in a request that the judge reconsider his ruling that the photo cited by The Daily Beast was a mislabeled image from a Daily Mail article, making the judge's assertions about a "scrambled egg" moot. But the woman in that photo did not meet any of the publicly-available specifications about the undercover officer, namely that she did not wear a hijab and claimed to be of Turkish descent. Prosecutors and investigators contesting The Daily Beast’s claims also said in court filings that the NYPD had previously asked Facebook to remove an April 2015 post with the officer’s photo. The Daily Beast reached out to the man whose posting was taken down, and he confirmed that the photos found by The Daily Beast were likely reproductions from his post by friends.

In court on Wednesday, Charles Swift and Linda Moreno, attorneys for Siddiqui, showed the judge and assistant U.S. attorney Alex Solomon three photographs of the undercover officer they obtained outside of the discovery process. Solomon said he could not be sure that the woman in those photos was the cop, but Swift said that in the runup to Wednesday’s hearing, one of the links to the photographs had been disabled.

Swift also asked this reporter to show Solomon the photo obtained by The Daily Beast. Solomon did not contest that it depicted the undercover cop. “Thank you,” he said. The Daily Beast is choosing not to publish her photo at this time.

"Effectively, the motion for reconsideration was denied," Moreno told reporters.

—Katie Zavadski