Five months had passed since Anna Gabrielian sent an email to the Russian Embassy offering assistance after the invasion of Ukraine.
So when a woman who spoke Russian approached her as she was on the way to work at Johns Hopkins Hospital on Aug. 17, 2022, Gabrielian said, she felt happy. She said she wanted to offer medical knowledge that could save lives.
But Gabrielian said she started to develop strong suspicions during their second meeting later that night at a hotel in Baltimore that the woman was not an embassy clerk — and instead an intelligence officer. Gabrielian said she did not think she could give her a “firm no.”
“It’s a very scary situation from all angles,” Gabrielian testified. “I am out of my depth here.”
Gabrielian admitted that she first brought up private health records during their conversations but repeatedly stated that they were useless. But when the woman subsequently asked for that information and framed it as a loyalty test, Gabrielian said, she was concerned for the safety of herself and her family if she did not comply.
In reality, the woman was neither an embassy clerk nor an intelligence officer. She was an undercover FBI special agent.
For about six hours, Gabrielian, 37, of Rockville, a former anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, testified on Thursday and Friday in her own defense in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. She and her spouse, U.S. Army Maj. Jamie Lee Henry, 40, of Rockville, a doctor who had been stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, are standing trial on charges of conspiracy and wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
Gabrielian admitted that she disclosed the health information of two of her patients and knew that was wrong. She said she is not proud of her actions. But she said she did not intend to cause any harm and did not personally benefit in any way.
Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, allege that the couple broke the law and provided private health records to an individual who they believed was a representative of the Russian government to help a foreign power.
Past coverage of the Anna Gabrielian and Jamie Lee Henry case
Toward the beginning of her testimony, Gabrielian said she has Ukrainian relatives. She talked about her early childhood in Russia as well as immigrating at age 10 to the United States. “I was the nerdy oddball,” she said, “with the slight Russian accent.”
She said she initially aspired to be a surgeon but decided to change her specialty. During a one-year break between residencies, Gabrielian said, she volunteered for the Red Cross at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where she met Henry.
Henry was the first known active-duty Army officer to come out as transgender in 2015. Gabrielian said the two got married at the courthouse after a whirlwind three-month romance. They now have two young sons.
Gabrielian testified that she helped her Ukrainian colleague scrounge up surplus medical supplies for his home country as well as work on grant applications for projects to modernize its medical system. She said she disapproved of the war and stated that the invasion to her was devastating.
At the same time, Gabrielian said, she was concerned about the Russian medical system being isolated from the rest of the world.
She testified that she had “complex feelings” about the situation. To her, Russian soldiers were not just “enemies to be killed off.” That’s because men are conscripted into the military at 18 — an age when they’re not even old enough to legally drink alcohol or rent a car, she said.
“What kind of doctor am I to sit on my ass in cushy America and do nothing? What kind of Russian am I?” Gabrielian texted a friend at one point. “I am so ashamed of my inaction.”
But Gabrielian testified that it would be professionally damaging to her if it came out that she was providing medical help to Russian soldiers. Her colleagues, she said, would be horrified. That’s why she said she discussed cover stories with the FBI special agent.
Meanwhile, Henry, she said, was desperately trying to get out of the Army. Henry was on leave without pay at the time.
Throughout her testimony, Gabrielian sought to explain her comments in the almost five hours of video that the FBI special agent surreptitiously recorded as part of the covert operation.
The FBI special agent previously testified while wearing a “light disguise” and using the pseudonym Lena Simon. The press and public were not permitted in the courtroom in the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse during her testimony and had to instead listen from a different location.
Gabrielian said she used hyperbole and embellished her pro-Russian sentiments because she thought she was communicating with an intelligence officer. At one point, Gabrielian discussed how the couple could be a “useful long-term weapon.”
“You said a lot of things to this undercover agent that make you sound awful,” said Christopher Mead, Gabrielian’s attorney.
“Yes,” Gabrielian responded.
“Is that you?” he asked.
“It’s not,” she replied.
On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky asked Gabrielian if she violated the modern Hippocratic Oath and the oath of allegiance that she took when she became a naturalized citizen.
Zelinsky inquired whether she’d be concerned if Russian intelligence knew the private health information of her or her family. Gabrielian replied that would be concerning.
Gabrielian said she did not go to U.S. law enforcement. She emphasized that she was faced with a loyalty test.
So Zelinsky asked her how many people Russian intelligence had killed on U.S. soil in the last 20 years. “Specifically on American soil,” Gabrielian replied, “I can’t think of one right now.”
Henry elected not to testify.
David Walsh-Little, Henry’s attorney, called one witness: Moira McGuire, a retired captain in the U.S. Public Health Service who worked with Henry at Walter Reed.
McGuire testified that Henry is a “patriotic person” and “often expressed pride in wearing the uniform.”
U.S. District Judge Stephanie Gallagher is presiding over the trial. Both sides are expected to deliver their closing arguments on Tuesday.