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‘Dumbfounded’: How Alleged Iranian-Linked Suspects Duped US Secret Service Agents

  • Retired FBI agents explained how two men reportedly tied to a foreign adversary allegedly gained access to U.S. authorities.
  • The two allegedly pretended to be Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents from as early as February 2020 and are accused of building relationships with U.S. Secret Service officers, one of which was assigned to First Lady Jill Biden’s security detail.
  • One retired FBI agent told the DCNF that it could be “a classic case of a foreign intelligence service or services, in this case, trying to penetrate the United States government.”

Two men who allegedly pretended to be federal agents may have used tactics common of foreign intelligence services in luring U.S. officials to reveal information, according to retired FBI agents who spoke with the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 36, were both arrested in Washington, D.C. Wednesday and were each charged with the federal offense of False Impersonation of an Officer of the United States, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The accused ties’ could lead investigators to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, or Iran’s Quds force, according to CBS News. Prosecutors reportedly said Thursday that Ali told witnesses he had connections with Pakistani intelligence and that the government had obtained his passport with Pakistani visas and two Iranian visas.

It’s likely “a classic case of a foreign intelligence service or services, in this case, trying to penetrate the United States government,” retired FBI supervisory special agent Todd K. Hulsey told the DCNF.

Taherzadeh and Haider allegedly posed as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents since as early as February 2020 and built relationships with U.S. Secret Service officers, one of which was assigned to First Lady Jill Biden’s security detail, according to an affidavit.

“I actually laughed when I read it because … there’s so many things about this story and so many questions, but, these two guys masquerading as federal agents, and they were really duping other federal agents who really are federal agents. It’s a very unique thing. But I don’t believe it’s anything different than what we’ve seen historically in terms of foreign services trying to gain access to, in this case, the White House, but to high level U.S. government officials through lower level officials,” Hulsey said.

It’s possible the accused used fraud techniques and tactics foreign intelligence agents use overseas to build relationships with U.S. officials, Hulsey, along with retired FBI agent Robert Chacon told the DCNF.

While overseas on assignments, Chacon observed the tactics used by foreign governments to gain access to U.S. officials.

“I went overseas several times with the FBI and the initial training, we worked with the State Department, and they always warned us about … if you go to … the local watering hole near any US Embassy overseas, where they know a bunch of embassy personnel just kind of gather after work and have a drink or two, that’s where they target,” Chacon said.

“And if you meet somebody in there, and they start being friendly to you, all of a sudden, you have to be on guard on that stuff … it’ll be subtle. But next thing you know, they’ll say, ‘Oh, I know somebody works in the embassy. Do you know John Smith?’ … So, those types of things, you should always be on guard. Those of us who have maintained top secret security clearance, I always have to be on guard for people that might try to recruit us or might try to compromise us. And this is like, an obvious way to do it. But usually, it’s much more subtle than this … ” he added.

In many fraud cases, perpetrators use one target to gain credibility they use to later access more people, Chacon explained.

“[T]he way fraudsters work is they compromise that one person or that one document, and then they get legitimate people basically to be standing up for them to backstop their fraud. So, at the end, when it all comes down, you can see behind the curtain, but that’s not what people we’re seeing during the fraud itself. They were seeing legitimate people vouching for these people, right, so it’s really a house of cards,” Chacon said.

Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Newark office and the U.S. Postal Service were already investigating Ali at the time of his arrest for credit card fraud, CBS News reported.

“Card fraud and things like that are one of the ways that foreign agents illicitly gained funds to continue their activities in the United States. Terrorist groups do those things too,” Hulsey said.

Taherzadeh allegedly bought the Secret Service officers rent-free apartments, each costing $40,000 a year, iPhones, surveillance systems, drones, a flat screen tv, an assault rifle case, a generator and law enforcement paraphernalia, according to the affidavit. He also offered them “official government vehicles” and volunteered to buy a $2,000 assault rifle for the officer assigned to the first lady’s security detail.

Four Secret Service members were put on administrative leave on April 4 pending the investigation, according to the court document.

“When it all comes down, you can kind of see it, but it’s much more difficult to see when it’s going on, particularly if they co-opt legitimate people early on to stand up for that. And then people … don’t look as hard,” Chacon added.

At this point in the investigation, the FBI is likely collecting information from other U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies and questioning foreign intelligence partners, in addition to accessing open source and classified material to understand why and how this happened, according to Hulsey.

“A lot of us are dumbfounded on this one,” Chacon said, speaking for himself and other retired FBI colleagues.

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