Terrorist Spies Target the Secret Service – Bad News? Or Good?
Two men were arrested yesterday after posing as DHS “Special Investigators” for over a year, with the apparent goal of getting close to Secret Service agents. Four Secret Service agents were suspended.
From the looks of it, this is a professional intelligence operation. The men were of Pakistani and Iranian origin. The most likely reason that you might attempt to compromise Secret Service agents is to commit an act of terrorism.
So what happened? These two men, Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali posed as US Special Police investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
They managed to convince several people, including the four Secret Service agents that they were real. They allowed one Secret Service agent to live in a penthouse apartment which cost about $40,000 per year, and offered to buy gifts for others, including a $2000 assault rifle and some IPhones. The men were allegedly full up with weapons and surveillance gear.
This was a MAJOR undertaking by a sophisticated intelligence service. We don’t know who yet.
From one perspective it is clear that this is a professional intelligence operation. They may have been training for years for this role. By comparison, it is not unusual for the CIA to train people for several years for an assignment, ops training, language training and one on one training in the field.
These men knew the federal law enforcement culture. To fit in, they would have to know police tactics, some kind of training history (to answer the question “Hey man, where did you train? Remember that hard-ass Jablonsky?”), their English would have to be flawless and unaccented (this can be INCREDIBLY difficult), and a lot more.
To be able to operate for a year in that environment is quite a feat of espionage, not something most CIA officers or undercover policemen would want to try.
What was the damage?
It is hard to say from early reporting the damage that was done. One Secret Service agent clearly stepped over the line by living in an apartment. But then again, one might imagine the two men saying “This is a surveillance apartment, we need someone to live there for cover purposes, you want to do it?” That would not be an unusual situation, surveillance apartments are usual manned, even where surveillance equipment does not need an operator.
Buying someone an assault rifle would be a weird thing, but apparently no one took the bait.
iPhones? How about “We were going to use these on an op, but the op was canceled, want one?” This is not completely ethical but it happens a lot. In CIA ops, this kind of equipment usually goes to a favorite liaison operator, since sending it back to headquarters means it sits in an equipment room until it is obsolete. We all know this.
I can’t see where any Secret Service agent was actually recruited as an agent or under the influence of these guys. They may have gotten information on how the Secret Service generally works, but not the specifics of a particular target, or anything that couldn’t be changed.
I’m seeing actual damage to the Secret Service as practically nil.
How were they caught?
CNN is reporting that they were caught by a Postal Inspector investigating an unrelated incident.
I’m not buying that, it is a cover story. You would want to keep your sources and methods for catching guys like this a secret, this is a standard lie.
I’m imagining that one of the Secret Service guys (maybe the one who was offered the assault weapon?) ran a name check, and it came up with nothing. Things would have developed rapidly from there.
Very likely, the FBI was quietly investigating for the last three months before the arrest, finding out who they were contacting, and monitoring their communications. The Secret Service agents, may or may not have known.
My final assessment, from the VERY limited information I have at this point, is that this is good news.
- Damage to the Secret Service seems to be limited to sources and methods that are probably open source anyway
- No Secret Service agent was recruited as a paid agent
- Someone was vigilant enough to raise some suspicions, leading to FBI involvement
- The FBI managed to conduct an investigation that led to an arrest
- A probable terrorist event was averted.
It might have been nice if the spies had been identified sooner, but when you are dealing with well-trained spies this is actually fast. Most spies go a lifetime without being arrested.
Clearly I don’t have all of the information, and may never have the whole picture. What I have written is commentary on what I perceive as the whole picture.
My conclusion? Well done.