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US: 'Fake' special agents probed for possible ties to Iranian intelligence

The two men, who were arrested on Wednesday, are accused of impersonating US federal agents for several years
Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali are accused of providing lucrative favours to members of the Secret Service, including one agent on the security detail of First Lady Jill Biden (AFP)

Law enforcement sources have told CBS News that investigators are looking into the possibility that two men accused of impersonating US federal agents over the course of several years have ties to Iranian intelligence, including to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Justice Department assistant attorney Joshua Rothstein asked a judge on Thursday not to release on bail Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 35, who were arrested on Wednesday for posing as Department of Homeland Security investigators.

But neither had secured full legal representation and the judge put the decision off for a second hearing on Friday.

Rothstein also told the judge that Ali had claimed ties to Pakistan's ISI intelligence service. 

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The men stand accused of providing lucrative favours to members of the United States Secret Service, including one agent on the security detail of First Lady Jill Biden.

Rothstein told the court that in 2019, just months before the two began cultivating security professionals in their Washington apartment building, Ali had travelled to Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Qatar, and transited through Doha multiple times.

The assistant attorney said Ali "made claims to witnesses that he had connections to the ISI, which is the Pakistani intelligence service".

Prosecutors also said the government recovered Ali's passport, which contained three "older" Pakistani visas and two Iranian visas from 2019 and January 2020. 

There was an indication on Ali's Iranian visa that he had entered that country at some point, prosecutors said, although they did not specify when. 

Uniforms and documents

The Justice Department is treating the case as a criminal matter and not a national security issue. But the Secret Service suspended four agents over their involvement with the suspects.

"All personnel involved in this matter are on administrative leave and are restricted from accessing Secret Service facilities, equipment, and systems," the Secret Service said in a statement. 

According to an affidavit filed with the court, Taherzadeh and Ali, both US citizens, lived in an apartment building in Washington where numerous federal security-related employees also live.

They convinced some of those agents that they themselves were special Homeland Security investigators, displaying uniforms and documents in support of those claims.

Both were initially charged with one count of false impersonation of an officer of the United States, which could bring up to three years in prison. 

But Rothstein told the court that the charge could be expanded to conspiracy, which carries a maximum of five years in prison.

Assault rifle

The motives of the two men were unclear, but at one point they recruited a third person to work for them, assigning him "to conduct research on an individual that provided support to the Department of Defence and intelligence community".

Taherzadeh meanwhile provided several Secret Service and Homeland Security employees with rent-free units costing as much as $4,000 a month, according to the affidavit.

He also gave them iPhones, surveillance systems, a television, and law enforcement paraphernalia, according to the affidavit.

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Taherzadeh offered a $2,000 assault rifle to the Secret Service agent who worked on the first lady's team, and did favours for the agent's wife, including lending her his car.

The affidavit said Taherzadeh and Ali appeared to control several units in the apartment complex, and that Taherzadeh had access to the building's entire security system. 

Like many in law enforcement, the two drove large black GMC SUVs with emergency lights, AFP reported.

Taherzadeh carried handguns that are used by US federal law enforcement, and demonstrated to others that he had secure access to what appeared to be Homeland Security computer systems.

In the defendants' first court appearance, the prosecutor sought to prevent them from being granted bail.