Washington: The United States on Thursday busted an alleged ISI cell trying to intrude into the American intelligence and security apparatus, including its high profile Secret Service, which is in charge of the security of the President.
Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 35, were arrested by the FBI in Southeast Washington on Wednesday on a criminal complaint charging them with the federal offence of False Impersonation of an Officer of the United States.
Four members of the Secret Service have been placed on administrative leave.
During their court appearance on Thursday, Assistant US Attorney Joshua Rothstein told Magistrate Judge G Michael Harvey in the US District Court for the District of Columbia that Ali had told witnesses that he was affiliated with the Inter-Services Intelligence agency in Pakistan.
Ali also had multiple visas from Pakistan and Iran, federal law enforcement officials said.
“We have not verified the accuracy of his claims but Ali made claims to witnesses that he had ties to ISI which is the Pakistani intelligence service,” Rothstein told the judge.
Taherzadeh and Ali attempted to use their false and fraudulent affiliation with the Department of Homeland Security to ingratiate themselves with members of federal law enforcement and the defence community.
Specifically, Taherzadeh provided members of the United States Secret Service (USSS) and an employee of DHS with, among other things, rent-free apartments (with a total yearly rent of over USD40,000 per apartment), iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, a flat-screen television, a case for storing an assault rifle, a generator, and law enforcement paraphernalia.
Taherzadeh also offered these individuals the use of what he represented to be “official government vehicles.” In addition, he offered to purchase a USD2,000 assault rifle for a United Secret Service Agent assigned to the First Lady’s protective detail.
As a result of this conduct, four members of the Secret Service were placed on administrative leave pending further investigation, federal prosecutors said.
According to court papers, Taherzadeh and Ali had set up video surveillance in various parts of the apartment complex where they lived in Washington DC.
They represented to residents at the apartment complex that they can access, at any time, the cellular telephones of residents of the apartment complex.
These residents stated that they believe the two had had access to the personal information of all the residents at the apartment complex, court papers say.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Taherzadeh provided gifts or favours to residents, many of whom were members of law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, USSS or DHS, or employees of government agencies, including the Department of Defence and Navy.
For instance, he previously loaned out his “government vehicle” to the wife of one of them, and also provided her with a generator. To another Secret Service agent associated with the White House, he provided a year-long rent-free apartment of USD48,200.
The two have been ordered to be detained till the next hearing on Friday.
According to The Washington Post, so far, the men are charged only with “false impersonation of a federal officer,” though Rothstein said Thursday that the government would probably add a charge of “conspiracy.”