Men accused of impersonating federal agents being investigated for possible ties to Iranian intelligence
The two men accused of impersonating federal agents over the course of several years will remain in jail pending a detention hearing Friday, a federal magistrate judge ruled Thursday.
Investigators alleged Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 35, posed as various officers and employees of the U.S. government, including members of federal law enforcement agencies, since February 2020 and duped actual federal officers into believing their guise. They are each charged with one count of false impersonation of a federal officer and have yet to enter a plea.
Law enforcement sources told CBS News that investigators are looking into the possibility that the two suspects have ties to Iranian intelligence including to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite component of the Iranian military that conducts special operations, or the Quds force.
Prosecutors said Thursday that Ali told witnesses he had connections to the Pakistani Intelligence Service, which the government said it has not yet verified. Prosecutors also said the government recovered his passport containing 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.
The government also indicated they had a hard time pinning down an exact address for Taherzadeh, but signs point to the fact that he is currently a U.S. citizen.
According to a criminal complaint unsealed late Wednesday following the multi-agency raid on a Washington, D.C., apartment complex, the duo allegedly obtained paraphernalia, handguns and assault rifles used by federal law enforcement agencies. The FBI claimed they used their false associations with the U.S. government "to ingratiate themselves with members of federal law enforcement and the defense community" by providing gifts and favors to residents of an apartment building, many of whom were employees of the FBI, Secret service, and the Department of Homeland Security and Defense.
Taherzadeh, allegedly posing as a Homeland Security Investigations or HSI special agent, is accused of providing U.S. Secret Service members and a DHS employee with rent-free apartments, "iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, a flat screen television, a case for storing an assault rifle, a generator, and law enforcement paraphernalia."
In one instance, Taherzadeh even allegedly offered to buy a gun for a Secret Service agent assigned to the first lady's protective detail.
Secret Service personnel were put up in a luxury apartment building in Southwest D.C. near the apartment building where the suspects lived, according to U.S. officials.
But Secret Service officials have since moved out of the apartments, posing a challenge to investigators seeking to determine if their walls were bugged. The FBI has taken custody of all electronic materials and evidence related to this case, according to U.S. officials.
Prosecutors on Thursday told Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey that upon searching an apartment complex in Washington, D.C., investigators recovered a loaded Glock-19 handgun, 40-50 rounds of small-caliber weapons and weapon stocks they said were consistent with long guns.
Investigators also found ballistic vests, zip ties, handcuffs, radios, a drone, DHS patches on vests and clothing, training manuals and surveillance equipment.
According to the affidavit in support of the criminal charges, confidential witnesses alleged the men collectively used fraudulent government email addresses, asserted they had government-issued vehicles, and claimed to have access to personal information of all the residents at the apartment complex in question via their purported jobs in law enforcement.
The pair allegedly recruited an individual to apply for a fraudulent DHS/HSI position, a process that required the applicant to be "shot with an Airsoft rifle to evaluate their pain tolerance and reaction," according to the charging documents.
The affidavit did not identify what the two men's ultimate goal may have been.
Both suspects were arrested Wednesday in the Eastern Market neighborhood of Washington, D.C., a few blocks east of the U.S. Capitol, the FBI confirmed.
An investigation into the two men began on March 14, when a U.S. Postal Inspector responded to a D.C. apartment building for a report of an assault involving a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier. Taherzadeh and Ali told authorities they were HSI special agents, and that they were involved in undercover gang-related probes, and also investigating last year's riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Homeland Security Investigations, an investigative arm of DHS, is the federal government's primary agency charged with disrupting transnational, terrorism-related threats violating U.S. customs and immigration laws.
Haider Ali had been under investigation by HSI's Newark office and the U.S. Postal Service for fraudulent activity stemming from an alleged credit card ring scheme, according to two law enforcement sources. The status of that investigation remains unclear.
Four Secret Service agents have been placed on administrative leave amid the ongoing investigation. The U.S. Secret Service first learned of the federal investigation last week, prompting the agency on Monday to launch an administrative review of the four officers involved.
The internal probe remains in its "very early stages," U.S. Secret Service officials stress, but at this point, Secret Service personnel — two agents and two uniformed division officers — appear to have been "genuinely duped" by suspects, according to law enforcement officials who say investigators have not yet found evidence of nefarious actions.
While investigators continue to search for answers on why agents were seemingly swindled, all four officials are currently being treated as witnesses to the investigation.
But the Secret Service personnel involved have been effectively "put on ice," according to a Secret Service official. Agents and officers no longer have access to communications or tracking systems — including information about Secret Service personnel movements and locations of all Secret Service protectees, including President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and first lady Jill Biden.
In a statement to CBS News, the U.S. Secret Service said it "has worked, and continues to work, with its law enforcement partners in this ongoing investigation."
"All personnel involved in this matter are on administrative leave and are restricted from accessing Secret Service facilities, equipment and systems," the statement read. "The Secret Service adheres to the highest levels of professional standards and conduct and will remain in active coordination with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security."
The FBI also singled out a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) employee who interacted with Taherzadeh and is listed among DHS personnel who received gifts from suspects in the affidavit. According to a senior DHS official, the current employee, who does not serve in a law enforcement capacity, has not been put on administrative leave and is not the subject of any internal review.
And while the FBI is currently leading the criminal investigation, investigators at the U.S. Secret Service are working to understand how Taherzadeh obtained an HSI badge and "special police officer credentials."
Special police officers within the District of Columbia are commissioned police officers by the mayor's office and possess full arrest powers on the property or geographical area they are assigned to protect. But it remains unclear how Taherzadeh allegedly obtained special police officer credentials, which may have granted him status or access to spaces routinely frequented by law enforcement officers.
Taherzadeh and Ali each face a maximum of 3 years in prison if convicted, but prosecutors said in court on Thursday that they may also charge the pair as part of a conspiracy.
Ryan Sprouse, Sophie Reardon, Pat Milton, Matt Mosk, Jeff Pegues and Julia Kimani-Burnham contributed to this report.
CBS News reporter covering homeland security and justice.