Social networks were a flutter as a line of uniformed and heavily armed FBI special agents entered the Crossings Complex in SE Washington, D.C this week. The complex is known to house a plethora of government employees from an alphabet soup of agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and its subordinate organization, the United States Secret Service, which falls under the umbrella of the Department of the Treasury.
When the dust settled, the residents of Crossings saw two of their neighbors arrested and a box truck loading a seemingly unending parade of boxes, equipment, and police paraphernalia by those executing the search warrant on Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali, both accused of “False Impersonation of an Officer of the United States.”
The two targeted DHS, specifically the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. defense and intelligence community. On April 4 four members of the Secret Service were placed on administrative leave as a result of this investigation.
The 17-page affidavit filed on April 5 by the FBI in support of an arrest warrant was unsealed on April 6 after the arrest of the duo. The affidavit walks us through at least two years of false impersonation by the pair who pretended to their neighbors and building management that they were employees of the United States government, specifically DHS. To pull off their ruse, the pair had obtained “paraphernalia with the insignias of and firearms, including handguns and assault rifles, used by federal law enforcement agencies.”
The Secret Service statement while short on details, assuage immediate concern with, “The Secret Service has worked, and continues to work, with its law enforcement partners on this ongoing investigation. All personnel involved in this matter are on administrative leave and are restricted from accessing Secret Service facilities, equipment, and systems.”
Who is their sponsor?
Their ability to operate and spin the con required a substantial financial investment, tallying into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The expenses included renting for multiple years, a number of apartments within a downtown complex where annual rents exceeded $40,000 and being able to “gift” the use of two of these apartments to two Secret Service officers who they had conned. It is also possible that access to these apartments were a part of the greater con, which provided the duo with not only access to specific apartments, but also to the complex’s video surveillance system. In addition, the expense of multiple vehicles, which according to witnesses were outfitted with police lights, tallies up additional thousands of dollars. Couple these big-ticket expenses of apartments and vehicles with the apparent arsenal of weapons, discrete police and law enforcement paraphernalia, and the reported substantial number of computers, servers, surveillance equipment and this operation’s costs easily exceeds $500,000-plus.
Who has that type of money to create the tale and then pull off the con of the like and duration which makes the 1973 movie “The Sting” look like an amateur hour?
Who are they working for?
What was their ultimate end goal?
Uncovering the duo
It was a U.S. Postal Inspector, who working a case involving a mailperson being attacked within the complex came to interview the pair. They gave the inspector the same story they’d been giving their neighbors for a number of years, that they were part “Homeland Security Investigations” (HSI) and were involved in “undercover gang-related investigations, as well as conducting investigations related to the violence at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.”
The postal inspector was thorough, detailed, and through his professionalism unearthed sufficient amount of detail to determine that there was something fishy with Taherzadeh and Ali’s claims to be DHS/HSI personnel and reported the duo to the DHS Inspector General.
It did not take the DHS IG long to determine both were not employees and to bring in the FBI to investigate.
The FBI began with interviews with Crossing residents. Five of those interviews were shared within the court documents.
- Witness 1 – met in July 2021 – a neighbor with no government affiliation, who observed surveillance equipment and files carrying the markings of “HSI casefile” and “Confidential.” They convinced this witness that he was prime material for DHS/HSI and in a piece of sadistic behavior required the individual to be shot with an air rifle to “evaluate the individual’s reaction and patience.” They also tasked this individual to “conduct research on an individual who worked for the U.S. government as a contractor.” The targeted individual about whom Witness 1 was to research provided support to the defense and intelligence communities.
- Witness 2 – met in July 2021 – a neighbor who is a USSS Agent currently assigned to the First Lady’s protection detail. This USSS agent believed Taherzadeh was part of a covert DHS/HSI task force. That said, he also allowed Taherzadeh to provide him with gifts and observed that he also provided gifts and did favors for other residents who were government employees. In nutshell, the USSS Agent witnessed Taherzadeh ingratiate himself with neighbors who had U.S. government affiliation. The Agent also shared how his spouse had borrowed the “government vehicle” owned by Taherzadeh to run personal errands and loaned her a generator. The USSS Agent also revealed that Taherzadeh had offered to provide him with a $2000 AR-15 style rifle (for what purpose is not revealed). Of particular note is the observation made by this witness which seemed to confirm that Taherzadeh had secured building management’s cooperation as the witness noted security footage of the complex was seen by the witness. This witness must have given Taherzadeh reason to doubt the efficacy of his story, as with this witness Taherzadeh sent photos in police gear, and ostensibly in attendance on February 22 in a HIS training course. He shared a photo pulled from the HSI Newark Twitter feed as if he was in attendance.
- Witness 3 – met in February 2021 – a neighbor who is a member of the USSS uniformed division currently assigned to protect the White House complex. Taherzadeh provided this individual with one year of free rent at a penthouse apartment (February 2021-January 2022 – $40,200 value). This individual received an email early on from Taherzadeh from the email address “firstname.lastname@example.org” which looked official to the witness. In addition, this witness said he saw Taherzadeh use a Private Identity Verification card to access a laptop and that the screen which popped up was a screen with the DHS symbol. Gifts from Taherzadeh were also received by this USSS officer, including a DHS/HSI coin and DHS patch (available on eBay for approximately $45 and $2 respectively).
- Witness 4 – met in June 2021 – a neighbor who is a Document Analysis Expert within DHS-HSI. This neighbor met Taherzadeh in June 2021 and had suspicions. Spoke with their supervisor about Taherzadeh and was unable to identify his name in the HSI database of employees. Taherzadeh explained it away with “his name was redacted due to his undercover status.” This witness also saw the full works of police paraphernalia in the apartments controlled by Taherzadeh, including surveillance footage from around the complex.
- Witness 5 – February 2021 – a neighbor who is a member of the USSS uniformed division, also assigned to protect the White House complex. Taherzadeh provided this individual with one year of free rent for a three-bedroom apartment. (February 2021-January 2022 – $48,240 value). He explained away his generosity by telling the witness that he had rented an excess apartment for his operation, and he was able to obtain DHS/HSI approval. Witness 5 also shared how the Metropolitan Police had been called to the complex by a resident who complained that Taherzadeh was wearing police equipment. The police came, but nothing amounted to it, according to Witness 5. The witness also recalled seeing the use of a PIV card, wearing a ballistic vest, as well as being shown an HSI badge and credentials, and on the wall a certificate that indicated Taherzadeh had attended FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center). In addition to the apartment, this USSS officer was gifted with a drone, gun locker, and a pelican case. Finally, the witness observed that Taherzadeh had a list of the names and apartment numbers of the residents in the Crossings Complex.
Counterintelligence Antennae up a mile high
The duo targeted Secret Service personnel associated with both the uniformed personnel protecting the White House, as well as the Secret Service personnel involved in the protection of the First Lady. They also indirectly targeted a government contractor involved in unspecified work within the U.S. intelligence and defense communities. Whether they contacted this individual is not yet known.
Missed opportunities prior to the U.S. Postal Inspector’s investigation were present to interrupt this operation. Yet all five of the identified witnesses had an experience that from the outside looking in should have sent the individual’s radar sky high. Yet they swallowed their gut instincts and embraced the largesse of Taherzadeh, biting his con hook, line, and sinker.
- Witness 1 was shot by Taherzadeh with an air rifle as part of the “interview process.” The fact that such a sadistic act took place should have sent the individual directly to the metropolitan police. Then being tasked to research a U.S. citizen, who was identified as a contractor supporting the defense and intelligence community did not strike the individual as odd?
- Witness 2, the individual whose skills of observation would be expected to be the most finely honed of the five witnesses given the individual was a member of the First Lady’s protective detail, found themselves explaining away the anomalies. For example, allowing personal use of an official vehicle by his spouse. The storing of a bevy of weapons in a Crossings apartment and not in the official armory of DHS/HSI did not strike the USSS Agent as odd? And given the USSS agent is no doubt well versed in the “need to know” principle, not thinking Taherzadeh’s sharing the infrastructure of a “sensitive and undercover operation” as odd?
- Witness 3, received an email from a private domain, not associated with the U.S. government and failed to recognize that the “.us” was not “.gov.” Had the individual conducted a rudimentary online search of “USSP” he would have stumbled upon the business listing for “United States Special Police,” the domain, and the fact that Taherzadeh had registered the company in 2018. In addition, it would appear that the gift of $40,000 worth of lodging was sufficient to remove any need to inquire further, totally sinking all counterintelligence training concerning beware of strangers bearing gifts.
- Witness 4’s instincts were spot on yet rationalized away. He reported the encounter to a supervisor, searched the database, and found no reference, and then? He then bought the explanation that because he was “undercover” his name was redacted. The incongruity of an undercover existence and publicly wearing police gear, driving a vehicle decked out to look like a police vehicle, displaying ingratiate weapons and surveillance gear flies in the face of “undercover.” No doubt the provision of living quarters for a year, a value close to $50,000 helped swallow the initial counterintelligence vibe.
First court appearance
At the first court appearance on April 7, the pair were remanded to the D.C. jail and will be back in court today. Haider Ali claimed to have some connection to the Pakistan Intelligence Service and his passport is reported to have had Pakistani and Iranian visas. Their target – the Secret Service and the Department of Defense.