No one’s surprised, right? Certainly you’re not surprised if you read this morning’s post.
Still, there are details here that don’t make sense to me. If these guys are part of an Iranian plot to target U.S. officials, they’d want to be as unobtrusive as possible, right? Make friends with the Secret Service, see what they’ll tell you, but otherwise don’t give your neighbors any reason to be suspicious of you.
It doesn’t sound like these two did that. More on that in a second.
Today’s court hearing brought news of a foreign connection:
During a court appearance Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Rothstein said [Haider] Ali had told witnesses that he was affiliated with the Inter-Services Intelligence agency in Pakistan and that he had multiple visas from Pakistan and Iran in the months before prosecutors believe the men began impersonating U.S. law enforcement officials. Rothstein said the U.S. has not yet been able to verify the veracity of Ali’s claims to the witnesses.
Prosecutors believe the men were trying to “ingratiate themselves” and “integrate” with U.S. federal agents and people who worked in the U.S. defense community, Rothstein said.
Ali and the other man arrested, Arian Taherzadeh, began impersonating federal agents in February 2020 according to the FBI’s affidavit. Coincidentally, that was just one month after the U.S. assassinated Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani, drawing warnings of revenge from Iran.
The FBI is searching their belongings today, which includes no fewer than five apartments in the building where they lived and three vehicles. Among the items recovered so far are “body armor, gas masks, zip ties, handcuffs, equipment to break through doors, drones, radios and police training manuals.” They found guns too — including “disassembled rifle pieces and sniper scopes.” The building is located near D.C.’s Navy Yard, just a mile from the U.S. Capitol.
But here’s where it gets weird:
The two men also had surveillance equipment and a high-power telescope, he said. The FBI found evidence that they may have been creating surveillance devices and also found a binder with information on all the residents in the luxury apartment building, which is home to law enforcement officers, defense officials and congressional staffers.
Prosecutors say the men had also set up surveillance in the building and had been telling residents there that they could access any of their cellphones at any time. The residents also told investigators they believed the men had access to their personal information.
If you were an undercover foreign spy trying to gain the trust of your neighbors, would you be telling them that you could access their cell phones at any time? The two were also apparently seen by residents placing surveillance equipment around the building, which is the sort of thing that might lead me to go to the building’s management and say, “Uh, what’s up with these two?”
Also weird: One witness told the feds that Tarehzadeh and Ali tried to recruit him for their pretend task force at DHS — and then they shot him with an Airsoft rifle, supposedly to test his tolerance for pain. Which seems like another seemingly inexplicable risk for a foreign agent to take. Why chance it that the person you’re “recruiting” will object to the treatment and complain to someone at DHS, inadvertently blowing your cover?
Why bother trying to recruit someone for a task force that doesn’t exist in the first place?
On the other hand, it sounds like the people in the building were fantastically gullible and accommodating once they believed that Tarehzadeh and Ali were federal agents. The Daily Mail claims that the building’s managers even gave the two the run of the place because of their “credentials”:
According to sources, the Tishman Speyer-owned and operated building cooperated with Taherzadeh and Ali believing the guise that they were federal agents. Building management, the sources allege, provided the duo with access to surveillance cameras, including codes to access all doors in the building and a list of personal information about a number of residents.
A former security guard for the building, however, said that an overnight concierge would call down Ali and Taherzadeh when things happened in the building to show them surveillance footage.
Ali and Taherzadeh provided the all-access door code to several residents, another source confirms.
There’s no obvious explanation for why these dudes would need, let alone were able to afford, five apartments as part of a years-long ruse unless it’s a well-funded spy operation. But then there’s also no obvious explanation for why a Secret Service agent would have agreed to stay in one of those apartments rent-free. Given the sensitivity of his job and the obvious risk that his benefactors might want to spy on him inside the apartment surreptitiously, either he had been turned and was working with them or he was so stupid that he’s unfit for employment of any kind.
What are we dealing with here, then? A spy operation in which both the perpetrators and the targets turned out to be idiots? Remember, according to the affidavit, it’s essentially pure luck that Tarehzadeh and Ali were found out. None of the Secret Service or FBI agents who live in the building reported them, apparently. It was a U.S. Postal inspector who was there to investigate an unrelated matter who sniffed them out when they told him they worked for a nonexistent agency at DHS.
Which is … another weird detail, no? These guys spent two years working undercover to infiltrate the Secret Service and when they were finally challenged on their identities, they made up a fake agency instead of saying “DEA” or “ATF” or whatever? Does that make any sense?
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