The Fake Federal Agents Case Confused by US Intelligence Experts

That plot, disrupted when Arbabsiar was lured back to the US and arrested, dramatically changed US intelligence’s assessment of Iran’s capabilities and intentions – an assassination on US soil has long been considered a red line that the Iranian regime does not. would do cross. And it helped spur the Obama administration to strike a nuclear deal that would stop the country from developing a workable device.

A former senior official I interviewed, who had worked for three intelligence agencies in his career and who also requested anonymity for not being authorized by his employer to speak publicly, speculated that if Taherzadeh and Ali were part of an Iranian conspiracy — and no, the evidence to date suggests so — it may have been one of many avenues and plans launched in the wake of the audacious US assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in early 2020.

“We’ve seen intelligence agencies do stupid and stupid things. It could have fallen into the category of just a ill-thought-out case,” the former senior official said. “If you’re Iran and you’re angry about Soleimani, you’re pulling a lot of levers. Maybe they said, ‘It can’t hurt to move this forward.’”

As the Arbabsiar case illustrates, the idiosyncrasy of Taherzadeh and Ali’s alleged actions does not necessarily shed light on whether they acted alone or as part of an intelligence operation. “Agency is not perfect and different parts of an agency have different levels of competence,” Triplett says.

But the former prosecutor says the sheer madness of the case makes him question any foreign connection. He says many cases involving foreign influence and intelligence involve relatively small amounts of money; while the generosity of the defendants seems to indicate access to substantial resources, it may well point to the opposite conclusion.

“This is a ton of money. This doesn’t seem so quiet and secretive to me – this is quite loud,” the prosecutor said. “If you look at some of these similar cases, that’s not how things like this are done at all. There’s a real sloppiness here.”

Regardless of the outcome, experts agree that this case illustrates how unprepared most government officials and law enforcement officers in the nation’s capital are to face a potential counterintelligence operation — though the FBI estimates there are more than 100 foreign intelligence agencies. operating in the United States , of allies and adversaries alike.

“The vast majority of the US government and agencies are unprepared for counterintelligence,” said Triplett. “There are indulgent environments in the world, and DC is definitely one of them. The number of foreign intelligence services in DC – and in the US in general – is staggering. There are all kinds of networks, influence trails – it’s all perfect for intelligence operations.”

The fact that the Secret Service, the NCIS and even DHS personnel were apparently fooled about the authenticity of Taherzadeh and Ali doesn’t really surprise the experts in the field. There is a human tendency to accept that people are who they say they are.

“Outside of the FBI and certain intelligence agencies, the average federal law enforcement officer is not very trained in counterintelligence matters,” the senior official said. “If so, it is an annual mandatory training and of a very high standard. They are focused on their work – not thinking about how they might be a target of a foreign intelligence agency. If you’re an average officer in these agencies, you don’t think about Iranian intelligence. Your radar isn’t on.’

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