Recently released court filings and press reports suggest that the two men apprehended for impersonating federal agents last week in Washington, D.C., might have been part of an Iranian assassination team whose mission was to kill former high-ranking U.S. officials. Yet even as the Biden administration became aware of a possible Iranian plot to kill Americans on American soil—an act of war—White House aides continued to negotiate the restoration of the Iran nuclear deal while seeking to accommodate the clerical regime’s thirst for revenge against former Trump administration officials: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook, and National Security Advisor John Bolton.
According to media reports, the two men, Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali, are U.S. citizens. The latter told witnesses he had connections to Pakistani intelligence, and early reports from The New York Times, NBC, Associated Press, and other news sources seemed to make a point of not mentioning any possible link to Iran, despite at least one of the men having visas to visit that country.
Unsurprisingly, both men are now being actively investigated for possible ties to Iranian spy services, according to CBS News. Ali reportedly visited Iran twice in recent years.
Clearly, the two men enjoyed the financial and logistical support of a well-funded organization that supplied them with arms, electronic devices, and cash, which they used to infiltrate and compromise U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
The nature of Taherzadeh and Ali’s activities in Washington, D.C., is certainly suggestive of an intention to infiltrate the U.S. Secret Service. Starting in February 2020, according to the affadavit filed in support of the arrest warrants, they worked out of a building in the southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C., in the fashionable Navy Yard district that is home to federal agents, congressional aides, and other government employees. Falsely representing themselves as agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the two men provided Secret Service agents—including agents connected to President Joe Biden’s security detail—as well as a DHS employee with rent-free apartments each worth more than $40,000 per year. According to the April 5th arrest warrant, they provided Secret Service agents with iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, a flat-screen television, a generator, and what they said were “official government vehicles.” They also proposed buying an assault rifle for a Secret Service agent assigned to First Lady Jill Biden.
It seems odd that these actions barely raised the suspicions of the numerous federal agents living in the building. Taherzadeh told one DHS employee in the building that he had a list of all of the federal agents in the apartment complex, along with codes to the elevators that gave him access to every floor, and surveillance footage from around the building. After the DHS employee tried to verify that the two men worked for the agency by searching internal DHS databases, Taherzadeh said that his name was redacted due to his undercover status. But as the DHS employee might have known, had Taherzadeh really been working undercover, it’s unlikely he would’ve identified himself as an undercover agent—or shown building residents his tactical gear, surveillance equipment, and a high-powered telescope, as well as a handgun he claimed had been issued by a U.S. agency. He also told neighbors he and Ali could access data from the cell phones of everyone who lived in the building.
Taherzadeh and Ali’s stunning imposture was finally revealed by a U.S. Postal Service inspector who was investigating an attack on a postal carrier in the Navy Yard building and was told by residents that the two men might have witnessed the assault. The inspector interviewed Taherzadeh and Ali, who identified themselves as federal agents who had been deputized by the city government of Washington, D.C., as “special police.” The inspector also learned that the two men had given gifts to Secret Service agents. He then passed the information on to the FBI, which arrested the two men.
How is it possible that in a building full of federal law enforcement agents, it took a postal service inspector to uncover the two men? After all, press reports have suggested for months that the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies are aware of active foreign plots against U.S. officials. In particular, the Iranians are intent on taking revenge for the targeted assassination of Qassem Soleiman, the onetime chief of the Quds Force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ external operations unit, who was second in command only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The Iranians have repeatedly threatened the three former Trump officials—Pompeo, Hook, and Bolton—by name in their own media. In a recent documentary, a former Iranian official, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, boasted that the Iranian regime’s threats to murder Hook have terrorized Hook’s family. “I went to America, and an American told me that Brian Hook’s wife can’t sleep. She cries and trembles, she told Brian, ‘They’ll kill you,’ since Hook was a partner in the death of Haj Qassem [Soleimani]. That’s how much they were trembling,” said Moussavian. Bizarrely, Moussavian holds a teaching post at Princeton University, which is apparently okay with faculty who use the university’s name and platform to amplify and celebrate murder threats by foreign governments against U.S. diplomats.
Because Pompeo and Hook are former State Department employees, their security is provided by the Diplomatic Security Service. Bolton worked in the White House, so his protective detail is provided by the Secret Service—the target of the penetration effort by Taherzadeh and Ali.
Early last month, the Washington Examiner reported that U.S. intelligence services had become aware that “at least two Iranians belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ covert-action Quds Force have been plotting to assassinate” Bolton, and a full-time Secret Service protective detail was assigned to him earlier this year or late in 2021. When emailed by Tablet, Bolton declined to comment on the arrests of Ali and Taherzadeh.
This is not the first time the Iranians have plotted to kill their enemies in the U.S. capital. In September 2011, U.S. law enforcement arrested Manssor Arbabsiar, an Iranian-born naturalized U.S. citizen who, together with Iran-based Quds Force officers, had plotted to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir at a Washington restaurant and subsequently bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies.
At the time, President Barack Obama said that Iran “will pay a price” for plotting terror attacks that were likely to have killed a huge number of people in the U.S. capital. Instead, the Obama administration legalized Iran’s nuclear weapons program when it agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in July 2015.
The Biden administration is now negotiating to reenter the deal that the Trump administration withdrew from in May 2018. Despite some recent hand-wringing, it seems unlikely that Iran’s efforts to kill Americans will derail Biden’s negotiators. The Obama team eagerly embraced the Iranian nuclear program while ignoring Tehran’s terror plots and will almost certainly do so again under Biden. Robert Malley, the key negotiator for Obama’s Middle East team, now serves as Biden’s Iran envoy.
Apparently, Malley’s negotiating team tried to talk Iran out of killing Americans who served in government—but failed. According to Malley’s former deputy at the International Crisis Group, Ali Vaez, “It is politically impossible for the Iranians to publicly close the file on taking revenge for Soleimani. That proposal has been rejected by the Iranians. Iran has come up with a counterproposal that the US is now considering.”
In other words, rather than walking away from the deal with a terror state that is actively trying to murder former U.S. officials, the Biden administration has been trying to arrive at a formula that licenses Iranian vengeance against its predecessors in government. As depraved as that may sound to ordinary Americans, it is the reality that U.S. negotiators have brought about in their decade-long attempt to give international legitimacy, and U.S. protection, to Iran’s nuclear program.
Lee Smith is the author of The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President (2020).