Secret Service agents targeted in influence operation

US officials have arrested two men who had spent thousands of dollars seeking to influence Secret Service agents.One of the Secret Service agents targeted served on first lady Jill Biden's protection detail

An affidavit filed with a US district court accused Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 36 of posing as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees.

FBI officials said the men had used the guise to get closer to four agents – one of whom served on first lady Jill Biden’s protection detail.

The agents have been put on leave ahead of an investigation, officials said.

In a statement issued to the BBC, a Secret Service spokesperson said the agents will be “restricted from accessing Secret Service facilities, equipment and systems” as the investigation progresses.

According to the affidavit filed on Wednesday by federal prosecutors, Mr Taherzadeh and Mr Ali spent thousands of dollars buying four Secret Service agents and one DHS official “rent-free apartments (with a total yearly rent of over $40,000 (£30.578) per apartment), iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, a flat screen television, a case for storing an assault rifle, a generator, and law enforcement paraphernalia”.

The pair also offered to buy one agent – who served as a protection officer for Mrs Biden – an assault rifle worth $2,000 (£1,528).

Investigators said the men began to pose as federal agents around February 2020 in the closing months of the Trump administration, but declined to offer a motivation for the ruse and said the investigation is ongoing.

The pair also spent thousands obtaining handguns, rifles and other material to pose as DHS employees, and Mr Taherzadeh often offered their targets the use of vehicles he said belonged to the government.

Mr Taherzadeh also sent agents photos of himself in DHS bullet proof vests and a picture which was purportedly from a training seminar, but was really pulled from a social media post.

However, an investigation into the pair was launched last month after an official from the US Postal Service responded to a report of an assault on a delivery worker.

Residents told the inspector that Mr Ali and Mr Taherzadeh had identified themselves to them as DHS special agents.

The pair had claimed they were “special police” officers involved in undercover gang-related investigations and probes related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Residents told the inspector that the men used several apartments in the building and alleged they had set up video surveillance throughout the complex.

After learning of their association with the Secret Service agents, the inspector passed the information onto the DHS, who informed the FBI.

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