Secret Service leaders are downplaying any risk to national security after four of its employees — including an agent assigned to protect first lady Jill Biden — were allegedly fooled by two men impersonating federal agents and plying them with gifts, telling congressional committees that the severity of the breach has been overblown by prosecutors and the media, the Washington Post reports. Former Secret Service officials warn that the alleged infiltration of the elite protection agency reveals a major vulnerability extending well beyond this case. They said the revelations suggest that agents who had regular access to the White House and the Biden family — and who are supposed to be trained to spot scammers or spies seeking to ingratiate themselves — were either too greedy or gullible to question a dubious cover story. “If you can compromise Secret Service personnel by cozying up to their agents and their uniformed officers, unwelcome sources can get to the president and the first family,” said Jim Helminski, a retired agency executive and former leader of President Biden’s vice-presidential detail.
The case is the latest in a string of embarrassing security breaches and misconduct incidents involving the Secret Service over a decade. The scandals have included agents getting drunk and hiring prostitutes on a trip to Colombia, in 2012; an incident in 2014 when a wounded veteran was able to jump the White House fence and get past dozens of armed Secret Service officers and into the executive mansion; and an officer investigated after posting comments on Facebook in which she accused lawmakers of treason for formalized President Biden’s win. According to federal prosecutors, Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 35, posed as Department of Homeland Security agents and offered two agents and two officers with the Secret Service, as well as one DHS officer, a string of gifts beginning at least in February 2021 and possibly as early as February 2020. The FBI said the two Secret Service uniformed officers accepted free $40,000-a-year rental apartments from Taherzadeh for about a year in a luxury Navy Yard apartment complex where the two suspects are alleged to have had unusual control over several apartments and where they had set up surveillance.