By Jeff Stein
The arrest in New York final week of an Egyptian-American accused of spying on exiles against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s repressive regime has lifted the curtain on a “important” however little famous nationwide safety situation: the recruitment of U.S. state and native police by overseas intelligence companies.
Pierre Girgis, a twin Egyptian-U.S. citizen in Manhattan, labored on the “path and management” of a number of Cairo companies to advance the regime’s pursuits in america from 2014 by 2019, in line with a federal indictment handed down Jan. 6.
Girgis, a Capital One financial institution vice chairman who brazenly promoted interchanges between Egyptian officers and American police, had a secret helper, in line with the Justice Division: a supply in native regulation enforcement. FBI wiretaps overheard Girgis and Egyptian officers speaking about exploiting the (unnamed) police officer for personal info on anti-regime activists right here.
The Girgis case is hardly atypical, regulation enforcement sources say. The total quantity and disposition of such circumstances lately was not available from the Justice Division, however in line with former FBI counterintelligence chief Frank Figliuzzi and different former nationwide safety officers, efforts by overseas spy companies to recruit U.S. state and native police is a persistent downside.
“Sure overseas intelligence providers persistently search to recruit American law enforcement officials for his or her entry to personal info” which helps them monitor down dissidents right here, Figliuzzi mentioned. “This continues to be a major concern.”
In 2020, an NYPD officer of Tibetan descent was charged with serving to China with its “intelligence gathering and repression of Chinese language overseas,” notably anti-communist Tibetans in New York and elsewhere.
Final July, 5 Iranian brokers have been charged in Manhattan with plotting to kidnap a Brooklyn-based Iranian-American journalist and human rights activist and smuggle her to Venezuela and onward to Tehran. The plotters employed unidentified “personal investigators” to spy on her, the indictment mentioned. Usually, personal eyes are ex-cops with sources of their previous police outfits.
“All through my profession, native police and state law enforcement officials have been a goal of quite a few overseas intelligence providers,” Figliuzzi mentioned, “the place they get entry to nonpublic info.” The regimes’ secret police need to know “the place is that this dissident residing? What are his members of the family’ names? The place does he work? They’ve even maybe paid off-duty law enforcement officials to do surveillance of dissidents.” Activists frequently report being adopted round, typically by native police automobiles.
Figliuzzi mentioned he had personally encountered circumstances of Chinese language, Cuban, Turkish and Israeli brokers cultivating native American police.
“I can return 20 years on this situation,” Invoice Evanina, a former high U.S. counterintelligence and counterespionage official, mentioned. It’s not a “WMD stage situation,” he mentioned, however a worrisome nationwide safety menace.
“The Chinese language have perfected it,” Evanina mentioned, usually through common, above-board regulation enforcement exchanges between their police and safety companies and ours.
Evanina singled out China’s Ministry of State Safety, or MSS, and its Shanghai Safety Bureau, “coming over right here and providing partnerships with state and native regulation enforcement to do coaching and [to] perceive their techniques and capabilities. After which they type of co-opt somebody who’s often within the administrative division to get entry to data and knowledge.”
“Disgrace on any excessive stage police officer that does not perceive that there is cameras in his lodge room, and that there will be makes an attempt to compromise him.”
Finally, Evanina mentioned, they’ll attain out to a U.S. police contact and say, “Hey, hear, uh, we’re searching for a fugitive and his identify is Joe Chen. And we predict he could be in your state.” U.S. cops will assist, he mentioned, as a result of they typically suppose any overseas counterparts are identical to them—“on the up and up. They don’t have any cause to imagine in any other case.”
In 2014, China launched Operation Foxhunt, a worldwide covert motion program to trace down and repatriate felony fugitives and abroad dissidents. They’re usually one and the identical in Beijing’s eyes. “It’s actually, actually dangerous,” Evanina mentioned, with Chinese language brokers usually resorting to brazen kidnappings. They search for alternatives to domesticate sources in U.S. police departments to assist them monitor down targets.
Likewise, the Russians take an extended vary method to penetrating our native police, Evanina mentioned. The Russians have been “excellent at seeding their folks”—little children of immigrants—“in police departments within the Solar Coast of Florida, New York and D.C.,” the place there are sizable Russian communities, Evanina mentioned. “They might like to get their fingers on a defector.”
However they’re not simply gathering knowledge on enemies of the state, he mentioned.
The Russian infiltration of police departments additionally has “organized crime functions,” together with “white slavery,” trafficking ladies as intercourse employees, particularly by strip golf equipment. “There’s one a part of Florida that is simply Russian city after Russian city, proper? They get in as a decrease stage police officer or trainee or administrative aide after which, 10 years later, they’re able of prominence.” (In 2017, an area enterprise journal reported, “Russia Once more Tops Listing of Nations Looking for South Florida Actual Property.”)
Because the Girgis case demonstrates, pleasant however autocratic regimes, not simply U.S. adversaries, are aggressive in recruiting contacts amongst American police departments. One instrument is thru “police tourism,” providing paid junkets for U.S. state and native police to tour historic websites, all of the whereas cultivating helpful contracts in a relaxed, usually boozy, setting. Turkey and Egypt are notably aggressive suitors, Figliuzzi and Evanina say.
Because it seems, none aside from Pierre Girgis was instrumental in organizing a 2018 junket to Egypt for about 100 NYPD and Nassau County law enforcement officials, “which allowed New York’s Best to see Egypt in a distinct mild,” in line with an effusive article within the advertising and marketing part of Ink.com. “Regulation enforcement,” the piece famous, “are necessary influencers,” who can deliver dwelling a optimistic view of the al-Sisi regime, which frequently rounds up and tortures civil rights activists and journalists. Not less than one NYPD supply agreed to assist Girgis monitor dissidents right here, in line with his indictment.
Junkets are “one thing used strategically by overseas governments to get cops to journey overseas, beneath the guise of ‘studying how we do regulation enforcement right here,’ Figliuzzi mentioned. “They’ll say, “Let’s have a greater relationship, a sister metropolis relationship…and extra, [with] your police.’ And we’re speaking about at a excessive stage…”
“I may in all probability identify eight international locations that do that selectively,” mentioned Evanina.
“It will get much more nefarious than that,” Figliuzzi mentioned. International safety and intelligence organizations, notably in Turkey and Israel, routinely invite senior state and municipal regulation enforcement officers for prolonged, all-paid visits, that are “designed to type of get actually shut to varied police chiefs all through small-town, mid-town America and main metropolis chiefs.” They’re additionally watching the People intently for blackmail alternatives.
“Disgrace on any excessive stage police officer that does not perceive that there is cameras in his lodge room, and that there will be makes an attempt to compromise him” with medicine, ladies or different enticements, Figliuzzi mentioned. “That completely would be the case. After which they’ll really feel beholden.”
The U.S.-based Worldwide Affiliation of Chiefs of Police didn’t reply to an emailed request for remark.
The FBI has spent “20 years attempting to warn state native regulation enforcement,” Evanina mentioned, with the assistance of nationwide regulation enforcement organizations. But it surely’s been an uphill battle, with some 18,000 police departments throughout the nation, most with little clue to the designs of overseas adversaries or the assets to vet them. They’re simple prey for overseas brokers pretending to be common, pleasant law enforcement officials.
“I can not rely the variety of chiefs of police or assistant chiefs on this nation I’ve run into who inform me they have been to Turkey and it is a good looking place,” Figliuzzi mentioned, ruefully.
The identical may very well be mentioned for Egypt, for which, till Jan. 6, Pierre Girgis was absolutely at work for on extra junkets for the NYPD.
Co-published with SpyTalk, the place Jeff Stein leads an all-star workforce of veteran investigative reporters, writers, and subject-matter consultants who will take you behind the scenes of the nationwide safety state. Subscribe to get full entry to the e-newsletter and web site.