Former Federal Employee Sentenced for Posing as Covert CIA Officer to Steal Millions

October 29, 2020 9:55 AM
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A former federal employee who was a public affairs officer with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been sentenced to 7 years in prison for defrauding at least a dozen companies of over $4.4 million by posing falsely as a covert officer of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

According to court documents, Garrison Kenneth Courtney, 44, of Florida, falsely claimed to be a covert officer of the CIA involved in a highly-classified program or “task force” involving various components of the United States Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense.

According to the false story told by Courtney, the fabricated classified program sought to enhance the intelligence gathering capabilities of the United States government. In truth, Courtney had never been employed by the CIA, and the task force that he described did not exist.

To accomplish the fraud, Courtney approached about a dozen private companies and told them he was part of a covert CIA operation, claiming that the companies needed to hire and pay him to create what Courtney described as “commercial cover,” i.e., to mask his supposed affiliation with the CIA. He also fraudulently claimed that the companies would be reimbursed in the future for these salary payments, sometimes by the award of lucrative contracts from the United States government in connection with the supposedly classified program.

These were some of the tactics he utilized to maintain the ruse that he was a secret agent:

  • He falsely claimed that his identity and large portions of his conduct were classified;
  • He directed victims and witnesses to sign fake nondisclosure agreements that purported to be from the U.S. government and that forbade anyone involved from speaking openly about the supposedly classified program;
  • He told victims and witnesses that they were under surveillance by hostile foreign intelligence services;
  • He made a show of searching people for electronic devices as part of his supposed counterintelligence methods;
  • He demanded that his victims meet in sensitive compartmented information facilities to create the illusion that they were participating in a classified intelligence operation;
  • He repeatedly threatened anyone who questioned his legitimacy with revocation of their security clearance and criminal prosecution if they “leaked” or continued to look into the supposedly classified information

As a further part of the scheme, Courtney created a fraudulent backstory about himself, claiming that he had served in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War, had hundreds of confirmed kills while in combat, sustained lung injuries from smoke caused by fires set to Iraq’s oil fields, and that a hostile foreign intelligence service had attempted to assassinate him by poisoning him with ricin. All of these claims were false.

His scheme enabled him to fraudulently obtain a position working as a private contractor for the National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC), a branch of NIH that provides acquisition support services to federal agencies.

Once employed there, Courtney gained access to sensitive, nonpublic information about the procurements of other federal agencies being supported by NITAAC. He then used that information to attempt to corrupt the procurement process by steering the award of contracts to companies where he was then also on the payroll, and used the false pretext of national security concerns to warp the process by preventing full and open competition. When law enforcement disrupted his scheme, Courtney actively was seeking to corrupt over $3.7 billion in federal procurements.

“The fraud committed by Garrison Courtney harmed the U.S. intelligence community, individual contractors, and private companies working hard to protect our nation,” said Brian C. Rabbit, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “By claiming to be a covert CIA officer involved in a bogus classified ‘task force,’ Courtney defrauded his victims out of over $4.4 million. But his elaborate scheme could have caused far more damage if the Department of Justice and our investigative partners had not successfully intervened.”

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Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.

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