Foreign intelligence agents in Iran and China are increasingly seeking out private detectives in America to do their dirty work, according to a troubling new report.
The FBI has been contacting professional groups representing private investigators to warn them of the growing trend, urging them to be on the lookout for ‘red flags’, the New York Times reported this week.
Foreign regimes are using private eyes to track down dissidents living in the US for nefarious purposes, with court documents suggesting such plots have unfolded in New York, California and Indiana. The FBI believes there are other cases as well.
New York private investigator Michael McKeever, 71, told the Times how he was unwittingly duped by Iran into surveilling dissident Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad at her Brooklyn home, as part of an attempted kidnapping plot.
‘I was used,’ he said, explaining that his purported client, who contacted him through his website in early 2021, claimed to be attempting to track down a debtor who had fled from Dubai.
New York private investigator Michael McKeever (left) said he was unwittingly duped by Iran into surveilling Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad (right) at her Brooklyn home
Prosecutors say the 2021 plot involved kidnapping Alinejad and taking her by boat from New York to Venezuela, where she would be flown back to Iran
Mahmoud Khazein (left) and Omid Noori (right) are among four Iranians charged in the 2021 kidnap plot. McKeever was not criminally charged in the case
Kiya Sadeghi (left) is accused of being an asset working for the Iranian spy chief, Alireza Shahvaroghi Farahani (right)
Instead, McKeever was ensnared in a bizarre plot to kidnap Alinejad and take her by boat from New York to Venezuela, where she would be flown back to Iran.
That plot was foiled by the FBI and four Iranian intelligence operatives were charged in the conspiracy.
Unbeknownst to McKeever, as he was staking out Alinejad’s home, a team of FBI agents was also watching over her, and one of them contacted the private eye to warn him: ‘Your client is not who you think they are… These are bad people, and they’re up to no good.’
The FBI warned McKeever (above) he was ensnared in a bizarre plot to kidnap Alinejad
McKeever was not criminally charged in the case, and said that when the FBI warned him that he was likely working on behalf of Iranian intelligence agents, he readily cooperated to aid their investigation.
Alinejad told the Times she was unaware at the time of the extensive surveillance she was under in 2021, and furious to learn of it.
‘Miles away from my homeland… I’m being watched and monitored by someone who has been hired by the Iranian regime,’ she said.
Alinejad has been a critic of Iran’s head-covering laws and has promoted videos of women violating the laws to her millions of social media followers.
In July, a year after the 2021 plot was foiled, Khalid Mehdiyev, 24, was arrested in possession of a loaded AK-47 after he spent two days lurking outside Alinejad’s home, and once tried opening the door.
In July, Khalid Mehdiyev, 24, was arrested in another apparent plot after lurking outside of Alinejad’s home with a loaded AK-47
Mehdiyev was found with the loaded assault rifle, a separate high-capacity magazine and more than $1,000 worth of cash hidden in a suitcase in his car outside of Alinejad’s home
In another case two years ago, New York private eye Michael McMahon was hit with federal charges after prosecutors said he aided a Chinese plot to surveil and coerce a Chinese family to return to their home country.
The alleged plot was part of a sweeping scheme dubbed ‘Operation Fox Hunt’ to pressure and harass Chinese nationals to return to that country, which has no formal extradition agreement with the US.
New York private eye Michael McMahon was hit with federal charges after prosecutors said he aided a Chinese plot
McMahon, a former NYPD detective, was charged with acting as an illegal agent for the Chinese government, stalking and two conspiracy counts, in a case that is still pending in court.
But McMahon denies the charges, saying that he had no idea he was working on behalf of the Chinese government, and believed his client was trying to track down a person accused of stealing money from a Chinese construction company.
‘When I read the complaint against me, I became sick to my stomach,’ McMahon told the Times.
‘As my background shows, I committed my life to upholding the law and never have — and never would — commit a crime.’
Private investigators, who are often retired law enforcement officers, typically offer services such as background checks, searches for missing persons, and surveillance.
Their services are often used in legitimate investigations, such as insurance fraud probes and civil suits.
However, the FBI is warning private eyes to be on the lookout for signs that their clients may not be who they say they are.
‘The more we can draw attention to it, the more we hope private investigators and others will learn to spot these red flags,’ Roman Rozhavsky, an FBI counterintelligence official in New York, told the Times.
The trend is another sign of the lengths some foreign regimes will go to in harassing dissident expatriates living in the US.
Last month, it was revealed that China operates a secret ‘police station’ in New York City, using it as a base of operations to hunt down and retrieve dissidents.
China’s secret police station in New York is above a ramen shop located on East Broadway between Chinatown and the Lower East Side
Many of the Chinese police stations are open in Western Europe, with only four in North America
The nondescript station, located on East Broadway between Chinatown and the Lower East Side, is one of at least 54 ‘overseas police service stations’ in 30 different countries, according to a report from Safeguard Defenders, a human rights watchdog group.
DailyMail.com visited the office, which is on top a ramen shop and next to an acupuncturist where a receptionist was surprised to hear it was a secret foreign police station.
It was closed and locals said it seldom opened. The station went into operation on February 15, according to the Chinese-language news site FJSEN.
Not much is known about the station in New York, which appears to be hidden in plain sight in the city’s busy Chinatown.
Other stations around the world are disguised, often running inside Chinese restaurants or convenience stores.
Like many of China’s ‘police stations’ around the world, the New York site is promoted as a place to assist Chinese nationals through bureaucracy.
Since the program’s launch in April 2021, China boasted that it has ‘persuaded’ 230,000 Chinese nationals to return home.