Former DEA Spokesman Posed as CIA Agent in ‘Elaborate’ $4.4 Million Scam

June 12, 2020 Updated: June 12, 2020

A former spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) posed as a CIA officer in a complex $4.4 million scam, federal officials said.

Garrison Courtney, 44, pleaded guilty to defrauding at least a dozen companies. [delete]

According to court documents, Courtney falsely claimed to be a covert CIA officer involved in a secretive, highly classified program involving various U.S. intelligence agencies.

Courtney would claim that the supposed program was seeking to enhance the U.S. government’s intelligence gathering capabilities and tell private companies that they needed to hire and pay him to create what he described as “commercial cover,” or obscure his supposed affiliation with the CIA.

Courtney also falsely claimed the companies would be reimbursed in the future for the payments.

The Department of Justice said Courtney “went to extraordinary lengths to perpetuate the illusion that he was a deep-cover operative.”

Among other things, Courtney directed victims and witnesses to sign fake nondisclosure agreements, told them they were under surveillance by hostile foreign agents, and demanded his victims meet in sensitive facilities to help create the illusion they were part of a classified operation.

Anyone who questioned Courtney’s legitimacy was threatened with revocation of their security clearance and criminal prosecution.

Courtney wielded fake letters that were allegedly issued by the attorney general of the United States. The letters were said to grant blanket immunity to those who participated in the supposedly classified program.

To help sell the story, Courtney created a fraudulent backstory that included claims he served in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War, killing hundreds while in combat, and that foreign agents tried assassinating him by poisoning him with ricin.

Besides fooling private companies, Courtney convinced several real government officials he was participating in a covert task force. He used the officials to burnish his legitimacy.

During the “elaborate” scheme, Courtney fraudulently gained a position working as a private contractor for the National Institutes of Health, where he gained access to sensitive, nonpublic information he used as part of the scam, the department said.

Courtney is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 23.

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