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How to Spot a CIA Impersonator

Are you certain you can distinguish truth from deception?

Over the past several years, a troubling trend has emerged: individuals posing as active or retired CIA officers, exploiting unsuspecting victims for nefarious ends. From elaborate financial schemes to manipulative romantic ploys, these imposters stop at nothing to achieve their aims.

Notable Cases: A Timeline of Fraud

  • In 1982, Alexander Louis Medina and James J. ReMite, both 19 years of age, were charged with the conspiracy of posing as CIA agents to defraud a Miami bank of $200 million.

  • In 2012, James Sabzali was convicted of wire fraud and making false statements after he falsely claimed to be a CIA officer to obtain government contracts worth millions of dollars.  

  • In 2013, Gerald H. Barnes was sentenced to prison for posing as a CIA officer and defrauding investors of millions of dollars by claiming he could obtain lucrative government contracts.

  • In 2014, Richard Bauer was sentenced to 10 years in prison for defrauding investors of millions of dollars by falsely claiming to have worked for the CIA convincing investors to give him money by promising high returns in a security company that purportedly had contracts with the CIA and other government agencies. 

  • In 2015, Glenn Michael Souther was sentenced to prison for falsely claiming to be a CIA agent and defrauding investors of more than $1.7 million alleging that he was involved in classified government contracts.  

  • In 2016, Wayne Simmons was sentenced to prison for fraudulently claiming for decades that he had worked under deep cover for the CIA.  Simmons even appeared numerous times on Fox News as an unpaid commentator.  

  • In 2016, William “Jim” Hoffpaur was convicted of wire fraud and falsely claiming to be a CIA agent to scam investors out of millions of dollars.  He convinced his victims that he had lucrative government contracts for security services through purported CIA connections.

  • In 2017, Eduard Arakelyan, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Armenia, was arrested and charged with wire fraud and making false statements that he was a high-ranking U.S. intelligence official convincing a Florida-based company to give him a contract worth nearly $1 million. 

  • In 2019, Joseph A. Cafasso pleaded guilty to wire fraud and falsely claiming to be a CIA agent to solicit investments in a fake technology company that allegedly had secured lucrative government contracts.   However, Cafasso had used the ill-gotten funds for personal expenses. 

  • In 2020, Garrison Kenneth Courtney was sentenced to seven years in prison for defrauding at least a dozen companies of over $4.4 million by posing falsely as an undercover officer of the CIA. 

Another variation of how fraudsters have targeted victims while posing as CIA operatives is in romance scams.  They will go onto dating sites pretending to look for love.  They will eventually confide that they are working overseas on dangerous missions on behalf of the CIA.  Soon afterward, they drop devastating news that they will not be allowed to continue the relationship unless a full background investigation is conducted on the target.  Playing upon emotions, they will gather significant sensitive information from the target which will later be utilized in identity theft.  

Safeguarding Against Impersonation

The above cases highlight the risks associated with individuals falsely claiming affiliation with U.S. intelligence services, such as the CIA, for personal gain.  Today, more than ever, it is essential for individuals and organizations to thoroughly vet anyone claiming to have ties to the CIA before engaging in business dealings or providing financial support.  Becoming their victim can result in the loss of substantial sums of money as well as tarnishing one’s reputation. 

Verifying whether someone claiming to work for the CIA is legitimate can be challenging due to the secretive nature of the agency’s operation.  However, there are several steps you might consider to assess the credibility of such claims.

Tips for Verification

  1. Contact the CIA directly: While this may seem obvious, it will likely end in frustration.  Outside of verification of employment for lending institutions, the CIA will typically neither confirm nor deny that someone is/was employed by them.  While the CIA may pursue legal actions against any current/past employees who have violated secrecy agreements, they will typically not take any actions against imposters who have made false claims.  This is most notable in the case of Wayne Simmons who established considerable notoriety as an expert on intelligence matters based upon entirely fabricated stories regarding his alleged work for the CIA.

  2. Look for corroborating evidence:  Legitimate CIA employees often have a background in intelligence, military service, or related fields.  Ask the individual for details about their work history, training, and qualifications, and see if their claims align with their professional background.  Much of this information is verifiable.  Those impersonating a current/former CIA officer will typically incorporate other details that can be proven false.  

  3. Asking for references: Be careful.  An imposter will usually provide references who will speak highly of them.  Seek references outside of the names provided by the individual by asking these references for the names of additional people who may know the individual.  

  4. The best reference point will be someone who has worked for the CIA.  In addition to potentially knowing the person of interest, they can validate whether the information provided by that person tracks well with their own experience within the agency.

  5. A reverse social engineering ploy would be stating that you have a good friend who worked for the CIA in the same general area claimed by the person of interest.  You immediately offer to introduce the two of them.  If their verbal and/or nonverbal response demonstrates discomfort, this would be suspicious. 

  6. Always look for red flags:  Be cautious if the individual’s claims seem exaggerated or inconsistent, if they refuse to provide specific details about their work, or if they request money or personal information.  

Remember to always take the time to verify, then trust.


About the Counterintelligence Institute

Founded by former CIA senior intelligence officer Peter Warmka, the Counterintelligence Institute’s mission is to assist your corporations, government offices, academic institutions and non-profit organizations in protecting your sensitive information and personal data records against security breach attempts. Our online and onsite training services focus on transforming the human factor from being the weakest link in security to becoming the most effective defensive tool against security threats against your company and personal life.



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