US authorities have arrested a New York man who spied on political opponents of Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Justice Department said.
Pierre Girgis, 39, was charged in New York with acting illegally as an unregistered agent of the Egyptian government.
The department said in a statement that, acting at the direction of Egyptian officials, Girgis “tracked and obtained information regarding political opponents of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.”
Girgis, a dual US-Egyptian citizen, also made arrangements for visiting Egyptian officials, including meetings with US law enforcement, the statement said.
Encrypted messages between Girgis and Egyptian officials showed he was in contact with more than one Cairo government agency for information collection between 2014 and 2019, according to the indictment.
In 2017, it said, he sent information on an anti-Sisi activist and other individuals that he obtained from the Egyptian government to US law enforcement officers.
He was charged under a law that makes it illegal to act as a representative of a foreign government without first registering with the Justice Department.
The department “will continue to strictly enforce foreign agent registration laws, which remain critically important to ensuring that our government is not secretly influenced by foreign governments,” said US Attorney Damian Williams in a statement.
Egyptian officials implicated should be sanctioned, says DAWN
The Democracy for Arab World Now (DAWN) has called on American authorities to sanction the Egyptian officials implicated in spying on U.S.-based critics of Egyptian government, stating that the Egyptian-Americans that are critical of the Egyptian government are endangered and need protection.
“The State Department should act urgently to sanction Egyptian government officials implicated in spying on U.S. based critics of the Egyptian government,” DAWN said on Thursday.
“In the wake of the Saudi murder of Jamal Khashoggi and other attacks on U.S. based critics of Middle Eastern governments, we need to recognize that Egypt’s targeted spying on critics here in the U.S. puts them in grave danger of violence and harm,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director for DAWN.
“That Egypt has breached our government’s trust is the least of it; this is a direct effort to threaten, harass, and intimidate the people of our country, including thousands of Egyptians who have sought asylum from persecution by al-Sisi,” said Whitson.
DAWN called on the State Department to act immediately to investigate, identify, and sanction the Egyptian government officials implicated in spying on U.S. critics of Egypt under the newly-declared “Khashoggi Ban.”
The Khashoggi Ban authorizes the State Department to issue travel bans on foreign government officials who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities with respect to the families or other close associates of such persons.
Family members of such individuals also may be subject to visa restrictions under this policy, where appropriate.
DAWN urged the U.S. government to identify publicly the individuals and agencies in Egypt involved in this spying to ensure protection can be sought from them. DAWN also demanded that the Department of Justice inform those whom the Egyptian government targeted for its spying and provide them with police protection for their security.
“General Sisi has taken a cue from Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to attack dissidents here in the U.S. and apparently thinks that he can get away with the same sort of brutal thuggery,” said Whitson.
“Our government’s failure to sanction the Saudi Crown Prince is exactly why Sisi thinks he can get away with spying on and harassing critics of Egypt here in the U.S.”
On September 13, the State Department approved a new military aid package to Egypt of $1.1 billion, and reduced the amount Congress had conditioned on human rights reforms from $300 million to $130 million. The State Department also limited the conditions on aid to the release of sixteen unidentified political prisoners, while Congress’ original hold on aid to Egypt included broader conditions to require civil society reforms and the implementation of laws and policies to improve Egypt’s woeful human rights record.
Secretary Blinken described the Egyptian government as having “shared interests” with the United States despite the government’s widely-documented crimes against humanity and brutal repression, including the ongoing detention, torture, and mistreatment of over 60,000 political detainees.
“What a slap in the face of the American people for General Sisi to be taking handouts from the U.S. government while it secretly spies on people in our country,” said Whitson.
“What more will it take for our government to act responsibly and end its support to brutal, cheating dictators who stab our own government in the back and undermine the security of our people?”
DAWN has urged the United States to comply with U.S. laws restricting military sales to abusive governments and to end all military transfers to the Egyptian government in light of its gross violations of human rights.
“The United States violates its own human rights obligations by providing military support to the Sisi government, contributing to human rights abuses in Egypt,” concludes DAWN.
Statement of US Department of Justice
Following is the text of the statement of the US Department of Justice on the issue:
Man Arrested for Acting in United States as Agent of Egyptian Government
A New York man was arrested today on criminal charges related to his alleged acting and conspiring to act as a foreign agent in the United States.
According to court documents, Pierre Girgis, 39, of Manhattan, acted in the United States as an agent of the Egyptian government, without notifying the U.S. Attorney General as required by law. Girgis operated at the direction and control of multiple officials of the Egyptian government in an effort to further the interests of the Egyptian government in the United States. Among other things, at the direction of Egyptian government officials, Girgis allegedly tracked and obtained information regarding political opponents of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. As alleged, Girgis also leveraged his connections with local U.S. law enforcement officers to collect non-public information at the direction of Egyptian officials, arranged benefits for Egyptian officials who were visiting Manhattan, and coordinated meetings between U.S. and Egyptian law enforcement in the United States, including by arranging for Egyptian officials to attend police trainings.
“The Department of Justice will not allow agents of foreign governments to operate in the United States to pursue and collect information about critics of those governments,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen. “Working at the direction of the Egyptian government, Girgis agreed to target its perceived critics located in the United States. This indictment begins the process of holding him accountable for his actions in contravention of our laws and values.”
“As alleged, Pierre Girgis failed to meet his requirements to register as a foreign agent in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “At the behest of Egyptian officials, Girgis’s alleged prohibited conduct included attempting to covertly gather non-public intelligence about the activities of political opponents of Egypt’s president, and attempting to gain access for foreign officials to attend law enforcement-only trainings in Manhattan. This office will continue to strictly enforce foreign agent registration laws, which remain critically important to ensuring that our government is not secretly influenced by foreign governments.”
“Agents of foreign countries are required to register with our government for a good reason – they often act in their home country’s interests and against those of the United States,” said Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI’s New York Field Office. “We allege Mr. Girgis sent non-public information back to Egypt for the benefit of the Egyptian government. Mr. Girgis broke our laws, and we must hold him accountable.”
According to the indictment, on or about May 7, 2018, Girgis discussed his status as an agent of the Egyptian government with an Egyptian official (Egyptian Official-1) using an encrypted messaging application. During the conversation, Egyptian Official-1 expressed frustration that Girgis had met with personnel from a different Egyptian government agency during a recent trip by Girgis to Egypt, warned Girgis that “it is not possible to open with all the agencies,” and stated that Egyptian Official-1 was “letting you [Girgis] open with us only.” Later in the encrypted messaging exchange, Egyptian Official-1 advised Girgis that other Egyptian government agencies “want sources for themselves, and you [Girgis] have become an important source for them to collect information.” Girgis responded, “I know and I see and I learn from you,” and then informed Egyptian Official-1, “it will not be repeated again.”
Approximately one year later, on or about March 8, 2019, in the course of Girgis’s continuing operations as an Egyptian agent, Girgis and Egyptian Official-1 discussed an upcoming trip of certain Egyptian officials to the United States. During that telephone conversation, Girgis stated, “Tell me what you want me to do,” and Egyptian Official-1 responded by inquiring about Girgis’s relationship with a particular U.S. law enforcement officer. Egyptian Official-1 then instructed Girgis “to ask [the U.S. law enforcement officer] for something. We want you to find out if there are any police trainings happening in Manhattan in the coming days, and if so, who are the people in charge of these trainings? We would like to attend.” Later in the conversation, Girgis again asked, “What you want me to do?” Egyptian Official-1 directed Girgis, “Make follow up, Ok?” and Girgis agreed by responding, “Ok.”
Girgis is charged with one count of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and one count of acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Attorney General, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division and New York Field Office are investigating the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elinor L. Tarlow and Kyle A. Wirshba for the Southern District of New York and Trial Attorney Scott Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control section are prosecuting the case.