Ex-FBI Agent files lawsuit against State Department for $15 million after failing to get reward for providing intel on Iran’s drone and missile programs

A former FBI agent filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State for $15 million after failing to receive reward money related to intelligence provided to the department and other federal agencies about Iran’s drone and missile programs, Baltimore Post-Examiner has learned.

The suit was filed on Feb. 23, 2024, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida (West Palm Beach) by Joseph F. O’Brien. O’Brien, a native New Yorker, worked for the Bureau for nearly two decades and retired as a decorated special agent.

Screenshot from Amazon

O’Brien has a Ph.D. in criminal justice and is an analyst on Islamic Terrorism. He is also a New York Times best-selling author who co-wrote a book about the fall of notorious mob boss Paul Castellano.

The suit names Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken as the defendant in the case. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment by the deadline for this story.

“The main reason for the lawsuit is to convince the Court, through a Writ of Mandamus, to get the Rewards for Justice Program and the Secretary of State focused on what’s truly important, which is our government’s commitment to countering Iran’s weapons development and proliferation,” O’Brien told the Post-Examiner in a statement via his agent, Beverly Hills Press Agency.

“Had the program and its partners, in the intelligence community (including my old agency, the FBI and the Department of Defense (DoD), used my source’s information effectively, our military would have taken out Iran’s drone manufacturing facilities, thus saving countless lives, including those of our soldiers, serving courageously in the Middle East.”

State Department reneges on reward money 

The lawsuit alleges that an agreement with the department’s Rewards for Justice Program (RFJ), which was established in 1984 and allows the secretary to authorize compensation for information that leads to the disruption of the prosecution of terrorist acts and the financing of such acts, The suit claims RFJ refused to even consider a compensation request after having received information deemed credible.

The department offers rewards of up to $15 million for information about the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its financial networks, according to its website.

(Screenshot from U.S. State Department website)

The IRGC is the primary branch of Iran’s military and has been linked to the funding of terrorism through sophisticated vehicles, such as front companies, with the intent of bypassing international sanctions imposed on the regime for its weapons programs.

After having provided the department with detailed information about IRGC financing activities and criminal schemes, O’Brien met with FBI agents at the Miami field office on the afternoon of May 22, 2023, and later with Department of Defense CENTCOM agents on the evening of July 7, 2023, according to the suit.

A drone pilot and signal intelligence agent deemed the information both “legitimate” and “very credible,” and O’Brien was informed that CENTCOM did not have sufficient information about the IRGC’s drone “UAV guidance system parts and signals information,” according to the suit.

O’Brien on Jan. 17, 2024, furnished DoD via a U.S. Army general — a comprehensive list of IRGC drone parts, namely, spec sheets related to the five key parts of the drone guidance system, the suit says.

After providing the State Department with the information, O’Brien made multiple requests for a reward but did not receive a response, according to the suit and evidence reviewed by the Baltimore Post-Examiner.

O’Brien has requested a trial by jury and has asked the court to compel Blinken to determine the requested reward.

The suit references a “continuing source” who lives in Iran and who has “no intentions of leaving” that country “due to family obligations.” The source has information about Iran’s “nuclear program, drones, ballistic missiles, sanctions evasion, and finances.”

The suit also references information obtained from the source that Iran has acquired sanctioned high-tech U.S. materials for its nuclear program through a Canadian business that purchased the parts from the U.S. and subsequently sent them to Iran through Dubai “concealed in other commercial equipment.

With more than two dozen rewards offered by federal agencies, the source would be entitled to compensation between $5 million to $15 million per reward, the suit claims.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),  requested the information, according to the suit. O’Brien spent 10 months trying to bring the matter to the attention of intelligence agencies affiliated with the State Department’s rewards program.

O’Brien alleges in the suit that if the intelligence community listened to his information about the Iranian drone program, the facilities tasked with constructing and maintaining those weapons would have already been “destroyed.”

O’Brien said in the suit that his sources have informed him that said facilities are turning out more than 1,000 drones and missiles each month, and that those weapons have thus far led to the deaths of 1,400 Israeli civilians and 52 American servicemen in Iraq and Syria.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, 2023, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels based in Yemen have attacked U.S. military assets in Iraq and Syria. Three U.S. service members were killed in January in Jordan by Iranian proxies in a drone attack on a U.S. base. The U.S. and U.K. have responded with airstrikes against proxy targets.

O’Brien has requested compensation for all of his sources.

If the suit is successful, O’Brien will give the reward money to his sources, which will in turn help them leave Iran, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Walton K. Martin III, who is O’Brien’s close friend and founder and director of Iran Information Project, said in a statement to the Post-Examiner: “What I found most alarming in my contact with the U.S. Government is the complacency in which they handle what should be matters of priority. In fact, the information we were attempting to pass to the government is listed as a priority in the USCENTCOM rewards bulletin as a priority. Iran’s nuclear program is supposedly a major priority.”

Martin said the information he presented to a State Department official and nuclear proliferation analyst was met with very little interest, which in turn led him to send a letter to Secretary Blinken. Martin said he received confirmation that Blinken received the letter, which was sent through secure channels but did not get a response to the inquiry.

“After a year of no action taken by any U.S. Government agency, and knowing that over 200 armed services personnel have been seriously injured and 6 have died as a result of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s hostilities, both Dr. O’Brien Ph.D. and I both decided to take legal action for the protection of our soldiers, Israel and the United States.”

Beverly Hills Press Agency contacted the FBI on O’Brien’s behalf with information about drones and asked to speak with an agent but was told by an agency phone operator that unless the information was first provided to the operator over the phone the matter would go no further. When Beverly Hills Press Agency declined, due to the sensitive nature of the information, the operator abruptly ended the call.

The rewards program had been under scrutiny in the past with critics claiming nearly two decades ago that sources with valuable intel were not getting compensated. A 2003 article by the Post-Examiner’s Executive Editor Timothy W. Maier reported on the frustration in an investigative report for Insight on the News headlined: Reward Not Paid. The article is mentioned in the suit.

The Post-Examiner reached out to Rep. Lois J. Frankel (D-Fla.), whose district includes West Palm Beach,  where O’Brien’s suit was filed. Frankel sits on the House Committee on Appropriations’ State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs subcommittee.

Frankel’s communications director, Dan Kaufman, declined to comment on the matter.

The Post-Examiner also reached out to Rep. Jared E. Moskowitz (D-Fla.), whose district includes Boca Raton, where O’Brien lives. Moskowitz sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.

Moskowitz’s communications director, Dylan Smith, did not respond to a request for comment by the deadline for this story.

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