For about three years, until 2008, Halligen spent hundreds of thousands of dollars living large in Washington. He stayed in a Willard Hotel suite for months at a time and drank the days away at pricey Georgetown restaurants. He traveled everywhere in a chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car, set up high-tech offices in Herndon and bought a grand home in Great Falls.
Smart, charming and favoring black turtlenecks and sunglasses, Halligen told everyone that he was a spy, or a former spy, or connected to spies. He told friends that he was under such deep cover that he took over his fiancee’s place as a “safe house.”
Virtually all of it, it turns out, was fabricated or exaggerated, according to associates who have since investigated his background. But with amazing ease and a perfect British accent, the diminutive Halligen schmoozed his way into Washington’s intelligence elite — Pentagon officials, influential lawyers and lobbyists, former CIA operatives.
And he took their money.
He set up shop as a corporate security consultant, offering his dubious “operational experience” in intelligence to solve delicate problems for customers working in dangerous places.
In a capital with a long history of spies, foreigners with shadowy backgrounds, big talkers and charlatans, Halligen didn’t set off any alarm bells at first, according to former associates. But that changed when they concluded that Halligen was taking money and not doing the work he promised.
The U.S. government obtained an indictment against him in 2009 on criminal charges of bilking a client out of $2.1 million, and judges in the District and Virginia have ordered him to pay $6.5 million to former partners who claim he fleeced them.
Halligen, through his London lawyer, declined to comment as he fights extradition to the United States in British courts.
But in dozens of interviews in Washington and London, those who knew Halligen described how he created a trail of creditors, from lawyers to landlords to housekeepers. And they said he left a group of Washington insiders wondering how one charming and audacious hustler managed to seduce them all.
‘I was duped’
Halligen fooled London before he fooled Washington.
“I was duped,” said John Holmes, a retired British army general who was head of the British military’s special forces.
Holmes said he met Halligen in 2002, when Halligen took an IT job at a private security consulting firm where Holmes was working after his military retirement.
Holmes, in an interview in his London office, said he knew Halligen was never a member of any intelligence service. But he worked on the periphery of that world as an engineer for companies that provided technical support — designing batteries, for example — to the British government and military.