Former DEA spokesman sent to prison for seven years for posing as CIA spy

Handcuffs hang in a Hamas-run prison where alleged collaborators with Israel are held in Gaza City

By Mark Hosenball

(Reuters) - A former spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration was sentenced on Wednesday to seven years in prison for defrauding at least a dozen companies of over $4.4 million by falsely claiming to be an undercover Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative.

Prosecutors said Garrison Courtney, 44, of Florida, falsely claimed to be a CIA spy working with a secret "task force" involving multiple US defense and spy agencies. In reality, he had never worked for the CIA and the task force he described did not exist, prosecutors said.

Stuart Sears, a lawyer for Courtney, told Reuters: "While there are many explanations for what Mr. Courtney did, he has offered no excuses. He has a long history of service to his country and I expect that, upon his release from prison, he will once again be a law-abiding and contributing member of society."

Prosecutors said Courtney falsely claimed he had served in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War, had hundreds of confirmed kills in combat and that a hostile foreign intelligence service attempted to poison him with ricin.

Prosecutors said Courtney told private companies they had to hire him to create what Courtney described as "commercial covers" to disguise his claimed CIA link.

They said Courtney told companies who hired him they would be reimbursed for payments to him, and that such repayments could come in the form of government contracts related to a non-existent secret program.

To convince potential targets that he was legitimate, prosecutors said, Courtney sometimes threatened people who questioned his legitimacy with security clearance revocations and criminal prosecution if they "leaked" supposedly classified information.

Prosecutors said Courtney created fake letters, supposedly issued by the U.S. Attorney General, purporting to grant blanket immunity to participants in his scheme.

At today's sentencing hearing, Courtney apologized for his crimes, for victimizing so many people, and hurting his family.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Bernadette Baum)