Daniel John Malik spent 15 years as a U.S. intelligence analyst with a Top Secret security clearance, deploying twice to Afghanistan with the Department of Defense Special Operations Command and the Joint Afghan Threat Finance Cell. He also served in East Africa with a Pentagon counterterrorism analysis unit, worked closely with the FBI in three U.S. cities and overseas, and consulted with federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C.; Alexandria, Virginia; Minneapolis; and New York.
Now Malik is facing federal felony charges, accused of pulling a gun on a police officer outside the CIA’s Virginia headquarters, leading cops on an ensuing high-speed car chase, and spending a month on the lam before being arrested with a gun and LSD in the parking lot of a Utah grocery store.
But Malik, who is under house arrest at his mother's home in Pittsburgh, told The Daily Beast that things didn’t happen exactly the way prosecutors claim. He also said prosecutors are ignoring his diagnosis of PTSD, which he says was brought on in part by watching endless hours of Predator drone strikes in high definition—and other disturbing experiences during his government service.
“I’ve provided the prosecution with all my deployment records and narratives of being shelled at night, being near car bombings, being hunkered down in an office under fire while deskmates are crying under their desk, and being in a plane that was fired on by RPGs and the plane took a nose dive and deployed countermeasures,” Malik told The Daily Beast. “The court required me to participate in a mental health evaluation which further documented my PTSD. The mental health exam said I was appropriately managing my PTSD and that I didn’t require any further therapy for criminal-related activity.”
Malik, 42, quit the intelligence field in February 2019, and set off on a two-year road trip to clear his head and figure out his next chapter in life. He sold his condo in Arlington and refitted a Jeep as a camper, then traveled to national parks and backcountry areas. He said he “took the plunge after seeing family members die early and never get to enjoy retirement or their golden years,” and added that he “made incredible memories in such a small time.” Malik particularly enjoyed Moab, Utah, where he has friends, and began using it as a home base of sorts.
His bizarre—and previously unreported—legal troubles began on Dec. 27, 2020, when he stopped his car in the middle of the roadway near CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia.
Malik had flown to Pittsburgh to see his parents for a month, and borrowed his father’s car to drive to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a few days. He said he planned on stopping in the D.C. area on the way, to see friends who lived there.
While Malik was sitting along the highway, a CIA Security Protective Service patrol car pulled up behind to see why he was blocking traffic, according to an affidavit filed in federal court by CIA police officer Timothy Violette. Malik exhibited “unusual behavior, including profuse sweating, fidgeting, and awkward responses to my questions,” it says.
According to Violette’s sworn statement, Malik said he was lost and presented a South Dakota driver’s license but no registration for the silver Toyota sedan, which he explained belonged to his dad. When Violette asked for proof of ownership, he said, Malik looked for the car’s registration in the glove box but couldn’t find it.
Malik then reached into an orange bag on the front passenger seat—and that’s where things get murky.
Violette claims he sawn a gun holster inside and “immediately ordered Malik to stop.”
“Fearing for my safety, I stepped away from the driver’s window towards the front of the vehicle,” Violette wrote. “Malik turned towards the open driver’s window with a black pistol in his hand and pointed it out the window where I had been standing.” A CIA police incident report filed by Violette at the time provides a bit of additional detail: Malik’s eyes were reportedly bloodshot, his car was apparently filled with trash, and he stared blankly instead of answering his questions, the report says. According to Violette’s report, Malik said he was headed to D.C. to see friends and had pulled over to get his bearings. In this version of events, Violette identifies the gun Malik was allegedly holding as a “black or dark blue... semi-auto pistol,” and says he pointed his own gun—but did not shoot—as Malik sped away from the scene.
Malik, on the other hand, claims he had properly pulled over to the side of the road and couldn’t have pointed a gun at Violette, because although he does own numerous firearms—he’s an avid hunter and had been working as a wildlife guide for the past several months—he didn’t have any with him.
“I had just flown in from the Rockies; I don’t fly with my weapons,” Malik told The Daily Beast, explaining that he was driving his father’s car because he had left his Jeep in a long-term lot back in Moab.
“If I had pulled a gun on him, I’d be dead.”
A CIA spokesperson declined to comment on the case or make Violette available for an interview, citing the active prosecution against Malik.
In Malik’s telling, Violette drew his gun while aggressively questioning him, and squared his shoulders in a shooting stance. Malik claims this triggered an unbearable anxiety attack that made him fear for his life.
“The PTSD at that point is completely kicked into effect,” said Malik. “When that happens, the best way you can explain to a layperson is like the floorboards of your soul kind of fall away and it feels like you're falling into a hole inside yourself. I became completely panicked to the point that I was just kind of numb. And just in paralyzed panic that someone was pointing a gun to my head; I don't think I've ever had a gun pointed at me in general. Well, I have been shot at war zones, but that's like from the ambiguity and the anonymity of someone behind a ridgeline. But this was a person, you know, pointing a gun in my face and I just felt an extreme level of terror.”
Violette stated in his court filing that Malik took off “at a high rate of speed,” and led him on a “ten-minute high-speed vehicle chase,” which Violette said he eventually chose to end for safety reasons.
“I was immediately wondering if I should drive straight to the George Washington Memorial Parkway Police headquarters in case this was a carjacker,” said Malik, who claims he thought Violette might have been an imposter. “Or in case this was an unhinged officer, and I needed the presence of other officers.”
Court filings don’t mention bodycam or dashcam footage from the incident, and Malik said the government has not produced any video during the discovery process. Malik also claims that a private investigator working on behalf of his public defender told him that Violette radioed CIA headquarters about the car chase, but did not say anything about a gun or an armed suspect—just that he was pursuing someone.
Malik said he eventually pulled off the highway, and parked in front of a nearby house. He said he spent the next hour or so sobbing over what had just happened. After calling his father to fill him in, Malik said he took a series of back roads to get out of the area.
He said he continued on to the Outer Banks, where he spent the next four or five days enjoying the scenery. While there, Malik checked PACER, the federal court filing system, to see if there was a warrant out for his arrest. When he didn’t find anything, he said, he drove back to his parents’ place in Pittsburgh.
Before he left Pittsburgh, Malik called the U.S. Park Police, the agency primarily responsible for enforcement along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, to ask if they were looking for him. According to court records, they told him no. So Malik says he thought it was OK to fly back to Utah.
On Jan. 20, Malik was in his Jeep outside a grocery store in Moab when police surrounded him with their guns drawn. He was pulled from his car, forced down to the ground, and handcuffed.
“At that point, I scream, ‘What is happening? What is happening?’” recalled Malik. “And they said, ‘Sir, there's a warrant out for your arrest.’”
A filing by prosecutors says cops found a gun and LSD in Malik’s car. He doesn’t dispute those allegations—but offered an explanation.
He said he had legally purchased psilocybin—the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms—for personal use, in Colorado, and had a small amount of marijuana in his vehicle because microdosing helps with his PTSD. The gun was for Malik’s own protection, he said, from both animals and any unsavory human beings he might encounter while camping alone in the wilderness.
“I legally own multiple firearms under the Second Amendment,” Malik said, adding that he has a valid concealed carry permit. “A gun in Utah does not equal a gun in Virginia.”
From there, Malik was taken to jail. During an FBI interrogation the next day, Malik said he was shocked to find out he was being charged with pointing a gun at a police officer.
“I have never in my life pointed a weapon at a person,” Malik said. “I've never shot anyone. I've been a responsible gun owner my entire life… I have gone through weapons training programs with CENTCOM, with JSOC, and the U.S. State Department… I've responsibly carried weapons in war zones.”
Malik said he was told that the feds found him in Moab by tracking his cellphone. He also said he learned that the FBI had surveillance teams monitoring his parents in Pittsburgh while he was a wanted man.
Once he was out of a mandatory COVID quarantine, Malik was sent to another lockup, given an orange jumpsuit and placed in general population before a judge ordered him released to his mother’s custody after eight days in jail. Malik flew to Pittsburgh, where he was fitted with an ankle monitor. He participated in a court-ordered mental health evaluation, and has submitted to mandatory drug tests, all of which have come up clean.
He said that while home detention might sound cushy, it’s been nothing short of humiliating. People don’t believe his side of the story, according to Malik, who feels like none of his past government service is seen as a mitigating factor.
“The stress is heart-wrenching and constant during every waking moment,” he said. “I can’t sleep most nights until I pass out past sunrise, and then crash at odd hours. I wake up and it’s the first thing on my mind.”
Prior to his arrest, Malik had a conditional employment offer with the Defense Intelligence Agency in Joint Target Intelligence, says a motion submitted to the judge by Malik’s defense attorney, Nate Wenstrup. “Much of his prior work, as well as this conditional offer required Top Secret security clearance. Obviously, that clearance and the conditional employment offer have been jeopardized by the charges brought by the government” Wenstrup, who did not respond to requests for comment, wrote in the motion.
Malik said he was also offered a job by the U.S. Forest Service as a forestry technician in California but withdrew his candidacy “because this was going on and the mere charges were a showstopper until this is resolved.”
“I already have a hard road ahead in life because I now have to report to new employers that I’ve been charged with a violent felony, and if I’m convicted it only gets tougher.”.
Malik was indicted by a Virginia grand jury last week. He is set to be arraigned on May 21, and said he plans to plead not guilty.
“I have abided by all of these conditions and not gone on on the run, because you’re fucking tempted to when your life is thrown into shambles like this,” he said, noting that even though he will have his day in court, he’s still “terrified.”
“I don't see my way out of this, is really how I feel,” Malik continued. “I feel like the machine has kicked in, and they're out there trying to vilify me through certain aspects of my life and not others… I won’t come out of this unscathed, even in the best of circumstances.”