The Iranian news organization FARS released information Monday on 17 Iranian citizens picked up in a sweep last year. Iran accused the individuals of various crimes relating to spying for the United States Central Intelligence Agency.
FARS, quoting an unnamed Iranian intelligence ministry official speaking at a press conference in Tehran Monday, claims the individuals were trained by the CIA and worked as staff members of “sensitive and significant centers and their counterpart private sectors.” FARS reported that the individuals were parts of unlinked spy cells in the economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military, and cyber fields.
According to the report, an unknown number of the detained Iranians have been or will be shortly executed. Other detained “spies” have reportedly flipped, and will now be spying on the U.S.
The official is identified only as the director of the counterespionage department. It is unusual for Iranian officials to make statements without identifying themselves.
U.S. Intelligence experts and President Donald Trump said Monday the claims against the U.S. are false.
“I would urge everyone who’s reading that story that the Iranian regime has a long history of lying,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday on Fox & Friends. “I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertation of Iranian actions taken.”
Iran claims the individuals were lured to cooperate with the CIA with promises of visas, jobs, and money. The individuals were recruited out-of-country and were allegedly arrested while attempting to meet a CIA contact that promised to help the individuals escape Iran.
CNN is reporting that an Intelligence Ministry document sent to the station claims all 17 detainees admitted to acting as spies.
“Defendants serving their sentences in prison mentioning tempting promises of CIA officers including emigration to USA, a proper job in America, and money,” the document reads.
The document obtained by CNN alleges the spies were seeking classified information about Iran.
Iranian state television played a documentary Monday showing what is claimed to be an American intelligence official speaking with an Iranian citizen in the hope of turning him to spy for the U.S.
The idea of CIA-backed Iranian spies is not that far-fetched, according to Bessa Momani, a Middle East expert at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “I’m sure the CIA does have some agents inside their country,” Momani said on CTV Live as reported by Vox.
Momani added that U.S. intelligence agencies have gained access to critical information about Iran’s nuclear efforts in the past, almost certainly by recruiting Iranian help.
Trump took to Twitter Monday, calling Iranian claims “totally false.”
“Just more lies and propaganda from a Religious Regime that is Failing Badly and has no idea what to do,” Trump posted.
Momani said even as propaganda, the news could be beneficial to Iran.
“It’s rallied a lot of people around the flag at a very critical time,” Momani said. “There is a feeling that someone’s got to pay for so much crisis there.”
Iran is currently under sanctions by the U.S. and the European Union. The Trump administration is trying to strangle Iran into reworking the nuclear deal Trump backed out of in 2017. Trump has called the nuclear restriction deal “one of the worst ever made.”
Iran has refused to negotiate with the U.S. until sanctions against the country have been lifted.
“It’s getting harder for me to want to make a deal with Iran,” Trump told White House reporters Monday.
Iran reported in April and June that it had broken up similar CIA-operated spy rings, and claims to have captured more than 270 U.S. spies in recent years.