- Iran’s intelligence ministry says it broke up a CIA spying ring in the country and detained 17 Iranian suspects.
- The suspects were employed in “vital private sector centers in the economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military, and cyber areas,” where they “collected classified information,” the ministry said, according to Sky News.
- CNN reported the ministry as saying the people were lured into working for the CIA by being offered a chance to move to the US and work there.
- US President Donald Trump called Iran’s allegations “totally false.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said one should “take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions that they’ve taken.”
- Monday’s announcement comes as nuclear and military tensions between Tehran and the West continue to mount.
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Iran says that it has detained 17 of its citizens accused of spying for the CIA and that some of them will be executed.
The country’s intelligence ministry said it had broken up a spying ring consisting of Iranians who were lured by a chance to move to the US and work there, CNN reported on Monday.
The suspects were “employed in sensitive and vital private sector centers in the economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military, and cyber areas … where they collected classified information,” an Iranian intelligence official told state TV on Monday, according to Sky News.
The intelligence official did not give his name, which Sky News said was unusual.
The CIA has not responded to Iran’s announcement.
In a Monday-morning tweet, however, US President Donald Trump called Iran’s allegations “totally false,” characterizing them as “just more lies and propaganda” by what he called “a Religious Regime that is Badly Failing and has no idea what to do.”
In a Monday interview with “Fox & Friends,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the CIA director from 2017 to 2018, declined to comment on Iran’s announcement but said “the Iranian regime has a long history of lying.”
“I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions that they’ve taken,” Pompeo added.
The mission of the spying suspects had been to collect classified information “from substantial centers as well as intelligence/technical operations,” the intelligence ministry said in a document cited by CNN.
Iranian authorities arrested the suspects months ago, with many of them detained in prison since, according to Sky News and CNN.
Some of the suspects have also been sentenced to death, though the unnamed intelligence official did not say how many, Sky News reported.
Iran’s intelligence ministry said in a document, as cited by CNN: “Defendants serving their sentences in prison mentioning tempting promises of CIA officers including emigration to USA, a proper job in America, and money.”
All 17 suspects have confessed to spying for the CIA, CNN said.
Amnesty International reported last week, however, that Iranian authorities had a history of using solitary confinement and threats against family members to make people unsavory to the government confess to crimes they didn’t commit.
- Michael Gruber/Getty Images; Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
The ministry also appeared to suggest that Iranian authorities planned to retaliate against the CIA.
It said, according to CNN: “Individuals who consciously and deliberately betrayed the country and refused to compensate for the losses have been handed over to the judiciary system.”
“Others, who honestly cooperated with the security system and their remorsefulness have been proved, have been managed with intelligence direction against Americans,” the ministry added.
Tehran’s announcement comes amid weeks of spiraling tensions with the West.
There have been several maritime skirmishes in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway to Iran’s south that’s crucial to the global oil trade, since mid-June.
Iranian authorities seized two British-linked oil tankers in the strait last Friday, to retaliate for the UK’s seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off the British territory of Gibraltar on July 4. Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero and briefly detained another ship, the Mescar.
Trump last week also said a US warship had shot down an Iranian drone, though Tehran has repeatedly said this didn’t happen.
Iran and the West remain at odds over the 2015 nuclear deal and crippling US sanctions. Tehran violated a 300-kilogram limit on enriched uranium earlier this month and has vowed to increase its stockpile.