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Iran says it arrested 17 CIA spies, sentencing some to death

Ramin Mostaghim and Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran claimed Monday that it had smashed a CIA spy ring on its soil, saying some of the 17 Iranian nationals netted by authorities had already been sentenced to death.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, in an interview with Fox News, dismissed the claims, insisting that "the Iranian regime has a long history of lying."

"It's part of the nature of the ayatollah to lie to the world," Pompeo said in reference to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion of actions they have taken."

Speaking to dozens of journalists assembled in the underground press club of Iran's Ministry of Culture, an Iranian counterintelligence official said the 17 detained Iranian nationals had been working in a number of key private-sector institutions in "economic, nuclear, infrastructure, military and cyber fields."

"We have intelligence dominance over the CIA's espionage activities in Iran," said the official, who identified himself as "director-general of the intelligence ministry's counter-espionage department" but declined to give his name.

An accompanying presentation provided to journalists showed business cards for a number of U.S. diplomats based in Turkey, Austria, Zimbabwe and elsewhere who Iranian officials said recruited the spies when they were applying for U.S. visas.


"Some of the Iranian citizens get into the 'visa trap' and they are asked to become spies if they want to receive visas," the official said.

Others, he said, were framed by the CIA when they wanted to "maintain or extend their visas." CIA officers also approached Iranian citizens through shell companies or "on the sidelines of scientific conferences in European, African and Asian countries," he said.

The spies were foiled through inter-service cooperation with Iran's intelligence allies, the official said. Countries whose intelligence services allowed the CIA to recruit on their soil would "be held responsible," he warned.

The presentation also featured images, said to be of CIA operatives, taken from the suspected spies' phones. The spies were enticed, said the official, with promises of immigration to the U.S. as well as jobs and money once there.


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