Monday, 23 May 2011

Iran claims to break CIA spy ring, arrests 30

Iran has arrested 30 people it says were engaged in a "complex espionage and sabotage network" run by the United States, state media reported.

The network of alleged spies was controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency through US embassies in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Malaysia, according to an intelligence ministry statement posted on the Mehr news agency's website on Saturday.

"Due to the massive intelligence and counterintelligence work by Iranian intelligence agents, a complex espionage and sabotage network linked to America's spy organisation was uncovered and dismantled," the statement said.

"Elite agents of the intelligence ministry in their confrontation with the CIA elements were able to arrest 30 America-linked spies through numerous intelligence and counterintelligence operations."

The statement also said Iran had identified 42 US intelligence officers in the three named countries.

"They engage in collection of information regarding Iran's nuclear, aerospace defence and bio-technology fields," among other areas, the ministry said.

Iran's Intelligence Ministry says it dismantled 'a complex espionage and sabotage network' and uncovered the identities of 42 operatives in various countries.

Tehran claimed that it also had identified and exposed 42 others in connection with the suspected U.S. spy network, according to a widely disseminated statement by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

The statement alleged that the network was run by CIA agents via U.S. embassies in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Malaysia and sought to "gather information from scientific, research and academic centers … especially in terms of nuclear energy, aerospace and defense industries and biotechnology" as well as on oil and gas pipelines, telecommunications and electricity networks and border controls.

"Due to the massive intelligence and counterintelligence work by Iranian intelligence agents, a complex espionage and sabotage network linked to America's spy organization was uncovered and dismantled," said the statement, which was read on state television and radio.

None of the claims could be independently verified.

There was no immediate response from U.S. officials. Washington and its allies have for years sought to obtain more information about Iran's nuclear energy and research program, which they believe is ultimately aimed at producing weapons banned under international treaty obligations.

In the Iranian government's worldview, foreign agents and spies are constantly working to violate its sovereignty and undermine its goals. But the detailed nature of Saturday's announcement was unusual.

The purported espionage victory came at a time of major discord within Iran's political and security establishment, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently having had a public spat over the leadership of the Intelligence Ministry.

Iran said the arrests were conducted by elite Intelligence Ministry units in various sting operations. The nationalities of those arrested and the dates of the arrests were not immediately clear.

The spy network worked under the cover of labour recruitment agencies, the statement posted on Mehr's website said.

"The elites, educated and naive people were recruited to get visas, residency permits, education abroad and employment," it said.

Spying in Iran can carry the death penalty. Washington has had no diplomatic presence in Iran since the 1979 revolution which deposed the US-backed shah and was followed by the lengthy occupation of the US embassy.

Diplomatic cables published by the WikiLeaks website showed the US operated information-gathering desks on Iran in neighbouring countries where diplomats would seek to glean intelligence from travelling Iranians.

The announcement of the arrests comes two days after Barack Obama, the US president, made a speech on the Middle East, reiterating Washington's view that Tehran sponsors terrorism and is seeking nuclear weapons, charges Iran denies.