Iran says ‘big CIA spy network’ dismantled amid rising tensions with US

Richard Hall

Iran has claimed to have dismantled a “big spy network” tied to the US Central Intelligence Agency, amid rising tensions between the two countries.

The country’s intelligence ministry said on Tuesday it had identified the spies after discovering an online communication system used by the CIA to operate the network, according to a report on the state-run IRNA.

The claim comes at a time of increased animosity between Iran and Washington, which was sparked by Donald Trump’s withdrawal from an international agreement over Tehran’s nuclear programme last year.

Trump called the agreement “defective to its core” and has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Iran in an effort to forge a deal more favourable to the US. His administration justified the withdrawal by claiming increased pressure would further inhibit Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, which could be used for a nuclear weapons programme.

The European Union, which was also a signatory of the deal, has repeatedly stated that the deal was having the desired effect, and has made efforts to salvage the agreement.

Last week, the US blamed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard for an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a key global shipping route. Iran has denied involvement in the attack. The country’s nuclear agency said on Monday that it would no longer adhere to the limits on uranium enrichment laid out in the 2015 agreement on its nuclear programme.

Iranian officials have given few concrete details about the alleged CIA network, but Tuesday’s report said Iranian intelligence had “penetrated the US safe system in cyberspace,” which the CIA has used “for maintaining communication with spies.”

“The CIA in an expansive espionage system designed a website and a special space for each of the spies,” it added, citing the director of anti-espionage at the intelligence ministry.

The discovery of the network was first announced Monday by Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council. He said that the alleged “cyber-espionage” network had been operating in countries other than Iran, and had been discovered “a while ago”.

“We provided the information on the exposed network to some other allied countries in which it had been operating, which resulted in the exposing and dismantling of the US intelligence officers network and arrest and conviction of some CIA agents in different countries,” Shamkhani said on state broadcaster IRIB, according to Mehr news agency.

— With agencies