Iran on Monday claimed it had captured 17 Iranian nationals working for the CIA and had already sentenced some of them to death. None of the individuals were US citizens.
An unnamed Iranian official told reporters the CIA operatives had been monitoring “sensitive sites,” including military and nuclear facilities, and had been promised US visas or jobs in exchange for their work.
None of the spies were able to complete their missions, added the official, and some are now working with the Iranian government “against the US.”
(Editor’s note: As a former intelligence officer I can tell you this statement is a bit of a giveaway, an indication that their story may have some holes in it. Real spies (“agents” or “assets”) are not like James Bond with the mission to save the world then go back to safety. A CIA agent is recruited to provide continuing information over a long period of time. It is not a “mission” to “complete.”)
Iran’s announcement follows weeks of aggression in the Persian Gulf, including the capture of multiple ships and the destruction of an American drone, as Iran continues to struggle with crippling economic sanctions reimposed after President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA.
Iranian state media aired footage of the spies on Monday, but faces were blurred and voices were distorted. Iran claims to have identified the CIA agents who recruited the spies, but has refused to release any names.
“The report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false,” said Trump. “Just more lies and propaganda (like their shot down drone) put out by a religious regime that is badly failing and has no idea what to do. Their economy is dead and will get much worse. Iran is a total mess!”
If Trump is correct, then Iran’s claims are a show of force coming from a nation that is desperate to regain the upper hand. If Iran is telling the truth, this is a massive blow to the CIA that could endanger the agency’s relationship with its partners around the world.
Iran has a long history of lying, but has also been successful in identifying and executing American spies in the past. According to former intelligence officials, Iran executed dozens of US spies between 2009 and 2013.
On Monday morning during an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged viewers to interpret Iran’s claims with caution. “They lied about where they shot down the American UAV, they now lied about where they took down this tanker. It’s part of the nature of the Ayatollah to lie to the world. I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion of Iranian actions taken.”