Alleged CIA spies in Iran
© Twitter/Tasmin News Agency
Alleged CIA spies
Iranian secret services uncovered a 17-member spy ring working against the country, according to state-affiliated media. Some of the agents have been given capital punishment. All the suspects in question were arrested by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported.

They were working as private contractors "in the economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military and cyber areas... where they collected classified information," the report said.

Some of the suspected agents were allegedly recruited by CIA officers while applying for US visas. Others were approached on the sidelines of scientific events in European, African, and Asian countries. Tehran did not say when the spy ring was exposed, but announced the arrests were made throughout the last Iranian calendar year, which ended in March 2019.

It is reported that the suspects were equipped with top-notch communication gear which they used to hand over intelligence to their American handlers. It included, among other items, containers disguised as stones. Agents were trained to retrieve these from urban or mountainous areas using complex procedures. Using the containers, the CIA allegedly provided its spies with encrypted communications and fake IDs, local media reports, citing officials.

Washington brushed off the accusation, with Secretary of State - and former CIA Director - Mike Pompeo saying Iran has "history of lying." Later in the day, he told Fox News: "I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions that they've taken."

The long-running animosity between Iran and the US began to mount after the US unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA) last year and reinstated tighter economic sanctions on Tehran. Iran responded in kind, curbing some of its commitments under the deal, claiming European signatories of the deal did not do enough to protect its economy from Washington.

Tensions peaked in May after the US deployed additional military assets to the Middle East. In June, Iran shot down a US Navy surveillance drone, saying it had strayed into its airspace. And on Saturday, the White House reported the downing of an Iranian drone which approached the USS Boxer, a claim denied by the Iranians.