Iran said Monday it has arrested 17 Iranians accused of spying on the country’s nuclear and military sites for the CIA.
The alleged spies had “sophisticated training” and worked on “sensitive sites” in “economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military and cyber fields or their counterpart private sector,” the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s director of counterespionage reportedly said at a rare press conference in Tehran.
All the alleged spies are reportedly Iranian nationals arrested in the past few months. Some of the 17 who resisted cooperating with Iranian intelligence will be locked up for a lengthy period, and some have already been sentenced to death, the counterintelligence director said.
President Trump denied Iran’s claims Monday morning, calling them “propaganda.”
“The Report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth,” the president wrote on Twitter. “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!”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who previously was CIA director, appeared to agree.
“The Iranian regime has a long history of lying,” Pompeo said Monday. “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 about actions that they’ve taken.”
The latest conflict comes amid a continuing escalation of bilateral tensions that started when President Trump pulled out of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran last May. Last month, Iran shot down an unmanned American military-surveillance drone over the Gulf of Oman. Trump originally ordered military strikes on Iranian targets as retaliation but canceled that order at the last minute.