An Iranian official claimed that the CIA spies had "sophisticated training," but none of them succeeded in their sabotage missions. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded by saying Iran has a history of lying.

The Iranian flag waves outside of the UN building that hosts the International Atomic Energy Agency office in Vienna, Austria. July 10, 2019.
The Iranian flag waves outside of the UN building that hosts the International Atomic Energy Agency office in Vienna, Austria. July 10, 2019. (AP)

Iran said Monday it has arrested 17 Iranian nationals allegedly recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to spy on the country's nuclear and military sites, and that some of them have already been sentenced to death.

The arrests took place over the past months and those taken into custody worked on "sensitive sites" in the country's military and nuclear facilities, an Iranian intelligence official told a press conference in Tehran.

He did not elaborate, say how many of them got the death sentence nor when the sentences were handed down.

Responding to Iranian claims, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said "cannot comment specifically but Iran has history of lying."

The announcement comes as Iran's nuclear deal with world powers is unravelling and tensions have spiked in the Gulf region. The crisis stems from President Donald Trump's decision to pull the United States out of Tehran's deal last year and intensify sanction on the country.

The Iranian official did not give his name but was identified as the director of the counterespionage department of Iran's Intelligence Ministry. 

Such a procedure is highly unusual in Iran; officials usually identify themselves at press conferences. It is also rare for intelligence officials to appear before the media.

The official claimed that none of the 17, who allegedly had "sophisticated training," had succeeded in their sabotage missions. 

Their spying missions included collecting information at the facilities they worked at, carrying out technical and intelligence activities and transferring and installing monitoring devices, he said.

Double agents

The official further claimed the CIA had promised those arrested US visas or jobs in America and that some of the agents had turned and were now working with his department "against the US"

He also handed out a CD with a video recording of an alleged foreign female spy working for the CIA. The disc also included names of several US embassy staff members in Turkey, India, Zimbabwe, and Austria whom Iran claims were in touch with the recruited Iranian spies.

There was no immediate comment from Washington.

Occasionally, Iran announces detentions of spies it says are working for foreign countries, including the US and Israel. 

In June, Iran said it executed a former staff member of the defence ministry who was convicted of spying for the CIA.

In April, Iran said it uncovered 290 CIA spies both inside and outside the country over the past years.

Source: AP