Iran's Counter-Intelligence Chief says Tehran has executed a number of online spies linked to the United states, without providing much detail.
The official who has not been identified in Iranian news agency reports said on Tuesday that Iran has "successfully" clamped down on "cyber-spies" he claimed were linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), ISNA reported.
On Monday, Iran's security chief Ali Shamkhani, who heads the Supreme national Security Council, had also made a similar claim. "Iran has recently identified and demolished a large network of CIA spies" he had said, adding that some of the "spies" were executed.
The Intelligence Ministry official speaking to reporters in Tehran on Tuesday repeated the same claim, but it is not clear if he was referring to a new case or to an older episode in early 2010s, which was also carried by ABC News in 2011.
According to the ABC report, "More than a dozen spies working for the CIA in Iran and Lebanon have been caught and the U.S. government fears they will be or have been executed," ABC reported on November 21,2011, adding that "The spies were paid informants recruited by the CIA for two distinct espionage rings targeting Iran and the Beirut-based Hezbollah organization, considered by the U.S. to be a terror group backed by Iran."
It is not clear whether the two officials were talking about the same operation. However, Iranian intelligence officials have repeatedly made boastful claims about countering foreign intelligence operations without substantiating their claims with any evidence.
Like previous cases, the new reports were accompanied by video collages showing rudimentary and often irrelevant scenes and events. Tuesday's report by ISNA was also accompanied by a video.
Every one of the members of the web-based network maintained a website, and the Intelligence Ministry has identified CIA spies and their websites "all over the world," and "shared the information with Iran's Intelligence partners," said the Iranian Counter-Intelligence Chief.
However, the official did not say which intelligence allies of Iran have received the information.
Shamkhani had said on Monday that "the Islamic Republic of Iran has managed to strike one of the most sophisticated cyber-networks of the CIA" which was active in the area of "cyber-espionage."
The claims are very similar to those made in other occasions by other Iranian officials. Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi had claimed on April 19 that Iran has "identified 290 CIA spies in various countries."
In 2001, the ministry claimed it had "identified a complicated espionage and sabotage network" and arrested 30 U.S. "spies." The Ministry announced at the time that the network was active in Iran, UAE, Turkey and Malaysia and that the ministry's officers had arrested several citizens of Malaysia, Slovakia and Morocco.
Nevertheless, Iran's Counter-Intelligence chief said on Tuesday that it was "the first time an extended network of online spies were arrested in Iran." He said some of those arrested have been executed and others "were used" in other operations. However, he did not say who and how many people were arrested, but said that Iran has also identified and arrested the United States' "new recruits."
The official said that the detainees were collecting intelligence in the areas of industry, military, nuclear and cyber activities, and economy.
Various reports during the past year indicated an escalation in both Iran and the United States cyber-attacks on each other's organizations.