Update: Given the shocking and provocative nature of Iran's claims to have penetrated and busted up a "CIA spy ring" — announcing Monday it sentenced some to death row while also claiming to present photos of their American "handlers" (many showing family and personal photos) — it didn't take long for President Trump to bat down the claims directly. He slammed the statements of Iranian intelligence officials and state media as "totally false"... "Just more lies and propaganda".
The Report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth. 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2019
And further during an early Monday morning interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo advised caution, noting the history of Iran's lying "to the world".
"It's part of their nature to lie to the world," Pompeo told Fox & Friends. "I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions they've taken."
Fox summarized further as to the context of Pompeo's comments: "Pictures of some of the alleged spies were reportedly shown on state TV, which also broadcast a documentary purporting to show a CIA officer recruiting an Iranian in the United Arab Emirates."
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Iran has handed down the death penalty to alleged members of a CIA-spy ring inside Iran's military, which authorities said they uncovered earlier this year. And now for the first time, state media is circulating photos purporting to show some among the alleged CIA-linked operatives.
“The identified spies were employed in sensitive and vital private sector centers in the economic, nuclear, infrastructure, military and cyber areas... where they collected classified information,” Iran's Ministry of Intelligence said on state television. They had been working "contractors or consultants," the statement said.
Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili had first announced in June that a number among seventeen total alleged spies rounded up were facing execution because of the "severity of their crimes," as reported by NBC. The unnamed defendants were reportedly associated with the Iranian military and also followed a similar announcement made last August the arrest of "tens of spies" uncovered within the government.
The agencies "successfully dismantled a (CIA) spy network," an official only identified as head of counter-intelligence at the Iranian intelligence ministry, told reporters in Tehran. Arrests reportedly began in March.
"Those who deliberately betrayed the country were handed to the judiciary... some were sentenced to death and some to long-term imprisonment," he said, as cited by the AFP. However, the photos published - which appear to show Americans - only claim these are officers which had been "handling" the spies supposedly caught inside Iran.
Some of the CIA agents' documents pic.twitter.com/CBYCuLQ8pO— Reza Khaasteh (@Khaaasteh) July 22, 2019
None of the initial photos released showed those pictured in any kind of detention or interrogation, but instead most appeared to be personal or family photos. As Reuters reports:
Iranian state television published images it said showed the CIA officers who were in touch with the suspected spies.
There was no immediate comment on the Iranian allegations by the CIA or U.S. officials.
Additionally, in another stunning development, an Iranian television documentary aired Monday which claimed to show footage of an alleged CIA officer attempting to recruit an unidentified Iranian man. The footage was presented as taking place inside the United Arab Emirates.
Documents alleging to "prove" the allegations were also posted online by Iranian media channels.
First video released of one of the CIA spies in Iran pic.twitter.com/T9O2LUrq6x— Reza Khaasteh (@Khaaasteh) July 22, 2019
“Because there are so many intelligence officers in Dubai. It is very dangerous... Iranian intelligence,” a blond-haired woman was shown telling the man. According to Reuters:
The woman spoke Persian with an accent which appeared to be American.
State media outlets had touted the documentary as dealing a heavy blow "to a CIA spy network in the region and beyond."
⚡️⚡️⚡️ Coming soon on @PressTV: The Mole Hunt ⚡️⚡️⚡️#Iran has dealt a heavy to a @CIA spy network in the region and beyond. The upcoming documentary will shed more light on Iran’s counter-intelligence operations. pic.twitter.com/mlQ3e8aqft— Press TV (@PressTV) July 19, 2019
The photos and video purporting to show CIA assets and operatives have yet to be confirmed or denied by US political or intelligence officials and come amid already soaring tensions have put the region on edge, and as Britain has demanded the release of the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero, captured in the Strait of Hormuz Friday.