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Iran acknowledges Western spies got inside its nuclear program

Ali Akbar Salehi, the nation's atomic energy chief, says security has been increased and other steps have been taken to counter the espionage efforts.

October 10, 2010|By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Beirut — Iran's atomic energy chief has acknowledged that Western spies had infiltrated the country's nuclear program, but he said that Iranian officials had countered their efforts.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization, said officials have increased security to make it "almost impossible" for secrets to leak out, the pro-government Fars news agency said in a report late Friday.

"The issue of spies existed in the past, but is diminishing day by day," he said.

Salehi's admission was the most frank admission by an Iranian that Western clandestine services had been successful in attempts to penetrate the country's nuclear program, now under scrutiny by the West.

The United States suspects Tehran of pursuing nuclear weapons capability, a charge Iran denies. This summer, Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, described by the United States as a defector, returned to the Islamic Republic in a murky case in which he reportedly had second thoughts.

Salehi said the West had stepped up efforts "to establish contact with experts" at his agency and "lure them with promises of further study and better jobs abroad."

He said information about the atomic agency's commercial affairs and international purchases had been leaked but that Iranian officials had countered the intelligence operations by tightening security procedures and improving "privileges" for nuclear engineers who might be tempted by the fruits of the West.

"In the past, staff had easy access to information, but this is not the case anymore," he said.

The agency's security department now regularly interviews staff and has distributed pamphlets that describe espionage techniques, he said.

daragahi@latimes.com

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