Iranian intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi, center, is surrounded…
Reporting from Beirut — Iran declared Saturday that it had uncovered and dismantled what it called a U.S. "espionage and sabotage network" and arrested 30 people allegedly spying for the CIA.
Tehran claimed that it also had identified and exposed 42 others in connection with the suspected U.S. spy network, according to a widely disseminated statement by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
The statement alleged that the network was run by CIA agents via U.S. embassies in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Malaysia and sought to "gather information from scientific, research and academic centers … especially in terms of nuclear energy, aerospace and defense industries and biotechnology" as well as on oil and gas pipelines, telecommunications and electricity networks and border controls.
"Due to the massive intelligence and counterintelligence work by Iranian intelligence agents, a complex espionage and sabotage network linked to America's spy organization was uncovered and dismantled," said the statement, which was read on state television and radio.
None of the claims could be independently verified.
There was no immediate response from U.S. officials. Washington and its allies have for years sought to obtain more information about Iran's nuclear energy and research program, which they believe is ultimately aimed at producing weapons banned under international treaty obligations.
In the Iranian government's worldview, foreign agents and spies are constantly working to violate its sovereignty and undermine its goals. But the detailed nature of Saturday's announcement was unusual.
The purported espionage victory came at a time of major discord within Iran's political and security establishment, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently having had a public spat over the leadership of the Intelligence Ministry.
Iran said the arrests were conducted by elite Intelligence Ministry units in various sting operations. The nationalities of those arrested and the dates of the arrests were not immediately clear.
The spy network allegedly operated under the cover of recruitment offices. "The elites, educated and naive people were recruited to get visas, residency permits, education abroad and employment," reports quoted the Intelligence Ministry as saying.
The statement asserted that Iranian intelligence officers working as double agents managed to infiltrate the network and make arrests both inside and outside the country "through numerous intelligence and counterintelligence operations."
The statement suggested that the operation had also uncovered the identities of CIA operatives abroad. "Not only was the heavy intelligence invasion of the CIA neutralized, but 42 intelligence-operational officers of that organization in various countries were also identified," it said.
Special correspondents Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.