In a much publicized news conference in Tehran, accompanied by a documentary, Iran claimed to have identified, arrested, tried, and sentenced 17 Iranians who were clandestine sources of the CIA.

Following this news conference, Marzieh Hashemi, conducted an hour-long discussion about the arrests on her Iranian PressTV program, “The Debate.” If you are saying you know that name, but can’t quite place it, let me help. Hashemi is the U.S. born television news anchor for Iran’s state-run English-language Press TV news channel, who was at the heart of the Monica Witt defection saga.

During her program, she shared material allegedly from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) where the targets and mission of the 17 were discussed. Interestingly, they were revealed by the MOIS in broad terms: “technical and intelligence activities and transferring and installing monitoring devices.”

Iranian documentary reveals identities of alleged american intelligence officers

In addition, the documentary released on state television on 21 July, with a snippet showed by Hashemi, contains footage of an individual, allegedly a CIA operations officer, recruiting an Iranian citizen in Dubai. As we learned from the Monica Witt defection, the Iranian MOIS operates in Dubai with near impunity, as the MOIS representation in the UAE were instrumental in getting Witt into Iran.

Furthermore, the documentary showed business cards, allegedly belonging to U.S. intelligence officers who were operating under diplomatic cover. The names, assuming that the cards are real, being revealed and being allegedly associated with the CIA served to immediately put at risk the individuals and their families.

The “Iran versus the world” Saga

Neither Hashemi’s program, nor the documentary told us how the individuals were allegedly compromised. We are told that all were trained in sophisticated communications techniques. This may have been an oblique reference to the claim in late 2018 that the MOIS had cracked a CIA covert communications channel, as described in Zach Dorfman and Jenna McLaughlin’s piece for Yahoo, “The CIA’s communications suffered a catastrophic compromise. It started in Iran.” The compromise not only affected sources and potential sources in Iran, it also affected sources in China, with whom Iran is believed to have shared the method of compromising the CIA’s cover communications.

Whether the roll-up of 17 Iranian sources is true or not, the timing of the announcement and release of the documentary about the CIA’s activities in Iran and the skillful counterintelligence and counterespionage work of the MOIS is no coincidence. The timing is meant to throw more fuel on the “Iran versus the world” saga, which saw the seizure of a British tanker this week by IRGC-N special forces.


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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of