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Iran says it dismantles U.S. spy network; 24 held

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Iran says it dismantled U.S. spy network
  • Iran says the network extends to Turkey, Malaysia and the UAE
  • CIA operatives in different parts of the globe launched the network, Press TV says
  • Along with those arrested, a few dozens CIA operatives were ID'd, the report says

(CNN) -- Iran says it has busted a U.S. espionage network, arresting 24 people accused of spying and identifying 42 CIA operatives linked to the operation, state-run Press TV reported, citing an Iranian intelligence ministry statement.

The statement said the operatives had gathered data from "universities and scientific research centers, and in the field of nuclear energy, aerospace, defense and biotechnology industries."

The alleged spy ring also used U.S. embassies and consulates in several countries, particularly Turkey, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates to cull information about the "oil and gas pipelines, telecommunication and electricity networks, airports and customs, the security of the banking and communication systems."

"The network, which was set up by a considerable number of seasoned CIA operatives in several countries, attempted to trick citizens into spying for them under the guise of issuing visa, helping with permanent residency, and making job and study offers," the report said.

The Iranian and U.S. governments have been adversaries since the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the shah of Iran and ushered in a hard-line and theocratic Islamic republic. Today, the United States says Iran aspires to build nuclear weapons and backs terrorism in the Middle East -- stances Tehran denies.

Iran repeatedly has accused the CIA of trying to undermine the government, and news reports surfaced during the George W. Bush administration of an escalation in U.S. covert operations to undermine the regime.

Last year, for example, police arrested several suspects allegedly connected to the CIA, Israel's Mossad and the British M-16 who were behind "recent terrorist attacks" targeting Iranian nuclear scientists, Iranian media reported.

In another 2010 bust, seven people, including some accused of having ties to a U.S.-backed Farsi-language radio station, were arrested. Iran's state-owned Press TV reported that two CIA operatives were among the group.

In 2009, Iranian authorities said it arrested four citizens who were paid by the U.S. government to bring about a regime change. It said the group was funded by the State Department and the CIA.

The U.S. did not acknowledge those reports or the new claims from Saturday.

Also, an Iranian diplomat in June 2009 said that the United States may have been behind the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, the 26-year-old Iranian woman whose fatal shooting was captured on video, making her an instant symbol of the opposition movement that protested against the June 12 presidential election results.

A CIA spokesman said at the time that "any suggestion that the CIA was responsible for the death of this young woman is wrong, absurd and offensive."

Journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in a 2008 article in The New Yorker, said the Bush administration has launched a "significant escalation" of covert operations in Iran, sending U.S. commandos to spy on the country's nuclear facilities and undermine the Islamic republic's government.

Hersh told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" at the time that Congress had authorized up to $400 million to fund the secret campaign, which involves U.S. special operations troops and Iranian dissidents.

The White House, CIA and State Department officials have declined comment on the report.