Senior Iranian aide defects during nuclear talks in Lausanne

Amir Hossein MotaghiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A media advisor to the Iranian president, who was in Switzerland to cover the ongoing international negotiations on the country’s nuclear program, has defected. Amir Hossein Motaghi is credited with having helped secure the impressive ascent of Hassan Rouhani to Iran’s presidency in 2013. Rouhani, who swept to power with over 50 percent of the vote, over 30 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, owes much of his victory to his popularity among the youth. Motaghi led the media team that promoted Rouhani’s image among younger voters by cleverly employing online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Following Rouhani’s victory, however, Motaghi repeatedly voiced impatience with the slow pace of social and political reforms in Iran. Recently he spoke in favor of the release of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, who has been denounced as a spy and imprisoned by the Iranian government. There have been rumors in the Iranian media that Motaghi had been ordered to report once a week to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence; some say he had been privately warned that he faced arrest upon his return to Iran.

Motaghi had reportedly been sent to the Swiss city of Lausanne by the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA). His task was to cover the ongoing talks that aim to bring an end to the dispute between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. However, according to Iranian opposition sources, the media aide resigned from his ISCA post before filing an application for political asylum in Switzerland.

Soon afterwards, Motaghi gave an interview to Irane Farda, a pro-reform Iranian television station based in London, in which he explained the reasons for his defection. He accused the Iranian government of controlling Iranian media reports about the talks, by staffing its reporter entourage in Lausanne with undercover intelligence officers. He also said he could no longer pursue his profession conscientiously because he was only allowed to report approved news items. Furthermore, he accused the American delegation to the talks as “mainly speak[ing] on Iran’s behalf with […] the 5+1 countries [so as to] convince them to consent to an agreement”.

Late on Sunday, ISCA, the press agency believed to have sent Motaghi to Switzerland, released a statement claiming it did not employ the journalist and that his job had been terminated prior to the nuclear talks in Lausanne.

‘Gloves are coming off’ in US-Israel clash over Iran, says intel insider

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An American former intelligence operative has called the latest revelations of Israeli spying against the United States “appalling” and warned that “the gloves are coming off” in the clash between Washington and Tel Aviv over Iran. The unnamed former operative, described as having “long, firsthand familiarity with Israeli operations”, told Newsweek magazine’s intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein that he was not surprised to find out Israel has been spying on the closed-door talks between the US and the Islamic Republic.

He was referring to The Wall Street Journal’s leading article on Monday, which alleged that the Jewish state’s intelligence services have been spying on American officials during their closed-door negotiations with the government of Iran over its nuclear program. The paper said the spy operation against the US forms part of a broader campaign by Tel Aviv to sabotage the talks, which aim to bridge the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

Newsweek has reported before allegations about aggressive Israeli espionage against the US. Last year, Stein elicited a strong reaction from the Israeli government when he quoted Congressional staffers saying that America’s Jewish allies had “crossed red lines” in their efforts to steal American secrets. According to Stein, intelligence representatives had briefed members of Congress about Israeli spy operations against US interests that were “unrivaled and unseemly” and had reached levels far higher than similar activities by other allied countries, such as Britain or Japan.

This time, however, says Stein, Israeli actions “mark a new frontier” in the intelligence rivalry between Washington and Tel Aviv. He quotes an American former intelligence insider who condemns Israeli efforts to sabotage US-Iranian talks as “manipulation of our institutions” and blasts American lawmakers siding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “useful idiots” who “sacrifice the US national interest for a foreign ideology”, namely “Likud rightwing Zionism”. The unnamed source added that the controlled leaks about the widening rift in US-Israeli relations reveal the anger currently being felt in Washington against the Israeli government. Behind closed doors, officials in the White House, the foreign-policy and intelligence communities “are prepared to act on that anger”, he concluded.

Israel ‘spied on the United States’ during Iran nuclear negotiations

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The intelligence services of Israel have allegedly been spying on American officials during their closed-door negotiations with the government of Iran over its nuclear program. The Wall Street Journal said the spy operation forms part of a broader campaign by Tel Aviv to sabotage the talks, which are aimed at bridging the differences between the Islamic Republic and a group of nations that have come to be known as P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

In a leading article published on Monday, the paper said it decided to reveal the existence of the Israeli spying program after interviewing “more than a dozen current and former US and Israeli diplomats, intelligence officials, policy makers and lawmakers”. Ironically, according to The Journal, the administration of US President Barack Obama found out about the Israeli spying after instructing American intelligence agencies to conduct a counterintelligence operation against Tel Aviv, in order to see what they knew about the secret negotiations with Iran. After spying on Israeli government officials, the American agencies concluded that they were in possession of confidential information that could only have been acquired from spying on participants in the negotiations.

According to The Journal, American officials were not surprised by the spying. But they were especially perturbed, said the paper, to find out that the Israeli government proceeded to leak the secret information to American lawmakers opposed to a possible deal with Iran, in order “to undermine US diplomacy”, according to one unnamed senior American official.

Israeli officials told The Journal that Tel Aviv had indeed acquired confidential information about the negotiations, but that they had done so by spying on Iranian, not American, negotiators. Speaking late on Monday, a spokesman for the office of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the American newspaper’s allegations were “utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies”, he said, adding that the “false allegations” were “clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel”.

Israeli ex-military, intelligence leaders, join forces against Netanyahu

Sunday's press conference in IsraelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Nearly 200 former senior officials in Israel’s intelligence and security services called a public press conference on Sunday and denounced the foreign policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, who has been in office since 2009, has spoken out repeatedly against attempts by the United States and other Western countries to improve relations with Iran. As his critics held the press conference, the Israeli prime minister was leaving Tel Aviv for a controversial trip to the US, where he is scheduled to speak before a joint session of Congress. He was invited by senior Republicans in Washington, who, like Netanyahu, are sharply critical of US President Barack Obama’s policy on Iran. Netanyahu is also expected to address the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is widely considered the most powerful arm of the pro-Israel lobby in the US. But President Obama has refused to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister, whose trip to DC is seen as an attempt by the Republican Party to subvert the US leader’s foreign-policy agenda on Iran.

On Sunday, notable figures from Israel’s military and intelligence establishment gathered at a press conference to deliver sharp criticism against Netanyahu’s controversial trip to Washington and to blast the Israeli leader for allegedly injuring the Jewish state’s relationship with America. Among the numerous speakers at the press conference was the decorated veteran of Israel’s 1973 war, Major General Amnon Reshef. He appealed to Netanyahu to scarp his trip to the US and stop criticizing the Obama Administration “before it is too late”. The rift between Washington and Tel Aviv “cannot be accepted”, said Reshef, as it poses “clear and present dangers to the very security of Israel”.

Another speaker at the event, former deputy director of the Mossad, Major General Amiram Levin, told reporters that it was not easy for him to criticize Netanyahu, who had served under him in the Israel Defense Forces. But the Israeli prime minister’s actions left him with no choice, he said. Instead of working with President Obama to resolve the dispute with Iran, Netanyahu had chosen to “go there and stick his thumb in his eye”, said Levin. Such actions, aside from offending Obama, damage Israel’s image in the US among Americans. The latter, even when they are friends of Israel, said Levin, “are Americans first and foremost”. The former Mossad official concluded by saying that, without the strong support of Washington, Israel would be “far weaker strategically” and would allow Iran to get closer to building a nuclear arsenal.

A spokesman for the Likud party, which backs Prime Minister Netanyahu, dismissed the press conference as “a propaganda vehicle of the left”, whose campaign “is funded with millions of American dollars originating from left-wing circles abroad”.

Mossad saw pause in Iran nuke program in 2012, leaked file shows

Benjamin NetanyahuBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A file leaked to the media on Monday shows that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad differed from the Israeli leadership’s position that Iran was advancing its nuclear weapons program in 2012. In September of that year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations in New York with a dramatic plea to help stop the Iranian nuclear program before it was too late. Holding a diagram showing a bomb about to explode, the Israeli leader urged UN member states to “draw a clear red line” forbidding the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons in less than two years’ time, as it was poised to do, he said.

But a report drafted by the Mossad just weeks after Netanyahu’s UN address, said that Iran appeared to have stopped pursuing activities that were necessary to building a nuclear arsenal. The report was produced by the Mossad and distributed to a number of allied intelligence agencies around the world, including those of South Africa, from where it was presumably leaked to the media. British quality broadsheet The Guardian, which published the report, said it was able to “independently authenticate” the report, and added that it clearly went against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assessment about the Iranian nuclear program. The top-secret document, which was communicated to the South Africans by the Mossad in late October of 2012, was also published by Qatar-based news agency Al Jazeera. It states that Iran did “not appear to be ready to enrich [uranium] to higher levels” and was thus “not performing the activity necessary to produce [nuclear] weapons”. According to The Guardian, the content of the Mossad communique is “in stark contrast to the alarmist tone set by Netanyahu” in his September 2012 address before the UN.

If the leaked document is genuine, it would appear to confirm previous indications of a difference of opinion on the matter of Iran’s nuclear program between Israel’s political leadership and its intelligence community. In January of this year, the Bloomberg news agency reported that the Mossad had been discreetly approaching US officials and politicians in order to raise support for a pending agreement between Iran, the United States and other countries, which would ease economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a short-term suspension of core aspects of its nuclear program. According to Bloomberg, the Mossad appeared to be acting behind the back of the Israeli prime minister, who has blasted the agreement as a “historic mistake” that enabled “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. But in contrast to the Israeli leader, the Mossad appears to have urged American officials to support the agreement, saying that any move “that triggers [further] sanctions [against Iran] would collapse the talks” between Tehran and Washington, something which Israeli intelligence officials do not wish to see.

Mossad breaks with Israeli PM, cautions against new Iran sanctions

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has broken ranks with the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cautioning American members of Congress against imposing new sanctions on Iran. In November of 2013, Iran signed a Joint Plan of Action with six world powers in Geneva, Switzerland. Known as the Geneva interim agreement, the pact eases economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a short-term suspension of core aspects of the Iranian nuclear program. But two members of the Republican-controlled Senate in the United States, Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk, have voiced strong displeasure with what they see as the slow pace of progress in the talks. The two senators are co-sponsors of a proposed bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran if the Islamic Republic fails to make substantial progress toward the Geneva agreement by next June. US President Barack Obama opposes the bill, arguing that it would actually prompt Iran to accelerate its nuclear program, and has publicly said he would veto it. Meanwhile, his Secretary of State, John Kerry, quoted this week an Israeli intelligence official who allegedly told him that, if enacted, the Menendez-Kirk bill would “throw a grenade into the process”. It is no secret that the bill enjoys strong support from Netanyahu’s government. Last year, the Israeli Prime Minister called the Geneva pact a “historic mistake”, which enabled “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. Late on Wednesday, however, the Bloomberg news agency reported that the Mossad has been discreetly approaching US officials and politicians and cautioning them that the Menendez-Kirk bill would indeed torpedo the Geneva agreement. The news agency said that the Israeli intelligence agency has been warning American officials abroad and it recently contacted a US Congressional delegation visiting Israel. The Bloomberg report cited two unnamed “senior US officials”, one of whom told the news agency that “any bill that triggers sanctions [against Iran] would collapse the talks”. If confirmed, the Bloomberg allegations would mean that the Mossad, Israel’s principal intelligence agency, is sharply breaking ranks with the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu on Iran. The Bloomberg article further states that Senator Menendez has contacted Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, to complain about the actions of the Mossad, which, say critics, break diplomatic protocol.

Argentine prosecutor probing Israeli embassy bombing found dead

Alberto NismanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An Argentine state prosecutor, who accused senior Argentine officials of having colluded with Iran to bomb Israeli targets in Buenos Aires, has been found dead hours before he was due to give Congressional testimony on the subject. Alberto Nisman’s body was found on Monday morning in the bathroom of his apartment, which had been locked from the inside. Argentine authorities say they believe Nisman killed himself with a single shot to the head from a .22 caliber handgun. Nisman caused international headlines last week, after launching a criminal complaint against the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hector Timerman, and several other notable personalities of Argentine life. He accused them of having colluded with the government of Iran to bomb the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in the mid-1990s. A dozen people died in the bombing of the embassy, while another 85 were killed two years later, when the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) community center in the Argentine capital was bombed. For years, Israeli authorities have accused Iran of perpetrating the attacks. But Nisman claimed that the Iranians had formed a “secret pact” with Argentine authorities. Under the alleged deal, Tehran would be allowed to target the Jewish community in Buenos Aires in exchange for lucrative commercial deals with Argentina, involving oil and arms exports. Nisman was given protection by a 10-member police squad after he announced he had prepared a 300-page report on the subject, which allegedly included material from wiretaps given to him by senior Argentine intelligence officials. Members of Nisman’s police protection team said they found him dead after he failed to respond to messages sent to his personal cell phone overnight. On Monday evening, as news of Nisman’s death spread across Argentina, thousands of people participated in spontaneous demonstrations throughout the country, protesting about this latest chapter in a mysterious case that has haunted Argentine politics for over two decades.

Iran says it foiled Mossad assassination of nuclear scientist

Yaqoub BaqeriBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A senior Iranian military official has claimed that Tehran foiled an attempt by Israeli spies to assassinate a scientist working for Iran’s nuclear program. In a report filed on Saturday, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Colonel Yaqoub Baqeri saying that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had managed to prevent Israel from killing the scientist “during the last two years”. Baqeri is deputy chief liaison officer in the air force division of the IRGC, a branch of Iran’s armed forces dedicated to protecting and furthering the goals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Baqueri told Fars, which is known to have strong links with the IRGC, that Israel’s covert-action agency, the Mossad, had been “trying hard to assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist”, but that the well-timed involvement of the IRGC had “thwarted the terrorist operation”. At least five Iranian nuclear scientists have been targeted by unknown assailants since 2007, when Ardeshire Hassanpour, who worked at Iran’s Isfahan nuclear facility, was found dead in his Tehran apartment, allegedly having suffocated in his sleep from fumes from a faulty gas pipe. Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, disappeared in 2009, while Masoud Ali Mohammadi, described by the Iranian government as a “dedicated revolutionary professor”, was killed in 2010 by a remotely controlled explosive device that had been planted at the entrance of his residence. Later that year, two near-simultaneous bomb attacks killed Majid Shahriari and injured Fereydoon Abbasi Davan, nuclear researchers and professors at the Shahid Beheshti University. The two were attacked in separate incidents by motorcyclists who targeted them during the morning rush hour in Tehran as they were driving to work. The assailants attached small bombs to the car surfaces of their targets and detonated them from a relatively safe distance before speeding away through heavy traffic. The Fars News Agency report also claimed that Iran’s intelligence agencies had uncovered secret training bases run by the Mossad and located “within the territories of one of Iran’s western neighbors”, in which teams of assassins were allegedly being “trained and assisted” by the Israelis. In 2012, Israel’s two leading intelligence correspondents, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, claimed in their book Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, that the “decapitation program” against the Iranian nuclear effort was led by Israel with the expressed but passive endorsement of the United States.

Obama in secret negotiations with Iran over ISIS threat

Iran and its regionBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The president of the United States reportedly sent a secret letter to the supreme leader of Iran, in which he proposes cooperation against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in exchange for a nuclear deal. The New York-based Wall Street Journal newspaper reported on Thursday that Barack Obama reached out to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in October. In the letter, Obama allegedly proposes a nuclear agreement between Washington and Tehran and emphasizes the common threat the two nations face from ISIS, the Sunni Islamist group also known as the Islamic State. The paper said Obama’s letter stresses that any cooperation between America and Iran against the Islamic State is directly contingent on a nuclear agreement between the two governments, which would have to be reached before November 24 of this year. If the Journal’s information is accurate, it would appear that the US president’s move is connected with the latest round in bilateral negotiations between Washington and Tehran, which is scheduled to begin on November 8. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif will be leading their respective teams, as the two delegations meet in Muscat, capital of Oman, to explore ways of normalizing their diplomatic relations. If it is real, Obama’s purported letter would not mark the first instance in which the US president wrote to his Iranian counterpart. There are at least three other letters that Obama is known to have sent to various Iranian leaders since 2009, when he assumed the presidency of the US. However, if the proposal in the letter, as outlined in The Wall Street Journal article, is authentic, the move can be seen to highlight the view of the White House that Iran must inevitably be part of a solution regarding ISIS. Nevertheless, the revelation that America is seeking an alliance with Shiite Iran will undoubtedly frustrate America’s Arab allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and other Sunni oil monarchies, which are participating in the ongoing international military campaign against the Islamic State. The Journal contacted the White House but officials there refused to comment on what they said was Obama’s “private correspondence”. When asked by journalists on the matter, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said only that “the policy that the president and his administration have articulated about Iran remains unchanged”.

Iran announces arrest of alleged spies at Bushehr nuclear plant

Bushehr nuclear power plantBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Senior Iranian government officials have announced the arrest of a group of alleged spies in Iran’s southwestern province of Bushehr, home to the country’s only nuclear energy plant. Iranian Intelligence Minister Seyed Mahmoud Alawi told the semi-official Fars News Agency on Tuesday that the spies had been “identified and sent to justice”. Located along Iran’s coastal Persian Gulf region, the Bushehr nuclear power plant has a long history. Its construction initially began in the mid-1970s by German engineers. But work on the plant was halted in 1979, immediately following the Islamic Revolution. Iraqi forces repeatedly bombarded the site during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. But the government began to rebuild it in the 1990s with the help of Russian technicians. In September of 2011, the Bushehr nuclear power plant was inaugurated in a widely publicized ceremony that was attended by several Russian officials, including Minister of Energy Sergei Shmatko. The completion of the facility made it the first civilian nuclear power plant anywhere in the Middle East. On Tuesday, Intelligence Minister Alawi said the arrested spies were engaged in physical surveillance and intelligence-gathering at the plant, in the service of a foreign intelligence agency. But he refused to specify how many alleged spies were arrested. News of the arrests comes less than two weeks following a mystery explosion at the Parchin military complex, located approximately 20 miles southeast of Iranian capital Tehran. The Islamic Republic News Agency reported on October 7 that the explosion had been caused by a “fire [that] broke out in an explosive materials production unit”, and that two people had died. Several countries, including Israel and the United States, accuse Iran of conducting nuclear experimentation at Parchin. The last time that the site was inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency was in 2005. Read more of this post

Iran silent about deadly blast that ‘lit up sky’ near Tehran

Parchin military complexBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The government of Iran is refusing to comment on a reported blast at a secretive military facility that some sources say “lit up the sky” last week. The blast is said to have taken place on Sunday night at the Parchin military complex, located approximately 20 miles southeast of Iranian capital Tehran. The semi-official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on Monday that the explosion had been caused by a “fire [that] broke out in an explosive materials production unit” east of Tehran, and that two people had died. Interestingly, however, the news agency did not specify the precise location of the blast, nor did it identify the “explosive materials production unit” in question. There was also no mention of the cause of the fire that allegedly resulted in the blast. A few hours later, the Iranian-language news site SahamNews, which is politically linked to the Iranian opposition, claimed that the blast happened at Parchin and that it was a “massive explosion” that “lit up the evening sky” and caused windows to shatter as far as 9 miles away from the complex. It is worth noting that the blast was reported just hours after Israeli officials accused Iran of conducting nuclear implosion tests at a host of nuclear facilities, including Parchin. Israel is among several countries, including the United States, that have accused Iran of conducting nuclear experimentation at Parchin. The last time that the site was inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency was in 2005. Since then, Iranian authorities have rejected repeated IAEA requests for access to the site. There are suspicions that the latest explosion may be part of what many suspect is a longstanding campaign of sabotage against the Iranian nuclear program, orchestrated by Israel with the possible cooperation of the US and other countries. The campaign is believed to include psychological operations, sabotage, as well as targeted assassinations of senior Iranian nuclear scientists. Read more of this post

Iran serious about nuclear deal, says senior Israeli intelligence official

Israel and IranBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A senior Israeli intelligence official said on Monday that Iran appears to be genuinely interested in entering an agreement with world powers that would lead to the termination of its nuclear program. In November of 2013, Iran signed a Joint Plan of Action with six world powers in Geneva, Switzerland. Known as the Geneva interim agreement, the pact eases economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for a short-term suspension of core aspects of the Iranian nuclear program. The Israeli government’s negative response to the agreement was headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister called the pact a “historic mistake”, which enabled “the most dangerous regime in the world” to get closer to “attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world”. Since that time, Tel Aviv has continued to criticize the governments of the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, known as P5+1, for signing the interim agreement with Tehran. On Monday, however, Israel’s senior intelligence analyst, Brigadier-General Itai Brun, told a conference near Tel Aviv that Iran has so far abided by the interim agreement and added that he was cautiously optimistic about the future of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. Brun was speaking at the Herzliya Conference, an annual gathering of senior Israeli political leaders, which typically serves as a public platform for articulation of Israel’s national policy on critical issues. Senior figures in Israel, including the President and Prime Minister, typically use their keynote addresses at the conference to set the tone for the future policies of their administration. Brig. Gen. Brun, 51, has led the research division of the Military Intelligence Directorate of the Israeli Defense Forces. His position is generally viewed as the second most senior within Israel’s military intelligence establishment. Brun’s address at the conference appeared to be deliberately designed to challenge Netanyahu’s skepticism of the Geneva interim agreement. He told conference participants that it was “very possible” that Iran and the P5+1 were “moving toward the signing of a permanent nuclear deal”. Read more of this post

Alleged CIA spy seeks retrial after Iranian court slashes his sentence

Amir Mirzaei HekmatiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A United States citizen held in Iran since 2011 on spy charges has appealed for a retrial after an Iranian court quashed his earlier death sentence for espionage. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a former Marine born in the US state of Arizona, was arrested in August of 2011 in Iran and charged with carrying out a covert mission for the Central Intelligence Agency. In December of 2011, Hekmati appeared on Iranian state television and acknowledged that he was an operative of the CIA. He said in an interview that he had been trained “in languages and espionage” while in the US Army and that, in 2009, after nearly a decade of intelligence training, he was recruited by the CIA and specifically prepared to carry out what intelligence operatives sometimes refer to as a ‘dangling operation’ in Iran. The aim of the mission, said Hekmati, was to travel to Tehran, contact Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, and pose as a genuine American defector wishing to supply the Iranians with inside information about American intelligence. His immediate task was to gain the trust of Iranian authorities by giving them some correct information in order to set the stage for a longer campaign of disinformation aimed at undermining a host of Iranian intelligence operations. In 2012, Hekmati was sentenced to death for spying. Members of his family, however, who live in Michigan, have continuously denied that he is an intelligence operative and maintain that he traveled to Iran to visit his grandparents. Their denials have been echoed by the government in Washington, which has denied employing Hekmati in any intelligence capacity. In March of 2012, the Supreme Court of Iran quashed Hekmati’s death sentence and ordered a retrial, calling his previous prosecution “incomplete”. At the retrial, Iran’s Revolutionary Court overturned Hekmati’s initial espionage conviction, charging him instead with “collaborating with a hostile government”. His original sentence was reduced to 10 years in prison. But Hekmati’s lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, told journalists on Sunday that his client would appeal even that sentence, thus seeking an immediate release from prison. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #874

Hamid AboutalebiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
►►Intel involvement in flight MH370 sparks terrorism speculation. Malaysian authorities have revealed secret services from the UK, the US and China have been involved in the investigations into the disappearance of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, adding to speculation that the plane’s disappearance could be down to terrorism.
►►Iran picks former US Embassy hostage-taker as UN envoy. The Iranian government has applied for a US visa for Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s former ambassador to Belgium and Italy. Aboutalebi was a member of a group calling itself “Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line”, a group of radical students controlled by Ayatollah Khomeini, who seized the US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. A controversy over Aboutalebi’s appointment could prompt the Obama administration to take the unusual step of denying a visa to an official posted to the UN.
►►Analysis: Ukrainian Navy devastated by Russian move into Crimea. Ukraine’s maritime forces have been dealt a heavy blow by the Russian intervention in Crimea with 12 of its 17 major warships, nearly 40 support vessels, and much of its naval aviation assets now falling under Moscow’s control. Almost every Ukrainian naval base and ship on the peninsula has been seized by Russian forces or local pro-Moscow self-defense units. Over the past three weeks, the majority of the Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea have defected to the Russian military or resigned from military service.

CIA places Iran operations division chief on administrative leave

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The chief of Iran operations at the United States Central Intelligence Agency has been placed on paid administrative leave, allegedly for creating a hostile work environment that ended up impeding the Agency’s output. According to The Los Angeles Times, many members of the CIA’s Iran operations division had launched an “open rebellion” against their 46-year-old chief, which the paper identified by name. In an article published on Saturday, The Times stated that the veteran intelligence officer, who has now been removed from the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, had previously served at CIA stations in Iraq, Russia and the Balkans. The paper added that, in 2010, the CIA had to pull out the officer from Pakistan, after he was publicly named as the Agency’s station chief in Islamabad. Some American officials have identified Pakistan’s intelligence services as the source of the leak that led to the officer’s public exposure, which was allegedly intended as retribution to a series of previous drone attacks by the CIA on Pakistani soil. The Times quoted “three former officials” who accused the chief of the Iran division of exercising a divisive and abusive management style, which led many of the division’s senior employees to request to be transferred elsewhere in the CIA. One unnamed source told the paper that, as a result of the division chief’s treatment and the open rebellion by his staff, the Iran office “was not functioning”. The veteran officer was “sent home” two weeks ago, after an internal investigation by the Office of the CIA Inspector General found that he had essentially lost the trust and respect of the division’s staff. Read more of this post

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