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

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US denies arms dealer’s release is part of swap deal with Iran

Amir Mirzaei HekmatiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
The United States government has denied that the quiet release and deportation of an Iranian arms dealer is part of a secret deal to swap imprisoned agents with Iran. A US State Department spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that Iranian citizen and convicted arms smuggler Amir Hossein Ardebili had been released from US custody and was on his way back to Iran. Ardebili was captured and abducted by US government operatives in the Republic of Georgia in 2007, during a controversial sting operation. His abduction was the culmination of a three-year-long sting operation, during which he allegedly tried to arrange a clandestine shipment of sensitive military technology from the US to Iran. He was eventually extradited to the US in 2008, and sentenced the following year to five years in prison, for operating as an “arms acquisitions agent for the government of Iran”. Last month, however, he was discretely released from prison in Minnesota and handed over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. US State Department spokesman Noel Clay said that Ardebili was on his way to Tehran via Europe, because he had “completed serving his criminal sentence and has no legal immigration status in this country”. The spokesman also pointed out that Ardebili’s five-year prison sentence was meant to include the nearly two years he spent in Georgian and US detention, prior to his 2009 trial. But some observers, including Laura Rozen at Yahoo News, speculate that there might be a connection between Ardebili’s deportation and the reversal earlier this month of a death sentence imposed by a Tehran court on a former US marine captured in Iran on spy charges. Tehran recently announced that Amir Mirzaei Hekmati (pictured), from Arizona, who was captured in Iran while allegedly on a CIA mission, is to have his death sentence voided, and will face a retrial. Read more of this post

Comment: Drawing Careful Conclusions from the Iran Assassination

Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan's carBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS* | intelNews.org |
The body of Iranian academic Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan was still warm when officials in Tehran began accusing Israel and the United States of having planned his assassination. Leveling such accusations without offering adequate proof is certainly unstatesmanlike; but even hasty conclusions can be logical, and even sworn enemies of the Iranian government would find it difficult to point at other possible culprits. Keeping in mind that, at this early stage, publicly available information about the assassination remains limited, are there conclusions that can be drawn with relative safety by intelligence observers? The answer is yes. Roshan, 32, was a supervisor at Iran’s top-secret Natanz fuel enrichment plant. His scientific specialty was in the technology of gas separation, the primary method used to enrich uranium in Iran’s nuclear energy program. His assassination, which took place in broad daylight amidst Tehran’s insufferable morning traffic, was a faithful reenactment of the attacks that killed two other Iranian nuclear scientists in November of 2010. A motorcycle, practically indistinguishable from the thousands of others that slide maniacally between cars in the busy streets of the Iranian capital, made its way to the car carrying Ahmadi-Roshan. As the driver kept his eyes on the road, the passenger skillfully affixed a magnetic explosive device to the outside surface of the targeted vehicle, next to where Ahmadi-Roshan was sitting. By the time the blast killed the scientist, as well as the car’s driver, and injured a third passenger, the motorcyclists were nowhere to be found. Two-and-a-half hours later, when the report of Ahmadi-Roshan’s assassination was making its way through the newsroom of Iran’s state-owned Fars news agency, the assassins were making their way to Dubai, Oman, Qatar, or various other destinations around the Middle East. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #656: Outed spies edition

Alexander LennikovBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Iran seeks death penalty for alleged CIA spy. Iran is seeking the death penalty for an American man accused of working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, officials said. At his trial Tuesday, Amir Mizraei Hekmati said the CIA sent him to Iran to infiltrate Iran’s intelligence systems, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported. Sources in America deny Hekmati’s intelligence connections and say the confession was coerced. Washington has also accused Iran of denying Hekmati access to Swiss consular officials.
►►North Korean alleged spy ‘kills self’ in South. A man who claimed to be a North Korean defector has reportedly committed suicide after allegedly confessing that he was sent to spy on the South. During questioning, the unnamed man, who was in his 30s, said he had received orders from Pyongyang to report on a South Korean organization that helps defectors from the North.
►►Ex-KGB spy spends third Christmas in Vancouver church. Ex-KGB spy Alexander Lennikov (pictured) has been living in Canada with his wife and teenage son since 1992. But in 2009, the Canadian government ordered him to leave the country, under a law which dictates that any former member of a spy agency that spies on democratic governments is inadmissible to Canada. Since then, he has taken sanctuary at the First Lutheran Church in Vancouver, and has not left the building. For previous intelNews coverage of this story see here.

News you may have missed #652

Amir Mirzaei HekmatiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Kremlin accused of covert tactics against opposition. The Kremlin says it will allow opposition groups to hold rallies, but cases of alleged preemptive arrests and phone-tapping show that it may be still seeking to defeat the protest movement. For previous intelNews coverage of civil liberties in Russia see here.
►►Iran releases two Kuwaitis accused of spying. Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency says that two Kuwaitis detained In Iran for spying last month have been cleared of their charges and released. The report quoted Iran’s ambassador to Kuwait, Ruhollah Qahremani, as saying the men had illegally worked as journalists in Iran while traveling on tourist visas, but initial speculation that they were spies “had been wrong”.
►►US sources deny spy charges for American detained in Iran. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati (pictured), from Arizona, who has been captured in Iran allegedly on a CIA mission, has not received any intelligence training from the US military, according to Pentagon sources. Also, one of Hekmati’s colleagues claims the Iranian-American helped develop an electronic translator for US troops but “wouldn’t have been involved in espionage”.

United States urges Iran to release alleged CIA spy

Amir Mirzaei HekmatiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States has called on Iran to release an American citizen of Iranian descent, who appeared on Iranian state TV last Sunday and acknowledged that he was an operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the pre-recorded interview, a man identifying himself as Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, from Arizona, said he was arrested by Iranian counterintelligence while on a CIA mission. Speaking calmly in Farsi and English and —as Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper put it— appearing to be “not under duress”, Hekmati said the joined the US Army in 2001 and served in Iraq. He also said that he was trained “in languages and espionage” while in the US Army, and eventually worked for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the US Pentagon’s research and development wing. In 2009, after nearly a decade of intelligence training, he said he was recruited by the CIA and was specifically prepared for 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. Read more of this post