Iranian Official Warns U.S. On Spying

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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TEHRAN, Jan. 19 -- In a message aimed at the incoming Obama administration, a top Iranian intelligence official cautioned the United States on Monday not to spy on Iran.

"It is necessary to warn the new American administration that they should not follow the path of the previous American government," the head of the counter-espionage unit of Iran's Intelligence Ministry said, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency.

He described a "full-fledged intelligence war" between the two nations and offered rare, detailed comments about what he described as "heavy damages" suffered by the United States in efforts to recruit agents among doctors, artists and fashion designers in Iran.

The official, who was not named by local media, said two Iranian AIDS specialists, whose arrests last year sparked concern in the West, are part of a group of four "ringleaders" who were recently convicted of involvement in an alleged U.S.-funded plot to overthrow the Islamic government. Dozens of others have been arrested and interrogated, the official said.

He accused the United States of stationing intelligence agents in neighboring countries, and specifically mentioned the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Kuwait and Azerbaijan as places from where the United States is designing "plots" against Iran. The agents are seeking to create "social crisis, street demonstrations and ethnic disputes," he said. "A soft revolution has been programmed against our country and carried out in some instances, but it was suffocated in the cradle," Fars News quoted the official as saying.

"This is a well-timed message to the incoming administration that following previous policies regarding Iran will turn out to be a failure," said Davoud Hermidas Bavand, a professor of international relations at Tehran's Allameh Tabatabaei University. "They want to show the new president that he should adopt a new, less-confronting approach to Iran."

Obama has said he sees Iran as a "genuine threat," but he is also pledging to increase diplomatic efforts to engage it, in a shift from the isolationist approach of President Bush. The Bush administration earmarked $75 million to promote democracy in Iran. Leaders of the Islamic republic have often expressed concern that the United States is using intellectuals, nongovernmental organizations and dissidents to try to undermine Iran.

The head of the counterespionage unit said his organization was surprised by the types of people allegedly approached by American intelligence agents.

"They contacted people we didn't expect to be of their interest: fashion designers, doctors, professors, clerics, athletes and artists," the official said, according to Fars News.

"These groups would be invited for month-long trips to the United States," he said. "They would attend gatherings and tours in America which would try to present the U.S. as the only savior of Iran. There, they would be asked about passive air defense, infrastructure centers and the intelligence situation."

He added that four "network heads" had been arrested in Iran and convicted recently by a secret court. According to Fars News, the official said two of those arrested were physicians Arash and Kamiar Alaei, who are brothers. Other news media also named them. They have run HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs in Iran and have held training courses for Afghan and Tajik medical workers, according to the Associated Press. The European Union last year called for their release.

Iran's head of counterespionage said those convicted were among the alleged plot's main agents, "who cooperated with U.S. intelligence agents consciously and intentionally, and implemented their demands in detail," Fars News reported.


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