By Matthew Cole, Lee Ferran and Rym Momtaz
An Iranian prosecutor announced today his government has indicted 15 people who allegedly spied on the Islamic republic for the U.S. and Israel.
"The accused in the case were individuals who committed acts of espionage against the Islamic Republic of Iran," Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said Tuesday, according to several Iranian news reports.
Dolatabadi did not name the alleged spies, who are suspected of having ties to the American CIA and Israel's Mossad intelligence agency. Iran's intelligence minister, Heidar Moleshi, announced in May the alleged discovery of a CIA-directed spy network in Iran of more than 30 people, according to Iran's Fars News Agency. In November, Moleshi said another 12 spies had been uncovered.
The CIA informants had gathered information from Iranian universities and research centers about Iran's nuclear, aerospace and defense industries, according to a statement by the Iranian intelligence ministry.
"Who is to say if this tale from Iran is fiction or not? They make charges with few, if any, details and expect the media to spread them at face value," a U.S. intelligence official told ABC News of the espionage claims. "[This] looks like typical propaganda to me."
American officials admitted last month they had suffered an intelligence blow after a network of spies was uncovered in Iran, as first reported by ABC News.
"Collecting sensitive information on adversaries who are aggressively trying to uncover spies in their midst will always be fraught with risk," a U.S. official briefed on the spy ring bust said then.
The indictment announcement comes just days after the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah revealed what it said were the names of American CIA officers uncovered during a similar spy ring bust in the that country. Hezbollah, considered by the U.S. government to be a terrorist organization, aired a video Saturday through its media arm in which it listed the names of suspected undercover CIA officers along with a detailed description of how the agency allegedly set up a widespread espionage network in Beirut.
Other current and former U.S. officials said the discovery of the two U.S. spy rings occurred separately, but amounted to a setback of significant proportions in efforts to track the activities of the Iranian nuclear program and the intentions of Hezbollah against Israel.
On Hezbollah's claims, the CIA told The Associated Press such assertions are suspect.
"The agency does not, as a rule, address spurious claims from terrorist groups," CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood told the AP. "I think it's worth remembering that Hezbollah is a dangerous organization, with al-Manar [broadcast network] as its propaganda arm. That fact alone should cast some doubt on the credibility of the group's claims."