Iran said Saturday it has uncovered spy rings organized by the United States and its Western allies, claiming on state-run television that the espionage networks were made up of "infiltrating elements from the Iraqi occupiers."Well, there's three things to consider here.
The Intelligence Ministry has "succeeded in identifying and striking blows at several spy networks comprised of infiltrating elements from the Iraqi occupiers in western, southwestern and central Iran," said the statement, using shorthand for United States and its allies.
The broadcast did not elaborate on how the alleged networks were uncovered, but said further details would be published within days.
Meanwhile, state IRNA news agency said the networks "enjoyed guidance from intelligence services of the occupying powers in Iraq" and also that "Iraqi groups" were "involved in the case."
First, whether the Iranians are telling the truth. I can understand why they'd trumpet this sort of thing, but it could just as easily be a ruse. Publicizing this information can be a very bad move, because it might give away Iran's counterintelligence methods and sources, and that would be cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Second, what these guys were in Iran for. There's two roles to the CIA, as well as many other "intelligence" agencies. The first is, of course, intelligence- getting information. That's not what the Bush administration was supposedly authorizing, though. What they were authorizing were covert operations, the other kind of spook work, where the CIA stops watching and starts acting. It's generally the latter that is more controversial: because it's far more dangerous, because it's far more likely to piss off the target, and because it's where all those really nasty perceptions of Company agents come from. That's why the question of what these guys were up to is really important; it would be bigger news if the U.S. weren't spying on Iran, but the announcement was about covert ops, a different story entirely.
(The story suggests they were covert ops, but the Iranians would claim that anyway, because there's more propaganda value in it.)
The last thing we don't know is if there's any connection to the leak. I personally find it unlikely. Either the Iranians knew damned well who the spies were, or didn't. There's no way that this would have stepped things up, because there's no way Iran didn't already think it was a target for covert operations. Never mind Hersh's exposes; Iran has spent decades as a target for American intelligence, why on earth would they have ever thought they weren't a target?
It's unbelieveably unlikely that the presidential directive had anything at all to do with these guys being in Iran in the first place, too. Ingratiating yourself takes time, and there's no way enough time has elapsed for any plan to be put into action.
My guess is that the Iranians knew exactly who these guys were, they were probably intelligence assets rather than ops assets, and that they were likely to get arrested anyway but the Iranians are trumpeting it to counter the leak.
Assuming, of course, that any of this is true.