By Tsvetana Paraskova
Most of the 17 Iranians that Iran arrested last month claiming to be spies for the CIA were working in the Islamic Republic’s oil sector, which Iran now guards as heavily as if it were a war secret, The New York Times reports, citing Iranian traders.
Last month, Iran claimed that it had arrested 17 people, all of whom are Iranians, accusing them of spying for the CIA and sentencing some of them to death.
President Donald Trump dismissed the claims, saying that “The Report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false. Zero truth. Just more lies and propaganda (like their shot down drone) put out by a Religious Regime that is Badly Failing and has no idea what to do. Their Economy is dead, and will get much worse. Iran is a total mess!”
It’s because of its heavily dependent on oil sales economy that Iran is now considering the means and channels of selling its oil—while under strict U.S. sanctions—as the most sensitive information.
The arrests of Iranians accused of spying for the U.S. involved espionage into how Iran is moving its oil now that it’s under U.S. sanctions which scare away almost all of Tehran’s legitimate buyers for fear of coming under secondary U.S. sanctions for dealing with Iran, an Iranian politician, two oil traders, and the editor in chief of a newspaper affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) told the NYT.
“How we evade sanctions to sell our oil and how we move the money is now the country’s most vital and sensitive information,” Hassan Soleimani, the editor in chief of IRGC-affiliated Mashregh newspaper told the NYT.
After the U.S. sanctions kicked in, Iran stopped reporting any oil production and sales data and has tightened the ranks of oil traders, whose key job now is to determine if a potential client is legit and not a spy. Traders are not discussing prices, means of payment, or terms and timing of shipping—they assess if a client is legit and then report to four senior officials who supervise the oil trades out of Iran, according to the NYT.