14:35 GMT +322 October 2019
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    Trump Slams Iran's CIA Spy Ring Claims as 'Totally False' as Tehran Provides Photo, Video Evidence

    © AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster
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    Earlier Monday, Iranian media revealed details on a major cyber-espionage ring run by US intelligence, saying that a total of 17 CIA-trained spies had been identified, and publishing photo and video evidence of alleged US attempts to recruit Iranians to work against their government.

    US President Donald Trump has dismissed Iranian media reports about the capture of CIA spies, calling the story "totally false" and saying there was "zero truth" in the allegations.

    Calling Iran "a total mess!" and its economy "dead," Trump said that the story was "put out by a Religious Regime that is Badly Failing and has no idea what to do."

    Trump's comments echoed remarks made earlier by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said that although he could not address the specifics of the spy ring claims, "the Iranian regime has a long history of lying." As his evidence, Pompeo pointed to the differences between the US and Iranian reporting on last month's incident involving Iran's shootdown of a US drone.

    Earlier, Iran's Press TV released a preview of a documentary called 'Mole Hunt', allegedly showing how the CIA operates against the Islamic Republic. The documentary showed how potential agents are recruited or handled from neighbouring countries including the UAE and Afghanistan, and offered details on how the CIA brings equipment to agents operating inside Iran. Along with the documentary, Iranian media released photos of alleged CIA officers it said were working with the Iran-based agents.

    In June, Iran announced that it had broken up a major CIA "cyberespionage network" with help from the intelligence services of other countries. The country's judiciary later said that Iranian military personnel working for US intelligence would be executed for treason, while non-military personnel would receive long prison sentences.

    Long-running tensions between Iran and the US began to escalate in May 2018, when Washington unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and slapped the country with crushing banking and energy sanctions. In May 2019, Iran announced that it would begin withdrawing from its commitments to the deal until its other signatories could find ways to reduce the pressure caused by sanctions. In the meantime, Iran and the US classified one another's militaries as terrorists, and the US deployed a carrier strike group to the Middle East, citing the alleged 'Iranian threat'. In May and June, several tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the UAE and in the Gulf of Oman. The US rushed to accuse Iran for the attacks. Iran denied the claims. On June 20, Iran shot down a US spy drone it said was operating in its airspace. Days later, President Trump said he was "cocked and loaded" to carry out airstrikes against the country before reconsidering at the last minute, saying the expected casualties on the Iranian side would not be "proportionate" to the loss of the drone.

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