TEHRAN, Iran – Iran acknowledged Saturday that some personnel at the country’s nuclear facilities were lured by promises of money to pass secrets to the West, but insisted increased security and worker privileges have put a stop to the spying.
The stunning admission by Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi provides the clearest government confirmation that Iran has been fighting espionage at its nuclear facilities.
In recent weeks, Iran has announced the arrest of several nuclear spies and battled a computer worm that it says is part of a covert Western plot to derail its nuclear program. And in July, a nuclear scientist who Iran says was kidnapped by U.S. agents returned home in mysterious circumstances, with the U.S. saying he was a willing defector who was offered $5 million by the CIA but then changed his mind.
The United States and its allies have vigorously sought to slow Iran’s nuclear advances through U.N. and other sanctions out of suspicion that Tehran intends to use a civil program as cover for developing weapons.
Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency quoted Salehi as saying that some nuclear personnel had access to information about Iran’s plans for “foreign purchases and commercial affairs.” The report did not elaborate on the precise nature of the information.
“Now, these routes have been blocked. The possibility of information leaking is almost impossible now,” Salehi said.
Salehi is also the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. His predecessor, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, had said in April 2008 that some of the nation’s nuclear scientists had been approached by the West but did not accept offers to spy.
Saturday’s revelation was the first public word that some personnel have engaged in espionage, although Tehran has arrested suspects in the past. With the announcement, Iran appears to be trying to raise public awareness about what it says are plots by the U.S. and its allies to derail Iran’s nuclear activities.
Salehi said access to information has been restricted within nuclear facilities as part of the increased security measures.