(Persia Digest) - Iran on Monday trumpeted the issuing of death sentences to several members of what it claims is a CIA spy ring that had been embedded in "sensitive" departments nationwide, a development that threatened to further inflame an already precarious staredown between the Islamic Republic and the United States.

Edmund DeMarche writes in Fox News that the roundup of the alleged espionage cell ensnared 17 people during the past several months and was completed by the end of March, an Iranian official said at a news conference in Tehran. The official was identified only as the director of the counterespionage department of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, which is highly unusual in Iran, as officials usually identify themselves at press conferences.

"The identified spies were employed in sensitive and vital private sector centers in the economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military and cyber areas...where they collected classified information," said a ministry statement read on state television.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while not commenting directly on the spy report, advised caution and noted Iran has a history of lying.


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"It's part of their nature to lie to the world," Pompeo told "Fox & Friends" on Monday morning. "I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian assertion about actions they've taken."

Pictures of some of the alleged spies were reportedly shown on state TV, which also broadcast a documentary purporting to show a CIA officer recruiting an Iranian in the United Arab Emirates.

Tehran also announced in June the takedown of a CIA spy ring, but it was not immediately clear if those alleged spies were the same as those referenced Monday.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency was the first organization to report on the matter, according to Reuters. The identities of those arrested were not immediately known.

The U.S. has increased its military presence in the Persian Gulf region in recent weeks after it alleged provocative moves by Tehran that included attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, the downing of a U.S. drone and the seizure of a British tanker.

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