Iran executes IT expert who spied for Israel

Ali Ashtari was hanged on Nov. 17 after being sentenced to death on June 30

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A COMPUTER expert has been executed in Iran after he confessed to working for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. This provides a rare insight into the intense espionage activity inside the Islamic republic.

Ali Ashtari, 43, a computer and hi-tech equipment buyer for Iran’s defence industry and nuclear programme, was hanged after admitting he worked for Israel. It is the first known conviction of an alleged Israeli agent in Iran for almost 10 years.

Ashtari was trusted by senior officials to travel overseas to buy the advanced computers and other electronic equipment needed for the regime’s nuclear programme, which is reported to have already produced enough enriched uranium to make an atomic bomb.

Behind their backs he allowed the software he bought to be subtly doctored by Israeli computer engineers before it was imported to Iran. Ashtari confessed: “Mossad’s goal was to sell specialised computer equipment through me to Iranian intelligence organisations.”

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According to surveillance experts, this allowed Israel to monitor computer systems bought by Ashtari, and insert bugs that could slow down Tehran’s weapons development or even sabotage it altogether.

Ashtari revealed how he communicated with his Israeli controllers: “I received a laptop with encrypted software for fast e-mail communication,” he said. “They asked me to install bugging devices in the communications equipment I provided to my clients.”

One computer expert said: “Israel’s well-known technological skills can make its enemies’ systems highly transparent.”

The Iranians were determined to make a public example of Ashtari. The head of the counterespionage department of Iran’s intelligence ministry said: “We want to show that a new battle with the enemy’s intelligence services has begun.” Israel has denied that Ashtari was one of its spies.

Ashtari said he was recruited by Mossad agents in Europe while on a business trip. According to his testimony, he was offered expensive medical treatment in Switzerland. He is understood to have spied for Israel for at least three years.

After the execution, the chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, said Iran had broken another Mossad spy ring, and will seek the death penalty for three suspects held in custody.

“The intelligence war is a crucial part of our efforts to delay Iran’s nuclear programme,” an Israeli defence source said. “I wish our intelligence capabilities were sufficient to set it back, but this is by no means certain.”

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