The CIA uses the American consulate in Dubai as a recruiting ground for Iranian spies, according to a new book, giving out visas only in exchange for inside information on the country.
US embassy in Dubai 'is a recruiting ground for Iranian spies'
By Richard Spencer in Dubai
22 Sep 2009
Thousands of Iranians use the city, which has strong trading ties with the Islamic Republic, to apply for visas every year since the United States has no formal representation in Tehran.
But according to diplomats quoted in the book, Dubai: The Story of the World's Fastest City, by Jim Krane, every applicant is first grilled for information. The most valuable sources are actively recruited as informants, either on the country itself or on its considerable expatriate population in the United Arab Emirates.
The information gleaned is so valuable that the CIA allegedly vetoed an attempt by the State Department to close down the consulate on costs grounds.
"The visa windows at the US Consulate and Embassy are lucrative intelligence collection points," Mr Krane claimed. "So lucrative, in fact, that the Central Intelligence Agency stepped in to save the Dubai consulate from closure."
Dubai's position just across the Gulf from Iran, and its several hundred thousand-strong Iranian population, makes it a key interlocutor between the country and the West.
Dubai's rulers, and the United Arab Emirates in general, are seen as strongly pro-Western, and the city is home to one of the largest American naval presences outside the US itself. As a result, a blind eye is turned to its voluminous trade, legal and illegal, with Iran.
Mr Krane claimed that the US learned to turn that trade to its advantage. As Iranians wanting to visit the US had to travel abroad following the closure of the Tehran embassy after the 1979 revolution, the CIA installed Farsi-speaking specialists in the consulate.
Those with "interesting backgrounds" are allegedly asked to return again and again, being pumped for ever more information before their applications are finally accepted for processing – even so, many are apparently rejected. Some are said to be recruited as regular spies or informants.
Because of the sanctions regime against Iran, and its alleged nuclear weapons programme, there are many potential lines of inquiry – those involved in all forms of trade, banking and finance are quizzed particularly thoroughly, Mr Krane says.
Those of interest do not have to live in Iran. The Iranian community of Dubai itself, split between anti-government exiles, pro-government officials and businessmen, often working for state-owned companies, and non-aligned individuals who simply find it easier to do business from outside the country, is also targeted.
The allegations will give strength to those officials in the Iranian regime who believe that pro-western elements in the country are conspiring against it. No one from the Iranian consulate in Dubai was available for comment.
A state department spokesman declined to confirm the allegations but said that so far this year the consulate had processed 46,000 visa applications including "a significant number of Iranian applications". The consulate was so overstretched that a new home was under construction, she added.
Morteza Masoumzadeh, an Iranian who moved to Dubai in 1980 and runs a shipping company, said many Iranians also travel to the United States to visit relatives, and apply for their visas in Dubai. He himself last visited the US two years ago.
But he added: "Speaking for myself frankly I have not come across such an issue. I have never been directed to that channel."
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