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Espionage: Iran's New Word for, 'We Got Nothing'

Matt Negrin

Posted: Apr 19th 2009 8:51AM

Filed under: Politics, International News, Boston University, Media

It's difficult to take a country's court system seriously when it convicts defendants in secret trials. It also doesn't help when the president of that country is a Holocaust denier and suspected terrorist. And it really doesn't look professional to accuse the defendant -- a journalist -- of "espionage" without providing a single piece of real evidence.

But such is the perplexing case of Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American reporter who was convicted of spying by Iran's shady court this week. The prosecutors accused the 31-year-old journalist of passing along secret information to U.S. intelligence agencies.

Spying is a pretty serious career choice, not to mention time-consuming. For Saberi to successfully spy on the Iranian government, she would have to maintain a cover, make contacts and stay under the radar for most of the six years that she's lived in the country (at least, according to the Spy Museum tour I took in D.C.).

So if suspected spy Saberi was supposed to lay low, why was she filing dozens of stories each month for news organizations like the BBC, NPR and Fox? In June 2007, she was on the front line in Tehran when Iranians burned down gas stations in opposition to fuel rationing. And she was on the scene when the Islamic country banned women from soccer games the year before, too.

Either Roxana Saberi is a terrible spy, or she's not a spy at all.

That might explain why the Iranian government first arrested her on the charge of buying a bottle of wine. They continued to hold her by claiming that she wasn't a real journalist like she claimed because she didn't have press credentials. Well, that's true -- because Iran's government had revoked her press pass in 2006.

But maybe the Iranian government does have a case after all. As revealed by a simple Google search that I can only imagine is the sole tool Iran's prosecutors used, Saberi told the U.S. government two years ago detailed information about Iranian weapons. Prepare for damning evidence:

Specifically, she mentioned "missiles that are hard to track with radar, super-fast torpedoes recently tested in war games, and other domestically produced weapons" in addition to its "tanks, armoried personnel carriers, missiles and a fighter plane."

But when I say that Saberi told the U.S. government about those weapons, I mean that she told anyone who was listening to NPR -- or even Iran, which was boasting its weapons as part of its annual Army Day Parade when she reported that story. So scratch that line of argument.

So if it's nearly impossible to make the case that Saberi is a spy, why did Iran charge her with "espionage?" Aren't there other serious crimes to commit against the Iranian government, like celebrating Passover, or acknowledging the Holocaust, or buying a bottle of wine? According to Saberi's father, the charges were so ludicrous that she had to be "tricked" into confessing.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that she's "deeply disappointed" in the ruling. I'm going to have to agree -- disappointed in the lack of creativity on Iran's part.

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