Prisoner Swaps and Silent Wars — U.S. and Iran’s $6 Bn Hostage Trade

Photo Credit: AFP via Getty Images

The five prisoners sought by the U.S. in its swap with Iran were freed today and headed home as part of what is being called a non-fungible trade by its proponents. Under fire is the National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby who insisted, on Wednesday at a White House Press briefing, that “Iran will be getting no sanctions relief” despite it appearing to be a ransom payment to critics. The deal involves freedom of five detained Americans in exchange for unfreezing $6 Bn in Iranian oil revenue and five Iranian citizens that were in U.S. custody.

The $6 Bn in Iranian oil assets was released by a restricted account in South Korea on Sunday night. The five American prisoners arrived in Qatar to be greeted by the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Timmy Davis. Three of the prisoners, who were released to house arrest in advance of the swap, were previously named as Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz. The families of the two others have withheld their identities, but they are said to be a scientist and a businessman.

Mehrdad Moin-Ansari and Reza Sarhangpour-Kafrani, landed in Doha from the United States. These two detainees were held by the U.S. for obtaining equipment that could be used in electronic warfare and nuclear weaponry; even going as far as to export these goods to Iran.

Mohammad Reza Farzin, Iran’s Central Bank chief, later came on state television to acknowledge the receipt of over 5.5 Bn euros — $5.9 Bn — in accounts in Qatar. Months ago, Iran had anticipated getting as much as $7 Bn.

In late 2021, former officials disclosed that China and Iran cracked the agency’s classified communications system, or ‘covcom’, and executed informants in those networks while others had to be extracted and resettled. Iranian engineer Gholamreza Hosseini spent nearly a decade in a Tehran prison following his conviction for spying for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He said the agency abandoned him following his 2010 arrest. In 2020, Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd was executed for spying on Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, who was later killed by the US.

Since the Iranian Revolution in Iran in 1979, Iran has waged an international terrorist war while the intelligence services of the West, led by Mossad and the CIA, have waged a relentless, mostly clandestine counter-jihad in return.

Despite the deal, tensions are expected by some to remain high between the U.S. and Iran, which are locked in various disputes, including over Tehran’s nuclear program. Sponsors of H.R. 4691 – Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act of 2023, include Republican representatives such as Keith Self (R-TX) and Michael Waltz (R-FL). H.R. 4691 would establish a congressional review process for any Presidential actions to relieve sanctions on foreign persons supporting Iran. The Administration would be required to submit a report to the Congress, explaining and justifying any proposed changes to Iranian sanctions.

The planned exchange comes ahead of the convening of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly this week in New York, where Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi will speak.