A report on Iran’s intelligence strength by a branch of the Library of Congress in conjunction with the Pentagon has come under scrutiny for what some say are shoddy research practices that inflated the number of agents employed by Iranian intelligence.

The paper, leaked to a newspaper in December and widely reported on, claimed that Iran’s Intelligence Ministry employs some 30,000 people, but that figure originally came from a little-known researcher quoted in a 2008 Christian Science Monitor article who could not back up the figure, and not in-depth research, according to an investigation by ProPublica released Monday.

According to ProPublica, an investigative journalism website, other claims put forth in the report are similarly spurious and the research appears to largely based on questionable, internet-based sources.

One Iranian expert said that “there’s no way to know” if the 30,000 figure is accurate, and another said that the study appears to be “a very cheap piece of propaganda and should not be trusted.”

The figure was widely reported on conservative websites, as well as mainstream media sources like CNN and Wired, and found its way onto the ministry’s Wikipedia page.

Bill Gertz, the reporter who originally reported on the report for the Washington Free Beacon, stood by the figure and told ProPublica that intelligence agencies will sometimes use such “unclassified reports” as a way of releasing information.

He did say, however, that a 2010 report by a private intelligence firm estimated that Iran’s intelligence community numbered around 15,000 in 2006. In comparison, the 17 US intelligence agencies employ some 100,000 people.