Spy Games: Is Shahram Amiri a US or Iranian double agent?

The return of Shahram Amiri, the “missing” Iranian scientist, to Tehran after 14 months in the USA is steeped in mystery. Everything about this episode strikes odd - from the controversy surrounding his resurfacing in Washington, to the question of whether he was tortured. What everyone really wants to know is – does Iran have nukes?

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Did he defect or was he kidnapped? Did he take the money? Does Iran have ‘the' bomb? These are all questions to which answers are still unknown a week after missing Iranian Physicist, Shahram Amiri, returned to his home country from the USA. Reports from both sides are starkly conflicting and no one is telling much.

At the moment, the question of whether he defected or whether he was kidnapped is more of a case whose story you want to believe. While that is not a constructive way to analyze matters as serious as this, it is perhaps the only way some semblance of logic can be applied to what is entirely, an irrational story. Amiri, stated at his press conference in Tehran, that he was “abducted” from Medinah while on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in June 2009. He was subsequently brought to America where the CIA put him under great physical and mental stress to reveal information and declare secrets in a video that implicates his nation in nuclear proliferation.

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Shahram Amiri, an award winning physicist was working at the Malek Ashtar University in Tehran before his disappearance. He was an academic researcher specializing in medical uses of radioactive isotopes. He is believed to have been working on the Iranian nuclear program as part of the larger involvement of his employing university. But more importantly, he is believed to have had information about the additional nuclear sites in Qom, revealed by Iran in October 2009. Whether Amiri had any information about the nuclear program or that he gave in to the “torture” and revealed any such information is as yet unknown. In fact, in all his public statements to date, Amiri has downplayed his professional capacities.

The official CIA account, as disclosed by Secretary State, Hilary Clinton in a press briefing, said that Amiri had come to the US of his own free will and was free to go anywhere. The freedom was exemplified in the manner in which Amiri was able to walk in to the Iranian interest section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington (Iran does not have diplomatic missions in the US) and asked to be taken back to Tehran.

 

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From what is known at this point in time, there are facts and statements which contradict the official stories of both the US and the Iranian governments. For starters, in the case that Amiri had defected to the US, why would he be celebrated as a national hero upon his return to Tehran? Similarly, if he had been abducted, kept under surveillance of the CIA with armed agents, how did Amiri manage to evade his captors and then just stroll in to the Pakistani Embassy?

Then there are the three videos. One of them apparently made by the CIA, where they allegedly tried to coerce Amiri in to admitting “politically damaging facts” about Iran and its nuclear program. This video was sandwiched between two other webcam videos where he pleads to humanitarian organizations to help him escape the CIA, and not to trust the doctored CIA studio version on YouTube.

There is also the question of the $55 million and life in the US with his family that was in total offered to Amiri in exchange for information. While $5 million of that sits in an account which Amiri can access outside of Iran, the scientist states that he was tortured and that he would not defect without sending his family first. He further states that he did not agree to share any information which would harm the reputation of his country. As per US officials, they now have all the information that they wanted, while Iran has Amiri.

 

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One of the possible theories doing rounds is that Amiri might have been an Iranian spy used to feed bogus information to the CIA. This would help explain the Iranian stance of him being kidnapped, escaping (released rather) and returning to a hero’s welcome. Iran has had a history of playing espionage games. The most recent example of such a tactic was in 2004 when the US installed, Iraqi Prime Minister, Ahmed Chalabi was found to have been secretly working for Iran. When his offices were raided, it was found that he was often feeding the US Army with bogus intelligence while ferrying information about the US forces to Tehran.

 

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On the other hand, a plausible explanation could be that Amiri was in fact a CIA operative. He was working undercover for many years and is currently acting out a nationalistic swan song to get his family out of Iran safely. This raises the possibility that the webcam videos, the dramatic tales of abduction in Medinah, and the torture tales are in fact the real spoof stories in this saga.

So, the real question that matters is not whether there was Saudi or Israeli involvement in the episode, or whether he defected or was kidnapped, or the question of his family being threatened by the Iranian government. The integral question is how much, if anything, did physicist Shahram Amiri tell US investigators about Iran’s nukes?