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'Iran Plot Thickens' - 'Christian Science Monitor'

The "Christian Science Monitor" does a roundup of the Iranian defector story, including RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari.


Shahram Amiri: Iran defector story just keeps getting stranger

By Brad Knickerbocker

July 18, 2010

Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri is back home with his family – and likely undergoing some friendly questioning about the strange story of his defection to the United States. If “defection” in fact is what it was, because the story just keeps getting stranger. Skip to next paragraph

Reports Sunday paint a murky picture: That the CIA now thinks Amiri may have been a double agent; That the US wanted to swap him for three US hikers in custody in Tehran, who in fact were spies themselves; That Amiri had been a US informant for several years before he left Iran; That he was one of two US spies spirited out of Iran when the CIA feared their cover was about to be blown.

The British newspaper the Sunday Telegraph reports that the CIA suspects that Amiri was a double agent, sent here to find out how much the US knows about Iran’s nuclear program.

Why else would he have been allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia, given his knowledge of secret information back home and given that he left his young family behind? And why, then, are US officials revealing so much about the case – including the $5 million Amiri was offered to defect?

“It might look as if the CIA is taking revenge on Amiri for returning to Iran and that by telling the US media about his cooperation and long record as an agent they are simply signing his death warrant and ensuring that the Iranian authorities would eventually execute him,” a CIA analyst “with direct knowledge of the case” told the Sunday Telegraph.

Some bloggers in Iran have the same suspicion, according to Iran-watcher Golnaz Esfandiari at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Blogger “Green 8” says the whole case is a “national brainwashing scenario” by the Iranian establishment, writes Ms. Esfandiari, who translates the blog posts from Farsi into English.

Green 8 sees it all in the context of the Iranian opposition “Green Movement.” “Some have to believe that the establishment is engaged in a head-to-head war with the United States (the enemy) and that any domestic opposition is being supported by this enemy,” Green 8 writes.

“Fermesk” says Iranians should not be taken in by Amiri’s tale of having been kidnapped by the CIA, then being freed to appear in several contradictory videos. “Mr. Amiri you should know that we are duped into believing your fake story.”

Quoting current and former US intelligence officials, the Washington Post reports that Amiri “was among a small network of spies inside Iran that had provided intelligence about nuclear programs and sites for several years.”

Amiri and another informant were pressured to leave Iran after one had become “sloppy” in communicating, bringing suspicion by intelligence and security officials in Iran. But now, reports the Post, “The CIA is expected to conduct a damage assessment to determine whether any sources or methods were compromised by Amiri's return.”

Once he returned to Iran, Amiri claimed that US officials wanted to exchange him for three hikers now being held in Iran. Amiri says US agents acknowledged to him that the hikers in fact were spies.

For now, Amiri is being portrayed as a hero in Iran. But he may have in mind the fate of two of Saddam Hussein’s sons-in-law, who defected with their wives and children to Jordan.

“All is forgiven,” Saddam said in luring them back to Iraq. Within days, both had been killed.

Brad Knickerbocker is a staff writer for 'The Christian Science Monitor'