Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist who defected last year to the United States, headed back to Iran this week, after apparently deciding to re-defect. Amiri, who disappeared last year during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, surfaced Monday night at the Iranian interest section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington. Before flying back to Iran, Amiri told state-run Iranian television that “my kidnapping was a disgraceful act for America…. I was under enormous psychological pressure and supervision of armed agents in the past 14 months.”
U.S. officials strongly deny Amiri’s charges and point out that, if he had been held against his will, he would not have been able to release a series of bizarre and contradictory videotapes on YouTubein recent months. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “He came to this country freely, he lived here freely, and he has chosen freely to return to Iran. The United States, to be sure, isn’t standing in his way. He himself gives the lie to the idea he was tortured or imprisoned. He can tell any story he wants—but that won’t make it true.” U.S. officials revealed that Amiri was paid more than five million dollars for his information on Iran’s nuclear program, which is an unlikely windfall for a victim of a kidnapping.
David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist with extensive contacts in the intelligence world, reported yesterday that Amiri made contact with the CIA long before his reported defection in June 2009. Ignatius wrote that: “One mystery is why Amiri decided to defect without his young wife and child, leaving them—and himself —vulnerable to Iranian pressure.”
Iran’s repressive regime long has used harsh tactics to intimidate opposition leaders and political dissidents, such as threatening to punish their families for their actions. Iranian exiles overseas have reported that they have been harassed and threatened in phone calls by members of the Iranian intelligence services or Revolutionary Guards.
Such threats, or perhaps personal disillusionment over the prospect of living alone so far from his family, may have broken Amiri’s will and induced him to return to Iran. Twenty-five years ago, a Russian defector made a similar decision to re-defect and walked away from his handlers in a restaurant a few blocks away from the Pakistani Embassy building where Amiri surfaced. Vitaly Yurchenko, a defector from the Soviet KGB intelligence agency, later claimed that he had been kidnapped, drugged, and held against his will by the U.S. government. Amiri, who has made similar claims, now appears to be following the same game plan and is likely to soon make himself useful to Iran’s thuggish regime in its ongoing propaganda war with the United States.