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Shahram Amiri: Iranian nuclear scientist's case shrouded in mystery

Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri is holed up in the Pakistani embassy awaiting a return trip home. Here are three possible explanations to his mysterious case.

By Staff Writer / July 13, 2010

An image grab taken shows Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, whom the Islamic republic says was kidnapped by US agents, in two different video clips screened on Iranian television channels on June 8.




This we know: Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri has taken refuge at the Pakistani embassy in Washington and plans to return to his homeland – and the US plans to let him go. The State Department confirmed that Tuesday morning.

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But there’s much we don’t know about Mr. Amiri and the circumstances that brought him to the United States or what is compelling his quick exit. We don’t know whether this trip back to Iran constitutes an escape from US agents who may or may not have kidnapped him. Or is this a redefection to a country he fled on his own volition. Is it some mixture of the two possibilities?

Intelligence work is shadowy, and the US effort to ascertain what’s up with the Iranian nuclear program is a particularly complex department of mysteries.

Amiri disappeared while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in June 2009. Iran has long charged that he was kidnapped by the US or its allies.

The US has denied it. In March, US media reported that Amiri had defected to the US and was talking about Iran’s nuclear secrets.

Adding to the confusion are two videos posted on the Internet, both of which purport to depict Amiri. In one, he says he was kidnapped by Saudi and US agents and taken to the US. In another, he says he left of his own free will and was studying for further degrees in the US.

To go much beyond these facts is to engage in speculation. That said, here are three possible explanations to Amiri’s predicament:

Amiri has almost certainly been interviewed extensively by US intelligence.

This may be obvious, but whether he came to the US on his own, or was brought forcibly, his presence would not be ignored. US intelligence has probably obtained, or tried to obtain, everything he knows about Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran will know this, and must assume that everything Amiri knows, the US knows too, even if the scientist insists he told nothing. That means Iranian authorities may have to act on the assumption that some of their program’s secrets have been compromised. That is the context to which Amiri will return.

Defectors do redefect, for their own reasons.

Sometimes, they find that life on the other side of the line is not as great as they thought it was. Sometimes, they become homesick. Sometimes, they just go back, and no one knows why. Perhaps they were double agents to begin with. Perhaps their families were threatened.