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Iranian scientist defects: US covert ops hurt Iran nuclear program

The defection of Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri to the US shows that a long-running CIA covert program against the Iran nuclear program is working.

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Covert operations

“The covert operations that undoubtedly have been underway for several years have been important in two ways,” says Fitzpatrick at IISS. “One is the knowledge that has been revealed ... that has set back Iran’s ability to keep its nuclear facilities secret. When Qom was revealed, for example, it rendered it inoperable as a venue for producing the fissile material for nuclear weapons that it had apparently been intended for. And it looks as though Amiri may have played a factor in that revelation.”

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The second “is in impeding Iran’s drive toward getting as close to nuclear weapons as possible,” says Fitzpatrick. “[Covert operations have] impeded the drive by apparently inducing industrial sabotage that has resulted in a more rapid breakage rate for centrifuges, and by—maybe—trying to remove some of the brains from the program.”

ABC reported that CIA case officers for more than a decade have tried to recruit Iranian scientists and officials using relatives already living in the US and have made hundreds of interviews, many of them in Los Angeles, where there is a large Iranian-American community.

The US government is working on a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program that is expected to revise some conclusions of the last one. That NIE in December 2007 concluded that Iran had worked on a nuclear weapon program until the autumn of 2003, but then stopped.

Reports of the defection come while Iran has touted recent intelligence successes of its own, including the high-profile February capture of Abdolmalek Rigi, the head the Jundallah (Soldiers of God), a Sunni and ethnic Baluch rebel group responsible for a string of high-profile attacks that have killed scores of civilians and Revolutionary Guard officers and soldiers.

Iran accused the US of supporting the group—which Washington denies—along with Kurdish, Arab and other minorities against the government. Iranian officials showed photographs they said were images of Mr. Rigi, just days before his capture, at a US military base in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, Iranian intelligence agents mounted what they called a “complex” cross-border operation to free an Iranian diplomat held for 16 months in northwest Pakistan. Iran accused US and Israeli agents of backing the kidnappers.

“We have a high intelligence capability in the region,” Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said, according to the Associated Press. “We have a good intelligence dominance over all other secret agencies active in the region.”

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