The cloud of mystery hovering over the disappearance of an Iranian nuclear scientist is slowly clearing. Official sources in Washington told The New York Times on Friday that Shahram Amiri, who claimed he was kidnapped and tortured by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was in fact an agency informant in Tehran for several years, and supplied them with information on Iran's nuclear program.
According to the officials, Amiri was also one of the sources that helped author a controversial report published by the American National Intelligence in 2007, which claimed Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program back in 2003.
The sources in Washington noted that Amiri traveled at some point to Saudi Arabia, and was sneaked out of the country by the CIA. Eventually he settled in the state of Arizona. It is still not clear whether he tried to bring his family members to the United States.
Sources in the Obama administration admitted that Amiri's decision to return to Iran embarrassed Washington and expressed concern that his return might undermine efforts to convince other Iranian scientists to desert the Islamic Republic.
The American official's claims contradict Amiri's account, according to which he was nabbed and tortured by American agents in Saudi Arabia. The United States adamantly denied the allegations, and said they were fabricated by Amiri in an effort to survive.
Hero or not? Shahram Amiri with son back in Tehran (Photo: AP)
"His safety depends on him sticking to that fairy tale about pressure and torture," claimed an American official who asked to remain anonymous. "His challenge is to try to convince the Iranian security forces that he never cooperated with the United States," he said.
However, the Iranian Foreign Ministry on Thursday already hinted that it casts doubts on Amiri's story. "We first have to see what has happened in these two years and then we will determine if he’s a hero or not," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a French news agency. "Iran must determine if his claims about being kidnapped were correct or not," he added.
The New York Times said American sources surprisingly volunteered new information on the affair – after refusing to admit that Amiri lived under a false identity in Tucson and Virginia.
Official sources on Thursday told the Washington Post that Amiri received $5 million in return for his information, but will most likely not be able to use the funds due to financial sanctions on Iran.