Iranian scientist saga has message for defectors: big bucks in U.S.

July 16, 2010

Five million dollars is a lot of money for most people on this planet.

IRAN-SCIENTIST/So the revelation by unnamed U.S. officials that Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri was paid that amount for providing information about Iran may actually end up encouraging others thinking of defecting — that’s one train of thought among some experts.

“It is a great advertisement to folks that if they have good information — $5 million or more may be theirs.  They just need to make up their minds that when they come here — there is no going back,” a former senior U.S. official tells me. “The message to me seems to be: don’t screw with Uncle Sam. We can be a very good friend, but a worse enemy.”

What has been surprising is that U.S. officials seem to have decided to play hardball (instead of going the silent route) by speaking out (anonymously of course) and saying that Amiri started giving information to the United States while living  in Iran, that he was paid $5 million to show he was an important defector, and he disliked his wife and didn’t want to bring his family to the U.S.

Matthew Cole of ABC News, who first reported in March that Amiri had defected to the United States, has an interesting piece about what U.S. officials are now saying about the Iranian scientist.

“Amiri agreed to take the money and offer of resettlement, but told the CIA he would leave his family behind. When asked why he would go alone, Amiri told the CIA he disliked his wife and felt that his son would be better off in Iran believing his father had disappeared, according to the officials briefed on the matter,” Cole writes. IRAN-SCIENTIST/

The view from Tehran is quite different. Amiri on his return to Iran said he was abducted by the CIA and pressured to lie about Iran’s nuclear program.

The guessing in U.S. circles is that Iran will make political hay from Amiri’s time in the United States as an example of surviving harm by the West until it’s played out, and then let him quietly disappear into the woodwork (without physical harm because too many people are watching what happens to him).

U.S. officials have repeatedly denied that Amiri was tortured, saying he was free to come and go as he pleased.

“One message to come out of this—and clearly, too—is that the United States does not compel people to defect or torture those who do.   It takes good care of those who keep faith with America,” a U.S. official tells me on condition of anonymity.

“Amiri, for reasons of his own, chose to claim—falsely—that he’d been kidnapped and abused.  The only people this episode should dissuade would be those who might follow a similar course, and tell lies about what happened to them here,” the official said.

Photo credit: Reuters/Raheb Homavandi (Amiri at a news conference in Tehran, Amiri flashes victory sign upon arrival in Iran),

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