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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Iran threatens family of Iranian nuke scientist

Iran has threatened the family of Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist who defected to the United States earlier this year, who has been a key source of information about Iran's nuclear program.
The high-stakes spy saga is being played out online, where both the Iranian intelligence agency and the CIA have posted dueling videos of the scientist. In one video, he claims the U.S. kidnapped him, in the other he says he is happy to be in the U.S.

Behind the scenes, the situation has become so grave that American officials fear Amiri could re-defect, according to the people briefed on the situation....

...

CIA officials pushed for Amiri to flee the country out of fear that his disclosures might expose him to Tehran as a spy.

Amiri vanished last year during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. The Iranian government claimed then that their scientist, a professor at Tehran's Malek Ashtar University, had been kidnapped by the CIA. In fact, say U.S. officials, the CIA, with the help of the Saudi government, whisked Amiri to the U.S., where he was to permanently resettle.

A few months after Amiri arrived, the Obama Administration announced that U.S. intelligence had discovered a second, hidden nuclear enrichment facility in the Iranian city of Qom.

Both the CIA and the White House have refused to comment on Amiri.

Complicating the defection is the fact that he left behind a wife and child. Since arriving in the U.S., and being secluded in Arizona, U.S. officials say Amiri has struggled with his decision to flee Iran.

Then came the alleged threats by Iranian intelligence, which set off the bizarre battle of dueling videos that were released earlier this month. The first, which was broadcast on Iranian state television, shows Amiri speaking to a computer camera and announcing that the U.S. had drugged and kidnapped him and forced him to Tucson, Arizona.

He appeared to be looking down at a script as he spoke.

According to the two current U.S. officials, Amiri called home earlier this year because he missed his family. On a second call, Iranian intelligence answered and threatened to harm his son, unless he taped an internet video saying he'd been kidnapped. Amiri, fearing for his family, agreed, according to a person briefed on the case.

"He missed his son," said the person. "And he couldn't help calling home to speak to him."

Within days, the CIA learned that Amiri had given the Iranians a video and moved quickly to produce a version of its own. The second video shows Amiri well-dressed and manicured with a globe - turned to North America - and chess set behind him as he appears to read from a teleprompter. He says, in Farsi, that he is happily living in the U.S. and going to school. He also denied having worked in the Iranian nuclear program and made a plea to his wife and son. "I want them to know that I never abandoned then, and that I will always love them."

According to one U.S. official, the CIA intended to produce the video and launch it on the internet before the Iranians had a chance to air their version.

Instead, the video languished at CIA headquarters for weeks, according to a senior intelligence official. Then, earlier this month, Iranian state television aired the Amiri video. Within a day, the CIA posted their Amiri video on YouTube, with a user identification of "shahramamiri2010."
Let's go to the videotape (sorry - Farsi without translation but look at his mannerisms).

One Iranian defector warned that Amiri has some tough decisions ahead. Reza Kahlili, who still uses a pseudonym to protect his relatives whom he left behind in Iran, told ABC News that Amiri is likely making life or death decisions.

Defecting, Khalili said, "becomes very emotional, and at times you question your sanity and the decisions that you've made."

"If he went backā€¦he would be tortured." Khalili said. "And then he would certainly be executed."
Khalili is the guy who wrote the book. Like Amiri, he worked for the CIA while still in Iran.

Ouch.

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