Let’s start with the obvious: it’s highly unlikely that Shahram Amiri, a mid-level nuclear scientist from Iran, was kidnapped by the CIA and tortured, although that’s what he claims.
Amiri says that in 2009 he was kidnapped by the CIA and Saudi intelligence, drugged, and spirited to the United States, where he then survived “mental torture” designed to force him to reveal secrets about Iran’s nuclear program.
He’s posted a series of contradictory You Tube videos about his supposed ordeal, in which he alternates between saying that he was seized against his will and held captive and saying that he is free. But it’s almost unimaginable that the United States would kidnap him, and the official U.S. view that Amiri defected to the United States while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia seems plausible to me.
According to David Ignatiius, in the Washington Post, "Amiri made contact with the CIA well before his reported defection during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in June 2009."
Amiri’s own comments seem laughable. “I have succeeded in escaping from American intelligence in Virginia,” he said, in a June 29 video. (In fact, few captives of the CIA produce seemingly unending stream of You Tube videos.) Yesterday he showed up at the Iranian Interests Section on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C., and today he’s winging his way home.
It’s also plausible that the thugs who control Iran these days threatened his young wife and child who remained back home after Amiri defected.
One aspect of Amiri’s story, however, rings true. He says that U.S. officials “pressured me to help with their propaganda against Iran,” and they suggested that he talk to U.S. reporters to say that he had secret, damaging information on his laptop. I don’t doubt that the United States would try to use Amiri for propaganda purposes, even by fabricating or exaggerating the information that he supposedly possessed.
That’s because the United States is overly concerned, to the point of seeming obsession, with Iran’s nuclear program. Iran, with some credibility, has claimed that at least some of the evidence about the military dimensions of its nuclear research, often cited by the International Atomic Energy Agency, are fabrications. In the Spy vs. Spy game, fabrications and fake intelligence are commonplace, as anyone who remembers the U.S. propaganda campaign over Iraq in 2001-2003 recalls. It’s unclear whether Amiri gave the United States anything of value after his now-reversed defection, but one thing’s for sure: in the Spy vs. Spy game now, it will be Iran which gains vast propaganda points when it allows Amiri to make a well-publicized victory lap describing his kidnapping, torture, and daring “escape from American intelligence.”