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The Iranian Scientist: A Defector or Not? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Until now, the case of Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri has been shrouded in mystery. Did he defect or was he kidnapped? Is he a nuclear scientist or a “simple researcher?

If the Iranian Shahram Amiri is truly a double-agent, then this represents the second time that the Americans have been taken in by a poisoned commodity. The first was the Jordanian double agent who blew himself up in Afghanistan in the midst of US personnel [killing 7 CIA officers]. This time, Amiri has returned to Tehran amidst celebration and sarcastic laughter [at the US] while he was similarly welcomed in Washington a year ago with celebration and sarcastic laugher [at Iran].

Creating immediate drama, Amiri appeared in 3 video recordings posted on the internet. In two of these videos he claimed that he had been abducted, whilst in the third he said that he travelled to the US to study, before finally returning to Tehran in a new chapter of this exciting propaganda war.

We must acknowledge that the Iranian regime has won this round, after suffering greatly from the propaganda that was launched against it internally and externally. Whether Amiri returned of his own free will or not, it is clear that the Iranian regime has learned, in just a short period of time, how to skillfully manage a political propaganda war. The Iranian regime handled the news of the arrest of the leader of the Jundalla [resistance] movement like something out of a James Bond movie. Prior to that, the Iranian regime used top Iranian reformist Mr. Mohamed Ali Abtahi to its own benefit following his arrest, forcing him to post a video message on the internet from prison to the Iranian public, in which he apologized for his actions and leveled accusations at his comrades in the reformist movement. While now we are looking at images of Shahram Amiri embracing his son upon his joyous return.

Amiri’s story is extremely confusing. He says that he was visiting Medina when he was kidnapped and drugged and forcibly taken by airplane to the US. There are two flaws in his story. Firstly it is extremely unusual for people to be kidnapped during public events; rather it is usually the other way around, with individuals who are on the no-fly list or under surveillance seizing the opportunity of attending an international sports event or religious festive to make their escape. This is something that Iranians have done before; with athletes, diplomats, or officials using the pretext of visiting a foreign country or a holy site to escape. The second flaw in Amiri’s account of being kidnapped is that the Americans allowed him to visit the embassy [to obtain a visa] and return to Iran when it is more likely for nuclear scientists to disappear or even be killed, because of the high military value that they represent. It is hard to believe that the Americans kidnapped him only to cut him loose [to return to Tehran] as if he were a tourist who suddenly got bored of travelling. The Americans do not allow their prisoners in Guantanamo Bay to walk a couple of steps to the bathroom without being shackled and guarded…therefore this does not make any sense.

Another theory suggests that he might have been tricked into seeking [political] asylum [in the US], but changed his mind after arriving in Washington.

Another possibility is that he went there of his own free will, and after the Americans obtained all of the information that they needed from him over the past 12 months, they allowed him to return. The flaw in this story is that his return would be bad for the Americans, as it discourages other [Iranians] who wish to defect from doing so.

There is another possibility based upon our understanding of the nature of the Iranian regime, which is well known for its brutality in dealing with the opposition. Perhaps they threatened his family, his wife and son; after all they are not unfamiliar with such practices. For example, when the Iranian security forces decided to suppress the Iranian reformists last year, they arrested the daughter of Sheikh Hashemi Rafsanjani, and they pursued the family members of [Mehdi] Karroubi and [Mir Hossein] Moussavi.

The final scenario is wildly imaginative, and that is that this man is a decoy or double-agent working for Iranian security and that he was sent to America as a so-called defector in order to obtain information and tarnish their enemy’s reputation. We have seen similar cases to this, for example following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri; eye-witnesses came forward to report false information that was initially taken on face value. However the truth later unfolded and it was revealed that these witnesses were recruited to spread false information in order weaken the investigation into this crime and undermine the credibility of actual witnesses.

Sometimes the truth is much simpler than all of this; let us recall that Amiri is only 32 years old, and could be like many other top scientists who are also politically naïve. This would explain if he was tricked by the Americans, or had a change of heart.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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