No Place like Iran

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Hosenball; With Maziar Bahari

Until he flew home to Iran last week, claiming to have been kidnapped and tortured by American agents, Shahram Amiri was a client of the CIA's National Resettlement Operations Center (NROC). That experience may not have improved his attitude toward America. The NROC, an office in the agency's National Clandestine Service, is supposed to keep foreign defectors as happy and comfortable as possible--a frequently thankless task, since they tend to be a stressed-out lot. What makes the center's task even tougher is that it's widely dismissed by high-flying CIA officers as little more than baby-sitting emotionally fragile foreigners. Former intelligence officials say the NROC's ranks are often populated by retirees, contractors, and spies who have seen better days.

For the record, national-security officials emphatically deny the Iranian's allegations. "Amiri wasn't kidnapped and he wasn't coerced," insisted one U.S. official familiar with Amiri's case, asking not to be named discussing sensitive information. No one is saying why the alleged nuclear researcher left his wife and child behind when he vanished while on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia a year ago, only to reappear in America months later. But an Iranian official, requesting anonymity for obvious reasons, says Amiri's family was warned that they would suffer unless he went home--and last week he made a very public redefection back to Iran. "He chose a stupid way to do it, lying about what happened to him here to try to build up his credibility back home," the American official says. …