Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Amiri Told CIA Iran Has No Nuclear Bomb Program

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Amiri Told CIA Iran Has No Nuclear Bomb Program

Article excerpt

Contrary to a news media narrative that Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri has provided intelligence on covert Iranian nuclear weapons work, CIA sources familiar with the Amiri case say he told his CIA handlers that there is no such Iranian nuclear weapons program, according to a former CIA officer.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counterterrorism official, told Inter Press Service (IPS) that his sources are CIA officials with direct knowledge of the entire Amiri operation.

The CIA contacts say that Amiri had been reporting to the CIA for some time before being brought to the U.S. during hajj last year, Giraldi told IPS, initially using satellite-based communication. But the contacts also say Amiri was a radiation safety specialist who was "absolutely peripheral" to Iran's nuclear program, according to Giraldi.

Amiri provided "almost no information" about Iran's nuclear program, said Giraldi, but had picked up "scuttlebutt" from other nuclear scientists with whom he was acquainted that the Iranians have no active nuclear weapon program.

Giraldi said information from Amiri's debriefings was only a minor contribution to the intelligence community's reaffirmation in the latest assessment of Iran's nuclear program of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate's (NIE) finding that work on a nuclear weapon has not been resumed after being halted in 2003.

Amiri's confirmation is cited in one or more footnotes to the new intelligence assessment of Iran's nuclear program, called a "Memorandum to Holders," according to Giraldi, but it is now being reviewed, in light of Amiri's "re-defection" to Iran.

An intelligence source who has read the "Memorandum to Holders" in draft form confirmed to IPS that it presents no clear-cut departure from the 2007 NIE on the question of weaponization. The developments in the Iranian nuclear program since the 2007 judgment are portrayed as "subtle and complex," said the source.

CIA officials are doing their best to "burn" Amiri by characterizing him as a valuable long-term intelligence asset, according to Giraldi, in part in order to sow as much distrust of him among Iranian intelligence officials as possible.

But Giraldi said it is "largely a defense mechanism" to ward off criticism of the agency for its handling of the Amiri case.

"The fact is he wasn't well vetted," said Giraldi, adding that Amiri was a "walk- in" about whom virtually nothing was known except his job.

Although an investigation has begun within the CIA of the procedures used in the case, Giraldi said, Amiri's erstwhile CIA handlers still do not believe he was a double agent or "dangle."

What convinced CIA officers of Amiri's sincerity, according to Giraldi, was Amiri's admission that he had no direct knowledge of the Iranian nuclear program.

A "dangle" would normally be prepared with some important intelligence that the U.S. is known to value.

Amiri's extremely marginal status in relation to the Iranian nuclear program was acknowledged by an unnamed U.S. official who told The New York Times and Associated Press on July 16 that Amiri was indeed a "low-level scientist," but that the CIA had hoped to use him to get to more highly placed Iranian officials.

Giraldi's revelations about Amiri's reporting debunks a media narrative in which Amiri provided some of the key evidence for a reversal by the intelligence community of its 2007 conclusion that Iran had not resumed work on nuclear weapons. …

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