The defection of Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri to the US shows
that a long-running CIA covert program against the Iran nuclear
program is working.
An Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared while on a religious
pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year is reported to have defected to
the United States and been briefing the CIA on Iran's controversial
ABC News's report on Shahram Amiri is a rare public revelation on
a long-running covert intelligence effort led by the United States.
Sources briefed on the continuing CIA operation told ABC that Mr.
Amiri's defection was "an intelligence coup" in American attempts to
damage and better understand Iran's controversial nuclear program.
"Amiri's disappearance was part of a long-planned CIA operation
to get him to defect," ABC reported. "The CIA reportedly approached
the scientist in Iran through an intermediary who made an offer of
resettlement on behalf of the United States." Amiri "helped confirm
US intelligence assessments" about Iran's nuclear work.
"Iran has by now enough trained operators and scientists that it
would be impossible to decapitate the program by persuading the
leading scientists to defect or otherwise making them disappear,"
says Mark Fitzpatrick, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the
International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "But in any
fledgling nuclear weapons program, there are a small number of key
scientists who can make the critical breakthroughs," Mr. Fitzpatrick
told the Monitor.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday said he wanted to quickly see a
fourth round of UN sanctions imposed upon Iran, because Iran has not
yet been able to convince the UN's nuclear watchdog agency that it
aims only for peaceful energy production. "I'm interested in seeing
that regime in place in weeks," Mr. Obama said after meeting French
President Nicolas Sarkozy in Washington.
Building diplomatic momentum for more sanctions was the top
agenda item for G-8 foreign ministers meeting in Canada. In their
final communique on Tuesday, they agreed to "remain open to
dialogue" with Tehran but "reaffirmed the need to take appropriate
and strong steps" to demonstrate resolve.
Amiri was a researcher at Malek Ashtar University of Defense
Technology, which was listed for sanctions by the European Union in
mid-2008. According to the European Union Council regulation, it was
"linked" to Iran's Ministry of Defense and "set up a missiles
training course in 2003."
The rector of the university, a lieutenant general, was named in
the UN Security Council's first round of sanctions on Iran in 2006
as one of seven "persons involved in the nuclear program."
Iranian news reports refer to Amiri as an "academic." Last
October Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran had documents
proving that the US had abducted Amiri and also played a role in the
March 2007 disappearance in Istanbul of retired Deputy Defense
Minister Alireza Asgari, who also reportedly defected and has helped
Western and Israeli intelligence agencies.
Last December, however, the head of Atomic Energy Organization of
Iran (AEOI), Ali Akbar Salehi, told the Fars News Agency -- which
has close links to the Revolutionary Guard -- that Amiri had "no
links" with the AEOI and was never employed by it.
Still, three months after Amiri disappeared during a June 2009
pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, Iran quietly informed the UN's nuclear
watchdog that it was building a small uranium enrichment plant near
Qom, south of Tehran - apparently after learning that US
intelligence had become aware of the facility, and to preempt by a
day President Obama's announcement of its existence. …