A headline on this article about the Iranian nuclear scientist who claimed that he was abducted by the CIA incorrectly indicated that the agency had acknowledged withdrawing the scientist and another informant from Iran out of concern for their safety. That information was provided by current and former U.S. officials familiar with the cases, not the CIA.
CIA says it moved Iranian scientist, 2nd informant to U.S. over safety concerns
Saturday, July 17, 2010
The Iranian scientist who returned to his homeland this week was one of two CIA informants whisked out of Iran last year by the agency amid concerns that the Tehran government had discovered they were providing secrets to the United States, current and former U.S. officials said.
Before his abrupt departure for Iran, Shahram Amiri was among half a dozen sources who had provided information to the CIA from inside Iran's nuclear program and were subsequently resettled in the United States, officials said. All were given reward packages -- including the $5 million set aside for Amiri -- administered by financial firms outside the CIA's control.
The disclosures are among the details that have surfaced about the CIA's efforts to gather intelligence on Iran, as well as its handling of defectors from that country, since Amiri's highly public return to Tehran.
Amiri has alleged that he was drugged and abducted by the CIA before being brought to the United States and was subjected to coercive interrogations on Iran's nuclear program. U.S. officials have adamantly denied Amiri's assertions, saying he defected voluntarily and is concocting stories to enable his return to a country that he betrayed.
Amiri was among a small network of spies inside Iran that had provided intelligence about nuclear programs and sites for several years, current and former U.S. officials said. Some were brought out because they wanted to relocate, but Amiri and a second informant were pushed to leave Iran after indications that they had come under suspicion by the country's Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
"There was fear of exposure," said a former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the cases. One had gotten "sloppy" in his communications with the agency, the former official said, but even when told of the exposure risk remained in Iran "longer than we thought prudent."
The CIA is expected to conduct a damage assessment to determine whether any sources or methods were compromised by Amiri's return. "They have to go over everything he did provide and put a big caveat on it," said a former high-ranking CIA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
If Amiri's information was being used in a widely anticipated assessment of Iran's nuclear weapons plans that has already missed several deadlines, the assessment could again be delayed, officials said.
U.S. officials said that when Amiri was resettled in the United States, it was his decision not to try to bring his family, perhaps because those relations were strained. Once inside the United States, defectors are typically allowed to choose where they want to resettle.
"There is no retirement resort for defectors," the former senior U.S. official said.
The rewards they get are often based on promises made while they worked as spies, but are subsequently spelled out in memoranda drafted by the CIA's National Resettlement Operations Center in the United States.