Ten Questions Regarding the Case of the Missing Iranian Scientist

07/13/2010 05:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist, went missing in May 2009 during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Other than the fact that Amiri subsequently resurfaced in the U.S., almost everything else in the espionage-thriller style case is disputed publicly. The barrage of information offered during the past 5 weeks makes it difficult to distinguish between genuine information, disinformation and spins.

When Dr. Amiri went missing, there were reports that he had defected to the United States in a clandestine intelligence operation, while Iran claimed that he had been kidnapped. The case went almost completely off the media radar for more than a year.

Then on June 8, 2010, in a video clip broadcast on Iranian state media, a man claiming to be Dr. Amiri said he had been kidnapped by CIA agents during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in 2009. "They took me to a house located somewhere that I didn't know. They gave me an anesthetic injection," he said in the video. He then said that he was living in Tucson, Arizona, and had been subjected to eight months of "the most severe tortures and psychological pressures."

On the same day, a different video clip was posted on YouTube, appearing to have been recorded by the same person, completely contradicting the version offered in the previous video. In the second video, the person claimed to be in the United States voluntarily to continue his education, "I am free here and I assure everyone that I am safe."

In a third video broadcast on Iran state TV on June 29, 2010, a man appearing to be Dr. Amiri said, "I, Shahram Amiri, am a national of the Islamic Republic of Iran and a few minutes ago I succeeded in escaping U.S. security agents in Virginia. Presently, I am producing this video in a safe place. I could be re-arrested at any time."

His last video statement coincided with the most recent development in this case: the announcement made by a Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman that confirmed Amiri's arrival at its Washington embassy on July 13, at 6:30pm. The Pakistan Embassy in the United States hosts the Iran interests section, since Iran has no diplomatic ties with the U.S.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Mustafa Rahmani, head of the Iranian interests section, "is making arrangements for [Amiri's] repatriation back to Iran." According to the BBC, Iran state radio reported Thursday, "A few hours ago Shahram Amiri took refuge at Iran's interest section at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, wanting to return to Iran immediately."

The inescapable comparison of these events with the defection and re-defection case of Vitaly Yurchenko makes Amiri's case seem even more bizarre.

Yurchenko, a 25-year veteran KGB officer in the Soviet Union, made a fake defection while working in Rome in 1985, ending up in the U.S. During his interrogations by U.S. intelligence community agents, he identified two Americans as KGB assets: Ronald Pelton, a National Security Agency employee, and Edward Lee Howard, a CIA case officer. The case took a strange turn when in November 1985, just before getting a meal at Au Pied de Cochon, a restaurant in Georgetown, Washington D.C., Yurchenko told the CIA agent accompanying him that he was taking a walk. However, he never returned. Shortly thereafter, Yurchenko appeared in a press conference, and announced that he had been kidnapped and drugged by the CIA. Back in Moscow, he was decorated by the Soviet government for the successful "infiltration operation."

Questions:

1. Is the person taking refuge at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington D.C. in fact Dr. Amiri, the missing Iranian scientist?
2. If the person is indeed Dr. Amiri, how did he manage to escape? Wasn't he being held in a safe, escape-proof environment guarded by U.S. intelligence community agents? Did he have outside or inside help?
3. If so, how did Dr. Amiri know to contact and identify his supporters? How did they know to contact and identify him? Was there a pre-arranged procedure of contact, which may support the sham defection theory?
4. Where was Dr. Amiri living? In Arizona, as he claimed in one video, or in Virginia, as he claimed in another video?
5. Whether living in Arizona or Virginia, how did he manage to get to Washington D.C.? Did he have money to pay for the trip? Was there a car waiting for him?
6. In the third video he said that he had escaped a few minutes earlier. If his claim is true, then it means that Dr. Amiri was moved to an Iranian "safe house" in Virginia not far from the location where he was being held by U.S. agents. Who prepared and maintained that "safe house?"
7. How did Dr. Amiri know to go to the Pakistani Embassy? Did anyone who was helping him know that the embassy serves as interest office for Iran?
8. Who filmed/made the videos in which Dr. Amiri claimed to have been kidnapped? You must have an account with YouTube to post. Has the CIA tracked the account holder?
9. Is Amiri trying to re-defect voluntarily, or is he yielding to Iran's threats to harm his family members, whom he left behind in Iran?
10. Is the anonymous leak to the media that "Amiri operated as a CIA asset in Iran for several years before his defection, providing evidence that Iran continued a program to produce nuclear weapons," a credible statement or a low blow by a spurned agency to make Amiri change his mind again and not attempt to return to Iran?

These and other nagging questions indicate that if the person inside the Pakistani Embassy is indeed Dr. Amiri, then there must be people within the United States who helped him. Could they be Iranian sleeper agents? How did Amiri know to contact them, or maybe they traced him? How? Was the defection and re-defection an elaborate Iranian ploy to smear the U.S. and deter other Iranian scientists who would seriously consider the U.S. an option if they wanted to defect?

Is it possible that Amiri did not escape from his captors as he alleged, but rather was dumped by the CIA after he gave all the information he had, and made unreasonable demands, making him a liability? If true, then he may have been driven by the CIA to the curb next to the Pakistani Embassy. Once inside the Iranian interests section, did he simply make up the kidnapping and escape stories to protect himself from the wrath of the unforgiving Iranian security services when he returns to Tehran, where he will have to provide plausible explanations or face hanging from a crane?

Answers anyone?