by Ari Lieberman
The curious case of Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri.
In 2009, Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist, traveled to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to visit Muslim holy sites located in the Kingdom. Once there, he disappeared only to reappear later in some peculiar online rants, claiming to be residing in Virginia and alternatively, in Arizona, and expressing a desire to return to Iran.
Amiri, who conducted nuclear research at the military affiliated Malek Ashtar University of Technology and worked for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, was said to possess a treasure trove of classified information on Iran’s illicit nuclear program. On his YouTube channel, he alleged that he was kidnapped by CIA and Saudi intelligence and was offered large sums of money in exchange for information on Iran’s nuclear program.
For reasons known only to Amiri, and which will undoubtedly be the subject of much speculation, Amiri arrived at the Iranian interest section of the Pakistani embassy in Washington and two weeks later, returned to Iran. Approximately one year had elapsed from the time of his defection until his return to Iran.
Some have speculated that he feared for his family’s well-being and returned to spare them harassment by the Iranian authorities or perhaps he was genuinely homesick and thought the Iranians would buy his story of a CIA orchestrated kidnapping. Whatever the case, On August 3, 2016 Amiri was executed by the Mullahs in their favorite method of execution – hanging.
Amiri undoubtedly provided the administration with vital intelligence on Iran’s rogue nuclear program and that clearly did not sit well with Iranian officials. Upon his return, Amiri repeated the allegation of being kidnapped in Saudi Arabia in a joint CIA/Saudi operation. While the Iranians initially welcomed him, likely for public consumption, he was soon transformed into a treasonous enemy of the state and imprisoned and almost certainly tortured while undergoing grueling interrogation.
The Iranians could not be 100 percent certain of Amiri’s story. Iran is a nation built upon conspiracy theories and fantasy and in their view, the possibility of a CIA/Saudi operation to kidnap a nuclear scientist didn’t seem far-fetched and in fact, could have been plausible.
But then came the Clinton email dump which may have spelt doom for Amiri. Two emails in particular, which were made public and which were undoubtedly read by the Iranians shed light on the voluntary nature of Amiri’s defection and attempts by the U.S. to address his concerns and facilitate his return to Iran.
The first email, sent to Clinton on July 5, 2010, and processed through her home-brewed bathroom server, was authored by Richard Morningstar, acting special envoy of the U.S. secretary for Eurasian energy. This email implied that Amiri needed a cover story to return to Iran and that the U.S. should make an effort to address his concerns. He writes, "Per the subject we discussed, we have a diplomatic, 'psychological' issue, not a legal issue," and notes further that “Our friend has to be given a way out. We should recognize his concerns and frame it in terms of a misunderstanding with no malevolent intent and that we will make sure there is no recurrence. Our person won't be able to do anything anyway. If he has to leave, so be it.”
The second email was sent to Clinton by her senior foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan. In the email, which was sent on July 12, 2010, Sullivan writes, “The gentleman you have talked to Bill Burns about has apparently gone to his country's interests [sic] section because he is unhappy with how much time it has taken to facilitate his departure. This could lead to problematic news stories in the next 24 hours. Will keep you posted.”
Sullivan was referencing Amiri’s earlier contact with Iran’s interest section in the Pakistani embassy. It also implies that the U.S. was attempting to facilitate his return to Iran. If this was in fact a kidnapping as alleged by Amiri, why then would the U.S. facilitate his return to an enemy country? And why would it need to address his concerns? Kidnappers do not normally carry out their victim’s wishes when their victims ask to be returned. That would defeat the entire purpose of kidnapping.
The Iranians are no fools. They probably suspected that Amiri voluntarily defected all along and the kidnapping element was nothing but a cover story. But the emails confirmed their suspicions and Amiri then paid for his decision with his life. If that was indeed the case, Hillary Clinton, through gross negligence and dereliction of duty, may have sealed Amiri’s gruesome fate.
Ari Lieberman is an attorney and former prosecutor who has authored numerous articles and publications on matters concerning the Middle East and is considered an authority on geo-political and military developments affecting the region.
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