The scientist, Shahram Amiri, described to American intelligence officers details of how a university in Tehran became the covert headquarters for the country’s nuclear efforts, the officials confirmed. While still in Iran, he was also one of the sources for a much-disputed National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s suspected weapons programme, published in 2007, the officials said. For several years, Amiri provided what one official described as “significant, original” information about secret aspects of his country’s nuclear programme, according to the Americans.
This account by the Americans, some of whom are apparently trying to discredit Amiri’s tale of having been kidnapped by the CIA, provides the latest twist in one of strangest tales of the nuclear era. It also provides the first hint of how the US acquired intelligence from Iranian scientists, besides its previously reported penetrations of Iranian computer systems.
Amiri arrived in Tehran on Thursday repeating his allegation that he had been grabbed in Saudi Arabia by the CIA and Saudi intelligence, and tortured. American officials, clearly embarrassed that he had left a programme that promised him a new identity and benefits amounting to about $5 million, said his accusations that he had been kidnapped and drugged were manufactured, and an effort to survive what will almost certainly be a grilling by the Iranian authorities.
“His safety depends on him sticking to that fairy tale about pressure and torture,” insisted one of the American officials. “His challenge is to try to convince the Iranian security forces that he never cooperated with the United States.”
On Thursday, even as Amiri was publicly greeted at home by his 7-year-old son and held a news conference, Iran’s foreign minister gave the first official hints of Iranian doubts about his story. “We first have to see what has happened in these two years and then we will determine if he’s a hero or not,” the BBC quoted the foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, as saying.