Iranian scientist on way home; says he was kidnapped
Mr. Amiri had originally “left his family behind, that was his choice,” said a U.S. official who was briefed on the case, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to talk publicly about the case.
Vincent Cannistraro, a retired CIA officer, said he believes Mr. Amiri was not recruited by the CIA but volunteered to provide information to the agency about Iran’s nuclear program over a period of years before he came to the U.S. Mr. Cannistraro said he believed that after Mr. Amiri’s defection, the Iranian government threatened to harm his son as leverage to get him back to Tehran.
“It certainly was an embarrassment to the Iranian government, and clearly they wanted him back,” Mr. Cannistraro said.
Mr. Amiri, flying home via Doha, Qatar, was expected to arrive in Tehran early Thursday. It is not clear what sort of reception he will receive.
“We will examine his circumstances. It’s obvious it was a kidnapping,” Mr. Mottaki told reporters through a translator during a visit to Lisbon, Portugal. “We reserve our right to pursue this case as we see fit.”
There are relatively few known U.S. cases of defectors changing their minds and returning to their homeland.
Vitaly Yurchenko, head of North American espionage for the Soviet Union’s KGB, defected in 1985, only to “redefect” a few months later, claiming he was not a traitor but rather a kidnap and drugging victim. He returned home and was awarded a medal.
Two sons-in-law of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein met a far worse fate. Hussein Kamel al-Majid and his brother, Saddam Kamel, defected from Iraq to Jordan in August 1995, along with their wives — Saddam’s daughters. When the brothers returned to Iraq they were killed, reportedly by relatives in Baghdad angered by their betrayal.
Before he disappeared, Mr. Amiri worked at Tehran’s Malek Ashtar University, an institution closely connected to the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said he does not know what Mr. Amiri may have told U.S. officials, but that the U.S. government “maintained contact with him” during his stay in the United States. Pressed whether Mr. Amiri was a defector, Mr. Crowley replied, “I just don’t know the answer.”
Mr. Keath reported from Cairo, Egypt. Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.