Comment: Defector’s Wish to Return to Iran Not Unusual

Shahram Amiri

Shahram Amiri

This website has covered extensively the case of Dr. Shahram Amiri, a scientific researcher employed in Iran’s nuclear program, who disappeared during a religious pilgrimage to Mecca in May or June of 2009. Tehran maintains that Dr. Amiri was abducted by CIA agents. However, most intelligence observers, including this writer, believe that the Iranian researcher willfully defected to the West, following a long, carefully planned intelligence operation involving the CIA, as well as French and German intelligence agencies.

Like all defectors, Dr. Amiri spent several months in a CIA safe house in the United States, where he was extensively debriefed by US intelligence officers. He was then given a new identity and resettled, reportedly in Tucson, Arizona. However, a few months after his resettlement, Dr. Amiri emerged from hiding and presented himself at the Iranian Interests Section of the embassy of Pakistan in Washington, DC. He simply walked in, calmly identified himself, and told stunned consular officials that he wished to return to Iran.

Although denied by the Pakistani embassy –for obvious reasons– this account has been confirmed by both the Pakistani and Iranian governments. The latter insists that Dr. Amiri was kidnapped by the CIA and somehow managed to escape his captors. This was officially denied by US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, who said that “Mr. [sic] Amiri has been in the United States of his own free will and he is free to go”. Secretary Clinton was correct: according to US law, defectors to the US are free to leave the country once their debriefing period has ended and they have been resettled. Her statement is also the first formal admission by a US government official that the missing Iranian scientist was in the United States.

The details behind Dr. Amiri’s 14-month disappearance are still far from clear. But his apparent attempt to return to Iran is certainly not unusual. Seasoned intelligence observers may remember the re-defection from the Soviet Union to the US of Lee Harvey Oswald, who moved to the USSR and renounced his US citizenship in 1959, only to change his mind and return to America three years later, along with his Russian wife. Another infamous Cold War re-defection case is that of Vitaly Yurchenko, a colonel with 25 years of service at the Soviet KGB, who defected to US in 1985. The details of his case are still shrouded in mystery. What is known is that, perhaps disillusioned by a lengthy debriefing process, which may have included elements of torture by CIA handlers suspicious of KGB dangling ploys, Yurchenko simply walked away from his CIA minder one day in November of 1985. Like Dr. Amiri, he simply walked in the Soviet Embassy in Washington, DC, identified himself as Vitaly Yurchenko, claimed he had been kidnapped and brutally tortured by the CIA, and requested safe passage to the Soviet Union.

Despite the lack of relevant information, the re-defections of both Vitaly Yurchenko and Shahram Amiri point to the complex psychology of defection. The latter can result in frustration, uncertainty, fear, disillusionment, and even eventual regret and reconsideration on the part of defectors. These are not psychologically disturbed individuals, but rather intelligent and extremely capable experts in their respective fields, whose actions may seem inconsistent due to the extremely ambiguous situations in which they find themselves.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

5 Responses to Comment: Defector’s Wish to Return to Iran Not Unusual

  1. Van says:

    Iranian nuclear scientist on his way home

    An Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared a year ago was on his way home to Tehran on Wednesday from the United States, ending a bizarre and mysterious intelligence drama.

    Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Amiri was on a flight home, traveling through the Gulf nation of Qatar and was expected to arrive in Tehran on early Thursday. A U.S. official confirmed that Amiri left the United States Tuesday night, but couldn’t provide more details.

    Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi told state TV that Iran will pursue the case of Amiri’s abduction through legal means.

  2. There is enough Knowledge about these People floating around, to know that the Best is yet to come to pass, as these defectors try to get back what they lost and then, even they, will have to have someone as a Friend and a Home somewhere. This Intel wreaks of a Greater Plan.

  3. sesli says:

    Hi I follow your work. I wish you continued success

  4. KMansfield says:

    The Iranian was a medical researcher according to what I’ve read. Why would he abandon his son, who he appears to be so fond of?

    Lee Harvey Oswald was sheep dipped, a fact which is well known by JFK researchers at this point due to FOIA documents made available. Why even bring it up unless you are trying to conflate these cases which are nothing like the Iranians?

  5. Kathy says:

    Nice work. This is a disturbing case. In Iran, it will have a chilling effect on others that may have been considering the US’s get your self rich scheme to attract professional defectors. In the end, real professionals discover that culture, family and peer respect are more important that all the money in the world. Not to mention that “freedom” in the US is oversold.

    Qian Xuesen, (In 1947 Qian became a lecturer at MIT, a post he held until 1949, when he was appointed the first director of the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Jet Propulsion Center at Caltech. He played a leading role in the development of the first American solid-fuel missile to be successfully launched. )
    is another case that yearns to be re reported. It explains the success of China’s space program. It underscore the problem the US has with intelligence, when it is eroded by our very own confused ideaolgy and latent racism.

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