News & Politics

Iranian Nuclear Scientist Executed for Spying

Iranian Nuclear Scientist Executed for Spying
(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

An Iranian nuclear scientist who defected to the U.S. a decade ago and then returned to Iran only to be arrested and tried for espionage has been executed.

Shahram Amiri at first claimed he was kidnapped on his way to Saudi Arabia by the CIA. But U.S. officials said in response to Iranian protests that he had defected.

Amiri was alluded to in unclassified Hillary Clinton emails released by the State Department last year.


New Hillary Clinton emails released by the State Department appear to lift the curtain on the bizarre circumstances surrounding Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist who claims to have been abducted by the CIA.

The just-released emails, which were sent to Clinton back in 2010, seem to support what State Department sources have long maintained: that Amiri was not abducted, but a defector and paid informant who changed his mind about helping the U.S.

The emails also appear to offer insight into the department’s plans to get Amiri back to Iran safely.

Amiri’s complicated story began in 2009, when he mysteriously disappeared while on a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Almost immediately, Tehran accused the U.S. of abducting him. The U.S. denied the accusation, saying it had no knowledge of Amiri’s whereabouts.

Fast forward to nearly a year later, when a series of videos surfaced online of a man claiming to be Amiri.

In them, he denied being a defector and claimed to have been hiding out from CIA operatives in Virginia. In a subsequent video, however, he said he was living freely in Arizona.

Two weeks later, on July 14, 2010, CNN reported that Amiri had returned to Tehran after going to Iran’s interest section at the embassy of Pakistan in Washington. CNN’s report appears to directly correspond with an email Clinton’s top foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan sent her, now being released by the State Department.

In the email — written two days before the CNN report — Sullivan expressed fear of the media catching wind of the story, writing: “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.”

An earlier email seemingly shows how the State Department worked to carefully craft Amiri’s return to Iran.

Originally welcomed home in 2010 as a hero, the Iranian government came to the realization that Amiri was a spy and arrested him in 2011. At first, he was sentenced to a long prison term. But during the appeals process, lower courts changed the punishment to execution.

“Shahram Amiri had access to the system’s top secrets and had gotten connected with our number one enemy the Great Satan,” Iranian judicial spokesman Hojjat al-Eslam Mehdi Mohseni-Ejehei told reporters Sunday, according to state news agency IRNA.

Amiri’s case had been reviewed by the Iranian high court, which upheld the conviction, according to Mohseni-Ejehei. “The Iranian High Court reviewed this decision with extreme care given the allegations of espionage,” he said.

The charge of treason in Iran could result in anything between 10 years in prison and the death penalty, Mohseni-Ejehei explained. But since the beginning of Amiri’s case, all lower courts have ruled to execute, he added, according to IRNA.

You have to wonder how much of our assessment of Iranian progress toward the construction of a bomb was based on this scientist’s information. He may have assured the CIA that Iran was still 5 years away from a bomb in 2009, which may have led President Obama to begin his outreach to Tehran.

Amiri can’t be the only asset we have in the Iranian nuclear program. Others should take note of Amiri’s fate. If they’re going to defect, there’s no room to change your mind.