The Conflicted, Confusing Case of the Iranian Nuclear Scientist

What we know about Shahram Amiri

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri disappeared in June 2009 during a trip to Saudi Arabia. Today he's in Washington, DC, at the Pakistani Embassy's Iranian Interests section, which is Iran's formal diplomatic outpost in the U.S. Just about everything that happened in between--and what's going to happen next--is disputed. Here's what we know.

  • U.S. Says He's Free to Return to Iran The Agence France-Presse reports, "An Iranian nuclear scientist, who Tehran claims was abducted by US forces, has been in the United States by choice 'for some time' and is 'free to go,' the US State Department said Tuesday. 'He's been here for some time, I'm not going to specify for how long, but he has chosen to return,' State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. 'He has been here on his free will and is obviously free to go. In fact he was scheduled to travel to Iran yesterday and wasn't able to make all the necessary arrangements to reach Iran through transit countries,' Crowley added."
  • Iran Says He Was Kidnapped by CIA The Los Angeles Times' Alex Rodriguez and Borzou Daragahi report, "Iranian state television said Amiri has already been in touch with Iranian media in New York and quoted him as saying he had been held by armed men and under extreme psychological pressure for 14 months and called for his immediate return home. ... Mustafa Rahmani, head of the Iranian interests section, 'is making arrangements for [Amiri's] repatriation back to Iran.'"
  • U.S. Says He's Source on Iranian Nukes The New York Times' Salman Masood and Alan Cowell write, "The United States government has never officially discussed Mr. Amiri or his disappearance, though a Western official briefed recently on evidence of Iran's nuclear program said he was 'one of the sources' for new information on the program." This implies that Amiri defected to the U.S.
  • Pakistan Says Conflicting Things Wired's Spencer Ackerman reports, "Both the Pakistani and Iranian governments claimed this morning he's taken refuge in Pakistani's Washington embassy and is trying to get home. But a spokesperson at the Pakistani embassy flatly denies to Danger Room that Amiri is there. ... The discrepancy between what the Pakistani embassy and the Pakistani foreign ministry say about Amiri's whereabouts is typical of this story. Everything about Amiri's case is murky."

Confusion over the scientist deepened in June, when two conflicting videos purporting to show the scientist emerged just before the United Nations Security Council voted to approve a new set of American-backed economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. It showed a young man speaking in Persian through a computer phone hookup and saying he had been kidnapped in a joint operation involving the C.I.A. and the Saudi intelligence service in Medina on June 3, 2009. He said that he was taken to a house in Saudi Arabia, that he was injected with a shot, and that when he awoke he was on a plane heading to the United States.

He said he recorded the video on April 5 in Tucson. The announcer said that he could not disclose how the video was obtained.

But a second videotape, posted on YouTube shortly after the first video was publicized, showed a different young man in a suit who, also speaking in Persian, identified himself as Mr. Amiri. He said he was free and safe in the United States and was working on his Ph.D. He also demanded an end to what he called false videos about himself, saying he had no interest in politics or experience in nuclear weapons programs.

If the Iranian version is true, it is not clear how the man was able to reach the Pakistani Embassy. If the second version is accurate, it is not clear why he would want to take refuge at the embassy.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.