Amiri 'told CIA Iran had no bomb program' By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - Contrary to a news media narrative that Iranian scientist Shahram
Amiri has provided the United States with intelligence on covert Iranian
nuclear weapons work, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sources familiar with
the Amiri case say he told his CIA handlers that there was no such Iranian
nuclear weapons program, according to a former CIA officer.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counter-terrorism official, told Inter Press
Service (IPS) that his sources were CIA officials with direct knowledge of the
entire Amiri operation.
The CIA contacts say that Amiri had been reporting to the CIA for some time
before being brought to the United States while the hajj (pilgrimage) to
Saudi Arabia last year, Giraldi told IPS, initially
using satellite-based communication. But the contacts also say Amiri was a
radiation safety specialist who was "absolutely peripheral" to Iran's nuclear
program, according to Giraldi.
Amiri provided "almost no information" about Iran's nuclear program, said
Giraldi, but had picked up "scuttlebutt", meaning rumor or gossip, from other
nuclear scientists with whom he was acquainted, that the Iranians had no active
nuclear weapon program.
Giraldi said information from Amiri's debriefings was only a minor contribution
to the intelligence community's reaffirmation in the latest assessment of
Iran's nuclear program of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)'s
finding that work on a nuclear weapon has not been resumed after being halted
Amiri's confirmation is cited in one or more footnotes to the new intelligence
assessment of Iran's nuclear program, called a "Memorandum to Holders",
according to Giraldi, but it is now being reviewed, in light of Amiri's
"re-defection" to Iran.
An intelligence source who has read the "Memorandum to Holders" in draft form
confirmed to IPS that it presented no clear-cut departure from the 2007 NIE on
the question of weaponization. The developments in the Iranian nuclear program
since the 2007 judgment are portrayed as "subtle and complex", said the source.
CIA officials are doing their best to "burn" Amiri by characterizing him as a
valuable long-term intelligence asset, according to Giraldi, in part to sow as
much distrust of him among Iranian intelligence officials as possible.
But Giraldi said it is "largely a defense mechanism" to ward off criticism of
the agency for its handling of the Amiri case. "The fact is he wasn't well
vetted," said Giraldi, adding that Amiri was a "walk-in" about whom virtually
nothing was known except his job.
Although an investigation has begun within the CIA of the procedures used in
the case, Giraldi said, Amiri's erstwhile CIA handlers still did not believe he
was a double agent or "dangle".
What convinced CIA officers of Amiri's sincerity, according to Giraldi, was
Amiri's admission that he had no direct knowledge of the Iranian nuclear
program. A "dangle" would normally be prepared with some important intelligence
that the US is known to value.
Amiri's extremely marginal status in relation to the Iranian nuclear program
was acknowledged by an unnamed US official who told The New York Times and the
Associated Press on Friday that Amiri was indeed a "low-level scientist", but
that the CIA had hoped to use him to get to more highly placed Iranian
Giraldi's revelations about Amiri's reporting debunks a media narrative in
which Amiri provided some of the key evidence for a reversal by the
intelligence community of its 2007 conclusion that Iran had not resumed work on
An April 25 story by Washington Post reporters Joby Warrick and Greg Miller
said the long-awaited reassessment of the Iranian nuclear program had been
delayed in order to incorporate a "new flow of intelligence" coming from
"informants, including scientists with access to Iran's military programs".
They quote Director of National Intelligence Dennis C Blair as explaining in an
interview that the delay was because of "information coming in and the pace of
Warrick and Miller reported that Amiri had "provided spy agencies with details
about sensitive programs including a long-hidden uranium-enrichment plant near
the city of Qom". Their sources were said to be "current and former officials
in the United States and Europe".
Warrick and Miller could not get CIA officials to discuss Amiri. Instead they
quoted the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) as saying that Amiri
"has been associated with sensitive nuclear programs for at least a decade".
The NCRI is the political arm of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), the anti-regime
Iranian terrorist organization that has been a conduit for Israeli intelligence
on the Iranian nuclear program.
On June 8, David E Sanger of the New York Times cited "foreign diplomats and
some American officials" as sources in reporting that a series of intelligence
briefings for members of the United Nations Security Council last spring
amounted to "a tacit admission by the United States that it is gradually
backing away" from the 2007 NIE. Sanger referred to "new evidence" that
allegedly led analysts to "revise and in some cases reverse" that estimate's
conclusion that Iran was no longer working on a nuclear weapon.
Sanger cited "Western officials" as confirming that Amiri was providing some of
the new information.
Three days later, the Washington Post ran another story quoting David Albright,
director of the Institute for Science and International Security, as saying
that the intelligence briefings for UN Security Council members had included
"information about nuclear weaponization" obtained from Amiri.
Albright said he had been briefed on the intelligence earlier that week, and
the Post reported a "US official" had confirmed Albright's account.
Subsequently, ABC News reported that Amiri's evidence had "helped to
contradict" the 2007 NIE, and McClatchy Newspapers repeated Albright's
allegation and the conclusion that the new assessment had reversed the
intelligence conclusion that Iran had ceased work related to weaponization.
In creating that false narrative, journalists have evidently been guided by
personal convictions on the issue that are aligned with certain US, European
and Israeli officials who have been pressuring the Barack Obama administration
to reject the 2007 estimate.
For the Israelis and for some US officials, reversing the conclusion that Iran
was not actively pursuing weaponization was considered a precondition for
maneuvering US policy into a military confrontation with Iran.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing
in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book,
Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was
published in 2006.