An award-winning Iranian nuclear scientist, who disappeared last year under mysterious circumstances, has defected to the CIA and been resettled in the United States, according to people briefed on the operation by intelligence officials.
The officials were said to have termed the defection of the scientist, Shahram Amiri, “an intelligence coup” in the continuing CIA operation to spy on and undermine Iran’s nuclear program.
A spokesperson for the CIA declined to comment. In its declassified annual report to Congress, the CIA said, “Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons though we do not know whether Tehran eventually will decide to produce nuclear weapons.”
Amiri, a nuclear physicist in his early 30s, went missing last June three days after arriving in Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage, according to the Iranian government. He worked at Tehran’s Malek Ashtar University, which is closely connected to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, according to the Associated Press.
“The significance of the coup will depend on how much the scientist knew in the compartmentalized Iranian nuclear program,” said former White House counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant. “Just taking one scientist out of the program will not really disrupt it.”