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Amiri described as spy for Islamic Rep.

The Islamic Republic now says that Shahram Amiri began working as a spy for Iran inside the CIA earlier this year.

And what information did he supply?

The only thing concrete so far identified is the numbers of Virginia license plates used on two CIA vehicles.

The new portrayal of Amiri as a grand, if belated, spy was published last Wednesday in a long story carried by the Fars news agency, which is close to the government.

The story did not, however, paint Amiri as an Iranian plant who was working for Iranian intelligence before defecting--a popular view among many in the United States.

Instead, the Fars story stuck with the original Iranian official formulation that Amiri was kidnapped by the Americans in June 2009 while he was on the minor hajj in Saudi Arabia.

Fars was quoting an "informed source" who related many details. The source said, "During the time when Mr. Amiri was in the United States, we managed to contact him." He said this was in early 2010, apparently after the CIA had finished debriefing Amiri and set him up in private life in Tucson, Arizona.

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The report did not say whether it was Amiri that initiated the contact or Iranian intelligence, a key question. American officials believe Amiri grew homesick and initiated contacts with his family and others in Iran who may have alerted he authorities.

The source told Fars that for the rest of the time that Amiri was in the United States he "was managed and guided" by Iranian intelligence.

But the source oddly says Iran could not receive any intelligence information from Amiri "due to time limits and certain considerations," a very vague and unhelpful turn of phrase. But the comment amounts to an admission of something considerably less than a professional intelligence operation.

Only after Amiri returned home earlier this month was the intelligence information Amiri obtained gathered by Iran and "right now the intelligence service of the Islamic Republic of Iran has valuable details about the CIA at its disposal, which is a great achievement."

Stating it in the most dramatic terms, the source said, "This was an intelligence war between the CIA and us, which was designed and managed by Iran."

American officials just laughed at the Fars report and the source's claims. They said American intelligence debriefers handling Amiri sought information from Amiri but did not share information with him. They said Amiri was by no means the first defector to get homesick and re-defect, and so defectors are never allowed into the inner sanctum of the CIA.

The Fars story quoted the source as saying Iran had gotten much useful information. First, the source said, Amiri had provided information showing that the CIA had been deceived about Iran's nuclear program by "professional fraudsters" who had duped the CIA with "misleading and wrong information."

He named only one such group duping the CIA: the Mojahedin-e Khalq. However, U.S. intelligence officials have for years said the Mojahedin-e Khalq was useless as an intelligence source. A recent report by RAND, a federally-funded think-tank, said the U.S. Army initially wanted to use the Mojahedin as an intelligence source after it captured the group and confined it to Camp Ashraf in 2003. All the almost 4,000 members were interviewed and categorized. One category was for those with intelligence value. Not one of the 4,000 was put in that category, RAND reported.

The assertion that Amiri learned the Mojahedin-e Khalq was providing the CIA with fake intelligence on Iran's nuclear program fit in well with Iran's official propaganda line, but not with reality.

The intelligence source quoted by Fars also said Iran learned from Amiri whom the Americans were planning next to abduct. He named no names.

Fars quoted the source as saying mysteriously that with Amiri's information, "We also completed the penetration routes and vulnerability analysis of the CIA and identified some places, persons and those related to them."

After this rather unhelpful collection of so-called revelations, the Fars source said Amiri had revealed two cars used by the CIA. One is a beige Toyota with the Virginia plate number XXE 60006 (which is one digit too many for a Virginia license plate) and the other is a dark blue Chevrolet SUV with Virginia plate XUK 6939.

There is no reason to suspect Amiri didn't write down those license plate numbers. There is also no reason to believe those cars still have those license plates.

The source indicated he was revealing the plate numbers so that journalists around the world could pursue the issue of CIA abductions, although the suggestion that the CIA would use cars in foreign countries bearing American license plates begged questions about the source's basic professional skills.

Fars concluded by quoting the source as saying: "It is widely said in US circles and in other Western countries that the abduction of Mr. Amiri and his repatriation to Iran is an abject defeat for the CIA in its war against Iran. Now, they had best accept this defeat, otherwise there is plenty of information at Iran's disposal that will be disseminated."

An American official scoffed at the latest Iranian claims. He told the Associated Press, "The United States got insights into Iran's nuclear program. The Iranians claim to have gotten some license plate numbers."

The Islamic Republic repeatedly has said Amiri fled from the CIA and made it to safety in the Iranian consular mission in Washington. But both Amiri and the consular mission say he was escorted to the consular mission or "interests section" by U.S. agents and dropped off.

The head of the consular mission was quoted on state television describing how he watched through a window as Amiri arrived and saw a U.S. government car drive off after Amiri entered the consular building. Amiri was quoted last week by the state-owned Iran daily as saying: "American security officials gave me a cellphone and then escorted me from a hotel in Virginia used by the CIA to the interests section. And they told me, 'Even after entering Iran's interests section, you can contact us in case you change your mind.' Today, that phone is at the disposal of our country's intelligence forces."
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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Jul 30, 2010
Words:1042
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