The Iranian nuclear scientist who claimed to have been abducted by the CIA before departing for his homeland on Wednesday was paid more than $5 million by the agency to provide intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program, US officials said.
Shahram Amiri is not obligated to return the money, but might be unable to access it after breaking off what US officials described as significant cooperation with the CIA and abruptly returning to Iran.
Officials said he might have left out of concern that the Tehran government would harm his family.
“Anything he got is now beyond his reach, thanks to the financial sanctions on Iran,” a US official said. “He’s gone, but his money’s not. We have his information, and the Iranians have him.”
Amiri arrived at the Iranian diplomatic mission in Washington this week and asked to be sent home. US officials, who said Amiri had been working with the CIA for more than a year, were stunned by the decision.
Whether the agency received an adequate return on its investment in Amiri is difficult to assess. The size of the payment might offer some measure of the value of the information he shared. But it could also reflect a level of eagerness within the US intelligence community for meaningful information on Iran.
The US official said the payments reflected the value of the information gleaned.
“The support is keyed to what the person’s done, including how their material has checked out over time,” said the official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity surrounding the case. “You don’t give something for nothing.”
The transfer of millions of dollars into Amiri-controlled accounts also seems to bolster the US government’s assertions that Amiri was neither abducted nor brought to the United States against his will.
The payments are part of a clandestine CIA program referred to as the “brain drain.” Its aim is to use incentives to induce scientists and other officials with information on Iran’s nuclear program to defect.
The money that went to Amiri was placed in accounts or investment mechanisms that would sustain him over a lifetime in the US.
Although Amiri might no longer be able to access the accounts, it was not clear whether the CIA would be able to reclaim the funds. The US officials declined to disclose where the funds had been deposited.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley would not disclose Amiri’s immigration status while he was in the US or the reason he had been in the country. “He was here of his own volition and left of his own volition,” Crowley said. “If he wants to talk about this, he can.”
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