Iranian Nuclear Defector Mess: Kidnapped Or Happy To Be In US?

By Matthew Cole and Brian Ross  

In a battle of the videos, an Iranian nuclear scientist claims on a segment posted on-line by Iranian television that he was drugged and kidnapped by the CIA -- but in a second video, posted on YouTube, says he is safe and happy to be in the United States.

Shahram Amiri, 32, has been at the center of a mystery since his disappearance on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year. ABC News reported exclusively on March 30 that he had defected to the US and was providing information about Iran's secret nuclear program, citing current and former CIA officials.

In the video posted on-line by Iranian television, with English subtitles, Amiri claimed he had been drugged and kidnapped and was living in Tucson, Arizona.

"Since I was abducted and brought to the US, I was heavily tortured and pressured by US intelligence," Amiri says in Farsi.

"When I became conscious, I found myself in a plane on the way to the US," he says.

He claims that he was forced to lie and pretend that he had top secret information on the Iranian nuclear program so the U.S. could put "pollitical pressure" on Iran, and then asks international human rights organizations to help free him from captivity in the U.S.

Amiri, unshaven and wearing headphones, appears to be talking through a computer phone hook-up, which he says on the tape was made on April 5, one week after ABC News first reported his alleged defection to the US.

At almost the same time the first video was posted on line by Iranian television, a second video was posted on YouTube late Monday night in which Amiri appears in a professionally lit setting and says he is safe and happy to be in the United States. It is not clear who produced or posted the second video.

"I am free here and I assure everyone I am safe," he says.

"My purpose in today's conversation is to put an end to all the rumors that have been leveled at me over the past year. I am Iranian and I have not taken any steps against my homeland," he says, and then asserts that his purpose in being in the US is to get a doctorate in radiation health "in order to upgrade the level of healthcare in my country and my world."

Amiri adds that he would like to share the results of his education with his people "provided that I have a chance to go back home safely."

He talks about missing his son and wife, denies that he abandoned them, and says, "I have confidence that the government of Iran will protect and watch over my family."

US officials consider Amiri's defection an "intelligence coup" in its continuing efforts to undermine Iran's nuclear program.

CIA officials declined to publicly comment on any aspect of the case but a senior US intelligence official said "it's ridiculous to think the United States would have to compel anyone to defect and then force them to stay in this country."

Intelligence officials asked if the scientist was being held against his will, how did he have access to the internet to call Iran?

It is not uncommon for defectors to go through "psychological issues," according to an intelligence official familiar with the case.

The Iranian government says the initial video of Amiri is evidence that the United States is holding the scientist against his will.

After his disappearance, the Iranian foreign minister, Manoucher Mottaki, and Amiri's family blamed the US for kidnapping the scientist. His family had protested outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran, claiming the Saudis had played a role in Amiri's "abduction."