Since the Iranian "scientist" Shahram Amiri was welcomed home last week in Tehran from his thirteen months in the United States as an apparent defector, Iranian intelligence sources have crowing non-stop.
Wednesday, July 21, "informed sources" claimed to the semi-official Iranian Fars news agency that Amiri provided "very valuable information" about the CIA and Iran's intelligence agents had been in touch with him while he was in the US.
"This was an intelligence battle between the CIA and us and it was designed and managed by Iran," said the source. "We set various goals in this battle and, by the grace of God, we achieved all our objectives without our rival getting any real victory."
The Islamic Republic's intelligence apparatus now possesses invaluable details about the CIA, said another informed source, on condition of anonymity, Thursday, July 22. To support the claim, the Iranian source mentioned the license plate numbers of two cars used by the CIA in Virginia, adding that some CIA locations, individuals and contacts have been identified.
Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) clearly hopes to capitalize on Amiri's re-defection happening to coincide with the Washington Post series of articles, "Top Secret America," which depict American spy agencies as having descended into a colossal Byzantine nightmare which no one controls and from which any exact information is inaccessible due to the mess.
Both episodes are grist to the MOIS mill of self-glorification.
CIA turns to self-examination of irregularities
At the same time, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports that sources close to the CIA now admit that the Central Intelligence Agency is investigating certain irregularities that appear to have dogged the Shahram Amiri affair.
(See the opening item of DEBKA-Net-Weekly 453 of last week: Who's Playing the Smoke-and-Mirrors Game? Shahram Amiri – an Iranian Intelligence Pawn).
One – How did the Iranian come to be brought over to the United States, stay for more than a year and be thoroughly debriefed by the CIA without being exhaustively vetted?
Two – Was Amiri a double agent or a "Dangle"? This is spyspeak for an agent of one service pretending to defect to a rival agency. ("Dangle" deriving from ice hockey defines a player who fakes out his opponent.)
Three – How much genuine data on the Iranian nuclear program did Amiri give his interrogators? Might it all have been totally worthless?
Four – In the wake of Amiri's return to Iran, has it become necessary to amend or even junk the Memorandum to Holders, Washington's term for the unofficial version of the new National Intelligence Estimate-NIE on Iran's weaponization effort which is due out in late autumn?
Five – Where does Amiri's re-defection leave the other Iranian defectors who have fetched up in Washington, the important one being Gen. Ali Reza Asghari, who vanished in Turkey in February 2007 and then turned up in Germany on his last hop before travelling to the United States?
In re-defection cases, it is customary to re-examine the backgrounds of even the most trusted defectors from the same country as the renegade, digging deep into their pasts and their current ties with compatriots and other agents. Every detail of the material they delivered is re-analyzed.
It is hoped that all this digging will shed light on the mystery posed by Shahram Amiri and his behavior.
US Intelligence must fight to raise its popular image
As challenging as its self-searching is the Central Intelligence Agency's fight to recover its reputation, say our intelligence sources. It will not be easy to demonstrate to domestic and world media that the fake Iranian defector and Iranian intelligence never managed to pull the wool over its eyes and that Langley was a step ahead of their game from the moment Amiri stepped on US soil in June 2009.
This task may prove to be unmanageable for two reasons:
1. Iranian intelligence holds all the cards in the Amiri case – not US intelligence. No one in Langley can tell what new "revelations" Tehran will make public or when. The US has no control therefore over the flow of information – or disinformation – before it sees the light of day.
The claims by unnamed Iranian officials this week that Amiri gave them valuable information on the CIA are an ill omen of more to come. The agency may face such embarrassments as descriptions – true or false – of how US and Saudi spy agencies transfer Iranian defectors from the Middle East to the US, or how the CIA seduces defectors and its methods of interrogation. Iranian "informed sources" are hinting they can name US agents and the places where Amiri was interrogated.
No undercover agency can afford to have this kind of information aired in public or have to engage in a dirty PR war with rivals. For the CIA it would be an unwelcome distraction from its main mission, which is to investigate Iran's nuclear program.
Leaks from the CIA fail on the consistency and plausibility scales
2. The US undercover agency needs to be consistent and plausible in the materials it allows to reach the media. They must also be coordinated with the findings of its internal inquiries, or else the service could find itself faced with demands for a public Senate or House inquiry into the Amiri case.
However, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence experts, the leaks from Langley this week present a picture of confusion, contradictions and embarrassment within high CIA ranks rather than coherence and consistency.
For example, Amiri is being depicted as absolutely peripheral to Iran's nuclear program, his usefulness to the US confined to his being a channel to more senior Iranian nuclear scientists.
This claim is not plausible because it is hard to believe that American and Saudi intelligence services would have gone to so much trouble to get the Iranian out of the country and over to the States if he had nothing substantial to offer from the start.
Another claim from a source "close to the CIA" argued that Amiri had convinced US agents of his sincerity by admitting he had no direct knowledge of the Iranian nuclear program.
If that were true, why was the information he provided, however partial, incorporated in two US National Intelligence Estimates – the first in 2007 and the next one still a work in progress, as claimed by another source?
The Amiri affair may just be beginning for US intelligence.