More Iranian Nuclear Scientists Defect?

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The defection of General Ali Asgari in 2007 took everyone in Iran by surprise. He was a former Deputy Defense Minister and a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). After completing a trip to Syria, he crossed by land to Turkey and defected to the West. Some believe that his defection was handled by the CIA. This angered Iranian authorities greatly, as such defections are political, and—more importantly—an intelligence blow.

And now there are more stories circulating about two other mystery defectors. The first is Shahram Amiri, who has gone missing in Saudi Arabia. According to the Sharq Al Wasat newspaper, he was a nuclear scientist who worked at the recently exposed nuclear site in Qom. He took refuge in Saudi Arabia after a recent pilgrimage to the country in July this year. According to the article, no connection has been made between his disappearance and the recent discovery of the nuclear site in Qom.

Meanwhile, the spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Hassan Ghashghavi, called on Saudi Authorities to help find Mr. Amiri. Ghashghavi denied that Amiri worked at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, referring to him instead as a 'civil servant.' However, suspicions were raised due to the attention given by Iranian authorities to Amiri's case. Every year, thousands of Iranians travel to Saudi Arabia. There are many cases of missing persons and Iranian Foreign Ministry does not address most of them. In fact, many people in Iran complain about the poor job the Foreign Ministry does in protecting their interests in Saudi Arabia. In this case, it is possible that after the Sharq Al Wasat report it felt compelled to act. However, the possibility that Amiri was more than a Civil Servant cannot be ruled out either.

The second case which seems to be worrying Iranian authorities more is the case of a man by the surname of Ardebili. According to Iran's Foreign Ministry, he was a businessman who was recently arrested in Georgia. The story takes a strange twist when according to Iran's Foreign Ministry, subsequent to his arrest, he was handed over to American authorities. In its article, Sharq Al Wasat describes Ardebili as another nuclear scientist. Iranian authorities deny this. However, why would Georgia risk its relations with Iran by arresting a simple businessman, as Iranian authorities describe him? And why would America want him to be passed over to their jurisdiction? Although the power of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not one to be ignored, there is also the possibility that the reason for his arrest could have been more than a case of financial dishonesty.

In the current war of intelligence between Iran and West, distinguishing between rumors and real genuine breakthroughs is sometimes difficult. The case of Mr. Amiri and Ardebili are a perfect example. The West could have scored major victories, if they are nuclear scientists. However at the same time, it may at the end be proved that both were innocent cases which received excessive media coverage.

One certainty is that the West seems to be waging a psychological warfare against Tehran. After the discovery of the secret site at Qom, Tehran will find that it will be facing an uphill struggle.

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