Iran Scientist Defected to US, Wants to Go Home

The U.S. government acknowledged Tuesday for the first time that an Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared in the middle east last year is here in America.

Now Dr. Shahram Amiri says he wants to go home to Iran. Rarely is the human drama of espionage put on such public display. Amiri defected to the U.S. with secrets about his country's nuclear program. He wants to go home and face whatever that hard line regime has in store for him, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. In an interview with Iranian television he said he could explain everything about what he called "my ordeal" over the past 14 months.

The U.S. says it's his life.

"Mr. Amiri has been in the United States of his own free will and he is free to go," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

That's not how Amiri told it when he first popped up on Iranian TV last April. He claimed he'd been kidnapped by the CIA while on pilgrimage to Mecca and tortured during eight months of captivity. He took that back in a second video, but Amiri is clearly going through a personal crisis.

"It's hardly the example you want to set if you're trying to lure out Iranian scientists and engineers who are part of Iran's secret nuclear weapons program," said David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security.

Amiri had secrets but the Iranians had his wife and young son.

"Any time a defector leaves the country and his family is left behind, I mean the regime has tremendous leverage over him," said Albright.

Amiri is not the first defector to have second thoughts. During the cold war, Vitaly Yurchenko, a high ranking KGB officer defected and told the CIA about two spies inside American intelligence. Three months later, he went back to the USSR.

"It is extraordinary that he had the guts to go back and face the music. Well, there was no music. They didn't do anything to him," said espionage author David Wise.

Amiri's fate depends on whether Iran wants to make him look like a victim of the CIA or a traitor to his country.
  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

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