“You don’t give something for nothing,” a CIA official told the Washington Post while trying to justify the $5 million payment made to Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist whose American dream turned out to be so short-lived it raised questions about whether his original defection was genuine. He arrived back in Tehran on Thursday, receiving a hero’s welcome.
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 U.S. intelligence community for meaningful information on Iran.
Eagerness for success is what led seven Americans to their deaths at the end of last year as they were lured into a trap by a Jordanian doctor named Humam Khalil Abu-Malal al-Balawi when he blew himself up in the CIA base in Khost.
The case of Amiri might not have done as much damage to the Agency, but the assumption that everyone has their price — what amounts to an article of faith in a land where wealth has been deified — is a naive American perspective that repeatedly results in a distorted view of the world.
As for whether Amiri really was, as ABC News reported, one of the CIA’s “most valued former spies,” I have a hard time believing that a prize nuclear scientist would not already have a PhD. (The desire to acquire a doctorate was supposedly one of his reasons for coming to the US.) More likely, Amiri was a “prize catch” simply because he was willing to accept the prize.