According to the two current U.S. officials, Amiri called home earlier this year because he missed his family. On a second call, Iranian intelligence answered and threatened to harm his son, unless he taped an internet video saying he'd been kidnapped. Amiri, fearing for his family, agreed, according to a person briefed on the case.
"He missed his son," said the person. "And he couldn't help calling home to speak to him."
Within days, the CIA learned that Amiri had given the Iranians a video and moved quickly to produce a version of its own. The second video shows Amiri well-dressed and manicured with a globe - turned to North America - and chess set behind him as he appears to read from a teleprompter. He says, in Farsi, that he is happily living in the U.S. and going to school. He also denied having worked in the Iranian nuclear program and made a plea to his wife and son. "I want them to know that I never abandoned then, and that I will always love them."
According to one U.S. official, the CIA intended to produce the video and launch it on the internet before the Iranians had a chance to air their version.
Instead, the video languished at CIA headquarters for weeks, according to a senior intelligence official. Then, earlier this month, Iranian state television aired the Amiri video. Within a day, the CIA posted their Amiri video on YouTube, with a user identification of "shahramamiri2010."
The Iranian government has since formally requested the U.S. government to return Amiri, accusing the Americans of holding him against his will. A spokesperson for the State department has acknowledged that the U.S. government has received the request, but has had no further comment.
"The United States doesn't force people to defect—that's a decision they make themselves," said a U.S. official. "Mr. Amiri wasn't kidnapped, and he certainly wasn't tortured. That's absurd. The guy has internet access and the ability to make and transmit videos. Let's get real. If you look at defectors as a group, without commenting on any particular individual, some adjust better than others, and some deal better than others with tugs and pressures from back home. But, ultimately, they make their own choices."
One Iranian defector warned that Amiri has some tough decisions ahead. Reza Kahlili, who still uses a pseudonym to protect his relatives whom he left behind in Iran, told ABC News that Amiri is likely making life or death decisions.
Defecting, Khalili said, "becomes very emotional, and at times you question your sanity and the decisions that you've made."
"If he went back…he would be tortured." Khalili said. "And then he would certainly be executed."