The Iranian nuclear scientist who returned to Tehran today left behind some $5 million he was promised by the CIA as part of "benefits package" offered by the CIA's National Resettlement Operations Center, US officials tell ABC News.
"Anything he got is now beyond his reach, thanks to the sanctions against Iran," one US official said. "We've got his information and the Iranians have him."
When Amiri defected, the CIA offered him $5 million for information about the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Typically, the CIA places these kinds of funds in escrow so that an informant is only paid bit by bit, at the agency's discretion. Keeping the money in escrow prevents an asset from grabbing the money all at once.
It is unknown how much money Amiri was able to collect prior to his return to Iran, but the bulk of the cash remains in US hands. "He's gone," said the US official, "but the money's still here."
As early as this spring, CIA officials believed that Amiri, who fled Iran last year in a daring operation, might not want to stay in the US and could redefect. Amiri, who turned up at an Iranian government office in Washington, D.C. on Monday and asked to return to Iran, arrived back in Tehran Wednesday.
Despite the seeming suddenness of Amiri's decision to return to Iran after years working as a CIA asset and more than a year of resettlement in the US, the CIA began to sense he may not have wanted to come out of Iran, despite the offer of $5 million and resettlement in the United States.
According to current and former US intelligence officials briefed on the Amiri case, the CIA began pressuring Amiri to flee Iran as early as 2008. It was then, the officials say, that the CIA feared that Amiri was under suspicion of spying for the Americans.
The CIA was afraid of losing their source. Certain that the Iranian government would execute Amiri for treason, the agency suggested to Amiri that he should flee Iran.
Amiri, however, told his CIA handlers that he was safe and that the Iranian government did not have any reason to know he was giving information about the Iranian nuclear program to the U.S. Amiri stalled the CIA by telling his handlers that twice he tried to escape on his own but had failed.
Eventually, the officials say, CIA pressure wore Amiri down and he agreed to leave Iran. But looking back, the CIA now believes Amiri's story that he had tried to escape on his own may have been false, and the first sign that he was not psychologically ready to leave for the US.
To entice Amiri, the CIA offered him $5 million and offered to get him and his wife and son out of Tehran and resettle them in the U.S, as the CIA commonly does for important defectors. The money, officials say, was not given up front, but was to be distributed incrementally over the course of his life.
Amiri agreed to take the money and offer of resettlement, but told the CIA he would leave his family behind. When asked why he would go alone, Amiri told the CIA he disliked his wife and felt that his son would be better off in Iran believing his father had disappeared, according to the officials briefed on the matter.