The harrowing tale of an Iranian scientist who got sent to a US prison for refusing to spy for the FBI

Originally published at: The harrowing tale of an Iranian scientist who got sent to a US prison for refusing to spy for the FBI | Boing Boing


You have to wonder how often this happens, that people targeted by US law enforcement from countries we consider hostile are accused of being spies, but only because they won’t spy for us…


I’m sure it happens a lot when the eyes of an intelligence agency alight on a foreign national it views as a potentially high-value asset. Once he’s on the agency’s soil (or, in this case, is lured there) they can bring all the power of the state to bear on trying to force him to spy for them, “or else…”

As bad as his imprisonment in the U.S. was, he was deported back to the kind of regime that will now always suspect that the Americans may have turned him after all. This poor guy, who it seems could have formed a productive bridge between the two countries, is now screwed this way and that.


John Le Carre this isn’t. Pretty hamfisted.

Besides which, what is the FBI doing in the spy recruitment biz? Ain’t that the province of a whole other slew of alphabet agencies?


An Iranian scientist I used to work with was investigated by the FBI about 15 years ago. At the time she was in the US getting a PhD in neuroscience when FBI agents came to interview her and all coworkers. Apparently someone at the FBI misread neuroscience as nuclear science and was worried that she was trying to learn how to build atomic bombs. (Seriously, most of their questions were about whether she had access to radioactive or explosive materials). Since she has spent lots of mental effort trying to remain in the US and not clash with idiots in government.

That intelligent, hard-working scientists from across the world have consistently come to the US to work has been an enormous boon to this country. That many of those same scientists live in perpetual fear that a combination of incompetence and selfishness from FBI or another agency could ruin their lives for doing so is horrific.


The FBI is responsible for counter-espionage and federal law enforcement on U.S soil, which in this case made them a convenient cudgel for the CIA to use in its recruitment efforts.

Also, Le Carre absolutely delighted in the hamfistedness of the intelligence agencies in his novels. They’re constantly pulling clumsy stunts like this that backfire on them, not only because he wants to use them to drive the plot but because it was his lived experience.


All we had to do was take the high road and be ever so slightly better than Iran. It’s simple. Don’t set up propaganda spectacles of supposed “spies”. Don’t drag innocent civilians into your cloak-and-dagger bullshit. It’s not hard to be decent country, it can be done by simply by not doing bad things.


I wonder where they got the idea to tell him they were giving him a visa…

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