Iran har mistet noen av sine beste atomfysikere. Noen har hoppet av, andre kan være tatt av dage. Regimet er rasende og føler seg ydmyket. Ett av de hardeste slagene var da Shahram Amiri hoppet av. Han var en av landets mest lovende atomfysikere.

Amiri møtte inspektører fra FNs overvåkingsorgan, IAEA, på Frankfurt-flyplassen, rett før de skulle fly til Qom på inspeksjon. Amiri kunne fortelle dem detaljer om sikkerhetsopplegget. Avsløringen av Qom-anlegget var et stort prestisjenederlag for Iran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was told of the existence of the Qom facility by the US and its European allies in September. But the meeting with Mr Amiri in October would have provided inspectors with key insider knowledge before they made the sensitive trip.

The scientist is the focus of an extraordinary international row stretching from the Gulf to Washington after Iran last week accused Saudi Arabia and the US of «terrorist behaviour» for allegedly colluding in his abduction.

The nuclear scientist, who is in his 30s, disappeared after arriving in in Saudi Arabia for a pilgrimage in late May, leaving behind his wife and extended family. The Saudi authorities say they do not know where he is.

But contrary to Iranian claims, Mr Amiri actually defected after an elaborate international cloak-and-dagger co-ordinated by the CIA, according to a well-connected French intelligence analysis website.

«The agency made contact with the scientist last year when Amiri visited Frankfurt in connection with his research work,» Intelligence Online reported. «A German businessman acted as go-between. A final contact was made in Vienna when Amiri travelled to Austria to assist the Iranian representative at the IAEA. Shortly afterwards, the scientist went on pilgrimage to Mecca and hasn’t been seen since.»

Four months after Mr Amiri disappeared, President Barack Obama, flanked by Gordon Brown and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, disclosed that Iran had built the buried uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom.

Western intelligence had developed information about the site over threee years.

But Mr Amiri’s intelligence about its inner workings – and especially security procedures – proved «extremely useful», a source close to France’s overseas secret service, the DGSE (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure), told The Sunday Telegraph.

«Amiri has first hand knowledge of the site and this would have been the main subject of discussion,» the source said. «The meeting was so secret that the inspectors who met Amiri were unlikely to have even known his name, let alone his background. He was just presented as a bona fide contact in the know about how Qom works.»

French agents party to details of the Frankfurt meeting paint a picture of Amiri as one of the brightest young nuclear physicists of his generation, westernised and a good English-speaker.

Iranian scientist who vanished ‘gave nuclear secrets’ to UN inspectors sent to Qom site