The Envoy

Friend says detained Iranian-American not a spy

The Envoy

View photo


Amir Hekmati. (Courtesy of Hekmati family/Yahoo News)

A friend and former colleague of an Iranian-American held by Tehran as an alleged spy told Yahoo News that his friend is not a CIA agent or any sort of U.S. spy.

Iranian state television broadcast a videotaped "confession" of Amir Hekmati on Sunday.

But Chase Winter said Hekmati left the U.S. military years ago and was looking to go back to school to get a degree in business administration.

"He is definitely not CIA," Winter told Yahoo News on Monday. "Last time I talked to him he was talking about how he wanted to get an MBA. He wanted to move on and do his own business."

Hekmati, 28, grew up in Michigan, Winter said, and had previously served in the U.S. military. He later worked for government contractor BAE, but not on subjects pertaining to Iran, Winter said. The two men worked together for BAE in an office in Kansas in 2010, he recalled.

Last September, Hekmati and another friend visited Winter in South America for a week of vacation and fun, Winter said.

A spokesman for BAE Systems confirmed to Yahoo News that Hekmati worked for them as a research manager in its Support Solutions business from March to August 2010, when he resigned to take another job.

In the video clip aired on Iranian television, Hekmati said he joined the U.S. military after graduating high school in 2001.

"Afterwards, I entered Iraqi soil as an intelligence analyst and in U.S. Army uniform, and my main mission was to identity a number of people among the country's officials," Hekmati said, according to Tehran Times.

Later, Hekmati said he had worked for a computer gaming company, among other jobs. An alleged ID card belonging to Hekmati shown on Iranian television says he worked for a U.S. Army contractor in Afghanistan.

The State Department said Monday that it has been in contact with Hekmati's family since his apparent detention in Iran in September. State officials have called on Iran to grant Swiss diplomats--who are serving as the United States' protecting power in Iran--immediate access to Hekmati and to release him.

"We have seen this story before: the Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent foreigners for political reasons," a State Department official said.

"Whoever this young American is, he is obviously under duress and in the hands of an enemy," another U.S. official who requested anonymity told Yahoo News Monday. "His safety is paramount."

Winter, who now works for a news service analyzing Turkish media, described his friend as an avid weight lifter, adventurous--someone who enjoys having a good time, but without a political agenda.

Winter said he wrote Hekmati on Facebook Monday when he read of his alleged arrest: "Hey, dude, hope you are okay." But Hekmati's Facebook page was either blocked or rendered inactive.

Hekmati's father, a biology professor at a Flint, Michigan community college, told ABC News Monday that his son had previously served in the U.S. Marines as an Arabic language translator and linguist--not on any intelligence matters.

"My son is no spy," Ali Hekmati told ABC News' Lee Ferran. "He is innocent. He's a good fellow, a good citizen, a good man. These are all unfounded allegations and a bunch of lies."

He has been allowed visits from his Iranian grandmothers a couple times since his arrest in September, but has not been allowed to meet with a lawyer, the elder Hekmati said. His son had been working for a U.S. government contractor in Qatar before he went to Iran to visit his grandmothers, he told the Associated Press. He declined further comment when contacted by Yahoo News Monday night.

Other popular Yahoo! News stories:

Want more of our best national security stories? Visit The Envoy or connect with us on Facebook and on Twitter.

View Comments (229)