No Comment — October 8, 2009, 2:53 pm

When Fact Is Stranger Than Fiction

Barry Eisler’s novel Fault Line opens with a U.S. government hit team taking out an Iranian nuclear scientist on a visit to Istanbul. Eisler, a former covert operative for the CIA, is known to model much of his writing on the dealings of his former employer—sometimes dealings that haven’t yet made their way into the newspapers. Which is why this Washington Post story popped out at me:

Iran’s foreign minister on Wednesday accused the United States of being involved in the disappearance of an Iranian scientist with alleged links to Iran’s nuclear program. The charge comes less than a week after Iran reached tentative accords with the United States and other major powers on addressing questions about its nuclear ambitions, including letting international inspectors visit its newly disclosed uranium-enrichment site near Qom. The charge also comes as the United States has raised questions about Americans being held in Iran.

The scientist, Shahram Amiri, vanished during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia four months ago; Iran previously called on Saudi Arabia to help locate him. He is a researcher at Malek Ashtar University, which is connected to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and was listed by the European Union last year as an entity linked to Iran’s nuclear activities or weapon delivery systems.

Mind you, the idea that the United States would kidnap an Iranian nuclear scientist is sheer lunacy. I’m sure the offer of a bungalow in Pasadena and a new Lexus would do the trick perfectly.

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

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