Robert Levinson

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Robert "Bob" Levinson, last known picture.

Robert Alan “Bob” Levinson (born March 10, 1948)[1] is an American private investigator and retired DEA[2] and FBI agent.[3] He was taken hostage on March 9, 2007 when visiting Iran's Kish Island while supposedly researching a cigarette smuggling case, and is currently the longest held hostage in American history. U.S. officials believe Levinson, kidnapped exactly two weeks before the 2007 Iranian seizure of Royal Navy personnel, "was arrested by Iranian intelligence officials to be interrogated and used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Washington".[4] On December 12, 2013 the Associated Press reported that an investigation they led revealed that Levinson was working for the CIA.[5][6] The US has stated that he was not an employee of the government at the time of his capture.[7]

Iranian involvement[edit]

On April 4, 2007, a little over three weeks after Levinson was arrested, an article by Iranian state-run PressTV stated that he "has been in the hands of Iranian security forces since the early hours of March 9" and "authorities are well on the way to finishing the procedural arrangements that could see him freed in a matter of days". The same article explained that it was established that Levinson's trip to Kish "was purely that of a private businessman looking to make contact with persons who could help him make representations to official Iranian bodies responsible for suppressing trade in pirated products which is a major concern of his company".[8]

On January 8, 2013 the Associated Press reported that "the consensus now among some U.S. officials involved in the case is that despite years of denials, Iran's intelligence service was almost certainly behind the 54-second video and five photographs of Levinson that were emailed anonymously to his family. The tradecraft used to send those items was too good, indicating professional spies were behind them, the officials said ... While everything dealing with Iran is murky, their conclusion is based on the U.S. government's best intelligence analysis".[4]

Family investigation[edit]

Media reported in August 2007 that Christine Levinson, wife of Robert, was planning a trip to Iran with their oldest son, Dan. The Department of State stressed that there was a travel warning to that country and they would be doing so at their own risk.[9] Iran announced on September 23, 2007, that they would be allowed to visit the country.[10]

In December 2007 Christine and Dan traveled to Iran to attempt to learn more about Levinson's disappearance. They met with Iranian officials in Tehran and traveled to Robert's hotel on Kish, the Hotel Maryam.[11] Airport officials allowed Christine and Dan to view the flight manifests for all flights leaving Kish during the time Robert was due to leave, but his name did not appear on any of the lists provided. They were also able to view Robert's signature from the hotel check-out bill on March 9. Iranian officials promised to provide an investigative report to the family, but have yet to do so.[12] In July 2008 and subsequent interviews, Christine and Dan have said they wanted to travel to Iran again soon.[13]

President Ahmadinejad's statements on Levinson[edit]

Pressed by Charlie Rose in an interview for CBS This Morning in September 2012, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "did not deny Iran still has Levinson in its custody, and hinted that there had been talks about a prisoner exchange". Rose asked, "Is there anything that could happen, a trade or something, that could allow him to come back to the United States?" Ahmadinejad responded:

I remember that last year Iranian and American intelligence groups had a meeting, but I haven't followed up on it. I thought they'd come to some kind of an agreement.

CBS' John Miller says that "tacit admission that he's in their custody and that there have been talks", in and of itself, "is a big step".[14]

In a 2008 interview with NBC's Brian Williams, Ahmadinejad was questioned regarding Levinson's case and its status. He responded:

There was a claim made some time ago, some people came over, the gentleman’s family came over. They talked and met with our officials and were given our responses. I see no reason for a person who was given an Iranian visa and — came into Iran, arrived in Iran through official channels, to have problems here. Our security officials and agents have expressed their willingness to assist the FBI, if the FBI has any information about his travels around the world.

We have said that we are ready to help, to assist with that matter. There are certain informations that only the FBI at the moment has. I am not an expert in that field, as you might appreciate, so I’m not going to make a judgment here whether that information, as they say, is true and only held by the FBI or other parties for that matter.[15]

U.S. government investigation[edit]

In June 2007, President George W. Bush released a statement on Levinson's case, saying: "I am ... disturbed by the Iranian regime's refusal so far to provide any information on Robert Levinson, despite repeated U.S. requests. I call on Iran's leaders to tell us what they know about his whereabouts." [16]

On January 13, 2009, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson revealed during Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing that he believes Robert Levinson is being held in a secret prison in Iran. "The door has been closed at every turn", Nelson said during Clinton's confirmation hearing. "We think he is being held by the government of Iran in a secret prison."[17]

President Barack Obama meets with Christine Levinson in the Oval Office on March 6, 2012.

According to The New York Times, Levinson had been meeting with Dawud Salahuddin, (an American convert to Islam wanted for the 1980 murder of an Iranian dissident in the US) "just before he went missing".[18][19]

On March 8, 2013, the Obama administration released a statement to mark the sixth anniversary of Levinson's kidnapping. Press Secretary Jay Carney said,

Finding him remains a high priority for the United States, and we will continue to do all that we can to bring him home safely to his friends and family, so they may begin to heal after so many years of extraordinary grief and uncertainty. The Iranian Government previously offered assistance in locating Mr. Levinson and we look forward to receiving this assistance, even as we disagree on other key issues.[20]

Secretary of State John Kerry also met with Levinson's wife and son to "to reiterate that the U.S. government remains committed to locating Mr. Levinson and reuniting him safely with his family".[21]

$1 million reward[edit]

On March 6, 2012, approaching the five-year anniversary of Robert Levinson's captivity, The Federal Bureau of Investigation offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his safe recovery and return. In addition, a campaign was launched, using billboards, radio messages, flyers, and a telephone hotline to publicize this reward and obtain information of his whereabouts.[22] In conjunction with this announced reward, the Society of Former Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it was giving the two youngest Levinson children $5,000 each to help with their college costs.[23]

Proof of life[edit]

According to the Associated Press, Levinson's family received "irrefutable proof" of life late in 2010.[24] On December 9, 2011, the family released the hostage video dated from November 2010. In the video, Robert appears to have lost considerable weight, and repeatedly pleads for help in returning home.[25]

On January 8, 2013, Levinson's family released photos to the media showing the former agent in an orange jumpsuit with overgrown and unkempt hair. A family spokesman told CNN the photographs were received in April 2011. CNN reported: "Asked why the family is releasing the images now, more than 18 months later, the spokesman said: 'The family is anxious that not enough is being done. There is frustration with the lack of progress on the case.'"[26]

President Rouhani's statements on Levinson[edit]

In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour during his trip to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2013, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke of cooperation regarding Levinson's case. "We are willing to help, and all the intelligence services in the region can come together to gather information about him to find his whereabouts", Rouhani told Amanpour, "and we're willing to cooperate on that".[27]

In a subsequent interview with Charlie Rose, Rouhani said, "As to where his whereabouts when he disappeared, I personally have no information on those details, but naturally when someone disappears their family is suffering in specific. Everyone must help. It's natural that everyone must help".[28]

President Obama's discussion of case with Rouhani[edit]

During the Obama-Rouhani phone call on September 27, 2013, the first communication between the presidents of the two countries in 34 years, President Obama noted his concern about Levinson's disappearance to Rouhani, and expressed his interest in seeing him reunited with his family.[27]

Current status[edit]

On November 26, 2013, Levinson, a father of seven, became the longest held hostage in American history, surpassing Terry A. Anderson. According to his family, he suffers from type 1 diabetes, gout, and hypertension.[29] His passport has never shown up in any other country.[30]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.interpol.int/notice/search/missing/2008-30703
  2. ^ http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/ex-fbi-agent-who-went-missing-in-iran-was-on-rogue-mission-for-cia/2013/12/12/f5de6084-637b-11e3-a373-0f9f2d1c2b61_story_1.html
  3. ^ Pat Milton (2007-05-10). "Intrigue Surrounds Former FBI Agent Who Disappeared in Iran Two Months Ago". San Diego Union-Tribune. Associated Press. Retrieved 2013-01-08. 
  4. ^ a b "Family of Robert Levinson, missing ex-FBI agent, releases hostage video". Associated Press. 2011-12-09. 
  5. ^ Missing American in Iran was working for CIA, Associated Press, December 12, 2013, retrieved December 12, 2013 
  6. ^ "American who vanished in Iran was on unsanctioned CIA mission – report," RT (13-12-2013). Retrieved 13-12-2013.
  7. ^ White House: Robert Levinson not a government employee, BBC, December 13, 2013, retrieved December 13, 2013 
  8. ^ "Ex-FBI man in Iran not "missing" at all". PressTV. 2007-04-04. 
  9. ^ "U.S. woman plans trip to Iran to search for missing former FBI agent husband". International Herald Tribune. 2007-08-02. 
  10. ^ "Iran: Missing American's family can visit". CNN. September 23, 2007. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  11. ^ "In Iran, Search for American Yields Little". New York Times. December 24, 2007. 
  12. ^ Levinson, Daniel (June 22, 2008). "Missing a Father in Iran". The Washington Post. p. B07. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  13. ^ "Wife of ex-FBI agent to repeat Iran visit in search of her husband". Payvand. July 15, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  14. ^ "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drops clue about Robert Levinson, ex-FBI agent who vanished 5 years ago in Iran". CBS News. 2012-09-25. 
  15. ^ "Transcript: ‘Response ... will be a positive one’" (NBC Nightly News). msnbc.com. July 28, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  16. ^ "No 'miracle' for American missing in Iran". CNN. December 22, 2007. 
  17. ^ "Senator Says Former FBI Agent Who Vanished in 2007 Is in Secret Iran Prison". Fox News. January 13, 2009. 
  18. ^ "Just Another American Hit Man, Actor and Journalist Living in Iran" By Robert Mackey September 16, 2009
  19. ^ Former FBI agent held in Iran: report, Apr 13, 2007
  20. ^ [1], March 8, 2013
  21. ^ [2], March 8, 2013
  22. ^ "FBI — $1 Million Reward Offered for Missing Retired Agent". Fbi.gov. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  23. ^ "FBI — $1 Million Reward Offered for Missing Retired Agent". Fbi.gov. Retrieved 2013-12-12. 
  24. ^ By ADAM GOLDMAN and MATT APUZZO Associated Press (2011-03-03). "Years After Vanishing in Iran, US Man Proven Alive - ABC News". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved 2011-12-09. 
  25. ^ "Robert Levinson, missing ex-FBI agent in hostage video: 'Help me'", by Associated Press, December 9, 2011
  26. ^ "Family releases photos of captive American". CNN.com. 2013-01-10. Retrieved 2013-12-12. 
  27. ^ a b "U.S. official: Obama, Rouhani discussed fate of three Americans - CNN.com". Edition.cnn.com. Retrieved 2013-12-12. 
  28. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-12-12. 
  29. ^ March 9, 2013
  30. ^ "Family Asks For Help Locating Man Possibly Missing In Iran, by Daily Press, September 30, 2007

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