Robert A. Levinson — FBI Statement on Anniversary of His Disappearance [UPDATE]

“We share our deepest sympathy with his family which has suffered from his absence for over a decade. We will not rest until the Levinson family is whole again. Iran committed to cooperating with the United States to assist us in bringing Robert Levinson home and we call on Iran to fulfill this commitment.”

Heather Nauert  — State Department Press Secretary (March 9 2018)

Robert Levinson is pictured with his daughters in 2006, about seven months before his kidnapping

March 9 2018 marks the eleven-year anniversary of Robert Levinson’s disappearance from Kish Island, Iran. The FBI has offered a $5 million reward for any information that could lead to his safe return. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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UPDATE (August 4 2018) — A REUTERS Special Report shed some light regarding the US-Iran discussions about Levinson.

To understand America’s unending hostage crisis with Iran, Reuters interviewed 12 current and former U.S. and Iranian officials with direct knowledge of the prisoner cases, in addition to lawyers, family members and friends of American captives. These voices provide fresh insight into how the intricate negotiations unfolded – and into the path now being followed by Trump. (…)

The negotiations behind the 2016 deal began as a quest to recover Levinson, they said. For years the FBI has pushed for his release, even as Iran maintained it had no idea what happened to him. Washington believes Iran detained Levinson on Kish Island, 10 miles off the southern Iranian coast.

Wendy Sherman, then the number-three diplomat at the State Department, had launched secret negotiations in 2014 aimed at resolving the Levinson case and freeing the other captives. Brett McGurk, a senior State Department official, led the negotiations, which began in earnest in 2015.

By then, it had been years since definitive proof surfaced that Levinson was alive. Some State Department diplomats believed the United States should prioritize citizens they knew were alive, two former officials said. But negotiators faced pressure for answers from the FBI, lawmakers and the Levinson family.

Those dueling pressures – finding what happened to the missing agent, while working to free those imprisoned later but known to be alive – created another raft of complications in the negotiations.

For years, Levinson’s whereabouts were often a vital line of interrogation FBI agents pushed when questioning Iranian suspects about sanctions violations, even those who would have no obvious reason to know about his fate.

“It’s like their first question when they come into the room: ‘Where’s Levinson?’” said a person with direct knowledge of the conversations.

The Iranians sent a team that included a representative from the Ministry of Intelligence. Typically, the United States only had access to Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The involvement of this senior intelligence operative was kept a closely guarded secret and taken as a strong signal Iran was serious.

As talks progressed, the two nations began developing lists of prisoners each held in its jails, slowly feeling out what the other side would concede.

From the start, the United States was willing to consider trading even Iranian prisoners seen as threats to national security, so long as Iran released Levinson, returned his body, or provided conclusive information on his status. “We told the Iranians very clearly we would have a different conversation if Levinson was included,” a former diplomat said.

The Iranians responded with a startling offer. In return for Tehran’s assistance in recovering Levinson, they wanted Washington to reveal the location of Ali Reza Asgari, an Iranian general who vanished in Turkey in 2007, just one month before Levinson’s disappearance.

For the Americans, Asgari was a special case. In the 1980s, he held top leadership roles in Iran’s security and intelligence apparatus in Lebanon. That made him a crucial player in the establishment of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that killed scores of American troops and civilians in bombings in Beirut. The United States has long denied involvement in Asgari’s disappearance.

U.S. diplomats approached the Central Intelligence Agency with this offer but were told American agents had no information on Asgari’s whereabouts. And without that, resolving Levinson’s disappearance was off the table.

“It became pretty clear pretty soon that this was not something [the Iranians] were prepared to budge on,” said the former U.S. negotiator. Iran continues to maintain it has no knowledge of Levinson’s whereabouts.

So, by late summer of 2015, U.S. negotiators had decided they would agree to a deal with Iran even without resolving the Levinson case.

END of UPDATE

The US State Department press secretary Heather Nauert asserted in a statement that the United States “remains unwavering in our commitment to bring him home.”

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Trump’s administration had proposed creating a direct channel between Tehran and Washington for negotiating the fate of U.S. and the Islamic Republic citizens who are behind bars in the two countries. According to WSJ, Tehran has not responded to the proposal. [Radio Farda]

FBI Statement on 11th Anniversary of the Disappearance of Robert A. Levinson

“Today, on the 11th anniversary of Robert A. “Bob” Levinson’s disappearance from Kish Island, Iran, the FBI calls for his return. Mr. Levinson disappeared on March 9, 2007, and as he was taken inside Iran, the FBI and the United States Government call on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to return Mr. Levinson home to his family.

In recent years, representatives of the Government of Iran and the United States agreed to cooperate in sharing information which would lead to Mr. Levinson’s return. The FBI calls on the Government of Iran to uphold this commitment so that Mr. Levinson and his family can be reunited.

Mr. Levinson, who will turn 70 tomorrow, has been held for 11 years. The FBI and our partners in the United States Government have worked tirelessly to bring Mr. Levinson home. The FBI’s dedicated team of agents and analysts, along with our interagency partners, is steadfast in our mission to locate Mr. Levinson and return him home where he belongs.

A $5 million reward for information that could lead to Bob Levinson’s safe return remains unclaimed. For more information, to include photographs and reward information, please visit fbi.gov/levinson.” [FBI Website]

TIMELINE

1970s – Levinson is hired by the FBI after six years with the Drug Enforcement Agency.

1998 – Levinson retires from the FBI.

1998-2007 – Levinson works as a private investigator.

2006 – Levinson is hired as a contractor by Tim Sampson, head of the Illicit Finance Group within the Office of Transnational Issues at the CIA, to write reports for the agency. The contract is for approximately $85,000. Three CIA employees, including Sampson, later lose their jobs for overstepping their authority as analysts and withholding information about Levinson after he disappeared.

March 8-9, 2007 – According to State Department officials, Levinson travels to Kish Island in Iran and checks into a hotel. Reportedly, Levinson is in the Mideast to investigate cigarette smuggling on behalf of a client. During the visit, he meets with American fugitive Dawud Salahuddin, who is the last person to acknowledge seeing him on March 9.

June 1, 2007 – President George W. Bush says he is “disturbed” by Iran’s refusal to provide any information on Levinson. “I call on Iran’s leaders to tell us what they know about his whereabouts.”

December 2007 – Levinson’s wife, Christine, meets with government officials in Iran, but does not learn anything about her husband’s disappearance.

2008 – The CIA pays the Levinson family more than $2 million to head off a lawsuit, according to family attorney David McGee.

January 13, 2009 – During the nomination hearings of future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida says, “Senator Clinton, you’ve already been briefed on this, but one of the things that you’re going to face is there is an American that is missing in Iran… I have gone to the Iranian Ambassador at the United Nations, who will see me even though his government will not allow him to talk to our UN Ambassador. He operates under the fiction that he will see me because I’m a representative of the people of the state of Florida. But the door has been closed at every turn. What I have said to him, and I speak through the lens of this Committee hearing, that out of human compassion this is a great opportunity for the country of Iran to crack the door, because we think he is being held by the Government of Iran in a secret prison in Iran. And if we want to have some renewed relations, this is a good first opportunity.”

March 3, 2011 – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that evidence is growing that Levinson is alive and being held somewhere in southwest Asia.

December 2011 – The Levinson family publicly releases a “proof of life” video they received in November 2010. In the video, Levinson says, “I have been treated well, but I need the help of the United States government to answer the requests of the group that has held me for three-and-a-half years. And please help me get home. Thirty-three years of service to the United States deserves something. Please help me.”

March 6, 2012 – The FBI offers a $1 million reward for information leading to his safe return.

September 2012 – Christine Levinson attempts to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He does not meet with her but tells CNN, “They told me (Levinson) was in Iran, and of course the question came up in my mind, what was an American intelligence officer doing in Iran…an individual is lost, how are we supposed to find him among 7 billion people spread across the globe? What we can do is assist, help and cooperate, which we have been doing, and we are doing… as a humanitarian gesture and action.”

January 2013 – The Levinson family releases a series of photographs they received in April 2011. In the photos, a bearded, shackled Levinson, wearing an orange jumpsuit, holds signs written in broken English.

September 2013 – CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviews Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. When asked about Levinson, Rouhani says, “First, you mentioned a person that I’ve never heard of. Mr. Levinson, we don’t know where he is, who he is. Sometimes you are speaking of people who come before a court of trial and other times, there are people who disappear. It’s not a clear question to put these two categories side by side. He is an American who has disappeared. We have no news of him. We do not know where he is. 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. And we’re willing to cooperate on that.”

September 27, 2013 – US President Barack Obama speaks by phone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. One of the topics discussed is Levinson.

December 12, 2013 – The Associated Press and The Washington Post report that Levinson was working for the CIA when he disappeared in 2007, possibly investigating corruption among Iranian officials. The AP says it first learned of Levinson’s CIA ties in 2010 but delayed publishing the information at the government’s request. The next day the New York Times reports it has known of Levinson’s CIA work since 2007 but also delayed publishing the information to avoid jeopardizing his safety.

December 13, 2013 – White House Spokesman Jay Carney says Levinson “was not a US government employee when he went missing in Iran.”

December 15, 2013 – US Secretary of State John Kerry says, “Well, there hasn’t been progress in the sense that we don’t have him (Levinson) back. But to suggest that we’ve abandoned him or anybody has abandoned him is simply incorrect and not helpful. The fact is that I have personally raised the issue, not only at the highest level that I have been involved with, but also through other intermediaries.”

December 2013 – Dawud Salahuddin, the last person to acknowledge seeing Levinson, tells the Christian Science Monitor that both he and Levinson were detained by Iranian police on March 9, 2007. “They took me away, and when I left – we were down in the lobby – Levinson was surrounded by four Iranian police.”

January 21, 2014 – In an interview with CNN, Levinson’s family discloses that they have known for some time that he was working for the CIA. They accuse the US government of failing to do enough to find Levinson.

January 22, 2014 – Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif tells CNN’s Jim Sciutto, “I have not seen anything that could prove that he (Levinson) was ever in Iran. In fact, we have seen evidence … he was last seen alive outside Iran, with pictures showing that he was outside Iran when he was last seen. It’s a very unfortunate case. We’ve said clearly that we have no knowledge of his whereabouts… We need the United States to explain for Iran what a CIA operative was doing, if he was ever in Iranian territory, what was he doing in Iranian territory.”

March 9, 2015 – The FBI increases the reward for information on Levinson to $5 million.

January 20 2016 – FBI investigators believe Robert Levinson, if he is still alive, is being held in Iran despite public statements from US officials in other agencies indicating he may be elsewhere, according to US officials briefed on the investigation. Three days earlier, on January 17, Iran had released four Americans in a prisoner swap, but not Levinson. After the swap, President Obama says that Iran has agreed to “deepen our coordination” in trying to locate the still-missing American.

February 11, 2016 – The Senate passes a resolution recognizing that Levinson is the longest held US civilian in US history and urging Iran to “act on its promises to assist in” his case.

July 11, 2017 — A delegation of lawmakers — led by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. — penned a letter to Trump, calling on the administration to “re-engage” with Iran over Levinson

July 20 2017 — JOSH LEDERMAN (AP) reported that “many U.S. government officials believe Levinson is no longer alive.”

July 23 2017 — The FBI has issued an Official Statement in response to reporting on Robert Levinson. The following statement is in response to the Associated Press article dated July 20, 2017, citing an anonymous U.S. official who stated “many U.S. government officials believe [Robert] Levinson is no longer alive.” This characterization is not accurate and diminishes the U.S. government’s resolve to safely return Robert (Bob) Levinson home to his family.

March 9 2018 — The FBI and the State Department reaffirm that the United States “remains unwavering in our commitment to bring him home.”

Robert Levinson’s wife admits he was working for CIA

The wife of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared seven years ago in Iran, is revealing new details about his work that she hopes will bring him home.

REFERENCES

FBI Statement on 11th Anniversary of the Disappearance of Robert A. Levinson — FBI Website

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Robert A. Levinson — FBI Statement on Anniversary of His  Disappearance [March 9 2007]

Robert A. Levinson — FBI Statement on Anniversary of His  Disappearance [UPDATE]

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