March 9, 2019 marks the 12th anniversary of the abduction of Robert A. “Bob” Levinson from Kish Island, Iran. This milestone is an opportunity for the leadership of the government of Iran to demonstrate its commitment to basic freedoms and civil rights and return Mr. Levinson home to his family.
During the past 12 years, the only credible evidence of responsibility in Mr. Levinson’s abduction has pointed to those working for the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 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 renews its repeated calls on the Iranian government to uphold its prior commitments to assist in reuniting Mr. Levinson with his family.
Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent, went missing from Kish Island, Iran on March 8, 2007.
Mr. Levinson, who will turn 71 on March 10, served his country for 28 years, including 22 years as an FBI special agent.
“Bob is and always will be a member of the FBI family, and we share in the heartache that Bob’s wife and family have experienced every day for the last 12 years,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI’s dedicated agents, analysts and professional staff, along with our interagency partners, remain committed to bring Bob home, and we continue to call on the government of Iran to provide assistance.”
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.
Tomorrow marks the 12th anniversary of Bob Levinson’s capture in #Iran. We renew our call on the Iranian regime to return Mr. Levinson to his family. We are determined to secure the release of all U.S. hostages and wrongful detainees, and will not rest until they are home. pic.twitter.com/qYhpZ2uHlo
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) March 8, 2019
Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
March 8, 2019
Tomorrow marks the twelfth anniversary of Robert A. “Bob” Levinson’s capture on Kish Island, Iran. The Department of State renews its call on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to return Mr. Levinson to his family. Representatives of Iran and the United States previously agreed to cooperate on locating and recovering Mr. Levinson. Iran must honor this commitment, and demonstrate its adherence to international norms and respect for human rights.
The United States Government remains unwavering in our commitment to reunite the Levinson family with their beloved husband and father, who served our great nation during a long and distinguished career. We share our deepest sympathy with Mr. Levinson’s family and friends, and stand with them in solidarity against those who would separate loved ones in the name of political gain.
We are determined to secure the release of all American hostages and wrongful detainees, including Mr. Levinson, and will not rest until they are home. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Robert C. O’Brien, the entire Department of State, and our partners in the United States Government are actively and tirelessly fighting to bring Mr. Levinson home. There is a $5 million reward for information that could lead to Mr. Levinson’s safe return. Information will be kept confidential and can be provided anonymously. For more information on the reward, please visit https://www.fbi.gov/levinson.
Sadly, we have arrived at the 12th anniversary of the capture of Bob Levinson, America’s longest held hostage. @SecPompeo spoke out this morning: https://t.co/hKYmEGxSpj. As a matter of basic humanity, #Iran must return Bob to his family. #FreeIranHostages @usbotschaft
— U.S. Special Presidential Envoy O’Brien (@StateSPEHA) March 8, 2019
The son of a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007 said Friday that he’s “hopeful” the Trump administration’s increased pressure on the country will help facilitate his father’s return.
Dan Levinson, whose father Robert, a retired FBI agent, went missing off Iran’s Kish Island almost 12 years ago, criticized the government’s initial handling of his father’s disappearance.
“The government dropped the ball, they didn’t address the situation quickly enough, they didn’t engage with Iran quickly, acknowledge what happened,” Levinson told Hill.TV’s Buck Sexton and Krystal Ball.
“We think that was a big missed opportunity that has led us to that point, but we’re hopeful that the Trump administration’s able to remedy that,” he continued. “That they’re going to put all kinds of pressure on Iran and make sure that he’s not forgotten and not left behind.”
Levinson praised the Trump administration’s hard-line stance toward Iran. In addition to withdrawing from a landmark Iran nuclear deal, the administration last year reinstated economic sanctions on the country, targeting its banking, oil and shipping.
“The fact that they brought back sanctions — it’s going to hopefully bring the Iranians to the table and we felt there was dialogue during the Obama administration and that is necessary,” he told Hill.TV. “But there also has to be that pressure that brings Iran to send him home.”
The Levinson family filed a lawsuit against Iran in 2017 over Robert Levinson’s disappearance, and have continued to advocate for his release. Christine Levinson, Robert’s wife, testified before a House panel on Thursday, during which she expressed frustration about efforts to bring her husband home.
“My family’s dreams of reuniting with Bob continue to remain just dreams,” she told lawmakers. “But so far, their pleas have been met with little action.”
“It’s very difficult situation to deal with Iran it’s been three administrations — the Bush administration, this happened in 2007, and we feel like there hasn’t been enough effort to get him home over these years,” Dan Levinson told Hill.TV.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Thursday introduced the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-taking Accountability Act. The bipartisan bill is aimed at improving efforts to bring back Americans held in hostage situations or detained unlawfully abroad.
Dan Levinson told Hill.TV that he was heartened by the renewed urgency of such efforts, saying that his family has not given up hope.
“People have heard he’s being held somewhere, but it’s always encouraging because we believe he’s still alive and that he’s being held by the Iranian government, so we’re going to keep pressing until we get him home,” he said.
U.S. lawmakers are making a renewed bipartisan effort to pressure Iran into freeing at least four Americans and a U.S. permanent resident viewed by Washington as hostages of the Islamic Republic.
A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee held a hearing Thursday in which family members of some of those perceived as hostages in Iran briefed lawmakers on the status of their loved ones. The subcommittee’s Democrat chairman, Congressman Ted Deutch, and top Republican, Congressman Joe Wilson, also used the hearing to announce their joint introduction of two congressional measures aimed at securing the freedom of those detained or missing in Iran.
One is a resolution that calls on Iran to unconditionally release U.S. citizens and legal U.S. permanent residents being held for political purposes.
The other is a bill that the lawmakers say would empower the U.S. president to impose sanctions on American hostage-takers. It also calls for elevating the role of U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs to the rank of ambassador.
More tools for president
In a statement, Deutch said the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, named in honor of an American who went missing in Iran 12 years ago, is meant to give the Trump administration “more tools to pressure countries to return Americans to their families.”
Besides Levinson, whose family believes Iran has detained him, Iranian authorities have jailed Iranian-Americans Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer Namazi, Chinese-American Xiyue Wang, and Lebanese U.S. permanent resident Nizar Zakka. Iran has said little about them beyond the alleged security offenses for which some have been charged. Relatives say the five have done nothing wrong.
Addressing the hearing, Deutch said he was concerned that the Trump administration’s 2018 withdrawal from a world powers’ nuclear deal with Iran and the lack of U.S. contact with Iranian officials could slow efforts to bring back U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
“I urge President Trump to sit down with each of these families, hear their stories, understand their suffering, and then take bold action to return their loved ones,” he said.
Wilson told the hearing that the bill would impose sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities responsible for the detentions.
“Iran has been taking hostages as a matter of policy and we must force Iran to change its behavior,” Wilson said. “We need to see an intense, concerted effort from Congress and the (Trump) administration to seek the release of our Americans who are being held in Iran.”
A previous bipartisan bill introduced by Deutch to punish Iran for perceived hostage-taking and human rights abuses passed the House last year but did not get to a vote in the Senate.
Family’s ‘living nightmare’
In her testimony, Bob Levinson’s wife, Christine, said her family “continues to receive reports that he is alive” but did not elaborate. Bob Levinson, whose 71st birthday would be this Sunday, disappeared March 9, 2007, while visiting Iran’s Kish Island as a private investigator. He had retired from a 22-year career with the FBI nine years earlier.
“We are all suffering a living nightmare,” Christine Levinson said. “My children and I have trouble sleeping. We wonder endlessly what kind of conditions my husband is living through.”
Christine Levinson and her seven children have been campaigning to try to locate him since his disappearance. Iranian officials have denied knowledge of his whereabouts.
Babak Namazi, the son and brother of detainees Baquer and Siamak Namazi, told the lawmakers that his elderly and ailing father is on a temporary medical furlough from Tehran’s Evin prison but urgently needs proper medical attention outside of Iran.
Read the story here.
By James Gordon MeekFeb 14, 2019 10:46 AM ET
A new book by a former hostage – and a recent flurry of tips – are giving new hope to the family of retired FBI special agent Robert Levinson that he may still be alive more than a decade after he disappeared in Iran.
Levinson, a veteran agent and specialist in Russian organized crime, disappeared on Iran’s Kish Island in March 2007, while working on a murky CIA contract for intelligence analysts at the agency.
Iranian officials have always denied detaining him, but an intriguing anecdote in a new book by Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post correspondent who was held hostage there for nearly two years, suggests those denials might have been lies, compelling his wife Christine and their children to press the Trump administration to press Tehran for answers.
“President Trump is a deal-maker and we are hoping he will motivate the Iranians to finally resolve this and send our dad home to us,” Levinson’s daughter Sarah Moriarty told ABC News in an interview.
Trump has not met personally with the Levinson family since taking office, said a source close to the Levinson family who has been involved in the case. But during the 2016 presidential campaign, he pledged to bring home the Americans held as geopolitical bargaining chips by Tehran. Besides Levinson, there are currently four other Americans being held in Iran.
Levinson’s family was shocked that he wasn’t released or otherwise accounted for when Rezaian and three other Americans held captive were set free by Tehran in January 2016, as the United States and Iran finalized the terms of the Iran nuclear deal.
Rezaian’s new memoir, “Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison – Solitary Confinement, a Sham Trial, High-Stakes Diplomacy, and the Extraordinary Efforts It Took to Get Me Out,” raises the possibility that Levinson’s fate was known to Tehran’s ruling mullahs when they set those four American hostages free.
A source that Rezaian’s family had in the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader, who had provided “surprisingly accurate” details about many other matters, informed them that the government of President Hassan Rouhani had cast aside the Levinson issue.
“According to him, the issue of Bob Levinson had been a point of contention throughout the negotiations,” Rezaian writes in his book. “Initially Levinson – or a complete accounting of what had happened to him – was to be a part of the deal, but the Rouhani administration decided there was no political value of the time in acknowledging after eight years that yes, Iran had been responsible for his disappearance. They considered Levinson’s capture an issue of the Ahmadinejad years and not theirs to solve.”
“There is no reason to believe he’s not alive,“ Rezaian told ABC News this week. “There obviously are people in the Iranian system who know what happened to Bob. It’s high time his family was told what they know.”
Rezaian’s revelation and other information they have obtained has convinced Levinson’s family not only that the mystery of his whereabouts and wellbeing can be resolved by pressuring Tehran, but also that his fate was an issue both sides of the negotiating table were willing to shelve in order for the Obama administration to more easily close the deal to halt Iran’s nuclear program.
“It confirms what we’ve been thinking all along, which is that the Obama administration left him behind,” said his daughter Sarah. “It’s incredibly disappointing but also a source of optimism.”
Several current and former senior government officials told ABC News that intelligence assessments at the time of the hostage negotiations concluded that Levinson, who turns 71 next month, had probably died as a hostage, in spite of what all of those officials agreed was an almost complete absence of any hard evidence of his demise beyond his advanced age, health problems and the duration of his captivity.
“It was nowhere near 100-percent and it wasn’t based on a scintilla of evidence at all, just pure speculation,” said one of several senior officials briefed on the Levinson case who spoke to ABC News.
There is still a $5 million reward for credible information about Levinson. A recent influx of tips that he’s still alive, which his family says has caught the FBI’s attention, has come after years had passed without any new information. The last proof of life came in 2011 when they received a handful of photos of Levinson, appearing bearded and gaunt, in an orange jumpsuit.
“It gives us hope,” Sarah Moriarty told ABC News.
Robert Palladino, deputy spokesperson for the State Department, which oversaw hostage negotiations with Iran during the negotiations, pledged the Trump administration’s commitment to bring home Levinson or ascertain his fate.
“The Trump administration is unwavering in its commitment to find Bob Levinson and to bring him home to his family,” Palladino said in a statement to ABC News. “The Levinson family has suffered for almost 12 years, and they deserve to be whole again. We are holding the Iranians accountable for helping us determine his whereabouts and returning him.”
During the negotiations to end Iran’s nuclear program in 2015 and into 2016, U.S. officials ranging from then-FBI Director James Comey to President Obama publicly described Levinson not as a hostage but as an American who “went missing” in Iran, a phrase which a former senior official said was intentional.
When Rezaian and other hostages were freed, Obama repeated that term, saying in a sweeping statement that there was no unraveling of the mystery but “Iran has agreed to deepen our coordination as we work to locate Robert Levinson — missing from Iran for more than eight years.”
In the past three years, however, Tehran has failed to deliver any information, officials say.
“The Iranians did make a pledge to provide any information they had on Levinson, but they didn’t provide anything of any value,” a former senior official in the Obama White House confirmed. A former Trump adviser said nothing has been offered about Levinson by Tehran since Obama left office.
Several knowledgeable current and former officials described “a divergence of views” within the U.S. intelligence community over Levinson’s perceived fate, and some former insiders still insist it is simply a tragic missing persons case that the Iranians wouldn’t benefit from prolonging.
“The FBI tended to lean toward optimistic that Levinson was alive but other parts of the government were less so,” the former senior official in the Obama White House told ABC News.
Asked in 2016 whether Levinson had survived his years of detention, Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry, who closed the deal with Iran and halted its development of nuclear arms, told reporters, “We have no idea.”
After President Trump won the 2016 election and took office, he scrapped the Iran Nuclear Deal after blasting it as “horrible, one-sided,” and “defective at its core.” On Wednesday, senior NSC official Victoria Coates wrote in a policy statement that, “Robert Levinson, Siamak Namazi, and Xiyue Wang are wrongfully detained in Iran, as are numerous other American and Western citizens. This shameful and barbaric practice must end, and Iran must return Americans and other innocent civilians at once.”
Levinson’s family hopes his administration will find ways to pressure the regime in Tehran to resolve his disappearance by freeing him or, if he has died, returning his remains.
“We’re no closer to this now than we’ve ever been,” said his daughter Sarah. “We’re nowhere, still at ground zero, where our government asks questions of Iran and they still say, ‘We have no information’.”
ABC News’ Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.