Trump Under Pressure to Get Answers From Iran on Missing Ex-F.B.I. Agent

Link to NY Times Article
By BARRY MEIER and ADAM GOLDMAN
MARCH 5, 2017

WASHINGTON — Last year, when the United States and Iran exchanged prisoners, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the Tehran government had also pledged to help in the search for a long-missing American who had disappeared in Iran in March 2007.

To bolster that promise, Iranian officials secretly informed the Obama administration that they had received intelligence that the remains of an American had been buried in Balochistan, a rugged, lawless region in western Pakistan that borders Afghanistan and Iran. The remains, it was assumed, were that of the missing man, Robert A. Levinson, a private investigator and former agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation who was also a part-time consultant for the Central Intelligence Agency.

But when the Pakistani authorities went to the supposed burial site, they did not find any remains. American officials concluded that the report, rather than a gesture of good will, was a gambit by Iran to further cloud its role in Mr. Levinson’s fate.

Today, a decade after Mr. Levinson vanished, the Trump administration faces a decision about what steps to take, if any, to bring a resolution of his case. As a candidate, President Trump vowed in 2015 to bring Mr. Levinson home, and the Levinson family has asked to meet with him in hopes he will take a more aggressive stance toward getting answers than President Barack Obama did.

While some American officials fear that Mr. Levinson died in captivity, his family remains convinced that he is alive and that officials in Iran know where he is.

“Iran knows exactly what is going on with Bob, and they need to tell the U.S.,” his wife, Christine Levinson, said in an interview last month.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Jennifer Arangio, said in a statement that administration officials had contacted Mr. Levinson’s relatives to assure them that his case was a priority.

“The U.S. government will never cease its efforts to bring back our citizens who are unlawfully detained or missing overseas,” the statement said.

Mr. Levinson traveled to an Iranian island on a rogue mission to recruit an intelligence source for the C.I.A. on March 7, 2007. He has been seen since then only in a hostage videotape made in 2010 and a series of photographs. Mr. Levinson was 59 when he disappeared and had health problems.

For the past decade, Iranian leaders have repeatedly denied knowing anything about Mr. Levinson. But American intelligence and law enforcement authorities have long been convinced that elements of Iran’s political, religious or intelligence hierarchy such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were involved in his detention and, possibly, his death.

While the 2010 videotape showing Mr. Levinson as a prisoner gave no hint about who was holding him, F.B.I. investigators concluded that the video was so artfully staged that it was probably made by a state-sponsored intelligence group such as a unit of the Revolutionary Guards Corps.

That videotape was also routed through Pakistan. Investigators believe the information about the burial of an American there was part of a continuing Iranian intelligence narrative meant to distance that country from Mr. Levinson’s case, according to American officials.

Mr. Levinson’s fate may have become entangled with that of a top Iranian spy who reportedly defected to the West in late 2006, not long before Mr. Levinson vanished.
On two occasions last year, Iranian diplomats, when pressed by their American counterparts about Mr. Levinson, asked for information about the Iranian operative, Ali Reza Asgari, former American officials familiar with those talks said. Iran has long been seeking to locate Mr. Asgari, who reportedly took secrets about Iran’s nuclear program to the West with him.

A former top officer in the Revolutionary Guards, Mr. Asgari went missing while on a trip to Istanbul. There was speculation at the time of Mr. Levinson’s disappearance that he was seized in revenge for Mr. Asgari, but intelligence officials have played down that link. Nonetheless, Iran officials have long been hunting Mr. Asgari and for years have mentioned his name in connection with Mr. Levinson.
Mr. Kerry, in a meeting in September with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, brought up Mr. Levinson, saying that the United States wanted a “resolution” of the missing American’s case, even if the information showed that Mr. Levinson had died.

Those talks, which were unsuccessful, also involved efforts to resolve the cases of two Iranian-Americans: Siamak Namazi, a businessman in his 40s, and his father, Baquer Namazi. They are in an Iranian prison after their sentencing last fall on charges of spying and cooperating with the United States government. American officials have said the charges are false.

In December, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion, based on information supplied by Mr. Levinson’s family, that Iran had illegally arrested and detained the investigator. The Iranian government, which was provided with a copy of the United Nations group’s finding, did not respond.

During his final years in office, Mr. Obama repeatedly said that bringing Mr. Levinson home was a priority. But his administration never publicly confronted Iran over its denials about Mr. Levinson or made public evidence gathered by the F.B.I. during its decade-long investigation of his case.

The Obama administration’s former special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, James O’Brien, said he could not discuss specifics related to talks with Iran about the missing investigator. But he insisted that American officials had “raised his case at every opportunity with the Iranians and tried everything we could think of to bring him home.”

One of Mr. Levinson’s daughters, Sarah Moriarty, said that she was hopeful that Mr. Trump would make her father’s case a priority in all talks with Iran, which she said the Obama administration did not do.
“They didn’t get him home,” Mrs. Moriarty said. “They failed.”

Representative Ted Deutch Speaking to the House of Representatives for Bob Levinson’s Resolution

Rep. Deutch on his Resolution on Bob Levinson

Moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed my resolution urging our government and our allies to work tirelessly to bring Bob Levinson home to his family and home to our South Florida community. I told everyone who was watching to use social media (#WhatAboutBob) to talk about Bob and to stand with Bob's family and the U.S. Congress in telling Iran that we will not rest until the Levinson family is made whole again. Bob is the longest-held hostage in America's history. As we mark nine years since he was abducted in Iran, our community stands together, and this Saturday at 2 pm, we will stand as one at the Coral Springs Center for the Arts.Here's my plea to my colleagues:

Posted by Congressman Ted Deutch on Monday, February 29, 2016

S. RES. 99

114th CONGRESS

1st Session

S. RES. 99

Calling on the Government of Iran to follow through on repeated promises of assistance in the case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States civilian in our Nation’s history.

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

Mr. NELSON (for himself and Mr. RUBIO) submitted the following resolution:

RESOLUTION

Calling on the Government of Iran to follow through on repeated promises of assistance in the case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States civilian in our Nation’s history.

Whereas United States citizen Robert Levinson is a retired agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a resident of Coral Springs, Florida, the husband of Christine Levinson, and father of their seven children;

Whereas Robert Levinson traveled from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Kish Island, Iran, on March 8, 2007;

Whereas, after traveling to Kish Island and checking into the Hotel Maryam, Robert Levinson disappeared on March 9, 2007;

Whereas, in December 2007, Robert Levinson’s wife, Christine, traveled to Kish Island to retrace Mr. Levinson’s steps and met with officials of the Government of Iran who pledged to help in the investigation;

Whereas, for more than eight years, the United States Government has continually pressed the Government of Iran to provide any information on the whereabouts of Robert Levinson and to help ensure his prompt and safe return to his family;

Whereas officials of the Government of Iran promised their continued assistance to the relatives of Robert Levinson during the visit of the family to the Islamic Republic of Iran in December 2007;

Whereas, in November 2010, the Levinson family received a video of Mr. Levinson in captivity, representing the first proof of life since his disappearance and providing some initial indications that he was being held somewhere in southwest Asia;

Whereas, in April 2011, the Levinson family received a series of pictures of Mr. Levinson, which provided further indications that he was being held somewhere in southwest Asia;

Whereas Secretary of State John Kerry stated on August 28, 2013, “The United States respectfully asks the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us in our efforts to help U.S. citizen Robert Levinson.”;

Whereas, on September 28, 2013, during the first direct phone conversation between the heads of government of the United States and Iran since 1979, President Barack Obama raised the case of Robert Levinson to President of Iran Hassan Rouhani and urged the President of Iran to help locate Mr. Levinson and reunite him with his family;

Whereas, on August 29, 2014, Secretary of State Kerry again stated that the United States “respectfully request the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran work cooperatively with us to find Mr. Levinson and bring him home”;

Whereas, on July 14, 2015, the Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and Iran agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action;

Whereas, on January 16, 2016, the Government of Iran released five Americans detained in Iran, Jason Rezaian of California, Saeed Abedini of Idaho, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati of Michigan, Matthew Trevithick of Massachusetts, and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari;

Whereas, on January 17, 2016, President Obama stated `even as we rejoice in the safe return of others, we will never forget about Bob,’ referring to Robert Levinson, and that `each and every day but especially today our hearts are with the Levinson family and we will never rest until their family is whole again.’;

Whereas, on January 19, 2016, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated that the United States Government had `secured a commitment from the Iranians to use the channel that has now been opened to secure the release of those individuals that we know were being held by Iran…to try and gather information about Mr. Levinson’s possible whereabouts’;

Whereas, on November 26, 2013, became the longest held United States civilian in our Nation’s history; and

Whereas the Federal Bureau of Investigation has announced a $5,000,000 reward for information leading to Mr. Levinson’s safe return: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) recognizes that Robert Levinson is the longest held United States civilian in our Nation’s history;

(2) notes the repeated pledges by and renewed commitment of officials of the Government of Iran to provide their Government’s assistance in the case of Robert Levinson;

(3) urges the Government of Iran, as a humanitarian gesture, to act on its promises to assist in the case of Robert Levinson and to immediately provide all available information from all entities of the Government of Iran regarding the disappearance of Robert Levinson to the United States Government;

(4) urges the President and the allies of the United States to continue to raise with officials of the Government of Iran the case of Robert Levinson at every opportunity, notwithstanding ongoing and serious disagreements the United States Government has with the Government of Iran on a broad array of issues, including Iran’s ballistic missile program, sponsorship of international terrorism, and human rights abuses; and

(5) expresses sympathy to the family of Robert Levinson for their anguish and expresses hope that their ordeal can be brought to an end in the near future.

Excerpt from President Obama’s speech today

“Meanwhile Iran has agreed to deepen our coordination as we work to locate Robert Levinson, missing from Iran for more than 8 years. Even as we rejoice in the safe return for others we will never forget about Bob. Each and every day and especially today our hearts are with the Levinson family. We will not rest until their family is whole again.”

We truly hope that he keeps his word. Our family needs to be whole again.

#‎WhatAboutBob‬

Media Coverage of Dan Levinson’s Testimony During the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 2, 2015

Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/families-of-americans-held-in-iranian-prisons-to-testify-on-capitol-hill/2015/06/02/c456b588-092a-11e5-95fd-d580f1c5d44e_story.html

Sun Sentinel:

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/broward/coral-springs/daniel-levinson-will-urge-congress-on-tuesday-to-pressure-iran-to-divulge-inform-20150602-story.html

New Day – CNN

http://goo.gl/GnXQHZ

Associated Press (via U.S. News & World Report online):

http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2015/06/02/relatives-of-4-americans-in-iran-press-for-their-release

Bloomberg:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-06-02/families-of-u-s-prisoners-in-iran-say-nuclear-talks-pivotal

Agence France Presse (via Yahoo! News)

http://news.yahoo.com/us-lawmakers-urge-iran-free-detained-americans-173746879.html

NY Daily News:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/families-4-americans-held-iran-urge-congress-article-1.2243639

ABC News online:

http://abcnews.go.com/International/families-americans-held-iran-push-lawmakers-results/story?id=31463163

Fox News.com:

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/06/02/families-four-americans-held-captive-in-iran-unite-urge-congress-to-bring-loved-ones-home.html

Politico:

http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/amir-hekmati-relatives-plea-for-help-118543.html

Detroit Free Press:

http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/06/02/hekmati-resolution-considered/28352293/

Christian Daily:

http://www.christianitydaily.com/articles/4041/20150601/prayer-vigil-behalf-pastor-saeed-abedini-take-place-washington-d.htm

Video of Dan Levinson’s Testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Thank you to all of you who watched or supported Dan’s testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs this morning, and thank you to the committee for the opportunity to tell our father’s and our family’s story.

For those unable to watch earlier, the archive video is already available. If you would like to just watch Dan’s testimony, you can skip to 1:06:38, and there are also a few key answers he made to questions at approximately 1:24 and 1:28.

Thank you so much again for supporting our family as we continue to fight to bring our father, Bob Levinson, home to us.

http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearing/hearing-americans-detained-iran

Reward Increased to $5 Million in Robert Levinson Case

http://www.fbi.gov/news/news_blog/reward-increased-to-5-million-in-robert-levinson-case

Reward Increased to $5 Million in Robert Levinson Case

Robert Levinson went missing from Kish Island, Iran, on March 9, 2007.

On March 9, 2007, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson went missing from Kish Island, Iran, and today, on the eighth anniversary of his disappearance, the FBI has increased its reward to up to $5 million for information leading directly to his safe location, recovery, and return. Levinson, who will turn 67 tomorrow, is now one of the longest-held American hostages in history.

“Today we mark eight years since Bob disappeared in Iran, and we are increasing the reward for his location and safe return to his family,” said FBI Director James B. Comey. “We ask anyone with information to contact the FBI. It is long past time for Bob to come home.”

Anyone with information regarding Levinson or his captors is encouraged to contact the FBI at https://tips.fbi.gov. Information will be kept confidential and can be provided anonymously.

State Dept. calls on Iran to release American prisoners

Found here: http://bit.ly/1otdFZ8

By Phillip Swarts – The Washington Times – Friday, August 29, 2014

Marking the three-year anniversary of the arrest of a U.S. citizen in Iran, the State Department called upon the Islamic government to release all Americans detained by the nation.

“The United States remains committed to returning all of them to their families, friends and loved ones,” the agency said in a press release.

Friday marks the third anniversary since Amir Hekmati was arrested on espionage charges. The U.S. government has stated that the charges are false and that Mr. Hekmati traveled to Iran to visit family.

The agency also called for the release of Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor supposedly arrested due to his religious beliefs; and Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter. Mr. Rezaian’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, is a writer for a Middle Eastern paper and is also being held.