WASHINGTON (AP) — Two years after a hostage video and photographs of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson raised the possibility that the missing American was being held by terrorists, U.S. officials now see the government of Iran behind the images, intelligence officials told The Associated Press.
Levinson, a private investigator, disappeared in 2007 on the Iranian island of Kish. The Iranian government has repeatedly denied knowing anything about his disappearance, and the disturbing video and photos that Levinson’s family received in late 2010 and early 2011 seemed to give credence to the idea.
The extraordinary photos — showing Levinson’s hair wild and gray, his beard long and unkempt — are being seen for the first time publicly after the family provided copies to the AP. The video has been previously released.
In response to Iran’s repeated denials, and amid secret conversations with Iran’s government, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement in March 2011 that Levinson was being held somewhere in South Asia. The implication was that Levinson might be in the hands of terrorist group or criminal organization somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
The statement was a goodwill gesture to Iran, one that the U.S. hoped would prod Tehran to help bring him home.
But nothing happened.
Two years later, with the investigation stalled, 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, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk publicly. While everything dealing with Iran is murky, their conclusion is based on the U.S. government’s best intelligence analysis.
The photos, for example, portray Levinson in an orange jumpsuit like those worn by detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. The family received them via email in April 2011. In each photo, he held a sign bearing a different message.
“I am here in Guantanamo,” one said. “Do you know where it is?”
Another read: “This is the result of 30 years serving for USA.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has personally and repeatedly criticized the U.S. over its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
U.S. operatives in Afghanistan managed to trace the cellphone used to send the photographs, officials said. But the owner had nothing to do with the photos, and the trail went cold.
It was that way, too, with the hostage video the family received. It was sent from a cyber cafe in Pakistan in November 2010. The video depicted a haggard Levinson, who said he was being held by a “group.” In the background, Pashtun wedding music can be heard. The Pashtun people live primarily in Pakistan and Afghanistan, just across Iran’s eastern border.
Yet the sender left no clues to his identity and never used that email address again.
Whoever was behind the photos and video was no amateur, U.S. authorities concluded. They made no mistakes, leading investigators to conclude it had to be a professional intelligence service like Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
Levinson’s wife, Christine, provided the photos to The Associated Press because she felt her husband’s disappearance was not getting the attention it deserves from the government.
“There isn’t any pressure on Iran to resolve this,” she said. “It’s been much too long.”
Though U.S. diplomats and the FBI have tried behind the scenes to find Levinson, of Coral Springs, Fla., and bring him home, both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have said little about his case and have applied little public pressure on Iran for more information about Levinson’s whereabouts.
Christine Levinson has watched more public pressure result in Iran’s release of a trio of hikers, a journalist named Roxana Saberi and a team of British sailors captured by the Iranian Navy. Everyone has come home except her husband.
Washington’s quiet diplomacy, meanwhile, has yielded scant results beyond the Iranian president’s promise to help find Levinson.
“We assumed there would be some kind of follow-up and we didn’t get any,” Christine Levinson said. “After those pictures came, we received nothing.”
In one meeting between the two countries, the Iranians told the U.S. that they were looking for Levinson and were conducting raids in Baluchistan, a mountainous region that includes parts of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. But the U.S. ultimately concluded that the Iranians made up the story. There were no raids, and officials determined that the episode was a ruse by Iranian counterintelligence to learn how U.S. intelligence agencies work.
An expert on Russian organized crime, Levinson retired from the FBI in 1998 and became a private investigator. He was investigating cigarette smuggling in early 2007, and his family has said that took him to the Iranian island of Kish, where he was last seen. Kish is a popular resort area and a hotbed of smuggling and organized crime. It is also a free trade zone, meaning U.S. citizens do not need visas to travel there.
FBI spokeswoman Jacqueline Maguire said: “As we near the sixth anniversary of his disappearance, the FBI remains committed to bringing Bob home safely to his family.”
In an interview, Levinson’s wife said that because her husband disappeared in Iran, she believes her husband is still being held there. She doesn’t think the U.S. government has put enough pressure on Iran to release her husband.
“It needs to come front and center again,” Levinson said. “There needs to be a lot more public outcry.”
She said she has met with Obama and John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism czar and nominee to run the CIA. She said that both men pledged to do everything they could to free her husband. Now, nearly six years after his disappearance, she thinks Iran is being let off the hook.
“He’s a good man,” she said. “He just doesn’t deserve this.”
Meanwhile, Robert Levinson will miss another family milestone when his oldest daughter Susan gets married in February.
“He’s missed so many,” his wife said. “It’s very upsetting.”
Please sign the petition via the link below and share it with anyone that you know. We need 25,000 signatures. Thank you for your support.
The Levinson Family
We Petition the Obama Administration to:
Make rescuing US Citizen Robert Levinson being held hostage in the Middle East since 2007 a top priority.
US citizen Robert Levinson was kidnapped from Kish Island, Iran in March of 2007. Since then he has been held hostage against his will for over 2,100 days. In December 2011, the family released a proof of life video received from his captors. In the video his deteriorating health was evident. He had lost much weight and was in need of diabetes medicine. Since then he has not been heard from but it is believed he is still alive and being held in the Middle East.
It is the government’s job to protect the lives of all US citizens; rescuing Levinson should be top priority right now for our country. He is greatly missed by his family and friends. Iran has been uncooperative and blocked investigations. We the people of the US wish to bring this man home no matter what it takes.
Created: Dec 21, 2012
A publicity campaign is being launched this week in southwest Asia to heighten awareness of Levinson’s abduction, announce the $1,000,000 reward, and solicit information. Billboards, radio messages, and flyers will be used to publicize the reward and the investigation. A telephone tip line will be provided to listeners and viewers in that region so that they can confidentially provide information.
Bob Levinson Proof Of Life
To my dear husband Bob,
On the occasion of the anniversary of our 37 years of marriage, just a few short weeks ago, I’m writing to you in hopes that this message finds you. This should be a time of celebration and instead it is a time of anxiety, pain and frustration.
When we took our vows, for better or for worse, never did I imagine the circumstances we find ourselves in.
This situation has thrust me into a position in which I feel lost and ill prepared.
I imagined us enjoying this time in our life together raising our children, seeing them off to college, watching them get married, starting families of their own and growing into productive citizens we are proud of.
Instead the last four years, separated from you, have been a living hell. I’ve lived with uncertainty, frustration and anticipation waiting for your safe return to us.
I am willing to do whatever is necessary to bring you home. At the same time I’m at a loss as to how I can do that.
These uncertain times all over the world further complicate what I, a wife and mother who has dedicated her life to her family, can do to influence change.
I remain hopeful that by the grace of God, you will soon walk through our front door and this nightmare will be over.
We will never get this time back which makes each day that passes all the more precious.
Know that our deep faith in God provides comfort and hope that you remain safe and cared for until we are reunited.
I will never abandon you.
Your loyal and devoted wife,
Fourth Anniversary of Robert Levinson’s Disappearance
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
March 3, 2011
As we approach the fourth anniversary of Bob Levinson’s disappearance, we have received recent indications that Bob is being held somewhere in southwest Asia. As the Government of Iran has previously offered its assistance in this matter, we respectfully request the Iranian government to undertake humanitarian efforts to safely return and reunite Bob with his family. We would appreciate the Iranian government’s efforts in this matter.
Excerpt from transcript:
KING: We’re back with President Ahmadinejad. He will address the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow, as will the president of the United States.
We’ll ask about that in a minute.
What about Robert Levinson? This is the former FBI agent. He’s been missing in Iran for three — over three years, hasn’t been heard from. First, can you tell us, is he alive? Is he OK?
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I think we should ask that question from the FBI.
KING: But he’s in your country —
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): How would I know? How am I supposed to know? There are many individuals, many people who come to our country and then leave.
KING: So you have no idea where he is?
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): He came and he left. As usual. No.
KING: His family says — his family that they were promised a full report on his disappearance from your government and they have never heard anything.
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): We never made that promise. We agreed to have a joint information and intelligence committee with the U.S. government to gather information about his whereabouts, on his whereabouts, and we have expressed hope that this committee will soon be held and we express our preparedness to be part of the committee.
Now if the FBI were to give more information about the purpose of this trip and what information he had and where his other destinations were, we might be able to assist further in the case.
KING: But you have no idea where he is?
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Do you have any information? I’m like you, I have no idea what the FBI programs are. I don’t know what the FBI does around the world.
KING: We talked with — well, we talked with his wife yesterday, Christine, Mrs. Levinson. She asked that you give her a time and date for officials to meet with the FBI and share information.
In other words, she is saying the FBI is willing to sit down with your people. Can you give her a time and date?
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Yes, I accept and agree with that. It saddens us when people travel, run into problems, disappear. It’s awful.
I think that if all intelligence organizations work more transparently and based on more humanitarian principles, these problems would not arise, but I would recommend that that intelligence committee be held jointly so that the representatives of Iran and the United States can sit together and help trace his whereabouts.
KING: You know, his daughter is getting married Saturday.
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): I congratulate her on her marriage.
KING: It will be nice if her father were there —
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): And I sympathize with her. Definitely, it would have been very good. I wish that it can happen. I think the FBI should be more active in this case and to find their agent.
KING: You know, Mr. President, if it were your children — if one of your children crossed the border of another country and were being held, you would be very concerned and you would press the issue, would you not?
AHMADINEJAD (through translator): If my child violates a law, justice must be served. Because law ensures security. And stability. And laws must be observed because if they are to be violated, there shall be no security.
KING: We’ll be right back with more. Don’t go away.
Link to entire transcript: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1009/22/lkl.01.html