Missing American in Iran was working for CIABy Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman -Associated Press- | Last updated: Dec 18, 2013 - 10:22:23 AM
But that was just a cover story. An Associated Press investigation reveals that Levinson was working for the CIA. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts—with no authority to run spy operations—paid Mr. Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world’s darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S.
The CIA was slow to respond to Mr. Levinson’s disappearance and spent the first several months denying any involvement. When Congress eventually discovered what happened, one of the biggest scandals in recent CIA history erupted.
Behind closed doors, three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined. The CIA paid Mr. Levinson’s family $2.5 million to pre-empt a revealing lawsuit, and the agency rewrote its rules restricting how analysts can work with outsiders.
But even after the White House, FBI and State Department officials learned of Mr. Levinson’s CIA ties, the official story remained unchanged.
“He’s a private citizen involved in private business in Iran,” the State Department said in 2007, shortly after Mr. Levinson’s disappearance.
“Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip to Kish Island, Iran,” the White House said last month.
Details of the unusual disappearance were described in documents obtained or reviewed by the AP, plus interviews over several years with dozens of current and former U.S. and foreign officials close to the search for Levinson. Nearly all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive case.
The AP first confirmed Levinson’s CIA ties in 2010 and continued reporting to uncover more details. It agreed three times to delay publishing the story because the U.S. government said it was pursuing promising leads to get him home.
There has been no hint of Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts since his family received proof-of-life photos and a video in late 2010 and early 2011. That prompted a hopeful burst of diplomacy between the United States and Iran, but as time dragged on, promising leads dried up and the trail went cold.
Some in the U.S. government believe he is dead. But in the absence of evidence either way, the government holds out hope that he is alive, and the FBI says it remains committed to bringing him home.
If Mr. Levinson remains alive at age 65, he has been held captive longer than any American, longer than AP journalist Terry Anderson, who was held more than six years in Beirut. Unlike Mr. Anderson, Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts and captors remain a mystery.
Today, Iran and United States tiptoe toward warmer relations and a deal over Iran’s nuclear enrichment. But the U.S. has no new leads about Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts, officials said. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani publicly says he has no information about Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts.
On Dec. 13, after the AP disclosed Mr. Levinson’s secret ties to the CIA, his family urged the U.S. government “to step up and take care of one of its own.” It said the government had failed to make saving Mr. Levinson enough of a priority.
“After nearly 7 years, our family should not be struggling to get through each day without this wonderful, caring, man that we love so much,” the family said in a statement.
The story of how the married father of seven children from Coral Springs, Fla., became part of the CIA’s spy war with Iran has been cloaked in secrecy, with no public accounting for the agency’s mistakes.