10 years on: family of vanished CIA operative hopeful he's alive

10 years on: family of vanished CIA operative hopeful he's alive
By Sarah Taylor with Associated Press, New York Times
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Former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran ten years ago while on an unauthorised mission for the CIA.


The family of a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran exactly ten years ago says they’re hopeful he’s still alive and being held hostage.

Robert Levinson disappeared from Kish island in 2007 while working on an unauthorised mission for the CIA.

Some six years later, the Agency reportedly paid his family around 2.3 million euros to ensure details of his work in Iran were kept out of the courts.

His wife, Christine, told Associated Press keeping his case in the public eye for a decade has been a challenge. If he is still being held hostage, he will have been held captive for longer than any other American in history.

“We believe people can survive for ten years under any circumstances,” she said. “In the worst places, people survive. We know Bob is alive.”

Trump’s pledge

During the last US election campaign the now-President Donald Trump vowed to bring him home.

Christine Levinson is pushing for him to keep that pledge.

“Iran is responsible for Bob,” she said, echoing the findings of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

“They know where he is and what happened to him. They’ve had him for 10 years. And we need the United States government to meet with them and find out what’s necessary to get Bob home. I’m hoping that the Trump administration will be able to do that,” she added.

Christine Levinson and the family visited Tehran shortly after her husband’s disappearance. Ahead of the Iran trip, he had been a private investigator and part-time consultant for the CIA.

The FBI has offered a reward amounting to around 4.7 million euros for information on his whereabouts.

Proof of life

One video and a photo have emerged since Levinson’s disappearance.

The 2010 video showed him complaining of poor health. A Pashtun wedding song can be heard playing in the background.

In 2011, a photo appeared of Levinson looking gaunt, bearded and with long hair. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit with a sign claiming he was being held in the US-run Guantanemo Bay prison.

Do not forget Robert Levinson, being held hostage in Iran for 10 years. Come on @POTUS let's see what you can do. Bring him home! pic.twitter.com/R9otmCe1cK

— Marc D Gonsalves (@marc_gonsalves) February 1, 2017

Prisoner exchange and false leads

Iran denies knowing anything about the circumstances surrounding Levinson’s disappearance or his whereabouts. However, in 2010, the country’s then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told AP:

“Of course, if it becomes clear what his goal was, or if he was indeed on a mission, then perhaps specific assistance can be given.”

In 2016, under Barack Obama’s presidency of the US, Iran released five American prisoners. The exchange was timed to coincide with the coming into effect of a major nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers.

While Levinson was not among those released, the Obama administration accepted a promise from Iran to help locate his whereabouts.


Days ago (March 5, 2017) the New York Times reported that the information Tehran provided led nowhere.

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