On March 8, 2007, Robert Levinson stepped into a taxi on the island of Kish, an Iranian holding, and vanished. The media covered his disappearance as that of an American businessman, traveling to research Russian organized crime in Dubai for a novel he was writing as well as to explore the various aspects of cigarette smuggling there. But according to the Associated Press, he traveled via a short plane ride to the island of Kish in the hopes of gathering information for the CIA on the corruption in Iran as well as details of their nuclear program.
A former DEA and FBI agent and an expert on the Russian gangs of Florida, Levinson was a family man with a wife and seven children who lectured around the US regarding his experience on the ground as an active agent. After being invited to lecture at the CIA, Levinson was offered an $85,000 contract to work for a group of analysts there, writing reports of his thoughts on cases given his background and familiarity with similar situations. But after June of 2006, Levinson wasn’t analyzing previous reports or sharing his knowledge about smuggling and laundering money. Instead, he was unearthing the same sort of materials as CIA spies: photos and information about militant factions, secrets of the Venezuelan president and new details about Colombian rebels.
The problem was, while the CIA analysts were thrilled with the information Levinson brought them, CIA operatives, the ones who actually handle spy operations, had no idea what the former FBI agent was up to. Levinson wasn’t cleared for international travel by the agency, and he wasn’t prepaid for his trips as was the case with most agents. Intelligence officials also vet sources their agents are scheduled to meet with ahead of time to ensure they are not double agents with an alternate agenda, which never occurred with Levinson’s engagements.
When Levinson disappeared, a formal investigation began at the CIA to determine if Levinson had been under assignment from the CIA. As the analysts had not made any specific requests of Levinson, but merely took the information he brought in, the official word was that he was not on a mission for the CIA in Iran. Therefore, when asked, high ranking CIA officials denied any connection to Levinson at the time, insisting he had not gone into Iran at their behest, causing the State Department to issue an edict in May of 2007 stating, “At the time of his disappearance Mr. Levinson was not working for the United States government.”
However, five months later, acting on information gleaned from emails between Levinson and a CIA friend, the CIA launched a full-scale investigation, eventually uncovering the analyst team’s involvement in Levinson’s travel. Ten analysts were cited for their participation in the unsanctioned missions, three of which were forced into early retirement.
Even in the face of this revelation, the official story of Robert Levinson, businessman, was kept the same. Even as recently as last month, the White House stated that “Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip to Kish Island, Iran,” despite the knowledge the FBI, State Department, White House, and even Levinson’s family possessed.
The AP says it has delayed publication of this story several times on the urging of government officials who claimed that it could damage leads leading to Levinson’s rescue. But no word has been heard from Levinson in three years and investigators’ information well has dried up. It is believed that should Levinson still be alive, the information that he worked gathering information for the CIA would already be known to his captors, seeing that he was not trained to resist interrogation.
By Marisa Corley