|Levinson as seen in 2010.|
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the United States’ premiere law enforcement agency. It's likely people both in and outside the US have heard of at least one of the agency’s directors; J. Edgar Hoover and Robert S. Mueller being two of the most well known for very separate reasons.
However, while those two men may be known for separate reasons, the agents themselves remain the same when trained and hired. The FBI, like the CIA and NSA, are comprised of some of the most skilled and rigorously tested and trained men and women bar none. This, coupled with a plethora of other things, makes the disappearance of Robert Levinson all the more peculiar—and heartbreaking.
On March 9, 2007, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, then 58, went missing in Kish Island, Iran. It was claimed that that he had been investigating a cigarette smuggling ring. About three weeks later, a news article released by state-run PressTV stated that “[Levinson] has been in the in the hands of Iranian security forces since the early hours of March 9”. It also claimed that “authorities are well on the way to finishing the procedural arrangements that could see him freed in a matter of days”. The article also claimed that Levinson’s visit to Kish Island “was purely that of a private businessman looking to make contact with persons who could help him make representations to official Iranian bodies responsible for suppressing trade in pirated products which is a major concern of his company”.
In August of that same year, it was reported that Robert’s wife, Christine, and their eldest son, Dan, were planning on taking a trip to Iran to find the family patriarch. While the Department of State advised against it, Iranian officials allowed the trip in September. Upon arrival, the two met with officials in Tehran and visited Robert’s hotel room. They also looked over all flight manifests that had left the airport. Iranian officials promised to give the family a full report when it was done, but over a decade later, that hasn’t happened. In 2008 however, the family said they’d planned another trip. Whether or not that’s happened, I’m not sure.
As time went by, the search for Levinson yielded nothing. That is, until 2010 when the image above was released. The Associated Press also confirmed Levinson's ties to the COA, but more on that later. The following year, another image was released of Levinson in an orange jumpsuit begging for help via signs in broken English. All of this pointed towards the Iranian government holding Levinson captive for reasons that, at the time, may have seemed obvious to some and mysterious to others. Most of these questions would be answered two years later in 2013 when the Associated Press ran an article on the case that caused quite a bit of controversy.
On December 12, the AP reported that Levinson had been working with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This contradicted the US's statement that Levinson wasn't working with them; a job he hadn't held since 1998. As for what Levinson was doing in Iran, it was reported that he was on an “unauthorized intelligence-gathering mission” about Iran and its notoriously brutal regime. However, when it was discovered that he was going to be undertaking this mission, a scandal broke out.
Levinson's travel had been planned by three unnamed CIA agents, and none took the necessary measures to vet or seek out the approval for the mission from their superiors. As such, the three agents were told to seek early resignation and seven others were disciplined; these seven having been determined to be the ones to have sent Levinson on the mission.
Over on Kish Island, Levinson's source was a man named Dawud Salahuddin, an American fugitive who was accused of murdering former Iranian diplomat Ali Akbar Tabatabaei in 1980.
Although the Associated Press was able to discover Levinson’s ties to the CIA, they were still unable to to determine what exactly provoked Levinson to want to undertake the mission. He had been retired for 9 years at that point from the FBI and was a self employed private investigator.
In spite of his retirement however, Levinson's disappearance became one of then-FBI director Robert Mueller's primary missions. In fact, Mueller's drive to find Levinson was so well known that it some used as a talking point against him being the one to lead to Russian interference investigation; questioning if he would use any funding appropriately, or if he'd use some of it to find Levinson.
But try as anyone may, Levinson remained a ghost—eventually becoming the longest missing US official in the country's history. There exist two theories that I'm aware of of and both aren't exactly long in their content. I'm sure my friend Tyler will prove me wrong however.
The first is that Levinson is bow deceased, having been killed by the Iranian government.
Iran and the United States aren't the best of buddies for a multitude of reasons. The countries both have polar opposite ideologies and ladders alliance with Israel doesn't help. Politics aside, Iran's government is notorious for being extremely harsh towards prisoners—with one of their prisons having a reputation for being one of the worst on Earth.
This has led some to believe that Levinson may have been killed at some point—perhaps having been disposed of after he'd given the government whatever it is they wanted. Whether or not this is true though is harder to prove. Iran is nothing if not deceptive and secretive, and to let it out that Levinson was killed would be a nightmare for the government. It's more likely that it'd be revealed in a hush-hush manner and be forgotten about.
The second theory is Levinson is still alive and negotiations are still being performed.
As stated before, the revelation that Levinson is dead would be a catastrophic one. The murder of a former Federal agent in Iran would likely lead to death heel level sanctions, if not worse considering the current President.
It'd be wise for Iran—let alone any country—to not kill someone like Levinson. That said, if he is alive, where is he? That's the million dollar question and that's one nobody can quite answer.
The rabbit hole that Robert Levinson's case goes down is one worthy of its own movie. I covered the surface and highly encourage you to read more into it. If I ever do devote more time to these individual cases I've covered this month, one of the first ones I'll return to is this one. That said, Robert Levinson's disappearance should serve as a reminder us that no matter how skillful and highly trained one is, they aren't invincible. Though hopefully, the truth behind Levinson's disappearance is one day discovered and revealed.