For more than 20 years, Robert Levinson developed a reputation as a law enforcement agent with a penchant for developing informants. In the mid-2000’s, he became a contractor for the CIA, and embarked upon his most dangerous assignment of all. While visiting Iran’s Kish Island in 2007, he disappeared.
Robert Alan Levinson was born on March 10th, 1948, in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York.
Unfortunately, not much about Robert's early life is public knowledge. Bob - as he is known among friends and family - would work for three large government entities: the Drug Enforcement Agency (D.E.A.), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.), and the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) over a thirty-year career. Because of that, not much of Robert's personal life is public knowledge. However, based on his career - and some personal details - we can surmise some of Robert's personality.
We know that Robert attended New York University, and eventually obtained a B.A. degree from the City College of New York in 1970.
At around the same time, he married his high-school sweetheart: a young woman named Christine Gorman, who remains married to Robert to this day. Together, they would seven children: Douglas, Samantha, David, Daniel, Sarah, Stephanie, and Susan.
Following his collegiate career, Robert Levinson went right to work with the Drug Enforcement Agency - the DEA - where he would work for six years, before moving on to the organization where he would spend the bulk of his career: the FBI.
At the FBI, Robert Levinson specialized in organized crime: in particular, crimes related to money laundering. He reportedly loved his work, as he spent the vast majority of his time being a people person: going out and making connections, that kind of thing. He was well-known for developing informants, and his former coworkers described him as a gregarious "good cop."
While working in New York, he had become an expert on the region's five mob boss families, but after working up some clout in his field, he put in for a transfer to the Miami field office. There, he began taking on Russian organized crime, tracking mobsters and scammers that were buying up real estate and establishing drug empires through the 1980's and 1990's.
In 1998, after twenty-some-odd-years with the Bureau, Bob Levinson announced his retirement. Colleagues state that he only retired because he could earn more money in the private sector, and with seven kids now approaching college-age, he needed all of the help he could get.
He would spend the next decade working as a private investigator, but Bob allegedly missed the action of working for a three-letter agency. Those that knew him say he regretted his decision to retire, and - going into the mid-2000's - he was anxious to get back into the game.
In June of 2006, Robert Levinson was quickly approaching 60 years old. He was slightly overweight with gray hair that was bordering on white; wore large, grandfatherly glasses (which almost looked like bifocals); and was rocking a salt-and-pepper-flaked Chevron mustache. He had also been diagnosed as a diabetic, and had some brief struggles with other conditions, such as high-blood pressure and gout.
Needless to say, he was not what you'd imagine a spy to be. But, that did not stop Bob Levinson from wanting to get back into law enforcement; perhaps, even into covert intelligence-gathering.
Through 2006, Levinson had been in-contact with some of his former-colleagues, who continued to hold him in high-esteem. One, in particular - a quirky woman named Anne Jablonski - was a highly-regarded intelligence agent who had given daily intelligence briefings to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller. She was well-connected, and had always taken a liking to Levinson, whom she knew did good work.
After being brought in to discuss money laundering tactics with officials in the CIA, Levinson was hired by the Agency's Illicit Finance Group within the Office of Transnational Issues. This is the office that tracks money transfers, weapons smuggling, and organized crime across borders.
Anne Jablonski helped hook up Levinson with this new gig, which promised him a change from his work in the private sector. He was contracted for around $85,000 a year to write reports, which would be centered around money laundering and other crimes related to financial matters.
However, it seems like Levinson - and those that hired him - knew that this job would be much more than that. His reports weren't just simple analysis, and would require him to be much more than a typical desk jockey. He would be writing intelligence reports based on hands-on investigations that he was operating... with close to no supervision.
This would require Levinson to travel to foreign nations - some of them hostile - to indirectly investigate certain matters for the CIA. This was everything from investigating money laundering between Russian investors... to learning more about the burgeoning ties between Venezeula's Hugo Chavez and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In essence, Levinson was given carte blanche to write his reports for the CIA. He was only expected to deliver a handful of reports each month, but would often deliver dozens - with his colleagues admiring his tenacity and work ethic in emails to one another, at one point referring to him as a "gold mine" of intelligence.
However, his work began to blur the line between simple analysis and covert intelligence... with him conducting his own operations with close to no oversight. There was no one looking over his shoulder, just him going into foreign nations and doing what he did best: making contacts and developing informants with his friendly, unassuming nature. By all accounts, he was great at this work, but because of its very nature, it would remain secretive for several years. Not even the clandestine branch of the CIA he indirectly worked for was aware of his actions... that's how off-the-books he was during this time period.
And that was probably the part of the job that Bob Levinson found most enticing.
In an email written to his friend and colleague Anne Jablonski - the same woman that helped get him the job - Bob wrote about this new job :
"Today is my thirty-second wedding anniversary and aside from celebrating those years with Christine, I'm going to (prematurely) celebrate this. It seems like something too good to be true. I really look forward to working with you and trying to make a contribution."
In the first half of 2007, Bob Levinson continued his work as a contractor, working indirectly for the CIA. He had no real mission, but was allowed to work on his own prerogative: travel the world, make connections that would point him to solid information, and pass it on to his superiors. The CIA didn't pay for his travels, but would reimburse him for all of his expenses.
While in Geneva on one of these fact-finding operations, Levinson wrote to a friend via email. The subject of this email touched on a mission he was planning, to the nation of Iran - which had been deemed a "black hole" for American intelligence. Over several decades, the CIA had failed to establish any solid connections in senior positions, so intelligence for the Islamic Republic was hard to come by.
In this email, Levinson wrote:
"I guess as I approach my fifty-ninth birthday on the 10th of March, and after having done quite a few other crazy things in my life, I am questioning just why, at this point, with seven kids and a great wife, why would I put myself in such jeopardy."
As you can imagine, that question would seem extremely poignant in-retrospect.
On March 8th, 2007, Robert Levinson began his trip to Iran; or, rather, Kish Island, a tourist hot-spot just off of the southern coast of Iran. Known for its scenic beaches, ancient ruins, and shopping centers, Kish Island is also well-known for its rather lax entry laws, which means you don't need a visa; which is very unlike mainland Iran, which is hard to enter for Americans and other westerners.
Levinson had flown out of Dubai, where he had been staying in the days prior. He packed light, throwing some clothes and toiletries in a bag, and didn't even check out of his Dubai hotel. He anticipated returning the very next day.
Bob Levinson's purpose for heading to Kish Island was to investigate a smuggling ring. In particular, he claimed that he was working on behalf of British American Tobacco, and looking into a private matter of cigarette smuggling in the Persian Gulf. As you can imagine, this was a cover crafted for Levinson by him and his colleagues, but was rather flimsy at best: a simple phone call to British American Tobacco would have likely revealed that this cover was bunk, but that did not stop Levinson was bringing along some paperwork that gave life to his lie.
His real mission was to meet with American fugitive Dawud Salahuddin, who had been in the U.S. as David Belfield. Back in 1980, he had been involved in the shooting death of a former aide to the Shah of Iran in Bethesda, Maryland - which led to him fleeing the country for Iran. He had lived in the nation ever since, adopting his new identity and assimilating to the lifestyle.
The two men had been introduced via a mutual acquaintance, and Levinson had arranged the meeting under the guise of his cover story: stating that he was trying to learn about a smuggling ring in the region. Salahuddin claims that he never knew the true purpose of the meeting - or what Levinson was hoping to accomplish - but it has come to light in the years since that Levinson hoped to turn the American-born Salahuddin into an informant. He had learned from their mutual acquaintance that he had become disillusioned with the Iranian government, and could possibly be flipped.
Unfortunately, Bob Levinson had made a fatal mistake in arranging their meeting. He had booked them into the same room at the Maryam Hotel, on Kish Island, where they did meet and speak for several hours. However, this drew the attention of Iran's Interior Ministry, who were alarmed that two Americans were meeting up in a hotel just off of the Iranian Coast.
The evening that the two men met, they were detained by ministry officials at the hotel. From there, they were each taken off to separate locations - with Dawud Salahuddin spending the night in a local jail, away from Robert Levinson.
Following this meeting - and his detainment by Iranian police - Robert Levinson was simply... gone.
He had been taken away from the Maryam Hotel by Iranian officials, but there was no record of him being held in any known facility. No jails or prisons had his name listed as an inmate - either past or present - and from this point forward, Bob Levinson's whereabouts would become a complete and total mystery.
After not hearing from Bob for days, his family began to grow increasingly concerned. They began reaching out to known colleagues and friends - who might have an idea on where he was - but they seemed to be equally in the dark. Because of Bob's work, he often kept to himself and traveled solo, without much in the way of supervision.
What the Levinson family found most surprising - if not alarming - was that there seemed to be no real rush to find him in the intelligence community. The CIA refused to admit that Levinson was an employee of theirs; stating that whatever he was doing on Kish Island, he was doing of his own accord. They would refuse to have any connection to Levinson for years after the fact. In fact, just two months later, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in a cable to U.S. embassies:
"Levinson was not working for the United States government."
The FBI - of whom Levinson was employed for several years - were charged with investigating his disappearance. However, due to international laws and diplomatic disputes with the nation of Iran, there was very little that they could do. They collected evidence - primarily stuff like Bob's personal hard drives - but seemed unable to offer much in the ways of an answer. Based on the information they were able to surmise, Bob Levinson was a private citizen that had run afoul of Iran, and that seemed to be that.
Robert Levinson's disappearance came at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran. After all, the U.S. was in the middle of two wars in neighboring nations - Iraq and Afghanistan - and the time period that Bob went missing came at a time where U.S. President George W. Bush was publicly criticizing Iran. He had made claims of Iran supporting terrorism - in particular, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan - as well as being responsible for blocking peace talks in Lebanon.
In June of 2007, then-President Bush spoke out against the detainment of Levinson, after being asked about four other Iranian-American hostages detained by the Islamic Republic of Iran. He said that he was "disturbed" by Iran's refusal to provide any information, and spelled out that Levinson was a private citizen that had been detained by Iran. Speaking to the press, President Bush stated:
"I call on Iran's leaders to tell us what they know about his whereabouts."
Almost immediately after Robert's disappearance, Iranian officials refused to reveal any involvement in his detainment. They have claimed to have no knowledge whatsoever of him ever being captured or held by Iranian authorities; a claim they insist upon to this day.
In the latter half of 2007, members of Bob Levinson's family were allowed to fly to Iran, where they met with Iranian officials, who told them that they had no knowledge of their loved ones. They were then allowed to visit the hotel he had last been seen, and noted that the hotel registry showed that he had checked out the day after his detainment: March 9th, 2007. They were even allowed to view the flight logs from the time period that he went missing, and found that no flight records existed with his name after his arrival on Kish Island.
Simply put: there existed no known record of Robert's existence following March 8th, 2007.
Of all of the people known to interact with Robert Levinson while he was on Kish Island, there was only one person that could offer up any kind of rationale for his disappearance: Dawud Salahuddin, the American-born fugitive that Bob had been meeting at the Maryam Hotel.
In the years since, Salahuddin has been open about his meeting with Bob Levinson, even though he claims to have never heard the true purpose from Bob himself. The two met under the guise of Bob's cover story, which was relating to cigarette smuggling in the Persian Gulf. Even though they spoke for hours, Salahuddin was unaware that Levinson was trying to turn him into an informant until well after the fact.
The two had been at the hotel for several hours, before their meeting was cut short by ministry officials. From there, both men were detained, but transported to separate facilities.
Dawud Salahuddin claims that he spent the night in a local jail, and never saw or heard from Levinson ever again. He was released from custody the next morning, and returned to the hotel, where he attempted to make inquiries about the man he had been meeting. There, he was told that Bob had already checked out of the hotel, and was on his way back to Dubai.
That didn't seem to sit right with Salahuddin, and he ended up taking the story to some interested publications, including the Financial Times and the Christian Science Monitor. There, he hoped to raise some interest and awareness in Levinson's disappearance, even though intelligence sources tried to caution the world at-large that Salahuddin was not a reliable source.
When Robert Levinson's wife and family traveled to Iran in 2007 and 2008, Dawud Salahuddin agreed to meet with them. He told them about his meeting with their missing loved one, but was unfortunately unable to tell them anything beyond what he had already told journalists.
In the years since, Salahuddin has remained skeptical that the Iranian government knew what they were getting into when they arrested Levinson. He believes that it wasn't a premeditated action to arrest an American intelligence operative, but - rather - just happenstance. Speaking to reporters from Time, he stated:
"The notion that it was some kind of brilliant move on the part of Iranian intelligence is bullshit. It was dumb luck. I've been around these guys long enough to know when they're on to something and when they get lucky. And those guys were lucky. If they were so damn efficient, they'd be able to keep their nuclear scientists alive."
What drew Robert Levinson to Dawud Salahuddin was the notion that he was disillusioned with the Iranian government. That disenchantment has seemed to continue growing in the years since - likely due in some small part to the disappearance of Robert Levinson. In the same interview with Time, Salahuddin stated:
"Long story short, over the years I have lost a lot of respect for the Iranian system. It relies on blunt force. Iranians are afraid of their government. The basis of their rule is not love and respect for their rulers, it's fear. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with power, corruption and enrichment."
Hillary Clinton served as the United States Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013; a time period in which she acted as America's top diplomat.
What you just heard was a response from her during her confirmation hearing, in January of 2009. She was asked to comment on Levinson's disappearance by Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who represented Levinson's home state and had been perhaps his most vocal proponent in Congress.
In the nearly-two years since his disappearance, little had been found in the way of answers regarding Bob Levinson's disappearance. The investigation into his case was headed by the FBI - his longtime employer - but his family continued to be the driving force in his search. They were doing their best to keep his name alive in the press, but were forced to wade through the murky waters of international politics, with a nation that the U.S. has always had an incredibly uncomfortable relationship with.
They offered up a $5,000 reward for information leading to a resolution in his detainment, but that seemed to do little to spark any interest. So, in 2008 - after flying to Iran the year prior - Levinson's wife and family flew to the United Nations, in the hopes of meeting with Iranian officials. They did meet with some officials, but then-Iranian President Mahmoud Admadinejad refused to meet with them - offering only political platitudes to help find him.
This seemed to be indicative of the Iranian response to Levinson's disappearance: total ignorance. They claimed to have no knowledge of Bob's detainment by Iranian authorities; in fact, at times, they often denied it had ever happened at all. According to them, Bob had left for Dubai on March 9th, 2007 - the day before his 59th birthday - and that was that. Whatever happened to him was not their fault, and they had no interest in his disappearance.
In a 2008 interview with NBC's Brian Williams, Iranian President Admadinejad stated about Robert Levinson (through an interpreter, of course):
"There was a claim made some time ago, some people came over, the gentleman's family came over. They talked and met with our officials and were given our responses. I see no reason for a person who was given an Iranian visa and - came into Iran, arrived in Iran through official channels, to have problems here. Our security officials and agents have expressed their willingness to assist the FBI, if the FBI has any information about his travels around the world. We have said that we are ready to help, to assist with that matter."
That exact same sentiment has been carried on into the next Iranian administration, headed by President Hassan Rouhani, who succeeded Admadinejad in 2013. Speaking to CNN's Christian Amanpour in September of that year, Rouhani stated:
"First, you mentioned a person that I've never heard of. Mr. Levinson, we don't know where he is, who he is. Sometimes you are speaking of people who come before a court of trial and other times, there are people who disappear. It's not a clear question to put these two categories side by side. He is an American who has disappeared. We have no news of him. We do not know where he is. We are willing to help, and all the intelligence services in the region can come together to gather information about him to find his whereabouts, and we're willing to cooperate on that."
This is the stance that the Iranian government would take early on, and have stuck to repeatedly over the years. They have claimed to not know what happened to Robert Levinson, even though he disappeared while visiting their country, and was last seen being detained by Iranian officials.
Roughly four years would pass before any new information began to surface, with Bob Levinson's family waging a public and a private battle for information against their own government - which I will get to in just a bit.
I n March of 2011 - as the four-year mark of Bob's disappearance approached - U.S. Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton made another public statement about his case. During a joint-press conference being held with Cuban officials, Secretary Clinton stated her belief that Robert Levinson was being held somewhere in Southwest Asia. This was due to some intelligence that the State Department had received over the past six months, which - according to Secretary Clinton - was:
"... clear and convincing proof that Bob Levinson is alive."
In December of 2011, it was announced that the family of Bob Levinson had received proof that he was still alive - in the form of a video which had been received more than a year prior, sometime in 2010.
The video shows Robert Levinson - or rather, a shell of who he once was - speaking directly to the camera for less than a minute while Pashtun wedding music plays in the background. Robert - who appears far skinnier than when he left home more than three years prior - seems to be in good health, but pleads for the U.S. government to help him return home.
Reports would reveal that this video had been sent to the Levinson family via email, sometime in 2010 (at an undetermined time). In the video, Levinson says that he had been held for three-and-a-half-years, leading to the belief that the video was recorded in the latter half of 2010.
After receiving the video, the family had attempted to communicate with Robert's captors, leading to at least a series of emails (the details of which have never been publicly released). Attached to the original email was a demand for the United States government to release a list of prisoners, but - in an odd coincidence - none of the names listed matched up with any known U.S. prisoners. This ultimately led to more questions than answers.
A U.S. official with knowledge of the hostage video would later reveal to media outlets that at least one email was believed to have come from an internet cafe in Pakistan - which may or may not have been the nation where Levinson was being held captive.
On March 6th, 2012 - as the five-year anniversary of Robert Levinson's disappearance approached - the FBI announced that it was setting up a reward fund for information leading to the man's freedom, totalling more than $1 million.
In a press conference, the reward was announced by none other than FBI director Robert Mueller himself.
In January of 2013, the family of Robert Levinson released a series of photographs that they had received nearly two years prior, in April of 2011.
These photos were taken several months after the video that they had received the year prior, which showed that Bob was still alive. These photos showed an even more gaunt version of their loved one, now with long, unkempt hair and a large, shaggy beard. In each photograph, he is wearing an orange jumpsuit and is bound by chains, but is holding a series of printed messages, which carry messages in stilted, broken English, including the following:
Like the hostage video, these photos had been sent through email to the Levinson family, and officials were able to trace the IP address to a location in Afghanistan. However, they believe that the IP address had been spoofed by somebody else, indicating that they were more technologically advanced than simple kidnappers.
Like the hostage video, officials were unable to determine where the photos were taken, which remained the true mystery.
Officials in Iran continued to claim having no knowledge, as one presidential administration made way for another. However, some diplomatic cables were released by WikiLeaks, which showed that the U.S. continued to believe that Iran was responsible for the man's abduction, and was likely holding him at their unknown equivalent of a black site.
In September of 2013, it was announced that U.S. President Barack Obama had spoken about Levinson in a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but no specific details of their conversation would be released.
In December of 2013, it would be reported by multiple sources that - despite the insistence of the White House, the State Department, and the intelligence community over several years that Robert was not employed by the government at the time of his disappearance - he was, in fact, working for the CIA at the time.
This meant that it was now public knowledge that his work as a private contractor was mostly a front; despite him technically being employed as a "contractor," his work directly benefited the Central Intelligence Agency, and the reports he authored were being forwarded to his colleagues that worked there.
If you recall, as early as May of 2007 - when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in a diplomatic cable that "Levinson was not working for the United States government" - the government had been denying the possibility of Levinson going to Iran on behalf of the government. Now, that was being disproven in a very public forum.
In December of 2013. the Associated Press and the Washington Post both published extensive article about Levinson's work, detailing how he had gone to Kish Island in an effort to flip a possible informant: Dawud Salahuddin.
The AP claimed that they had learned about Levinson's CIA connection back in 2010, but delayed reporting the news at the insistence of the U.S. government, who wanted to keep it quite (perhaps for Levinson's safety). After all, this was the time period in which Levinson's family was receiving videos and photos showing that he was still alive - and being held in an unknown location - but several years had passed since.
In their report, AP journalists wrote:
"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. The AP is reporting the story now because, nearly seven years after his disappearance, those efforts have repeatedly come up empty. The government has not received any sign of life in nearly three years. Top U.S. officials, meanwhile, say his captors almost certainly already know about his CIA association."
Within days of the AP's story, the New York Times reported something similar: stating that they had learned about Levinson's work with the CIA back in 2007, but were likewise asked by the government to keep that news quite for the safety of Robert and his family.
This news led to quite the rise in tensions between the publications sharing this story and the White House, which expressed itself during the December 13th, 2013 press briefing. In this briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney insists that Robert Levinson was not a government employee at the time of his capture - which many consider a diplomatic way of splitting hairs.
The knowledge that Robert Levinson was working with - or for - the CIA has changed things significantly for this case in the years since.
For starters, it provides more context for Robert's travel to Iran. It has all but been confirmed that he was doing what he had always done - building relationships and developing informants - just on a much larger and more dangerous scale than ever before.
However, this knowledge also provides a rationale for why Iran captured him... and why they continue to dispute any knowledge of his capture. After all, he was - in essence - a spy operating within their borders.
When this information was released to the public, it caused quite a stir in the international community. Not only because this info changed the context of Robert Levinson's entire story, but because it highlighted how the CIA had been acting perhaps recklessly in the years after 9/11. After all, this story showed what happened when contractors like Levinson were allowed to have free rein over their own missions, with nothing in the way of supervision or oversight.
People like Levinson had been hired as contractors, but blurred the line between contractors, analysts, and covert intelligence agents. Typically, contractors like him would have been hired to write reports from the safety of a desk, but he was allowed to make his own schedule and operate as he saw fit: from anywhere, at anytime. He would create fake identities and travel to foreign nations, with his expenses being reimbursed by CIA coffers; however, he would not have to report to any stations chiefs or field offices, being allowed to gather intelligence and write reports entirely on his own.
However, in the wake of Levinson's capture, things changed for the CIA. In fact, in the AP's 2013 report on Levinson working for the CIA, they referred to his disappearance as:
"... one of the biggest scandals in recent CIA history."
The Washington Post article about the story, released almost simultaneously, expanded upon this:
"... months after Levinson's abduction, e-mails and other documents surfaced that suggested he had gone to Iran at the direction of certain CIA analysts who had no authority to run operations overseas. That revelation prompted a major internal investigation that had wide-ranging repercussions at Langley."
Following Levinson's capture by Iranian officials, the U.S. changed its policies when it came to contractors like Bob Levinson. No longer were they allowed the free rein they had before; instead, being forced to operate within rather-strict guidelines that were carefully crafted to prevent this exact thing from repeating.
In the aftermath, at least ten employees at the CIA were punished, with three veteran analysts being forced to resign. Of these three analysts were Anne Jablonski, Levinson's friend and colleague that had lured him to the contracting position he had taken in the Office of Transnational Issues.
According to the Washington Post:
"To CIA officials, it appeared that [Jablonski] was running a source and collecting intelligence, a job for trained operatives in the clandestine service and not analysts. In fact, the CIA's clandestine arm never knew that Levinson was on the payroll or his activities when he traveled abroad, officials said."
According to the CIA's internal investigation, which was conducted in the aftermath of Levinson's disappearance, it was revealed that he and Jablonski had been working together in a relationship that was kept "off-the-record." He had been instructed to email her through a personal email account and had documents shipped to her personal address, in an attempt to skirt any kind of supervision or oversight.
Basically, their relationship was the antithesis of what our intelligence agencies require for agents and analysts, and that led to the relationship between the two being hidden for some time. In fact, the CIA all-but-admitted that this is why they disputed early reports that Levinson had worked for them: because they legitimately did not know, because Jablonski had been attempting to keep it a secret.
This information only came to light some time later, when friends and family of Robert Levinson were able to read through his emails, and learned about the working relationship between him and the CIA.
As you can imagine, the reception from Capitol Hill was anything but amused at this revelation. Some time prior, CIA officials had testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee that Levinson was not working for them in any fashion when he traveled to Iran, and that was now proven to be incorrect. Some U.S. officials even warned that deception on that scale might lead to criminal charges; including Senator John McCain, who stated that he felt lied to and warned of Congressional oversight over the CIA and their budget.
But among the news that was released at the tail end of 2013 - in a flurry of reports about Levinson's work with the CIA - came the news that his family had been paid out significantly by the Agency, who had been desperate to keep this information under-wraps for as long as possible. They had agreed to pay out the remainder of Levinson's contract - roughly $120,000 - in addition to a $2.5 million annuity; which allowed the CIA to keep the details of Levinson's employment from being aired in a public forum, and prevented the public from learning about the extent of the agency's wrongdoing that had been unfolding at the time.
In January of 2016 - following a period of negotiations - the United States and Iran agreed to a prisoner swap. This was a show of good faith between the nations, who had recently agreed to a treaty which relieved sanctions on Iran while also preventing them from developing a nuclear weapon.
Four Americans were released from Iranian custody, but unfortunately, Robert Levinson was not among them. Iranian officials continued to claim no knowledge about the man or his current whereabouts.
Despite this resistance from the Iranian government, President Obama seemed hopeful that they would consider continued cooperation with the United States in their search. After the momentous prisoner swap - which took place on January 17th, 2016 - President Obama spoke with the media about the still-missing man, who had been gone for close to a decade.
To this day, Robert Levinson is still missing. In fact, he has been missing for more than twelve years, potentially making him the longest-held captive in American history.
The FBI continues to investigate his case, but due to political issues beyond their control - namely, the recent dissolution of the Iranian nuclear deal by the current US administration - the likelihood of the Levinson family receiving any semblance of an answer remains unlikely.
In March of 2015 - the eight-year anniversary of Robert's disappearance - the FBI announced that they were raising the amount of their reward from $1 million to $5 million (an amount that stands today). It is possible that someone out there knows something, and - if they do - they could report that information to officials and retire early.
The FBI believes that if Robert Levinson is still alive, he is likely in the place he has always been: Iran. They believe that the easiest answer it the most likely one, and that he never left Iranian custody after being detained on March 8th, 2007. This contrasts reports from the White House and State Department, who - over the years, through several administrations - have claimed to have information putting Levinson somewhere in Southwest Asia.
Many in the intelligence community believe that Robert Levinson is no longer alive, having died in custody at some point over the last decade-and-a-half. After all, he was not trained to resist interrogation, and was an analyst approaching his elder years; it's not like he was a trained spy, by any means. In addition, he had a number of health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and gout. In the hostage video released to the public in 2011, he stated that his diabetes medication was running low, and it is possible that the worst possible outcome has happened in the years since. After all, the family of Robert Levinson has not seen any proof-of-life in roughly eight years.
Despite that, the family of Robert Levinson continues to hold out hope. Despite the failings of three presidential administrations to recover their loved one, they continue to host a number of social media pages, as well as a website: helpboblevinson.com. The site has several photos and videos of Bob with his family, as well as a counter, showing just how many days, hours, minutes, and seconds he has been missing. As of this episode's recording, that counter is closely narrowing in on 4,500 days; highlighting that, if he is still alive, Bob Levinson has spent close to a fifth of his entire life as a prisoner.
Christine Levinson, Robert's wife, continues to live without her husband of more than 40 years - with whom she shares seven children and even more grandchildren (many of whom have been born since Robert's disappearance). Speaking to the press in December of 2011, Christine stated in a message meant for her husband:
"I will continue to do everything I can to bring you home alive. All I want is for our family to be whole again. We love you. We miss you every day. We will not abandon you."
The entire family has lived up to this message, and refuse to let Robert Levinson's story fade away. They continue to appear on television programs every year, and have proven themselves as thorns in the side of both the Iranian government and the U.S. State Department, demanding answers for their missing loved one - for whom they will not give up hope.
As of this episode's recording, the story of Robert Levinson remains unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Published on March 17th, 2019
ROZKOL - "Opening Credits"
ROZKOL - "The Institute Laboratories"
Borrtex - "The City of Hope"
Blue Dot Sessions - "Flashing Runner"
Rest You Sleeping Giant - "Old Tape Loops"
ROZKOL - "Spider's Web"
Magna Ingress - "The Wanderer"
Pulse Emitter - "Moonlit Valley"
Borrtex - "We Are Saved"
Other music created and composed by Ailsa Traves