US citizen, long held in Iran, now believed to have died in custody

The family of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran 13 years ago, issued a statement on Wednesday, announcing they now believe he has died in Iranian custody.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The family of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran 13 years ago, issued a statement on Wednesday, announcing they now believe he has died in Iranian custody.

A retired FBI agent, Levinson, then 59 years old, went missing on March 9, 2007, on Kish Island. The island lies off Iran’s southern coast and is a tourist center. Notably, visas are not required for brief stays.

By 2007, Iran’s nuclear program had become a major concern of the George W. Bush administration, and CIA analysts sent Levinson there to gather intelligence on it.

However, as the Associated Press learned, the analysts who gave Levinson that mission had no authority to do so. Although the CIA never publicly acknowledged that Levinson had been working for them, others confirmed it.

The botched operation became a “major scandal” within the Agency, The New York Times reported. Three analysts lost their jobs, while other individuals received a lesser punishment.

Levinson’s family described the new conclusion of the US intelligence community on their Facebook page, “Help Bob Levinson.”

“We recently received information from US officials that has led both them and us to conclude that our wonderful husband and father died while in Iranian custody,” they stated, explaining that his death had occurred some time earlier and preceded the coronavirus pandemic.

The family met recently at the White House with senior national security officials who conveyed that information. According to the Associated Press, it came from Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif.

Under President Donald Trump, the release and repatriation of Americans held abroad has been a high priority. National Security Adviser, Robert O’Brien, who replaced John Bolton in that position last September, was previously the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. In that capacity, O’Brien helped secure the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson in October 2018 from prison in Turkey, where he had been jailed on the wildly improbable charge that he had been part of the 2016 attempted coup.

The Levinson family thanked Trump, along with O’Brien and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as senior CIA and FBI officials for doing “all they could to make our family whole again.”

However, they were strongly critical of unnamed other US officials. “Those who are responsible for what happened to Bob Levinson, including those in the US government who for many years repeatedly left him behind, will ultimately receive justice for what they have done,” they stated.

Over the years, Iranian officials repeatedly denied holding Levinson, and the sharpest of the family’s anger was directed against them. “How those responsible in Iran could do this to a human being, while repeatedly lying to the world all this time is incomprehensible to us,” they wrote. “They kidnapped a foreign citizen and denied him any basic human rights, and his blood is on their hands.”

Levinson was last seen alive in a 2010 video, wearing an orange jumpsuit, like those worn by prisoners held by the US at Guantanamo Bay. Several years later, the so-called Islamic State would also record its prisoners dressed in the same clothing.

A Pashtun wedding song, from Afghanistan, played in the background of the 2010 video, as Levinson pleaded for his life. However, the FBI decided that the video was really meant to create confusion and divert attention from Iran.

“FBI investigators concluded that it was so artfully staged,” the Times reported, that it was probably made by a state-sponsored intelligence group.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany