Coral Springs Man Missing In Iraq On Unapproved Mission
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WASHINGTON (CBSMiami/AP) — A South Florida man and former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007 appears to have been doing work for the CIA. The Associated Press revealed his ties to the spy agency, contradicting US government claims that he was there for private business.
Robert Levinson, the Coral Springs man who went missing in Iran more than six years ago, was there on an unapproved intelligence-gathering mission for the CIA, according to AP.
“When this first happened I expected him to be home in a couple of days,” said his wife Christine Levinson.
It was March 2007 that Levinson flew to Kish Island, an Iranian resort awash with tourists, smugglers, and organized crime figures. Days later, after an arranged meeting with an admitted killer, he checked out of his hotel, slipped into a taxi and vanished. For years, the U.S. has publicly described him as a private citizen who traveled to the tiny Persian Gulf island on private business.
But the Associated Press investigation reveals that was just a cover story.
The AP said a team of analysts, with no authority to run spy operations, paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world’s darkest corners.
“He was doing research on a number of countries, and then writing up reports for the CIA,” said CBS News Senior Correspondent John Miller.
Levinson’s whereabouts now are unknown and the last images of him came three years ago in a proof-of-life hostage video and photos.
As recently as last month, U.S. officials were calling Levinson a private citizen.
On November 26th, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, “Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip. Today he becomes one of the longest held Americans in history.”
Bob’s son Dan Levinson also spoke to CBS4 News two weeks ago about his father. “It’s a milestone we dreaded and hoped we would never reach,” said Dan Levinson.
But heads were already rolling at the CIA after an internal investigation showed three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined. The CIA also paid Levinson’s family $2.5 million to pre-empt a revealing lawsuit, and the agency rewrote its rules restricting how analysts can work with outsiders.
“I was just appalled when I heard that he had been lost,” said Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst.
Former CIA analyst and author Brian Latell knew Levinson well. Both men specialized in Latin America and shared a lot in common.
“I think a lot of thought was given to should the story be told,said Latell.” Because now that it’s told is he in greater danger?”
Latell, believes his captors already knew who they had. Through interrogation and torture it would have been impossible for Levinson to hold out this long.
“The CIA, these analysts just made terrible blunders,” said Latell.
Once the Associated Press reported Levinson’s connection to the CIA, his family said in a statement: “There are those in the US government who have done their duty in their efforts to find Bob, but there are those who have not. It is time for the U.S. government to step up and take care of one of its own.” It said the government had failed to make saving Levinson enough of a priority. “After nearly 7 years, our family should not be struggling to get through each day without this wonderful, caring, man that we love so much.”
The AP has known about Levinson’s ties to the CIA since 2010, but agreed 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.
Some in the U.S. government believe he is dead. But in the absence of evidence either way, the government holds out hope that he is alive, and the FBI says it remains committed to bringing him home.
If Levinson remains alive at age 65, he has been held captive longer than any American, longer than AP journalist Terry Anderson, who was held more than six years in Beirut. Unlike Anderson, Levinson’s whereabouts and captors remain a mystery.
The story of how the married father of seven children from Coral Springs became part of the CIA’s spy war with Iran has been cloaked in secrecy, with no public accounting for the agency’s mistakes.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)