Robert Levinson, an American who disappeared in Iran in 2007, was in the country working for the CIA, according to a report from the Associated Press's Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman. Levinson, whom the U.S. has said was in the country on private business as a private citizen at the time of his kidnapping, was actually on the CIA's payroll investigating the Iranian government. U.S. officials believe his captors are already aware of Levinson's connection to the CIA.
According to the report, Levinson probably shouldn't have been doing what he was doing. "In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules," the AP explains, Levinson was working for analysts who didn't have permission to run international spying operations for the agency. Levinson himself, a former Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI agent, was not properly trained to undertake that work. Levinson worked as a private investigator after retiring from the FBI in 1998. Once the CIA figured out that Levinson was, however unconventionally, working for them, the agency apparently went to great lengths to keep the breach of protocol quiet, even as the news of Levinson's disappearance attracted substantial public interest:
Behind closed doors, three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined. The CIA 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. But even after the White House, FBI and State Department officials learned of Levinson's CIA ties, the official story remained unchanged.
The AP learned of the CIA connection through a series of documents, along with "dozens" of interviews spanning several years with those involved in the mission to find Levinson. After agreeing to delay the story in 2010 based on a U.S. government request, the news agency changed its mind this year: "The AP is reporting the story now because, nearly seven years after his disappearance, those efforts [to rescue Levinson] have repeatedly come up empty." The last proof of life photos for Levinson were sent in 2011. Some U.S. officials believe Levinson is dead. Whether he is alive or not, U.S. and foreign officials seem to have no idea where he was taken.
The government's request for the AP to remain silent on what it knew about Levinson has come up at least once before — in 2011, the AP reported that it had proof the retired FBI agent was alive, only after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made news of such evidence public knowledge. At the time, the AP said it had quite a lot more about the hostage, but couldn't discuss the details for fear of jeopardizing attempts to locate and free him.
In November, Levinson's son Dan wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about the effort to find his father. "We respectfully request that the Rouhani administration help us find my father," Dan said of the new Iranian president, adding, "It’s not possible to overstate the nightmare that the past 6 years 8 months have been since my father, a retired FBI agent, disappeared while on a private business trip. My mother, four sisters, two brothers and I have tried to continue with our lives, but the situation weighs on us every day."
Yesterday, Florida lawmakers also asked Iran's government to help find Levinson, and President Obama brought up his disappearance during a historic phone conversation with Rouhani earlier this year. Rouhani has said in the past that he has no information on Levinson's location.
Read the whole, stunning AP report here.