Kidnapped: March 9, 2007
Bob Levinson’s capture and imprisonment is an important ShowTrial to understand due to a number of complicating factors. After decades of service with the FBI, Bob Levinson entered the private sector and continued to do work for the US Government as a contractor. Levinson was captured and imprisoned in Iran in 2007 while on a private assignment that involved providing information back to the CIA. For years his whereabouts remained unknown, and the US Government largely refused to get involved. It was not until a friend of the Levinsons was able to uncover emails between Bob Levinson and a CIA analyst that the Agency finally admitted responsibility for Levinson during his time in Iran. The US Government since offered a reward and launched a multimedia campaign, but the efforts have failed to generate tips leading to Bob’s release.
One of the most instructive elements of this case—although Levinson has close ties with the US Government, those connections have not helped to secure his release. As is commonly the situation in ShowTrials, the family was forced to the forefront to develop and execute their own strategies. Those efforts have included conducting their own investigations, granting interviews and press conferences, writing op-eds, creating a website, and using other forms of media to heighten awareness. Their desperation has led the release of confidential information, believing it was in the best interest of Bob’s safety and in the hopes of spurring actions that would lead to his release.
“Bob is a courageous man who has dedicated himself, including risking his own life, in service to the U.S. government. But the U.S. government has failed to make saving this good man’s life the priority it should be. There are those in the U.S. 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. 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.” -Statement from Bob Levinson’s Family
Bob Levinson served more than two decades with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) before retiring. After retiring from the FBI, Levinson became a private investigator. According to reports, Levinson travelled to Kish Island in Iran on March 8, 2007 to investigate cigarette smuggling. The very next day Levinson disappeared.
The day before his disappearance, Levinson met with American fugitive Salahuddin. Salahuddin was the last person who has acknowledged seeing Levinson alive. He has stated that he and Levinson were detained by Iranian police on March 9, 2007 and that the last time he saw Levinson was in his hotel lobby “surrounded by four Iranian police.”
“One of the most instructive elements of this case—although Levinson has close ties with the US Government, those connections have not helped to secure his release.”
The Levinson family received a video of Bob in November of 2010. He appeared haggard and to have lost a lot of weight. There was no indication as to who sent the video. The U.S. traced the email of the video from to an internet café in Pakistan, but the trail ended there. Over a year after the video was sent, the Levinson family received five photos from an unknown source. The images showed Levinson dressed as a prisoner of Guantanamo Bay. He held signs written in crude English that said, “I am here in Guantanamo do you know where it is?” and “This is the result of 30 years serving for the USA”. U.S. operatives in Afghanistan traced the cellphone used to send the photos, but according to their investigation the owner of the phone had nothing to do with the photos and the trail went cold.
“The U.S. traced the email of the video from to an internet café in Pakistan,”
Though Iranian leaders have repeatedly denied having Levinson or knowing where he is, U.S. officials believe he has been detained by Iran. The FBI offered a $1 million reward for any information leading to Levinson’s safe return, in addition to launching a media campaign that included billboards, radio messages, and print ads written in Farsi and published in Iranian magazines. However, nothing has led to Levinson’s release, and as of November 26, 2013, he became the longest held hostage in American history.
In January of 2014, in an attempt to win the release of her husband, Levinson’s wife confirmed her husband funneled information to the CIA while working as a private investigator. For years the U.S. government maintained Levinson was a private citizen making a private trip. In 2014 the CIA acknowledged Levinson had done some minor work for the agency, but that his contract had run out. It was not until a friend of the Levinsons was able to uncover emails between Bob and a CIA analyst that the CIA admitted responsibility for Levinson during his time in Iran. The emails discussed reimbursement for Levinson’s trip to Iran. Several senior CIA analysts were fired from the agency after it was discovered they were acting as trained operatives rather than doing their jobs as analysts. They risked the life of Levinson by not following proper protocol. CIA station chiefs were not aware of Levinson’s whereabouts as they should have been and all contact between Levinson and the analysts was improperly done through private email and home addresses.
CURRENT STATUS / AFTERMATH
March 9, 2014 marked the seventh year Levinson has been missing. No new videos or photos have surfaced since April of 2011, and his health is a serious concern for Levinson’s family as he suffers from type 1 diabetes, gout, and hypertension.
Bob Levinson’s son Dan has worked tirelessly over the past seven years to uncover his father’s whereabouts and bring him home. Dan, along with his mother, traveled to Iran in December of 2007 to investigate Bob’s disappearance. They were able to see airline manifests for flights leaving Kish around the time of Bob’s disappearance and relevant documents from the hotel Bob was staying. Dan has written numerous op-eds and given countless interviews in order to garner attention and support for his father’s case. He has traveled to Tehran, with his mother and sister, to hold a press conference regarding his father’s disappearance and regularly updates the “Help Bob Levinson” website created to garner attention and action concerning Robert Levinson’s case.
On January 16, 2016 the U.S. government confirmed the release of four Americans as part of a prisoner swap with Iran, but Levinson was not among those released. Iranian officials have denied any knowledge of his disappearance or whereabouts and U.S officials said they have reason to believe he is no longer in the country, but that Iran has committed to continue cooperating with the U.S to determine his whereabouts. The family believes the Iranian authorities are not disclosing the information they have.