Fam­ily: U.S. be­lieves Co­ral Springs’ Robert Levin­son has died

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BY ERIC TUCKER As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON

The U.S. govern­ment has con­cluded that re­tired FBI agent Robert Levin­son, who van­ished more than a decade ago, has died while in the cus­tody of Iran, his fam­ily said Wed­nes­day.

Shortly af­ter the fam­ily’s an­nounce­ment, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump told re­porters that “I won’t ac­cept that he’s dead,” even though his own act­ing na­tional-in­tel­li­gence direc­tor ap­peared to con­firm the news with a state­ment con­vey­ing sym­pa­thies for the Levin­sons.

The fam­ily said in a state­ment posted on Twitter that it had no in­for­ma­tion about how or when the Co­ral Springs res­i­dent had died, but that it oc­curred be­fore the re­cent coro­n­avirus out­break. The fam­ily said in­for­ma­tion that U.S. of­fi­cials had re­ceived led them to con­clude that he is dead.

U.S. of­fi­cials com­mu­ni­cated the news to Levin­son’s fam­ily in a meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton in re­cent weeks, ac­cord­ing to a per­son qho is fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion and spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss the pri­vate en­counter. The per­son said the in­for­ma­tion about Levin­son, a father of seven, had come from Iran’s for­eign min­is­ter.

“It is im­pos­si­ble to de­scribe our pain,” the fam­ily’s state­ment said. “Our fam­ily will spend the rest of our lives without the most amaz­ing man, a new re­al­ity that is in­con­ceiv­able to us. His grand­chil­dren will never meet him. They will know him only through the stories we tell them.’

Levin­son dis­ap­peared on March 9, 2007, when he was sched­uled to meet a source on the Ira­nian is­land of Kish. For years, U.S. of­fi­cials would say only that Levin­son was work­ing in­de­pen­dently on a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But a 2013 As­so­ci­ated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed that Levin­son had been sent on a mis­sion by CIA an­a­lysts who had no au­thor­ity to run such an op­er­a­tion.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has made it a pri­or­ity to seek the re­lease of Amer­i­can hostages and pris­on­ers de­tained over­seas. Last week, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials touted the re­lease from Le­banon of a New Hamp­shire restau­rant owner jailed on decades-old al­le­ga­tions and the med­i­cal fur­lough of a Navy vet­eran from an Ira­nian prison.

The Levin­son fam­ily thanked mul­ti­ple U.S. of­fi­cials for their help, in­clud­ing FBI Direc­tor Chris Wray, CIA Direc­tor Gina Haspel, and Robert O’Brien, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s na­tional-se­cu­rity ad­viser.

But it also said: “Those who are re­spon­si­ble for what hap­pened to Bob Levin­son, in­clud­ing those in the U.S. govern­ment who for many years re­peat­edly left him be­hind, will ul­ti­mately re­ceive jus­tice for what they have done. We will spend the rest of our lives mak­ing sure of this, and the Ira­nian regime must know we will not be go­ing away.”

The fam­ily said it does not know when or if Levin­son’s body will be re­turned for burial.

At a White House brief­ing on the coro­n­avirus, Trump ap­peared to equiv­o­cate on the ac­cu­racy of the fam­ily’s state­ment, say­ing that Ira­nian of­fi­cials had not told the U.S. that Levin­son was dead and that “I won’t ac­cept that he’s dead.”

But he also ac­knowl­edged that “it’s not look­ing promis­ing” and said Levin­son, who had di­a­betes and high blood pres­sure at the time of his dis­ap­pear­ance, had had “some rough prob­lems.”

“He was a great gentle­man,” he said.

The fam­ily re­ceived a video in late 2010 and proof-of-life pho­to­graphs in 2011 in which he ap­peared di­sheveled with a long beard and wear­ing an orange prison jump­suit like those given to de­tainees at the Guan­tá­namo Bay prison. But even then, his where­abouts and fate were not known.

Iran re­peat­edly has said it has no in­for­ma­tion about Levin­son, though U.S. diplo­mats and in­ves­ti­ga­tors have long said they thought he was taken by Ira­nian govern­ment agents.

The an­nounce­ment of his death comes just weeks af­ter a fed­eral judge in Wash­ing­ton held Iran li­able for his dis­ap­pear­ance, say­ing the coun­try was “in no un­cer­tain terms” re­spon­si­ble for Levin­son’s “hostage tak­ing and tor­ture.” The fam­ily had sued for $1.5 bil­lion in dam­ages.

Levin­son

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