Miss­ing EX-FBI agent died in Ira­nian cus­tody, fam­ily says

Levin­son dis­ap­peared dur­ing an unau­tho­rized trip for the CIA in 2007

The Washington Post - - THE CORONAVIRU­S PANDEMIC - BY CAROL MORELLO carol.morello@wash­post.com Ellen Nakashima and Shane Har­ris con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Robert Levin­son, a re­tired FBI agent who went miss­ing in Iran 13 years ago, has died in Ira­nian cus­tody, his fam­ily said Wed­nes­day in a state­ment.

The heart-rend­ing state­ment, posted on the fam­ily’s Help Bob Levin­son Face­book page and web­site, said that in­for­ma­tion they re­ceived from U.S. of­fi­cials had led “both them and us” to con­clude he was dead.

“We don’t know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” they wrote.

The Levin­sons said that be­cause of the global coro­n­avirus pandemic, they will hold a me­mo­rial ser­vice for the fa­ther and hus­band in the fu­ture when it is safe to do so. A fam­ily mem­ber con­firmed the au­then­tic­ity of the state­ment but de­clined to comment fur­ther.

Levin­son dis­ap­peared un­der murky cir­cum­stances in March 2007 while on Kish Is­land, a tourist spot off the coast of Iran, dur­ing an unau­tho­rized trip for the CIA to gather in­tel­li­gence on Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram.

He was never seen pub­licly again. Levin­son was last viewed alive in a 2010 hostage video in which he wore a prison-style or­ange jump­suit and pleaded for help. In early 2011, the fam­ily re­ceived pho­tos of him hold­ing up hand­writ­ten plac­ards with mes­sages in stilted English, such as “Why You Can Not Help Me.”

Fam­ily mem­bers con­tin­ued to be­lieve he was alive, and U.S. of­fi­cials re­peat­edly sought to se­cure his re­lease, or to learn what hap­pened to him. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion brought up Levin­son con­sis­tently in di­rect meet­ings with the Ira­ni­ans while ne­go­ti­at­ing the 2015 nu­clear deal that Pres­i­dent Trump pulled out of even­tu­ally. Of­fi­cials in the

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion men­tioned Levin­son in ev­ery pub­lic state­ment urg­ing Iran to re­lease Amer­i­cans im­pris­oned in the country. The State Depart­ment and the Jus­tice Depart­ment had of­fered a com­bined re­ward of $25 mil­lion for in­for­ma­tion on him.

Af­ter the U.S. gov­ern­ment con­cluded he was dead, high-level of­fi­cials briefed the fam­ily sev­eral weeks ago, pre­sent­ing them with “the facts for them to draw their own con­clu­sions,” ac­cord­ing to a se­nior of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss the sen­si­tive talks.

The Ira­nian gov­ern­ment has con­sis­tently de­nied hav­ing held Levin­son or know­ing his where­abouts. Last Novem­ber, in a let­ter to the United Nations, Iran ac­knowl­edged for the first time that it had an open court case on Levin­son, which some in­ter­preted as an in­di­ca­tion he might still be alive.

On Wed­nes­day, Iran said again it had noth­ing to do with Levin­son’s dis­ap­pear­ance or de­ten­tion.

“Iran has al­ways main­tained that its of­fi­cials have no knowl­edge of Mr. Levin­son’s where­abouts, and that he is not in Ira­nian cus­tody,” Alireza Miry­ousefi, a spokesman for Iran’s mis­sion to the United Nations, said in an state­ment. “Those facts have not changed.”

Dur­ing the White House coro­n­avirus brief­ing on Wed­nes­day, Trump ex­pressed his sym­pa­thies to the Levin­son fam­ily. But Trump said Levin­son’s death is still un­con­firmed.

“It’s not look­ing promis­ing,” Trump al­lowed, but he added, “I won’t ac­cept that he’s dead. They haven’t told us that he’s dead. But a lot of peo­ple are think­ing that is the case.”

That was clar­i­fied later by Robert C. O’brien, who was the State Depart­ment’s hostage en­voy be­fore be­com­ing na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. In a state­ment, he said U.S. of­fi­cials be­lieve Levin­son may have died “some time ago,” but added it would take a full ac­count­ing from Iran “be­fore the United States can fully ac­cept what hap­pened” to Levin­son.

“The United States calls upon Iran to re­lease all Amer­i­cans who re­main wrong­fully de­tained in that country,” O’brien added.

Levin­son’s fam­ily ex­pressed grat­i­tude to Trump and sev­eral prom­i­nent mem­bers of the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Among them were O’brien, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, the CIA, the FBI and their staffs, “who have done all they could to make our fam­ily whole again.”

Much of the state­ment, how­ever, was an ex­pres­sion of grief and anger at the gov­ern­ment in Tehran.

“If not for the cruel, heart­less ac­tions of the Ira­nian regime, Robert Levin­son would be alive and home with us to­day,” the fam­ily said.

“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 added. “They kid­napped a for­eign cit­i­zen and de­nied him any ba­sic hu­man rights, and his blood is on their hands.”

The fam­ily also ex­pressed hope that those re­spon­si­ble for Levin­son’s im­pris­on­ment and death would be brought to jus­tice, in­clud­ing “those in the U.S. gov­ern­ment who for many years re­peat­edly left him be­hind.”

“We will spend the rest of our lives making sure of this, and the Ira­nian regime must know we will not be go­ing away,” they wrote. “We ex­pect Amer­i­can of­fi­cials, as well as of­fi­cials around the world, to con­tinue to press Iran to seek Bob’s re­turn, and to en­sure those Ira­nian of­fi­cials in­volved are held ac­count­able.”

The FBI Agents As­so­ci­a­tion praised the Levin­son fam­ily for their per­sis­tence and courage in work­ing for his re­turn.

“We will not for­get Bob and will sup­port all ef­forts to bring to jus­tice those re­spon­si­ble for this hor­rific crime,” the as­so­ci­a­tion said in a state­ment.

JACQUELYN MARTIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Robert Levin­son’s daugh­ter Sarah Mo­ri­arty, sec­ond from left, par­tic­i­pated in a De­cem­ber news con­fer­ence about hostages in Iran. Levin­son’s fam­ily in 2011 re­ceived a photo, be­low, of the miss­ing for­mer FBI agent, who is now be­lieved to have died in Ira­nian cus­tody.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.