What Happened to Robert Levinson, C.I.A. Consultant Who Vanished in Iran?

He probably died in Iranian custody. NYTimes:

When the United States and Iran swapped prisoners last week, nothing was said to resolve the mystery about another captive: Robert A. Levinson, a Central Intelligence Agency consultant who disappeared in Iran in 2007.

Iranian leaders have long said that they knew nothing about the missing American, and United States officials have said that he may no longer be in Iran — or even still alive. Aside from a hostage video and photographs of him in an orange jumpsuit five years ago, there had been no public clues about his fate.

But newly disclosed documents suggest that Iranian officials knew far more about Mr. Levinson. In late 2011, a top Iranian diplomat acknowledged that his country was holding the American and would release him if the United States helped delay an assessment criticizing Iran’s nuclear activities, the documents say.

Iran’s ambassador to France at the time, Seyed Mehdi Miraboutalebi, made the statement during a private gathering at his Paris residence with two men working with an American religious organization, according to a report about the session. The meeting resulted from a letter sent to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, by a leader of the religious group, the Fellowship Foundation, which had previously helped win the release of an Iranian-American imprisoned in Tehran.

“The Ambassador made it clear that they have Robert Levinson and that they are willing to release him without conditions,” said the report, which was sent to the F.B.I. in October 2011. “They do, however, want tangible, ‘symbolic’ assurances that the messages they are sending have been received at the highest levels.”

Iranian officials maintained that they did not know Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts or status during recent negotiations that resulted in the prisoner exchange last week. The Obama administration has never challenged Iran’s position, but law enforcement officials say they believe that factions tied to that country’s intelligence, political or religious leadership were involved in his capture and detention.

It is unclear what actions, if any, American officials took after the ambassador’s remarks in Paris. Mr. Levinson’s wife, Christine, said in an interview Friday that she was never told about the report of the Paris meeting, and wondered why government officials did not use the information to help her husband.

“If this happened in 2011, then why isn’t Bob home by now?” she asked.

Soon after the episode in Paris, a law professor at Catholic University of America in Washington affiliated with the Fellowship, Robert A. Destro, sent a detailed report about it to the F.B.I. Four F.B.I. agents also interviewed an American living in Paris, one of the two men who met with the diplomat.



An excerpt of a 15-page memo sent to the F.B.I. in 2011 after a meeting in Paris between two visitors and Iran’s ambassador to France in which he said that his government was willing to release Robert A. Levinson, who was being held by Iran.

An F.B.I. spokeswoman, Lindsay Ram, declined to comment, and a State Department spokesman, Samuel Werberg, said that officials could not comment about the Paris meeting because they were not involved in it. He did not respond when asked if the State Department had received Mr. Destro’s report.

Mr. Miraboutalebi could not be reached for comment, and an Iranian government spokesman in New York issued a statement echoing remarks this week by a White House spokesman that the Obama administration did not believe Mr. Levinson was in Iran. The Iranian spokesman added that his government had offered cooperation, on a humanitarian basis, “to help determine his whereabouts.”

The assurances the Iranian diplomat sought in late 2011 in return for Mr. Levinson’s release involved assistance from the United States in delaying a report about to be released by the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. The I.A.E.A. had concluded that Iran had used its nuclear energy program, which it claimed was for peaceful purposes, to try to develop weapons.

The events surrounding the Paris meeting and documents containing Mr. Miraboutalebi’s statements are drawn from a forthcoming book about Mr. Levinson and the search for him.

A former F.B.I. agent who became a private investigator, Mr. Levinson, then 59, disappeared on Kish Island, an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf, while trying to recruit a fugitive American-born assassin as an intelligence source inside Iran. He was last seen alive in the hostage videotape made in 2010 that did not disclose who was holding him.

C.I.A. officials have said that Mr. Levinson, who had a contract with the spy agency’s analytical unit, went to Kish on a “rogue” unapproved mission and that they would have tried to stop him had they known about it.

After his disappearance, Mr. Levinson’s family and friends were frustrated by what they viewed as the United States government’s lackluster efforts to find him. But even after the F.B.I. committed more resources to the hunt, bureau officials faced difficulties in penetrating Iran for intelligence about the missing American…


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