The family of a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran nine years ago while on a CIA mission is holding a rally Saturday demanding that the U.S. government keep pushing for his freedom.
Robert Levinson, 67, disappeared from Iran's Kish Island in March 2007. A 2013 Associated Press investigation revealed that the married father of seven was working for the CIA on an unauthorized intelligence-gathering mission to glean information about Iran's nuclear program.
If Levinson remains alive, he has been held captive longer than any American, longer than AP journalist Terry Anderson, who was held more than six years in Beirut in the 1980s. Unlike Anderson, Levinson's whereabouts and captors remain a mystery. U.S. officials believe the Iranian government was behind his disappearance. It has denied that.
The case drew renewed attention in January when Levinson was not part of a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iranian governments that set free four other Americans who had been held in Iran's custody.
The FBI says it investigates every lead and remains committed to finding Levinson and bringing him home. A $5 million reward for information leading to his whereabouts remains in effect.
Levinson's family insists he is still alive, even with health issues including diabetes, gout and high blood pressure. They last got video and photos of him about five years ago.
The 2013 AP investigation showed that in a breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts — with no authority to run spy operations — paid Levinson to gather intelligence from hotspots around the world, including the Middle East and Latin America.
The official story when Levinson disappeared was that he was in Iran on private business, either to investigate cigarette smuggling or to work on a book about Russian organized crime. It has a presence on Kish, a tourist island.
In fact, he was meeting a source, an American fugitive, Dawud Salahuddin. He is wanted for killing a former Iranian diplomat in Maryland in 1980. In interviews, Salahuddin has admitted killing the diplomat.
Salahuddin was interviewed by The Christian Science Monitor in 2013:
The last known man to see Robert Levinson alive in Iran now says that the CIA contractor who disappeared in 2007 was definitely detained by Iranian authorities and is almost certainly still in Iranian custody if he remains alive.
Dawud Salahuddin, an African-American convert to Islam who met with Mr. Levinson on Iran’s resort island of Kish in 2007, told the Monitor inTehran that they were detained at the Maryam Hotel on March 9, 2007, by six plainclothes policemen and then separated.
"They took me away, and when I left – we were down in the lobby – Levinson was surrounded by four Iranian police,” says Salahuddin, who spent the night in jail.
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. Three analysts who had been working with Levinson lost their jobs.