December 13, 2013

Missing American in Iran was working for CIA

If Robert Levinson remains alive, he has been held captive longer than any American. But his captor and location remain a mystery.

By ADAM GOLDMAN and MATT APUZZO
The Associated Press

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There has been no hint of Robert Levinson’s whereabouts since his family received proof-of-life photos, one of which is above, and a video in late 2010 and early 2011.

AP Photo/Levinson Family

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An FBI poster showing a composite image of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, right, of how he would look like now after five years in captivity, and an image, center, taken from the video, released by his kidnappers, and a picture before he was kidnapped, left, displayed during a news conference in Washington, on March 6, 2012.

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

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Levinson's meetings blurred the lines between his work as a private investigator and his work as a government contractor. Inside the CIA, the analysts reasoned that as long as they didn't specifically assign Levinson to meet someone, they were abiding by the rules.

On Feb. 5, 2007, Levinson emailed Jablonski and said he was gathering intelligence on Iranian corruption. He said he was developing an informant with access to the government and could arrange a meeting in Dubai or on an island nearby.

Problem was, Levinson's contract was out of money and, though the CIA was working to authorize more, it had yet to do so.

"I would like to know if I do, in fact, expend my own funds to conduct this meeting, there will be reimbursement sometime in the near future, or, if I should discontinue this, as well as any and all similar projects until renewal time in May," Levinson wrote.

There's no evidence that Jablonski ever responded to that email. And she says she has no recollection of ever receiving it.

A few days later, Levinson joined Jablonski and her husband for dinner at Harry's Tap Room in the Washington suburbs. Levinson was days away from his trip, and though he was eager to get paid for it, Jablonski says the subject never came up in conversation.

The discussion was more light-hearted, she said. She recalls scolding her overweight friend for not eating right, especially while on the road. At one point she recalls chiding him: "If I were your wife, I'd confiscate your passport."

On Feb. 12, Levinson again emailed Jablonski, saying he hadn't heard anything from the contract office. Jablonski urged him not to get the contract team involved.

"Probably best if we keep talk about the additional money among us girls — you, me, Tim and Brian — and not get the contracts folks involved until they've been officially notified through channels," Jablonski said, according to emails read to the AP.

Jablonski signed off: "Be safe."

Levinson said he understood. He said he'd try to make this trip as successful as previous ones. And he promised to "keep a low profile."

"I'll call you upon my return from across the pond," he said.

While Levinson was overseas, the CIA was raving about information Levinson had recent sent about Venezuela and Colombian rebels.

"You hit a home run out of the park with that stuff," she wrote. "We can't, of course, task you on anything, but let's just say it's GREAT material."

Levinson arrived in Dubai on March 3, 2007. Friends and investigators say he was investigating cigarette smuggling and also looking into Russian organized crime there.

On March 8, he boarded a short flight to Kish Island, a tourist destination about 11 miles off Iran's southern coast. Unlike the Dubai trip, this one was solely for the CIA. He was there to meet his source about Iran.

The biggest prize would be gleaning something about Iran's nuclear program, one of the CIA's most important targets.

Levinson's source on Kish was Dawud Salahuddin, an American fugitive wanted for killing a former Iranian diplomat in Maryland in 1980. In interviews with ABC News and the New Yorker, Salahuddin has admitted killing the diplomat

Since fleeing to Iran, Salahuddin had become close to some in the Iranian government, particularly to those seen as reformers and moderates.

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Additional Photos

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This video frame grab from a Robert Levinson family website shows retired FBI agent Robert Levinson in a video received by the family in November 2010.

AP Photo/Levinson Family

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This undated handout photo provided by the family of Robert Levinson after they received it in April 2011, shows retired-FBI agent Robert Levinson.

AP Photo/Levinson Family

 


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