ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson was not in Iran as a private citizen as has been claimed, but was on an unsanctioned mission at behest of certain CIA analysts to get information about Iranian regime.
An American private investigator who went missing in Iran more than six years ago was working for the CIA at the time, in an unsanctioned rogue operation, The Washington Postrevealed on Thursday.
Retired Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Robert Levinson disappeared during a trip to an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf in March 2007. US officials have said that Levinson made the trip as a private investigator.
According to The Washington Post, CIA officials told Congress and FBI investigators in closed meetings that Levinson did not go to Iran for the CIA. However, the Post cited emails and documents as suggesting that Levinson was in Iran at the behest of CIA analysts who had no authority to direct such an overseas operation.
The investigation into the incident eventually led the CIA to discipline 10 employees involved, including three analysts who were removed from their jobs, the Post reported.
The CIA also took responsibility for the abduction of Levinson, paying his wife a $2.5 million settlement, the Post quoted intelligence officials as saying.
Levinson, who worked for 28 years as an investigator for the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, traveled on March 8, 2007 to Kish Island, a Gulf resort and free trade zone. Friends of Levinson said that, around that time, he had been investigating the counterfeiting of cigarettes, though mainly in Latin America.
On Kish Island, he was scheduled to meet Dawud Salahuddin, formerly known as David Belfield, an American Islamic militant, friends of Levinson say.
In July 1980, during the hostage crisis in which American diplomats in Tehran were held prisoner by Iranian students, Salahuddin allegedly shot dead a former spokesman for the Shah-era Iranian Embassy at his suburban Washington home.
Salahuddin then fled to Iran, where he spent the following decades pursuing activities ranging from English teaching to fighting with militants in Afghanistan to acting in an award-winning Iranian movie.
Earlier this year, an Iranian lawyer for Levinson’s family told the US-supported broadcasting outlet Radio Free Europe that Levinson did meet with Salahuddin on Kish Island before mysteriously vanishing.
According to the Post, Levinson believed that Salahuddin could provide him with information about the Iranian regime. The US suspected that Iranian security services were responsible for his abduction.
In November 2010, a video surfaced in which Levinson asked for help in winning his freedom but did not say who was holding him or where. The Iranian government has repeatedly said it knows nothing about Levinson’s disappearance or whereabouts.
In a March 2011 statement, Hillary Clinton, then secretary of State, said that Levinson was being held somewhere in South Asia, raising the possibility that he could be in the custody of a militant or criminal group.
Secretary of State John Kerry met with Levinson’s family in March and urged anyone with information about his whereabouts to come forward. The White House said at the time that finding Levinson is “a high priority” for the United States.
According to the Post report, Levinson had gone around the world acting as a spy for the CIA, even though he was supposed to provide academic reports on money laundering only. In a violation of agency rules, he was reimbursed for his expenses while providing information on Iran’s nuclear program, Colombian rebels and former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.