Former FBI Agent Robert Levinson’s story sounds like the plot of the next season of Homeland, only his story isn’t fiction. Since 2007, Levinson has been missing after traveling to the Iranian island of Kish on what, up until just recently, the U.S. Government said was “private business.” However a lengthy and dramatic Associated Press report reveals for the first time that Levinson was in fact working for the Central Intelligence Agency or CIA, albeit on an unsanctioned mission. If Levinson is alive, he has been in captivity longer than any other American, with a more than year on AP journalist Terry Anderson who was a captive in Beirut.
Levinson spent his career working for the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI, focused mostly on Russian organized crime and drug cartels after the fall of the Soviet Union. He “had a natural ability to cultivate informants,” a skill which could easily translate to the world of espionage. However, Levinson never had any aspirations to enter into foreign intelligence work.
Instead, he was brought into the Agency’s world after meeting a woman named Anne Jablonski, who at the time was a CIA analyst described as “quirky.” She was a fan of yoga, renewed her wedding vows in an Elvis chapel in Las Vegas, and makes her own cat food. She and Levinson met at a conference in 1990 and were “close friends” when Levinson retired from the FBI eight years later.
Jablonski had brought Levinson into the Agency in order for him to share his expertise on both Russian mobsters and how drug cartels in Latin America operated. His official contract had him working with a team of analysts—who make sense of intelligence gathered by “operatives” more commonly known as “spies”—but Levinson instead was gathering intelligence and recruiting informants. His ability to exceed expectations “got noticed” by the CIA, often sending ten times the amount of information they expected.
Still, it was not a typical relationship with the CIA. He would mail his packages to Jablonski’s home and communicate with her via personal e-mail. During an internal probe conducted by the CIA after his disappearance, it took a long time (seven months) for them to discover this arrangement. Also top CIA officials were rarely briefed when Levinson was active in their country, a serious breach of protocol. In an sense, Levinson and Jablonski were running a rogue spying operation.
When Levinson went to Iran in 2007, his contract was actually out of money. On Feb. 5, 2007, Levinson e-mailed Jablonski to tell her that he was investigating Iranian corruption. There was confusion about whether or not Levinson would be reimbursed for his trip to meet his Iranian informant, but Jablonski advised him to “not get the contract folks involved until they’ve been notified through channels.” Yet, he went ahead with the trip anyway, heading first to Dubai and then Iran.
Levinson’s family and the U.S. Government has been able to track his movements in Dubai up until the point where he checked out of his hotel on March 9, 2007. A day prior, he was supposed to meet his new informant on Kish island, a resort locale off the coast of Iran. It is unclear who captured him—the Iranian government denies they have him—however his contact said that he met with Levinson in his hotel “for hours.”
Since then Levinson’s family has only received intermittent proof-of-life contact and any attempts to negotiate his release seem to stall before they even begin. His family even traveled to Iran—after the U.S. Government paid them $2.5 million to avoid a lawsuit—to try to find him. Jablonski maintains that her actions were appropriate, but after a secret hearing in the Senate she and others involved were given the choice to resign or be fired. They chose the former option.
The AP had completed most of this reporting years earlier, but delayed publishing the story at the request of the government who hoped to negotiate his release. Yet, with three years passing since the last proof-of-life (the above picture) they’ve decided to run the story. To learn more about the fascinating account and discover all the intricate details, read the full story by the AP.