Undated photo of retired FBI agent Bob Levinson anonymously sent to his family in April 2011.
The Associated Press' Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, two of the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalists who revealed the New York Police Department's rampant profiling and spying on Muslim communities, broke a new story late Thursday afternoon. Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared mysteriously in 2007 from Iranian island of Kish in the Persian Gulf and has remained missing ever since, was actually a CIA operative.
"In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules," Apuzzo and Goldman write, "a team of analysts — with no authority to run spy operations — paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world's darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S."
And that's just the beginning:
The CIA was slow to respond to Levinson’s disappearance and spent the first several months denying any involvement. When Congress eventually discovered what happened, one of the biggest scandals in recent CIA history erupted.
Behind closed doors, three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined. 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.
But even after the White House, FBI and State Department officials learned of Levinson's CIA ties, the official story remained unchanged.
"He's a private citizen involved in private business in Iran," the State Department said in 2007, shortly after Levinson’s disappearance.
"Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip to Kish Island, Iran," the White House said last month.Indeed, last month saw a flurry of renewed interest in the fate of Levinson, who on November 26, 2013 reportedly became "the longest-held American hostage" in history. The press publicized pleas from his family and a White House statement noted "the commitment of the United States Government to locate Mr. Levinson and bring him home safely to his family, friends, and loved ones."
It added, "We welcome the assistance of our international partners in this investigation, and we respectfully ask the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to assist us in securing Mr. Levinson's health, welfare, and safe return."
Apuzzo and Goldman point out in their revelatory report that the Associated Press "first confirmed Levinson’s CIA ties in 2010 and continued reporting to uncover more details. It agreed three times to delay publishing the story because the U.S. government said it was pursuing promising leads to get him home." Nevertheless, "nearly seven years after his disappearance, those efforts have repeatedly come up empty" and no "proof-of-life" evidence or information has been received.
Early this year, on January 9, 2013, the journalists published an article on the disturbing "proof-of-life" photos of Levinson sent to his family in April 2011 and U.S. government allegations that Iranian security forces were behind the abduction. No mention was made in the report of Levinson’s CIA connections or the subsequent cover-up.
The Iranian government has long denied any knowledge of Levinson’s whereabouts. This past September, CNN's Christiane Amanpour asked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about Levinson. "We don't know where he is, who he is," Rouhani replied. "He is an American who has disappeared. We have no news of him."
If Levinson is still alive, he would be 65 years old.