US officials believe Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran, has died, his family said Wednesday.
“We recently received information from US officials that has led both them and us to conclude that our wonderful husband and father died while in Iranian custody. We don’t know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Levinson family said in a statement.
“It is impossible to describe our pain,” the family said. “Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most amazing man we have ever known, a new reality that is inconceivable to us.”
Levinson, who was Jewish, is survived by his wife, Christine, seven children, and numerous grandchildren.
Levinson’s relatives vowed they would continue to pursue justice, both from the US officials who stonewalled them for years and the Iranian captors.
“Those who are responsible for what happened to Bob Levinson, including those in the US government who for many years repeatedly left him behind, will ultimately receive justice for what they have done. We will spend the rest of our lives making sure of this, and the Iranian regime must know we will not be going away. We expect American officials, as well as officials around the world, to continue to press Iran to seek Bob’s return, and to ensure those Iranian officials involved are held accountable,” they said.
Levinson, a former FBI agent, disappeared on March 9, 2007, when he was scheduled to meet a source on the Iranian island of Kish. For years, US officials would only say that Levinson was working independently on a private investigation. But a December 2013 Associated Press investigation revealed that Levinson had in fact been sent on a mission by CIA analysts who had no authority to run such an operation.
Levinson’s family received a $2.5 million annuity from the CIA in order to stop a lawsuit revealing details of his work, while the agency forced out three veteran analysts and disciplined seven others.
Iranian state-owned Press TV reported in April 2007 that Levinson was in the hands of Iranian security forces, but since then multiple Iranian officials have insisted they know nothing of his whereabouts.
In the years since Levinson’s disappearance, his family has received only scattered signals that he was alive. They were sent three emails from his captors, who didn’t identify themselves and demanded millions of dollars and the release of several prisoners in exchange for Levinson’s release.
The most recent message, in April 2011, is the most disturbing; Levinson looks disheveled with long white hair and a shaggy beard, and he is dressed in an orange jumpsuit like those worn by US prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
The family experienced a surge of hope in November 2019 when the Iranian government unexpectedly responded to a United Nations query by saying that Levinson was the subject of an “open case” in Iranian Revolutionary Court. Relatives took that as the first real acknowledgement that Robert Levinson was in custody and being moved through the Iranian justice system. But Tehran later clarified that the “open case” in question was merely a missing persons investigation into Levinson’s disappearance.