Seven years ago, Robert Levinson, a burly former FBI agent living in Coral Springs with his wife and children, traveled to the Iranian island of Kish to ostensibly investigate a "cigarette smuggling case," when he simply vanished into the ether, captured by unknown assailants.
In a case that at times has seemed more John Grisham than reality, the biggest twist came last night when the Associated Press dropped a bombshell investigation purporting that Levinson hadn't been researching the tobacco industry when he disappeared.
Nope, the report says, "that was just a cover story. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, 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 regime for the U.S. government."
Furthermore, the report alleges, Levinson's family had taken $2.5 million in what amounts to hush money to not file a potentially damning lawsuit against the CIA.
If the report has veracity, it unveils one of the most sprawling and intricate cover ups in CIA history (that we know of). Everyone, it seems, was in on it. Last month, the White House said, "Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip to Kish Island, Iran."
Meanwhile, the FBI claims to have been "investigating" what happened to Levinson for nearly seven years, since he disappeared on March 9, 2007, putting forth a $1 million reward for helping to locate Levinson. "The FBI is responsible for investigating crimes committed against U.S. citizens abroad," the bureau says on its website dedicated to Levinson. We have been working since 2007 to obtain information about Levinson's whereabouts and well-being."
But perhaps the biggest keepers of the secret have been Levinson's own family, who were paid a $2.5 million annuity not to file a lawsuit against the government, the AP reports. It's unclear whether the Levinsons knew more details of Levinson's whereabouts or why he was captured -- but if they did, it represents a dogged dedication to an untruth.
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Nearly every day for the 2,470 days Levinson has been missing, the family has updated the Facebook page dedicated to the missing husband and father. "2,470 days as a hostage," they wrote yesterday. "Please continue to pray for Bob Levinson's safe release. His family misses him so much."
U.S. Authorities maintain that Iran's government is behind Levinson's capture. And now, for the first time in nearly seven years, it may finally be clear why.
If you know more, send your story tip to author, Terrence McCoy.