Bob Levinson worked for the FBI and before that for the DEA. He retired from these "companies" about ten years ago and like many former agents, went into the private sector. According to his resume Bob Levinson had "extensive international experience and has focused on criminal activities, business intelligence projects, asset location and recoveries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Russia and Europe."
Bob Levinson was last heard from on March 8th. He was last seen on an Iranian island called Kish, a resort that caters to a Muslim and European clientele. Unlike the rest of Iran, Kish is a commercially-oriented area where even United States residents - who can enter Iran proper only after undergoing scrutiny and obtaining a special visa and travel papers - are permitted entry without special visas.
Former agents often do private work after retirement. They gain employment as contractors for the government or for companies in the private sector interested in their contacts and talents. As the saying goes, once a spy always a spy. Levinson, it seems, was not working on a covert operation. He was working for a film company and he was in Kish gathering information and meeting contacts.
Almost five months later and there has been no word from Levinson or about Levinson. Relations between the United States and Iran being what they are there is no direct line of communication between the State Department and the powers that be in Iran. Diplomatic ties were severed in 1979 when the Iranians took the United States embassy in Teheran hostage. The United States is at a loss, their access to information is through back channels. Mrs. Levinson, Christine, is trying on her own, through the media, to gather any information that she can on the condition of her husband of thirty-three years.
Christine has made an appeal on the Voice of Peace broadcast into Iran. She has been interviewed by CNN. There have also even been Persian language programs discussing the disappearance of her husband. She is making a direct appeal for help and information via radio.
About two to three US citizens disappear each year in Iran. Sometimes, there is a happy ending, often there is not. One glimmer of hope for finding Bob Levinson comes in the form of the return of another US hostage. The director of the Middle East division of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, an Iranian American who was held hostage since May was just released. The terms of her release involved the exchange of a very large sum of money - but she is free.
To date, the only information about the disappearance of Bob Levinson has come from a rather unsavory character who claims to have been with Bob, at his hotel, immediately before the disappearance. This witness is rather suspect himself. In 1980 he fled to revolutionary Iran for refuge after admitting to assassinating an Iranian diplomat, a member of the Shah of Iran's coterie, in Washington D.C. He says that Levinson was interested in investigating cigarette smuggling. He says the Iranian secret police detained Levinson in the hotel and took his passport.
That's it. No more.
There is a lesson to be learned in all of this. Anyone going to Iran is putting themselves at risk. Iran is not a friend of the United States. Neither business initiatives nor humanitarian missions will cut through the hatred. No place in Iran is safe for Americans, not even islands that do not require special entry permits. To think otherwise is not to understand Iran.
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