Curious Case Of Bob Levinson: Call For Release Of A Misinterpreted American Agent – OpEd

Robert Levinson is a retied FBI agent and part-time CIA analyst who was last seen in the Iranian island of Kish in March, 2007. Since then, some photos and a video of his captivity sent to his family five years ago are the only clues about him. The FBI has placed a 5 million dollar rewards for information leading to his release and the US and Iranian officials have repeatedly met with Levinson’s family, who have spared no effort to gain his release, so far without any result. Levinson is the father of seven children and his wife went looking for him in 2008. President Rouhani has called on all the region’s security apparatuses to collaborate in the search to find him.

According to a report by the Associated Press in 2013, Levinson had been in Iran on an “unauthorized” trip for “intelligence-gathering” on the Iranian regime, claiming that essentially Levinson was involved in a spy operation and that the initial story of a tobacco investigation is just a cover story. The article goes on to mention Levinson’s meeting in Kish with an American who has defected to Iran and now works for the Iranian intelligence. This, in turn, raises a curious question: is it possible that Levinson, who had traveled under his own name and registered at Maryam hotel without disguising under another assumed name, was on a good will mission to explore US-Iran cooperation vis-a-vis common threats, and not for spying as widely reported in the US media? And, another question, is it possible that Levinson was part of a small group of CIA analysts, many of them expelled since according to the AP report cited above, who pushed for reaching out to Iran, instead of treating it as an enemy pure and simple?

In the 2011 video, Levinson reminds the US government of his long career and pretty much scolds the government for not doing enough to get him released. Is it possible that some heads might roll if Levinson is out and triggers an investigation of the folks in the Bush administration who might be partially responsible for his long ordeal? This is pure speculation but one that is worth further scrutiny, for it might lead to the conclusion that some people in US government (now and in the past) might not be too thrilled about the ‘day after’ his release with potential new controversy.

While so many pertinent facts about Levinson remain unknown, it is fairly obvious at this point that the spying label is carelessly used without due attention to the subtle distinctions between initiating a much-needed liaison with Iran and outright spying. Unfortunately, this distinction is dreadfully missing in the reports in US media, as well as a recent book that carries the misleading title “An American spy” in Iran. While obviously the spy label makes for juicy story and grabs attentions, the alternative possibility of reaching out and trying to establish rapport with Iran does not.

As a result, it is perfectly possible that we are dealing with a case of mistaken assessment and misperception of Levinson and his (controversial) trip to Kish island, a resort island that is part of a free trade zone and lacks strategic significance, in other words a good environment for such an initiative at the time. Since then, the rise of ISIS (Daesh) and growing menace of terrorism may have exonerated such rather bold initiatives — that may have been nipped in the bud in the Bush administration that was populated with so many Iranophobics. But, by all indications, the seasoned Levinson was not one of them and, in fact, may have been a rare exception, who was fried for it.

In light of the above-said, logic dictates that Levinson’s long ordeal should be ended and whoever his captors consent to releasing him to the bosom of his long-suffering family, not the least because there is little evidence of his ill-will toward Iran.


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Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

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