CIA and Levinson

I deleted the original longer post by accidents. SO here is the abbreviated version. 

“He’s a private citizen involved in private business in Iran,” the State Department said in 2007, shortly after Levinson’s disappearance

Levinson, a retired FBI agent, went to Iran in a contract from the CIA in March 2007. He flew to Kish Island, Iran. Kish Island is an Iranian resort awash with tourists, smugglers and organized crime figures. Days later, after an arranged meeting with an admitted killer, he checked out of his hotel, slipped into a taxi and vanished. 

Investigators can’t even say for certain whether he’s still alive. The last proof of life came in 2010 and 2011when the Levinson family received a video of him and later pictures of him shackled and dressed in an orange jumpsuit similar to those worn by detainees at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The AP 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 US government said it was pursuing promising leads to get him home. The AP is reporting the story now because, nearly seven years after his disappearance, those efforts have repeatedly come up empty. The government has not received any sign of life in nearly three years. Top US officials, meanwhile, say his captors almost certainly already know about his CIA association.

Levinson was a 28-year veteran of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI, Robert Levinson had a natural ability to cultivate informants. Former colleagues say he was an easy conversationalist who had the patience to draw out people and win their confidence. He’d talk to anyone.

“Bob, in that sense, was fearless,” said retired FBI assistant director Mark Mershon, who worked with Levinson in Miami in the 1980s. “He wasn’t concerned about being turned down or turned away.”

As the Soviet Union collapsed, Levinson turned his attention away from Mafia bosses and cocaine cartels and began watching the Russian gangsters who made their homes in Florida. Russian organized crime was a niche then and Levinson made a name as one of the few investigators who understood it. At a Justice Department organized crime conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the early 1990s, Levinson listened to a presentation by a CIA analyst named Anne Jablonski and spotted a kindred spirit.

Jablonski was perhaps the government’s foremost expert on Russian organized crime. Former colleagues say she had an encyclopedic memory and could, at the mere mention of a crime figure, quickly explain his place in the hierarchy and his method of moving money. When White House officials had questions about Russian organized crime, they often called Jablonski directly.

After the Santa Fe conference, Levinson left a note for Jablonski at her hotel and the two began exchanging thoughts on organized crime. Jablonski invited Levinson to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to speak to her colleagues in the Office of Russian and European Analysis. By the time Levinson retired from the FBI, in 1998, he and Jablonski were close friends. She attended his going-away party in Florida, met his family and harvested his knowledge of organized crime.

In retirement, Levinson worked as a private investigator, traveling the world and gathering information for corporate clients. Jablonski, meanwhile, thrived at the CIA. After the 11 September attacks, former colleagues say, she was assigned to brief attorney general John Ashcroft and FBI director Robert Mueller about terrorist threats every morning.

In 2005, Jablonski moved to the Office of Transnational Issues, the CIA team that tracks threats across borders. Right away, she arranged for Levinson to speak to the money-laundering experts in the office’s Illicit Finance Group. In a sixth-floor CIA conference room, Levinson explained how to track dirty money. Unlike the analysts in the audience, Levinson came from the field. He generated his own information.

In June 2006, the head of Illicit Finance, Tim Sampson, hired Levinson on a contract with the CIA, former officials said. Like most CIA contracts, it was not a matter of public record. But it also wasn’t classified.

Months after Levinson’s abduction, e-mails and other documents surfaced that suggested he had gone to Iran at the direction of certain CIA analysts who had no authority to run operations overseas. That revelation prompted a major internal investigation that had wide-ranging repercussions, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Behind closed doors, three CIA veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined.

The agency changed the rules outlining how analysts conduct business with contractors, including academics and other subject-matter experts who don’t work at the CIA, making it harder for agency employees to have such relationships.

The CIA ultimately concluded that it was responsible for Levinson while he was in Iran and paid $2.5 million to his wife, Christine, former U.S. intelligence officials said. The agency also paid the family an additional $120,000, the cost of renewing Levinson’s contract.

JOHN KERRY: “No comment on Mr. Levinson except to say we have raised the issue of his whereabouts and we will continue to seek his release”

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