December 14, 2013

Pressure mounts on U.S. to find missing spy

Robert Levinson’s family and officials hope to find the man who went missing nearly seven years ago.

The Associated Press

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Robert Levinson has been held hostage in Iran for almost seven years.

The Associated Press

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But in October 2007, emails uncovered between Levinson and CIA analyst Anne Jablonski revealed the agency had been involved with his mission to Iran. CIA managers said their own employees had lied to them, and assigned its internal security team to investigate. That inquiry quickly determined that the agency was responsible for Levinson while he was in Iran, according to a former official familiar with the review.

In an email sent in mid-2006, Jablonski discusses the work arrangement between Levinson and the CIA.

"You'd have SO enjoyed being a fly on the wall today in our meeting about you," Jablonski wrote to Levinson, according to an email excerpt that was first reported Friday by The New York Times and verified to the AP by an independent person who has seen the document. "Everyone was so happy about the info but just freaking out about how to NOT piss off our ops colleagues for doing a better job than they do. Seriously - we have to tread carefully here."

The Justice Department investigated possible criminal charges against Jablonski and another CIA officer. However, charges were never pursued, in part because a criminal case could have revealed the story behind Levinson's disappearance, current and former officials said. The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive case.

Jablonski and two others were forced out.

Officially, the investigation remains open.

Asked about Levinson Friday in Israel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he has raised the question of the contractor's whereabouts with Iranian officials, but he declined to describe those discussions. "We will continue to try to seek his release and return to the United States," Kerry told reporters.

At least two lawmakers in Congress said they would seek more information on Levinson's case from the government. Others, however, criticized the AP report as potentially putting Levinson's life in danger or slowing his release.

"We now need to make sure that everyone, jointly in the government, is working to make sure that he comes home," Deutch said. "There is a father and husband who is the longest-held American hostage, and we all need to work together to make sure that he comes home safely. This is an issue that should matter to everyone in this country."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he would "be seeking an update as soon as possible on the Robert Levinson case from the intelligence community, and hope there may be a new window opening in which we can get answers from Iran."

The AP first confirmed Levinson's CIA ties in 2010 and continued investigating. It agreed three times to delay publishing the current story because the 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 leads have repeatedly come up empty. The government has not received any sign of life since photos and a video in late 2010 and early 2011. Top U.S. officials, meanwhile, say his captors almost certainly already know about his CIA association.

"I hope this information does not impede the release of Mr. Levinson in any way," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Many in the intelligence community believe this will push his captors to take his life. I pray this is not the case. The U.S. government is doing everything within its power to find Mr. Levinson and bring him home."

Carney called the AP report "highly irresponsible."

It's not clear what effect the new revelations about Levinson will have on diplomacy between Washington and Tehran — or even if leaders in both capitals were already aware of them, said Jon Alterman, the Middle East Program Director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"But it's not immediately good when a story comes out that you weren't honest about a spy you had working against the other country," Alterman said. "In terms of the mood, it means the U.S. has something to apologize about and the Iranians have something to complain about."

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