His kids loved him. "I've never met anybody with the ability to make every person feel like they're the most important person in the room," his daughter Sarah Moriarty recalls. "He would remember the smallest details from previous conversations."

She dialed up Christine. "Do you know if Bob had any other email accounts?" she asked.

Sometimes, he and Christine would escape to the TGI Fridays on University Drive, reliving their first date in New York. If they wanted to be alone, they would take a small motorboat out to Coral Springs Lake. They could always count on a neighbor, Carol Mohr, to babysit. "They were like teenagers in love," Mohr remembers. When Bob felt affectionate, he would say his sweetheart was "terminally cute, folks!" When annoyed, he would quote from his favorite Laurel and Hardy movie: "Well, Christine, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into."

His kids also remember a dedicated patriot who would always talk about "getting the bad guys." After worming his way into Colombian drug routes, he became an expert on Russian organized crime in Miami, even learning conversational Russian.

Bob Levinson's first daughter, Susan, was born in 1977. Six more kids would follow.
Courtesy of the Levinson family
Bob Levinson's first daughter, Susan, was born in 1977. Six more kids would follow.
Special Agent Levinson spent 22 years with the FBI, fulfilling his childhood dream.
Courtesy of the Levinson family
Special Agent Levinson spent 22 years with the FBI, fulfilling his childhood dream.

By all accounts, Levinson's 22 years in the FBI lived up to his childhood dream.

But of course, it had to come to an end eventually. He reluctantly left the agency in 1998, turning to the private sector instead, his children say, in search of enough money to pay for their college tuitions. By 2001, he had formed two private-investigation companies — one with his wife and another with a man named Evengi Akimov.

His former supervisor, Nancy Savage, says he would have been forced to retire in 2005 anyway, when he turned 57. He wouldn't even have had the option of switching to a desk job. "The FBI doesn't distinguish between a supervisor sitting in an office and someone chasing down subjects," Savage explains. "It's a physically stressful occupation, and they want to keep the workforce fairly young."

But years after the government considered him too old for dangerous fieldwork, that childhood dream lived on.

Anne Jablonski and Bob Levinson first came across each other at a 1992 Conference of the Joint Strike Force — a meeting of the minds for experts on organized crime. Jablonski was a guest speaker that day, and Bob introduced himself. Soon they formed an unlikely bond that ultimately transcended the bitter rivalry that would come to characterize relations between the CIA and FBI post-9/11.

Perhaps they took to each other because they were the opposite of their respective agencies' stereotypes. He was an overweight Santa Claus-looking figure, and she was a hippie who practiced yoga and made her own cat food.

Their friendship, for a few years at least, proved mutually beneficial. Years after that first meeting, unbeknown to his friends or family, Levinson worked feverishly to make himself useful to Jablonski, all with one secret desire: to find a way back into the field, doing official, covert government work.

In 2006, Jablonski finally emailed Levinson with the news: She'd gotten him approved for a consulting contract. "Today is my 32nd wedding anniversary and aside from celebrating those years with Christine, I'm going to (prematurely) celebrate this," he wrote back to his friend, according to emails later shown to the New York Times. "It seems like something too good to be true."

Jablonski felt Levinson's eagerness to please would give her an edge over other analysts, who relied on traditional methods like translating foreign newspapers and poring over satellite imagery. People in her part of the agency weren't supposed to send people to do spy work — that was the job of the operatives. As a consultant, Levinson was just supposed to keep his eyes and ears open while he was conducting private investigations abroad.

Starting in 2006, Levinson began regularly filing reports on everything from Venezuela to Eastern Europe, but he sometimes went too far, clearly doing the work of an operative in working sources and taking risks. Jablonski reveled in the knowledge he delivered. "You'd have SO enjoyed being a fly on the wall today in our meeting about you," she wrote in mid-2006, according to the New York Times. "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."

Although Levinson's family was in the dark about these emails, they can understand his attraction in hindsight. "He felt a sense of purpose being in the FBI, where he was helping the government and doing the right thing," daughter Sarah says. "It was hard for him going into private business where it was working for corporations. With the CIA connection that he had, he figured he was able to still help his country. That was what was important for him."

Neither Levinson's family nor friends had any inkling that the former agent had found his way back into dangerous government work; when he traveled abroad, it was under the cover of investigating cigarette-smuggling rings or kidnappings.

The real motivator behind the trip to the Middle East that would be Levinson's undoing was likely Ira Silverman, a journalist who had spent 31 years working for NBC, many of them as chief investigative producer for NBC Nightly News. He had not only produced stories on Saddam Hussein and the FBI's Abscam sting, but in 2002, Silverman wrote a story for the New Yorker on Dawud Salahuddin, an American convert to Islam who murdered a U.S. counterrevolutionary to the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1980 and then fled to Iran. One colleague at NBC says Silverman, who wouldn't return our calls, remained "obsessed" with the story.

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