"These two old guys took whatever two bits of testosterone they had left between them and cooked up this plan," says someone else familiar with the matter who didn't want to be named in this article.

"If you publish your stories, Bob Levinson will certainly die in Iran," is the way Apuzzo recalls the government responding.

Levinson was originally supposed to head to Dubai in February 2007 under the guise of investigating a cigarette-smuggling case for Global Witness — a nongovernmental organization based in England that researches black markets in conflict zones.

"Buttlegging" is a big problem. Profits from illegal cigarettes — which are smuggled from states with low taxes into those with high taxes and sold under the counter — have been known to fund the Irish Republican Army, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah. These sometimes enter the country through Port Everglades and the Port of Miami.

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.

Levinson's original trip was rescheduled so he could take his daughter Susan to a Billy Joel concert at the American Airlines Arena on February 12. He ended up leaving Florida on March 8 instead. As far Susan knew, it was just another cigarette case and Levinson would be back in South Florida by the end of the week. The two held hands as they sang along to "Piano Man." It seemed to be a perfect birthday gift from a seemingly perfect father.

But Levinson had at least an ­inkling that it might be the last time he'd see Susan. "I guess as I approach my 59th birthday on the 10th of March, and after having done quite a few other crazy things in my life," he confessed in one of the emails Dobbs uncovered, "I am questioning just why, at this point, with seven kids and a great wife, why would I put myself in such jeopardy."

Silverman had given Levinson the contact information for Salahuddin, the man who had murdered the counterrevolutionary — who had confessed and was wanted in the United States. Salahuddin would have been a great resource for someone trying to keep an ear to the ground in a region he didn't know much about. He was a native English speaker who had connections high in the government.

So after landing in Dubai, Levinson flew to Kish, an Iranian resort island that requires no visa to enter. There he entered the Maryam Hotel and sat down for a meeting with Salahuddin. He never checked out. He just disappeared.

After Levinson went missing, Christine turned to McGee, the Pensacola lawyer who had once worked with Bob when he was a Department of Justice attorney in Miami. She gave him and his paralegal, Dobbs, all Bob's email usernames and passwords, along with permission to review the files.

It became like a game, Dobbs recalls. She liked to pretend she was in a Hollywood blockbuster trying to uncover secrets. The only problem was, nothing was there. Then something occurred to her, and she dialed up Christine. "Do you know if Bob had any other email accounts?" she asked.

Christine said she wasn't sure. "So I figured I'd plug the password and username into different accounts on Yahoo, Hotmail, and all the others that I guessed," Dobbs later recalls. "Luckily Bob was a creature of habit."

Somehow, improbably — almost impossibly — Dobbs managed to hack into the Gmail account. And then came the jaw-dropping moment where they read his whole back-and-forth with Jablonski, the CIA analyst.

"I really look forward to working with you and trying to make a contribution," Levinson had written when Jablonski had offered him the work. "You really made my day toots."

McGee now had proof that at least one analyst at the CIA seemed to know exactly what Bob Levinson was up to before he flew to Iran. He immediately got on the phone with contacts at the FBI. He also sent them over everything they had found, including conversations Levinson had with the CIA analyst he referred to as "Toots" — and a contract that definitively proved he was working for them.

In November 2007, McGee flew down to Miami to meet with authorities about the newly discovered documents. At FBI offices in Miami, he sat down with an array of agents from both the CIA and FBI. It quickly became clear that the agencies weren't communicating well. Nobody in the FBI had known Levinson had worked with the CIA.

"In the course of the meeting, somebody said something that I knew not to be true, and I pulled out the document that demonstrated that the statement was untrue," McGee recalls.

His revelation was met with an awkward silence. Then the FBI supervisor had to quiz his agents: "Do we have those documents?" he asked. Eventually it came to light that McGee had sent them several days before but that no one had bothered to read them.

"This was not a shining example of their skills," recalls McGee. "They hadn't even read the most basic documents."

But Dobbs and McGee kept pushing the issue. One day about a year after Levinson's disappearance, a mysterious man in a trench coat showed up at the front desk of McGee's office in Pensacola and introduced himself as Mike Wicowski, head of counterintelligence at the CIA. He said he was there to apologize. "Turns out you have been right all along," McGee recalls Wicowski saying. "The agent responsible has been fired. Others will be sanctioned, and the case has been referred to the Department of Justice."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help