Robert Levinson, a Coral Springs private detective who disappeared in March of 2007 while visiting Kish Island in Iran, was working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence-gathering mission, the AP is reporting.
And now, the missing man is at the center of a modern scandal for the intelligence community.
What was the official take by the U.S. government -- that Levinson was a private citizen that vanished in Iran while researching a cigarette-smuggling case -- turned out to be just a cover story.
According to a detailed report by the AP, the CIA made a massive mess of things with Levinson, who hasn't been heard from since an anonymous email showing him bearded, disheveled and wearing an orange jumpsuit, was sent to his family in 2012.
Basically, a team of CIA analysts who had no authority putting together spy operations paid Levinson to gather intelligence overseas for the U.S.
The AP had come across the information in 2010, but agreed to keep from reporting it, at the government's request.
But since there has been no progress in finding Levinson, the AP decided to reveal its findings, which includes interviews with dozens of current and former U.S. and foreign officials involved in the search for Levinson. These officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.
The AP says that, soon after Levinson disappeared in March of 2007, the CIA admitted to Congress that he had done some contract work for them in the past. But the agency then said it had no further relationship with Levinson, and that there was no connecting to Iran.
However, in 2007, Levinson's lawyer discovered emails between Levinson and Anne Jablonski, who worked at the CIA.
The emails seemed to indicate that Levinson was up to something overseas for the CIA, and kept in contact with Jablonski before leaving for Kish.
Jablonski denies she knew anything.
From the AP report:
Once the Senate Intelligence Committee saw the emails between Jablonski and Levinson, lawmakers demanded to know more. That touched off an internal CIA investigation, which discovered that the agency's relationship with Levinson had been unusual from the start.
For years after his disappearance, nothing happened. Even as Levinson's wife and family pleaded with the U.S. to put more pressure on Iran to help find him.
Then seemingly from out of nowhere, in March of 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. State Department had received indications that Levinson was being held somewhere in southwest Asia, implying that he might be in the hands of a terrorist group somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
In early 2011, Levinson's family received disturbing photos of him via an anonymous email.
The photos show Levinson with wild gray hair and a long unkept beard, wearing an orange jumpsuit not unlike those worn by detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
In each of the photos, Levinson is seen holding a different sign with a different message.
One says, "I am here in Guantanamo. Do you know where it is?
Another one reads, "This is the result of 30 years serving for USA."
Three other signs have more cryptic messages: "Help me," and "Why you can not help me," and another that reads, "4th year... You can't or you don't want....?"
Between all that, the CIA launched an internal investigation, which basically amounted to a lot of finger pointing.
Eventually, the CIA gave Levinson's family a $2.5 million annuity, which provides tax-free income.
For their part, Iran has said that it has no idea of Levinson's whereabouts, and that it has done everything it can to help find him. Even Iran's newly elected, more moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, has said that all his government knows of Levinson is that he's an American gone missing.
Meanwhile, Levinson's wife Christine keeps pressuring the Obama administration to do more to find her husband.
All the while, the CIA was apparently responsible for sending him into harms way to begin with.
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