Today marks the eighth anniversary since Robert Levinson, a Coral Springs private detective, vanished from Kish Island in Iran, where he was researching a cigarette-smuggling case. And now FBI Director James B. Comey has announced that the reward for information leading to Levinson's location, recovery, and return has been increased to to $5 million.
Levinson, himself a former FBI agent and former DEA officer, was last confirmed alive in 2011, when his family received disturbing photos and video via an anonymous email. The photos showed Levinson with wild gray hair and a long unkempt beard, wearing an orange jumpsuit not unlike those worn by detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In each photo, he's seen holding up a sign with different messages, such as, "This is the result of 30 years serving for USA."
See also: The Spy Bob Levinson Vanished in Iran
In an effort to speed Levinson's recovery, on Monday the Society of Former Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the FBI Agents Association (FBIAA) are calling on the international community to pick up its effort in a "Bring Bob Home" campaign.
"Bob is a respected colleague and friend to us, but more importantly he is a husband, a father, and a grandfather to loving family members who miss him desperately," said Society President Ellen Glasser in a news release. "He has missed too many important occasions over the last eight years, and we call on anyone with information to come forward as a humanitarian gesture to the Levinson family."
On the fourth anniversary of Levinson's disappearance, when his family received the photos, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. State Department had received indications 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.
The U.S. government has said it believes Iran to have a hand in Levinson's kidnapping. A year after Levinson's disappearance, then-President George W. Bush said that he was "disturbed by the Iranian regime's refusal so far to provide any information on Robert Levinson, despite repeated U.S. requests. I call on Iran's leaders to tell us what they know about his whereabouts."
In 2009, Sen. Bill Nelson announced that he believed Levinson was being held in a secret prison in Iran and reiterated that government's refusal to work with the U.S. in trying to locate him.
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hinted that Iran may have had imprisoned Levinson and that he was open to some kind of prisoner exchange.
"I remember that last year, Iranian and American intelligence groups had a meeting, but I haven't followed up on it," Ahmadinejad told Charlie Rose in an interview for CBS This Morning. "I thought they'd come to some kind of an agreement."
But since then, the Iranian government has pledged to help the U.S. while remaining elusive about Levinson.
Based on a video sent along with the photos in 2011, U.S. authorities believe professionals, such as Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, are behind the kidnapping.
Levinson's wife, Christine, has met with President Obama, who pledged to do everything he could to free her husband. In 2013, Obama spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about three American citizens believed to be held in Iran, including Levinson. Hassan told Obama he was concerned but denied knowing who Levinson is.
In 2012, the FBI announced a $1 million reward for information that would lead to Levinson's safe return. And now, that number has been upped.
"We know that the FBI considers this case a top priority, but our nation's leaders must ensure that a whole government approach and a comprehensive international effort are used to locate him and bring him home," Glasser said. "Eight years without answers is unacceptable."
The FBI has asked anyone with information to go to its tips page.
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