A American who vanished nearly seven years ago in Iran was working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence-gathering mission that,when it came to light inside the government,produced one of the most serious scandals in the recent history of the CIA – but all in secret,an Associated Press investigation found.
The CIA paid Robert Levinsons family $2.5 million to head off a revealing lawsuit. Three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined.
The US publicly has described Levinson as private citizen. Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip to Kish Island,Iran, the White House said last month.
That was just a cover story. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules,a team of analysts with no authority to run spy operations paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the worlds darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian regime for the US government.
Details of the disappearance were described in documents obtained or reviewed by the AP,plus interviews over several years with dozens of current and former US and foreign officials close to the search for Levinson.
There is no confirmation who captured Levinson or who may be holding him now. Although US authorities have investigated possible involvement of drug traffickers or terrorists,most officials say they believe Iran either holds him or knows who does.
There has been no hint of Levinsons whereabouts since his family received proof-of-life photos and a video in late 2010 and early 2011. That prompted a hopeful burst of diplomacy between the United States and Iran,but as time dragged on,promising leads dried up and the trail went cold.
Immediately after Levinsons disappearance in March 2007,the CIA acknowledged to Congress that Levinson had previously done contract work for the agency. But the agency had no current relationship with Levinson and there was no connection to Iran,the CIA assured lawmakers.
But in October 2007 Levinsons lawyer discovered emails between Levinson and his friend Anne Jablonski,who worked at the CIA. Before his trip,Levinson had told Jablonski that he was developing a source with access to the Iranian regime and could arrange a meeting in Dubai or an island nearby.
Levinson had checked into Hotel Maryam,a few blocks off Kishs eastern beaches.
The hotels registry,which Levinsons wife has seen,showed him checking out on March 9,2007.
What happened to him next remains a mystery.
In March 2011,Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a statement saying the US had evidence that Levinson was being held somewhere in southwest Asia.
Iran denies any knowledge of Levinsons whereabouts and says its doing all it can. If any help there is that I can bring to bear,I would be happy to do so, Ahmadinejad said in September 2012.