World News

American Who Disappeared in Iran Worked for CIA: Reports

Two U.S. media outlets are reporting that an American man who mysteriously disappeared nearly seven years ago in Iran was conducting a rogue operation for the CIA.

The Associated Press and Washington Post say retired FBI agent Robert Levinson was gathering intelligence for a group of CIA analysts who did not have authority to run overseas operations.

Levinson disappeared in March 2007 while visiting the Iranian island of Kish, on what his family and U.S. government officials have described as a private business trip.

The White House said Friday that President Barack Obama asked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about Levinson's whereabouts when the two leaders engaged in a 15-minute telephone call in September. White House spokesman Jay Carney, however, said the last information the U.S. has is a 2011 report that Levinson was "being held somewhere in southwest Asia."

Carney said Levinson "was not a U.S. government employee when he went missing," but declined to comment on any of the details of the news reports, including whether he was working for the CIA.

The Levinson family's Iranian lawyer, Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, told VOA's Persian service via Skype on Friday that legal dealings with Iran's government were based on the premise Levinson had entered Iran for personal reasons. He said Iranian officials had never told him Levinson was a spy.

The Associated Press and Post reports say Levinson was actually trying to gather intelligence in Iran from Dawud Salahuddin. Salahuddin is wanted for the murder of an Iranian diplomat in the U.S. in 1980 and has close ties to Iranian leaders.

The reports say Levinson's lawyers discovered emails in which a CIA analyst assured Levinson before the trip that he would be reimbursed for his expenses.

Levinson's family has not directly addressed allegations that he was working for the CIA.

In a statement issued on their "Help Bob Levinson" Facebook page Friday, the family praised him as a "courageous man who has dedicated himself, including risking his own life, in service to the U.S. government." They called on the U.S. government to "step up and take care of one of its own."

The Post says the emails suggest Levinson was working at the direction of the CIA analyst, Anne Jablonski. She denies this, saying she did not know at the time that Levinson had gone to Iran.

The reports say an internal CIA probe into the matter eventually led to the disciplining of 10 employees, including three who were fired. The spy agency is also said to have paid the Levinson family $2.5 million to avoid a lawsuit.

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden refused to comment on any affiliation between Levinson and the U.S. government; but, she said U.S. officials strongly pushed for the stories not to be printed out of concern for his safety. Carney called the publication of the stories "highly irresponsible."

Hayden's statement said the U.S. remains committed to finding Levinson and bringing him home safely to his family. The U.S. has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his safe return.

The 65-year-old Levinson was last heard from in 2010, when Levinson's family received a short video of him pleading for help and saying he was sick. Iran firmly denies holding him or knowing where he is.

The news reports said U.S. officials still believe Iran either is holding him or knows his whereabouts, and that they had hoped the statement would give Tehran a chance to release him.

On Friday, during a visit to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declined to elaborate.

"I don't have any comment whatsoever on the condition with respect to employment or any other issue," he said." Kerry said the issue of Levinson's whereabouts has been raised on a continuing basis.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs