Forgotten in President Obama’s characteristically America-humbling hostage deal with Iran was ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, last seen at an Iranian resort in 2007 while working as a CIA contractor.
Levinson’s family says they learned he was not part of the deal by watching television news reports, as summarized by Fox News:
“We had to learn it from the TV ourselves, and that’s very disappointing and heartbreaking,” Robert Levinson’s wife, Christine, told the Associated Press.
She used stronger language in another interview, telling ABC News that she felt “extremely betrayed” by the White House.
Christine Levinson told ABC that she had tried unsucessfully to meet face-to-face with adminstration officials for the past six weeks. Hours after the prisoner exchange was announced Saturday, she said Deputy National Security Adviser Lisa Monaco called to apologize, claiming the White House had meant to inform her before the news broke, but the Iranian government had leaked the word early.
Levinson’s son Dan told [t]he Associated Press that it felt like “once again, he’s been left behind” and that the U.S. can’t give up on bringing his father back.
The United States government can give up on bringing Robert Levinson back, they found. There is very little leverage for demanding his release, or at least conclusive information on his fate, now that Iran has everything it wants: sanctions relief, an unstoppable path to nuclear weapons, and the bonus of a lopsided prisoner exchange it can easily portray as counting coup on the Great Satan for years to come. There are not any more pretexts for Obama to cut billion-dollar checks to the mullahs from U.S. taxpayers to buy hostages.
It probably will not make the Levinson family feel any better to hear State Department spokesman John Kirby claim the entire administration learned Levinson was not coming home the same way the family did: from the media.
“Unfortunately, so many other people found out about it through press reports because the Iranians leaked the information early, too early for us to have made the phone calls and notifications that we wanted to make,” he told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC. “Believe me, nobody is happy about the way that went down. That’s not the way that we wanted it to happen.”
The Iranians made sure the world would understand that what the American people and their representatives wanted did not matter. Leaking the information about Levinson to the press, instead of formally notifying the State Department so it could give the family a little dignity, was the latest in a long series of slaps to Obama’s face, which Iran has slapped raw.
Although Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry claimed their administration has no idea where Levinson is, the Associated Press quotes White House spokesman Josh Earnest venturing that he might not be in Iran any more, without providing any reasons for such a theory.
In that context, it sounds like an attempt to give Iran political cover. The theocracy has improbably claimed it has no idea what happened to Levinson, or where he was taken, for the past nine years–a claim hotly disputed by the missing man’s family.
Earnest claimed Tehran has promised to search for Levinson–just now, after nine years of purportedly not trying very hard to find him–and the White House would “hold the Iranians to that commitment.” Of course, he did not say how.
Levinson did not quite vanish without a trace. The Associated Press notes that while he suffers from health issues, such as diabetes, gout, and high blood pressure that would raise concerns about his survival in long-term capability, his family was sent video evidence that he was still alive five years ago.
Robert Levinson’s son Daniel told NPR the video was sent by people unknown in 2010, followed by some photographs of the missing man six months later. The family built this proof-of-life footage into a videotaped appeal to Levinson’s captors, pleading for his release:
Daniel Levinson reviewed with NPR his family’s reasons for believing the Iranian government was behind Robert’s 2007 disappearance:
Well, my dad traveled to Iran’s Kish island, which is a free-trade zone. You don’t need a visa to travel there. He was meeting with an American who had fled Iran after 1980, who was actually wanted for murder. And he was meeting with him. My dad was working as a contractor for the CIA at the time.
And as far as we can tell that my dad checked out of the hotel. And according to the other man, he was approached by Iranian security forces. So a couple weeks after that, he went missing. The Iranian state-run Press TV reported that he was, quote, “in the hands of Iranian security forces.” So we’ve been focused on that ever since.
Daniel said his family has not heard much from the administration since the Iranian prisoner swap was announced, aside from an apology for not contacting them ahead of time. He said no one has told them what the “next steps” in Robert’s case would be.
“Now that they’ve gotten everybody out, now that the nuclear deal has happened, what incentive, what urgency do they have to get my dad home? And we’re just going to keep pressing his case until we get answers and until we get him home,” he told NPR.