American missing in Iran was on unapproved mission

By Matt Apuzzo

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

From the onset, however, he was doing something very different. He wasn't writing scholarly dissertations on the intricacies of money laundering. He was gathering intelligence, officials say.

He uncovered sensitive information about Colombian rebels. He dug up dirt on Venezuela's mercurial president. He delivered photos and documents on militant groups. And he met with sources about Iran's nuclear program, according to people who have reviewed the materials.

Levinson's production got noticed. The CIA expected he'd provide one or two items a month from his travels. Some months, former officials said, Levinson would send 20 packages including photos, computer disks and documents — the work of a man with decades of investigative experience.

Levinson's arrangement with the CIA was odd.

The agency instructed him not to mail his packages to headquarters or email documents to government addresses, former officials said. Instead, he was told to ship his packages to Jablonski's home in Virginia. If he needed to follow up, he was instructed to contact Jablonski's personal email account.

Jablonski said the analysts simply wanted to avoid the CIA's lengthy mail screening process. As an employee, Jablonski could just drive the documents through the front gate each morning.

"I didn't think twice about it," she said in an interview.

But the normal way to speed up the process is to open a post office box or send packages by FedEx, officials say. And if Levinson were producing only unclassified analytical documents, there would have been no reason he couldn't email them to the CIA.

The whole arrangement was so peculiar that CIA investigators conducting an internal probe would later conclude it was an effort to keep top CIA officials from figuring out that the analysts were running a spying operation. Jablonski adamantly denies that.

What's more, the Illicit Finance Group didn't follow the typical routine for international travel. Before someone travels abroad for the agency, the top CIA officer in the country normally clears it. That way, if a CIA employee is arrested or creates a diplomatic incident, the agency isn't caught by surprise.

That didn't happen before Levinson's trips, former officials said. He journeyed to Panama, Turkey and Canada and was paid upon his return, people familiar with his travels said. After each trip, he submitted bills and the CIA paid him for the information and reimbursed him for his travel expenses.

Neither the analysts nor the contract officers or managers who reviewed the contract ever flagged that Levinson's travel might become a problem.

It would prove to be a serious problem.

Levinson was assigned a contract officer inside the agency, a young analyst named Brian O'Toole. But Jablonski was always his primary contact. Sometimes, he told her before he left for a trip. Other times, he didn't. The emails between Jablonski and Levinson, some of which the AP has seen or obtained, are circumspect. But they show that Levinson was taking his cues from her.

The more Levinson did for the agency, the more the analysts ran afoul of the CIA's most basic rules.

Before anyone can meet sources, seasoned CIA intelligence officials must review the plan to make sure the source isn't a double agent. That never happened for Levinson.

Levinson's meetings blurred the lines between his work as a private investigator and his work as a government contractor. Inside the CIA, the analysts reasoned that as long as they didn't specifically assign Levinson to meet someone, they were abiding by the rules.

On Feb. 5, 2007, Levinson emailed Jablonski and said he was gathering intelligence on Iranian corruption. He said he was developing an informant with access to the government and could arrange a meeting in Dubai or on an island nearby.

Problem was, Levinson's contract was out of money and, though the CIA was working to authorize more, it had yet to do so.

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