American missing in Iran was on unapproved mission

By Matt Apuzzo

Associated Press

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

Jablonski was in the office when news broke that Levinson had gone missing. She went to the bathroom and threw up.

FBI agents began asking about Levinson's disappearance, and the CIA started a formal inquiry into whether anyone at the agency had sent Levinson to Iran or whether he was working for the CIA at the time.

The response from the analytical division was that, yes, Levinson had given a few presentations and had done some analytical work. But his contract was out of money. The agency had no current relationship with Levinson, and there was no connection to Iran.

That's what the CIA told the FBI and Congress, according to numerous current and former FBI, CIA and congressional officials.

Jablonski never mentioned to internal investigators the many emails she'd traded with Levinson, officials close to the investigation said. When asked, she said she had no idea he was heading to Iran. She didn't tell managers that Levinson expected to be reimbursed for the trip he was on, or that he was investigating Iranian corruption.

Jablonski says none of this was a secret; Levinson's contract and work product were available to others at the CIA, she said.

Because the emails were exchanged from her personal account, they were not available to investigators searching the CIA's computers. But had anyone at the CIA or FBI conducted even a cursory examination of Levinson's work product, it would have been immediately clear that Levinson was not acting as a mere analyst.

Had anyone read his invoices, people who have seen or been briefed on them said, investigators would have seen handwritten bills mentioning Iran and its Revolutionary Guard. That didn't happen.

So the official story became that Levinson was in Iran on private business, either to investigate cigarette smuggling or to work on a book about Russian organized crime, which has a presence on Kish.

At the State Department, officials told the world that Levinson was a private businessman.

"At the time of his disappearance Mr. Levinson was not working for the United States government," the State Department said in a May 2007 message sent to embassies worldwide and signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Levinson's family feared the government had forsaken him.

The government's version would have remained the official story if not for Levinson's friends. One of them was David McGee, a former Justice Department prosecutor in Florida who had worked with Levinson when he was at the FBI. McGee, now in private practice at the Florida law firm Beggs and Lane, knew that Levinson was working for the CIA. He just couldn't prove it.

As time dragged on, McGee kept digging. Finally, he and his paralegal, Sonya Dobbs, discovered Levinson's emails with Jablonski.

They were astounded. And they finally had the proof they needed to get the government's attention.

Armed with the emails, McGee wrote to the Senate Intelligence Committee in October 2007. The CIA had indeed been involved in Levinson's trip, the letter proved.

The CIA had been caught telling Congress a story that was flatly untrue. The Intelligence Committee was furious. In particular, Levinson's senator, Bill Nelson, D-Fla., took a personal interest in the case. The committee controls the budget of the CIA, and one angry senator there can mean months of headaches for the agency.

CIA managers said their own employees had lied to them. They blamed the analysts for not coming forward sooner. But the evidence had been hiding in plain sight. The CIA didn't conduct a thorough investigation until the Senate got involved. By then, Levinson had been missing for more than eight months. Precious time had been lost.

Sampson said he was never aware of Levinson's emails with Jablonski or the Iranian trip.

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