American missing in Iran was on unapproved mission

By Matt Apuzzo

Associated Press

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

"I didn't even know he was working on Iran," he said. "As far as I knew he was a Latin America, money-laundering and Russian organized crime guy. I would never have directed him to do that."

Finally, the CIA assigned its internal security team to investigate. That inquiry quickly determined that the agency was responsible for Levinson while he was in Iran, according to a former official familiar with the review. That was an important conclusion. It meant that, whatever happened to Levinson overseas, the CIA bore responsibility.

Next, a team of counterintelligence officers began unraveling the case.

The investigation renewed some longtime tensions between the CIA's operatives and analysts. The investigators felt the analysts had been running their own amateur spy operation, with disastrous results. Worse, they said the analysts withheld what they knew, allowing senior managers to testify falsely on Capitol Hill.

That led the Justice Department to investigate possible criminal charges against Jablonski and Sampson. Charges were never pursued, current and former officials said, in part because a criminal case could have revealed the whole story behind Levinson's disappearance. Officially, though, the investigation remains open.

Sampson offered to take a polygraph. Jablonski says she has consistently told the truth. Recently, as the five-year statute of limitations concluded, FBI agents interviewed her again, and she told the same story, officials said.

The analysts argued that many people had seen Levinson's contract and his work product. Nobody questioned it until he went missing, they said. The way the analysts saw it, the CIA was looking for scapegoats.

"That she would even by accident put someone in harm's way is laughable," said Margaret Henoch, a former CIA officer and a close friend of Jablonski. "When I worked with Anne, and I worked very closely with her for a very long time, she was always the one who pulled me up short and made me follow procedure."

Jablonski said the CIA's relationship with Levinson was not unusual. But as part of the investigation, the CIA reviewed every analytical contract it had.

Only Levinson was meeting with sources, collecting information, and getting reimbursed for his trips, officials said. Only Levinson was mailing packages of raw information to the home of an analyst.

Despite Jablonski's denials, her emails convinced investigators that she knew Levinson was heading overseas and, with a wink and a nod, made it clear he could expect to be paid.

In May 2008, Jablonski was escorted from the building and put on administrative leave. Sampson was next. At the CIA, when you're shown the door, you leave with nothing. Security officers empty your desk, scrutinize its contents and mail you whatever doesn't belong to the agency.

Both were given the option of resigning or being fired. The next month, they resigned. Their boss was forced into retirement. At least seven others were disciplined, including employees of the contracts office that should have noticed that Levinson's invoices didn't square with his contract.

In secret Senate hearings from late 2007 through early 2008, CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes acknowledged that the agency had been involved in Levinson's disappearance and conceded that it hadn't been as forthcoming as it should have been, current and former officials said.

The CIA's top lawyer, John Rizzo, had to explain it all to the White House. Former Bush administration officials recall Rizzo meeting with a stunned Fred Fielding, the White House counsel, who asked, since when do CIA analysts get involved in operations?

One of Rizzo's assistants, Joseph Sweeney, a lawyer, flew to Florida to apologize to Levinson's family.

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