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05/16/2007

Who the hell is "Mehdi Pourisfahani"?

Ohare_security

One of the more curious notes in Joe Trento's latest update from Dawud Salahuddin is the suggestion that the arrest of a certain "Mehdi Pourisfahani" might be behind Iran's detention of Bobby Levinson.

Iranian authorities are especially upset over the detention of Mehdi Pourisfahani, according to Salahuddin. Pourisfahani was picked up at Chicago's O'Hare Airport with a group of other Iranians about six weeks ago. All the others in the group were released within a day or two. Pourisfahani remains in detention. According to Salahuddin, the Iranian is a wealthy businessman, resident in the states the past 15-20 years, apolitical but knows people over here.

It's anybody's guess what "Iranian authorities" are "especially upset" about, of course.

Maybe it's the way Dick Cheney ties his necktie or wears his pants. (In fact, "Iranian authorities" seem to be unusually sensitive to the sartorial habits of Westerners.)

Most folks, though, seem to think the Levinson kidnapping is in retaliation for the U.S. detention of five Iranian "diplomats" (read: "terrorists") captured in Irbil.

In any event, I can't find a reference to a Mehdi Pourisfahani anywhere on the Interweb. (Could he actually be "Mehdipour Isfahani"? That Iranian name seems to make a little more sense to me—though, again, no such individual turns up in a Google search.)

Could the Iranian businessman perhaps have been packing a penis pump in his carry-on?

The most likely explanation I can come up with is that this is just another one of Dawud Salahuddin's tall tales.

Don't forget to sign the Free Bobby! petition.

Posted by Rodger on May 16, 2007 at 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/14/2007

Joe Trento has second thoughts

Levinson

Joe Trento has concluded, based on a new story from Dawud Salahuddin, that Bobby Levinson is still in Iranian custody.

National Security News Service incorrectly reported on April 30 that Iran had decided to release retired FBI agent Robert Levinson. NSNS regrets the error. The source of that information was the American fugitive that Levinson met with in Iran before he disappeared on March 8 on Kish Island.

Trento, however, seems to be growing more skeptical of Salahuddin's credibility:

Salahuddin has been a reliable source for NSNS since 1995. But the circumstances surrounding the Levinson disappearance have raised questions about how much pressure Salahuddin is under in Iran to carry out the instructions of the hard line regime. Outside of Iran Belfield would be subject to arrest and extradition back to the United States. Did Salahuddin lure Levinson to the free trade zone of Kish in order to set him up for the Iranian authorities to grab the 6” 4” tall 59 year-old Levinson?

It's sure starting to look that way. The fact that both men were arrested and detained by authorities on Kish—with Salahuddin being released a few hours later—strikes me as at least circumstantial evidence that Salahuddin was working cooperatively with Iranian security.

Still Salahuddin bristles at the idea that he's an agent of the mullahcracy:

"This thing about handlers," he says, "I don't have any handlers, I report to no one. I am a private person not a 'low level intelligence asset' as some call it. People over there watch too many of their own movies."

Or maybe we've just seen enough of Salahuddin's.

Don't forget to sign the Free Bobby! petition.

Posted by Rodger on May 14, 2007 at 11:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/09/2007

The State Department connects the dots

The Washington Post's Robin Wright indicates the Foggy Bottom gang has finally detected a pattern in Iran's recent detentions of American citizens:

The State Department today condemned Iran's detention of Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari and journalist Parnaz Azima and acknowledged a growing problem with Tehran over its actions against U.S. and dual U.S.-Iranian citizens.

"We want to see them returned back to their families," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "These two women are an academic on the one hand, a journalist on the other. These people don't pose any threat to the Iranian regime.

"They are both grandmothers and so I am not sure what it is the Iranian government has to fear from these ladies," he added….

McCormack said arresting Esfandiari, co-director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars, and confiscating the passport of Azima, a correspondent for U.S.-funded Radio Farda, offers "an insight into the nature of this regime." Esfandiari was detained Tuesday; Azima's passport was confiscated in January. Both women were in Iran visiting sick mothers.

In Tehran, Esfandiari's 93-year-old mother went to notorious Evin Prison to try to visit her daughter but was turned away, according to Esfandiari's husband, George Mason University professor Shaul Bakhash.

I might point out that a photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, was locked up in Evin Prison in 2003 after taking photos outside the prison. During her detention, she was brutally tortured and raped, before ultimately dying of a fractured skull. One other item of note: Kazemi, had dual Iranian-Canadian citizenship.

(In addition to Esfandiar and Azima, a third American woman with dual citizenship is being detained.)

Wright also notes that the Levinson family—who, up to now, have stayed cleart of the media spotlight—are finally turning up the heat:

Meanwhile, the wife of former FBI agent Robert A. Levinson, who went missing after he flew to Iran's Kish Island on March 8, met with senior State Department officials Tuesday to bring more pressure on the U.S. government, according to a family member who asked not to be identified because of ongoing diplomatic efforts. Levinson's wife, Christine [see video above], also released a copy of the letter she wrote to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appealing for him to help find and release her husband.

"The challenges and difficulties you face as the president of a powerful nation are impossible for me to comprehend. Knowing the hardship, suffering and tragedy faced by many people in your part of the world, I feel conflicted when asking for your consideration. But as a wife and a mother, I am compelled to do so," Levinson said in the letter, dated April 25. The letter was released on a new Web site, http://www.helpboblevinson.com.

The State Department has sent five communications to Iran via the Swiss government asking for information on Levinson's whereabouts and circumstances, noting Iranian news reports that Levinson was flown from Kish Island, a resort where foreigners are not required to have visas, to Tehran by Iranian security forces. McCormack said the State Department has not received a response to its fifth communication last month.

I urge anyone who can help the Levinsons free Bobby to contact them at info@helpboblevinson.com

If you haven't already done so, you should also sign the petition to free Bobby Levinson here and the one to free Parnaz Azima here.

It now seems that Trento, DEBKA and others (including this blog) have been the unwitting accomplices of a curious disinformation campaign directed by Iranian intelligence and carried out by Dawud Salahuddin.

It's far from clear what Tehran hopes to gain from this latest round of hostage diplomacy, but I think we can now safely conclude that earlier reports of Bobby Levinson's release were a bit premature.

UPDATE: DEBKA now seems to be backing away from its earlier report, based on Kurdish sources, of Levinson's release.

Posted by Rodger on May 9, 2007 at 11:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/07/2007

Congratulations, Kevin and Christine!

Stork

Well, I've  got to hand it to Kevin Costner.

A year or so ago, it looked like his marriage was headed for the Field of Broken Dreams.

Now, amazingly, it's been blessed with issue.

From the Daily Blabber:

According to People.com, Kevin Costner and his wife, Christine, have a new son. Cayden Wyatt arrived Sunday, weighing in at 7 lbs, 14 oz. And for those of you who really care, the baby has dark hair. No word on whether or not Wyatt is a nod to Kevin's film Wyatt Earp.

This is the fifth child for Kevin, who has three grown children with his ex-wife and a 10-year-old from a relationship with some heiress lady.

Kevin and Christine got hitched in 2004. On their honeymoon, he famously masturbated while getting a massage.

Just remember where you heard about it first.

Posted by Rodger on May 7, 2007 at 11:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Where the hell is Bobby Levinson?

Irbil

Could it get any more confusing?

Trento and DEBKA claim he's in Iraq. The U.S. and Iran both say they've got no clue where he might be. Iran's PressTV (who first broke the story he'd been detained) said he was out of the country, then a day later said they weren't sure.

Understandably, Bobby Levinson's family and friends just want answers:

His wife, Christine Levinson, issued a statement to The Associated Press this weekend in which she conveyed her frustration with the agonizing ordeal.

"My husband, Bob Levinson, is still missing. We, his family, have not heard from him since March 8, and the silence is unbearable," she said.

"Right now, we are living a nightmare. We need Bob to come home to us. We are aware of all the rumors out there which have raised our hopes, only to have them crushed by the reality that we still have no information. We are asking anyone who has any information of any kind to please let us know."

The "rumors" appear to be a reference to reports that Levinson left Iran recently and was turned over to U.S. officials.

DEBKA, in a story posted yesterday, continued to insist he'd been released last week:

Tehran was clearly miffed at Washington’s failure to reciprocate by freeing at least one of the five Revolutionary Guards officers held in Iraq, for the former FBI agent Robert Levinson held from March 11, whom Iran released Tuesday, May 1.

But if Bobby Levinson's in U.S. custody and the Sharm el-Sheik conflab has folded its tent, why has his family still not heard from him?

His wife is right: It's a nightmare.

Don't forget to sign the Free Bobby! petition.

Posted by Rodger on May 7, 2007 at 08:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/03/2007

Free Parnaz Azima!

Parnaz_azima_2

From a speech Tuesday by Karen Hughes, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, on "21st Century Threats to Press Freedom" …

As we meet here today, the Iranian government is refusing to allow RFE/RL journalist Parnaz Azima to leave Iran, where she went to visit her ailing and hospitalized mother. Iranian officials seized her passport when she arrived and have thus far refused to return it, telling her lawyer it would not be returned for "two or three years." We strongly object to Iranian officials keeping Parnaz Azima in Iran against her will and call on the government to allow her to leave the country so she can return to her work and most importantly, to her children and grandchildren.

I might add that, according to press accounts, Ms. Azima (who has dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship) was asked to "cooperate" with Iran's intelligence services, which she refused.

I've set up a petition calling for Parnaz Azima's release here.

I urge you to take a moment to sign it. Thanks.

NOTE: I've mentioned this before, but you'd think the international journalistic community would be outraged by Ms. Azima's illegal detention. Yet on the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists—an organization dedicated to "defending the rights of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal"—there's nary a mention of her name. But at least Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has belatedly taken note of the situation.

Posted by Rodger on May 3, 2007 at 06:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The swap

Alquds_brigade

DEBKAfile (which was bound to latch on to the story sooner or later) reveals a few more details of the behind-the-scenes negotiations for Bobby Levinson's apparent release from Iranian custody:

Last seen on the Iranian resort island of Kish, where he was said to be working on a film, Levinson has crossed from Iran into Iraqi Kurdistan, where American representatives awaited him.

The promise to release him was conveyed, according to our sources, by the head of Iran’s national security council, Ali Larijani, during a sudden visit to Baghdad on April 29, when he met secretly with the US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. The two officials discussed reciprocal US-Iranian gestures to pave the way for an agreed agenda at the international conference on Iraq’s security opening at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh May 3.

Sources in Tehran report that US forces in Iraq will counter Levinson’s release by setting free one or two of the five Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers they captured in Irbil last January. The conference, summoned to approve steps that promote Iraqi stability and development, will provide a platform for high-level exchanges among US, Iranian and Syrian delegates. US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who has already arrived at the Red Sea resort, is expecting to hold direct talks with Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

DEBKA isn't always the most reliable of sources, but everything here seems to square with what we already know from other accounts.

Since the State Department has already started down the slippery slope of swapping terrorists for hostages, why not swap another one of the Irbil Five for the release of Parnaz Azima?

Hey, in for a dime, in for a dollar.

UPDATE: Iran's PressTV, which first broke the news of Levinson's detention is now reporting that he "has returned to his country amid news black out."

UPDATE: Ooopsie!  Now PressTV is saying Levinson's release is "uncertain."

US officials have not confirmed the return of a former FBI agent that Washington claimed had gone missing in the Iranian island of Kish.

Iranian sources reported on Thursday that former FBI Agent, Robert Levinson, had returned to his country.

State Department spokesman Karl Duckworth said that the department was aware of unconfirmed accounts in the media that he had departed from Iran.

However, he stated that the US will continue to work with the Swiss Embassy in Iran to get information on Levinson's whereabouts.

FBI spokesman John Miller also revealed that the FBI is unable to confirm the reports.

Did we pop those champagne corks too soon—or did someone in Iran's foreign ministry get after PressTV for ruining its big post-Sharm el-Sheikh surprise? (The State Dpeartment briefing today also gave no hit that Levinson's made it out of Iran, but again they may not want to upstage an announcement from Secretary Rice.)

 

Guess it's not over till we see Bobby Levinson's plane touch down on the tarmac in Miami.

Don't forget to sign the Free Bobby! petition.

Posted by Rodger on May 3, 2007 at 04:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/01/2007

Iran in the rear view mirror

Iraniraq_border

Although there's still no official confirmation from the State Department, Joe Trento reports that Bob Levinson is now safely out of Iran:

Usually reliable Iranian sources say that detained American, Robert Levinson, was turned over to American officials in the last 24-hours.

The Iranian source said that “He is no longer here. But because he was never ‘officially detained’ here, no one will say on the record that he has been released. I have again been told to be quiet and that he is definitely in the hands of his countrymen - perhaps in Iraq. This would have been a simple border exchange. I think he will be kept out of site until the summit next week. He will be kept under wraps until the US can figure out a way to reintroduce him. People here expect no credit to Iran for the release before the Sharm el-Sheikh summit. But I am satisfied he is out of this country.”

This information has not been confirmed by U.S. officials.  “At this point we are aware of unconfirmed accounts in the media that he departed Iran,” according to State Department spokesman Karl Duckworth. “We are continuing to work with the Swiss to get information on his welfare and whereabouts,” Duckworth said.

FBI spokesman John Miller, when asked to comment on reports of Levinson’s release, told ABC News, "We are hearing the same thing, but we have no way to judge the credibility of that information."

A high level intelligence source in the United States military in Iraq said "it is possible that Levinson has been turned over to Kurds in Iraq with an agreement that no public announcement be made until after a conference between the Iranian Foreign Minister and Secretary Rice next week in Egypt."

“This raises the possibility that the United States military may turnover up to five Iranian diplomats who we have been holding for months as a goodwill gesture as a response to Levinson’s release,” the US intelligence source said.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment.

Another source in Iran, who is familiar with the Levinson case said flatly: “Bobby Levinson is out of Iran perhaps he will reappear after the Sharm el-Sheikh meetings on May 3 and 4."

All sounds a little hinky to me, but if Trento's sources are accurate, this is  good news indeed.

Don't forget to sign the Free Bobby! petition.

UPDATE: FOX News has also picked up the Trento story; Brian Ross and Vic Walter also have a story posted on their blog at ABC News. Ed Morrisey has a post at Captain's Quarters. See-Dubya at HotAir wonders if a swap for the Irbil Five was part of the price for Levinson's release. That might help explain Bobby Levinson's "layover" in Northern Iraq on his way back home to Coral Springs, FL.

Posted by Rodger on May 1, 2007 at 05:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)