« March 2007 | Main | May 2007 »


Coming home?


Joe Trento reports that Bob Levinson may be on his way home:

The National Security News Service has learned that the government of Iran approved the release of former FBI Agent Robert Levinson on Sunday. Levinson, who was detained on March 8 after a meeting with an expatriate American and wanted murderer on Kish Island, has been in Iranian custody ever since.

The release order came after Secretary of State Rice said publicly that she would meet with her Iranian counterpart to discuss areas of interest to the United States and Iran in Iraq. But the upcoming meeting on May 3, and 4 between Rice her Iranian counterpart Manuchehr Mottaki in Egypt may be a major opening in the standoff between Iran and the West on its nuclear program.

The Iranian government ordered the release as part of an effort to communicate directly with the United States. A reliable NSNS source in Iran said, “This makes sense coming as it does timed with the announcement that Tehran will be at Sharm el-Sheikh and the one who carried the message into Baghdad is the nuclear negotiator [Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council].”

Another source in Iran told NSNS that the mullahs who run the country have asserted themselves in this matter. “They see this as an opportunity and it is being taken here as a sign that the Iranian president is being by-passed, a clear indication of waning influence.”

A normally reliable source in Iran told NSNS that the Iranian government concluded Levinson was not on a spying mission when he met with Dawud Salahuddin at a Kish Island hotel on March 7. “The Iranians are satisfied that the meeting with the American fugitive was a private business venture.” Ira Silverman, the former NBC producer who introduced Levinson to the American fugitive, would not comment to NSNS but has told callers on Monday that “I have been up all night.” NSNS received word of the pending release at 3 am Monday, around midday Iranian time.

Let's hope to God he's right. But just in case …

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

UPDATE: The State Department says it can't confirm the report of Bob Levinson's release.

Posted by Rodger on April 30, 2007 at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


Silence is golden


And Ira Silverman—who now appears to be the one who sent Bob Levinson off to Iran—has essentially clammed up.

Joe Trento at storiesthatmatter.org has a new post on the subject:

Mike Isikoff of Newsweek did get a brief comment out of Silverman for a story posted on Newsweek’s web site:  “Silverman called to say that it was ‘untrue’ and a ‘fabrication’ to say that he was involved in any attempt to coax Salahuddin out of Iran. ‘I was not involved with the FBI to try to get him [Salahuddin] out of Iran,’ he said. But he declined to discuss what he knew about Levinson's trip to Iran, saying he had been asked ‘by the people conducting the investigation’ not to make any public comments that could interfere with the effort to bring Levinson home.”

What investigation? The U.S. intelligence community agrees on one thing: Levinson and Silverman were not working for them. Levinson’s clients in the PI world all insist he was not working for them in Iran. Since I seem to be the only reporter Dawud Salahuddin is communicating with, I can tell you the early stories that Levinson was there to do a cigarette smuggling investigation are probably not true. Salahuddin said he believes that the entire meeting was part of a scheme to lure him out of his fugitive’s safe haven so he could be arrested.

Certainly, Bob Levinson had no professional stake in trying to bring Salahuddin to justice, and it's unlikely (despite Belfield/Salahuddin's arguments to the contrary) he had any plan to do so. More probably, Levinson thought Salahuddin might be able to provide useful information on whatever it was that took him to the Middle East in the first place.

But, as Trento notes, unless Silverman comes forward, the real reasons for Levinson's ill-fated sojourn on Kish are likely to remain a mystery.

UPDATE: At intelligence blog, Kent's Imperative, there's a post about the Levinson case that echoes my own feeling that there's probably enough intrigue to fill a book: "While we are not given to indulging in conspiracy theories, this is certainly one incident in which the back story is likely to be even more interesting than what is already known."

That said, I think the back story is probably not quite so byzantine as Messrs. Salahuddin and Trento would have us believe. As I see it, Iranian intelligence used Salahuddin to set trap for Bob Levinson, with Ira Silverman as the unwitting intermediary. They're now using Levinson as a bargaining chip to swap for Iranian assets in Western custody—or (again using the Silverman-Salahuddin relationship) to lure other potential hostages to Iran (either security professionals like Jack Cloonan or members of the Levinson family) in an attempt to free their original target and add to Teheran's chip pile.

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

Posted by Rodger on April 27, 2007 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


Newsweek gets the dish on Kish


Newsweek's crack investigative team of Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball just posted a story on Bob Levinson—the first coverage of any real depth by a major U.S. news outlet.

Though it doesn't add much to what regular readers of this blog already know, the piece manages to weave the many threads of the story together in a reasonably coherent way—at least given the questions still surrounding Levinson's March 8 trip to Kish Island and the role David Belfield (Dawud Salahuddin) may have played in luring him there.

Still very much unresolved is the question of whether Belfield was trying to lure Levinson to Iran (and hence into the custody of the secret police) or whether Levinson was trying to lure Belfield out of Iran in the hope of bringing him to justice for the 1980 murder of Iranian dissident Ali Akbar Tabatabai.

In a recent e-mail exchange with another American journalist, Joseph Trento of the National Security News Service, Salahuddin acknowledged meeting with Levinson at a Kish hotel. Salahuddin hinted that the former FBI agent—working with [former NBC news producer Ira] Silverman—was trying to lure him to leave Iran. They had tried to "bait" him by offering to share "files" containing a "bombshell" about a former high-ranking Iranian official’s "foreign holdings," he wrote. Although he wasn’t present for the meeting, the e-mail alleges Silverman was in simultaneous communication with Salahuddin to try to get him to cooperate with Levinson. "All the time, Ira [was] pushing a number of buttons to gain my confidence," Salahuddin wrote in one e-mail. But in the e-mail to Trento, Salahuddin also indicates that he became wary because he could not figure out why Levinson and Silverman would "put something in my hand of such a bombshell nature."

I'm inclined to think the "bombshell" Belfield alludes to was actually more of a smoke bomb—and a self-manufactured one—designed to distract attention from Belfield's role in luring Levinson into the hands of Iranian security.

The only detailed account of the meeting on Kish is the one we've gotten from Belfield. The other side of the story belongs to Bob Levinson—and, at least right now, he can't be reached for comment.

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

Posted by Rodger on April 25, 2007 at 11:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The mysterious Mr. Belfield

What's the truth about Hassan … or Dawud … or David … or whatever he calls himself these days?

Is he a repentant jihadist, as Joe Trento and Ira Silverman are inclined to think?

Or is he a tool of Iran's secret police, as Fred Burton of Stratfor (subscription required, but you can search the terms "Levinson" and "Iran" in Google News and get a free link) and I would seem to agree?

Much of the mystery surrounding Bob Levinson's appearance would seem to hang on the answer.

Here's an interesting snippet from today's press briefing at the State Department:

Question: We've had these claims from Mr. Belfield that he was the last person that met with Levinson on Kish and now Belfield is also claiming that Levinson was carrying a rather explosive file of documents with him. Do you have any comment on that? Are you aware of those reports?

Mr. Casey: I really don't. I've seen a lot of press reports on this. And there are press reports, as you've indicated, that say that he might have been picked up or otherwise detained by some element of Iran's security forces. And certainly we've pointed out those press reports to the Iranian Government and asked them to look into those matters.

But I don't have anything that I can offer you. We don't really know the details of his private business in Iran. And again, I think those are all questions that we would hopefully be able to have Mr. Levinson himself address when we locate him. But the important thing to us right now is that we do everything we can to be able to ascertain his whereabouts and to make sure that he gets home safely and securely and as soon as possible to be with family.

Question: Are you concerned about his safety? Are you becoming increasingly concerned about his safety?

Mr. Casey: Well, we don't have any information that leads us to conclude one way or the other where he is or what his status is. But certainly, anytime an American citizen goes missing, it's something we're concerned about and it's something we make efforts to try and deal with. There are -- while this is certainly a case that's gained a lot of attention for obvious reasons, there are thousands of cases each year that our embassies and posts overseas deal with to try and help find Americans who are missing or who simply have failed to make contact with their family members, and make sure that they're all right, give them help where they need help, and get them back to their families. And we're pursuing the same kind of procedures here.

But again, as time has gone on and as we have still not had any information that gives us an idea of his whereabouts or his welfare, we are continuing to reach out and reach out more broadly. And that's appropriate and we're going to keep doing so and we're going to keep pressing the Iranian Government for answers as well.

Question: One last thing, if I may.

Mr. Casey: Sure.

Question: I know it's difficult for you to comment on this, but Belfield seems to think this is all about him, this is all part of some scheme, whether official or not, to tempt him out of the country because, obviously, he's a wanted fugitive here. Do you have any comment on that, or with this in light of this? Are you concerned that the Iranians will think that Mr. Levinson was in any respect working for U.S. authorities?

Mr. Casey: Well, again, Mr. Levinson was in Iran on private business. He had no business there that was on behalf of the U.S. Government. I'm not sure about what Mr. Belfield's latest statements are, but this is about Mr. Levinson and this is about finding Mr. Levinson and bringing him home safely and quickly to his family, which is where he belongs.

Tom Casey's right, this is about finding Mr. Levinson.

But I think Mr. Belfield knows a whole lot more about how Bob Levinson wound up being yet another "guest of the Ayatollah" than he's willing to admit.

UPDATE: Catherine Herridge of FOX News has posted an "Intelligence Briefing" here. She writes: "The question now is whether Levinson is being held against his will, essentially hostage, at a time when Iran is clearly willing to use this tactic. First it was with the British … maybe the U.S. is next?"

Actually, Bob Levinson would have been taken into custody around March 8; the British sailors and marines weren't captured until March 23. Regardless, a pattern seems to be emerging.

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

Posted by Rodger on April 25, 2007 at 06:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Book title of the year


Over at HughHewitt.com, Dean Barnett has a funny post about NotHillary's "major foreign policy address" on Monday.

To swipe a phrase from the speech, "whether it’s global terrorism or pandemic disease, dramatic climate change or the proliferation of weapons of mass annihilation," you can bet your bottom Susan B. Anthony  dollar that Mr. Obama will be there to opine in utterly trivial and predictable fashion.

And, of course, the indefatigable Mr. Barnett will be waiting to mock him.

Even more amusing, however, is the ersatz book cover (above) that accompanies the post—with perhaps the best title for a political broadside since Hugh Hewitt's own If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat.

Anyway, have a look.

NOTE: Props to my old friend Dr. Stephen R. Maloney for the title idea.

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

Posted by Rodger on April 25, 2007 at 02:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


Free Bobby: the petition


I've set up an online petition to President Ahmadinejad asking for the release of Bob Levinson:

We the undersigned call upon you to acknowledge the Islamic Republic of Iran's unjust and illegal detention of U.S. citizen Robert A. Levinson, who disappeared from his hotel room on the island of Kish on or about March 8, 2007, and has not been heard from since.

Numerous reports in the Iranian and Western media attest to the fact of Mr. Levinson's detention, without charge, by Iranian authorities. Yet the government of the Islamic Republic has refused to acknowledge his detention or even the fact of his presence in the country.

We ask that Iran inform the U.S. State Department immediately of Mr. Levinson's whereabouts and the state of his well-being and make prompt arrangements for his return to his family in the United States.

I tried to find one elsewhere on the Web, but since I couldn't, I decided to roll my own.

You can sign it here.

I strongly encourage you to do so—and to ask all your friends to do likewise.

Who knows? Maybe  President Ahmadinejad will respond to the pleas of his fellow bloggers. Stranger things have happened.

Posted by Rodger on April 24, 2007 at 03:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


The man who knew too much?


Joe Trento over at storiesthatmatter.org (aka the National Security News Service) has an update on his earlier piece about Bob Levinson—of the long, shaggy-dog sort.

Under the headline "Trento's Column: Levinson Had Damaging Information on Iranian Leadership" he spins a 3,000-word tale of intrigue that begins: "Iran is dissembling" (Now there's a shock.) "Despite official denials, the government there has had former FBI agent Robert Levinson under their control since March 8." (Another big shock.)

Trento continues:

The semantic game they are playing has to do with who in Iran is holding Levinson. New information from the last man known to meet with Levinson may demonstrate that the Iranians may have a very good reason for not owning up to be holding Levinson. It seems the former FBI agent in their custody may have brought highly embarrassing allegations of wrongdoing about at least one top-tier former Iranian leader.

But if you're looking for the "highly embarrassing allegations of wrongdoing," you won't find them in Trento's story. You won't find the name of the "top-tier former Iranian leader" either, since Trento's National Security News Service "is not releasing it at this time." (Though I suppose one might hazard an educated guess.)

The sole source of Trento's story would seems to be Islamist assassin Dawud Salahuddin (aka David Belfield), who strikes me as a less-than-entirely-credible witness. Salahuddin, moreover, seems to discount the idea that Levinson really had much by way of damaging information. According to Trento, "Salahuddin was not impressed with what Levinson was trying to sell."


I don't think there ever was any material. Though Levinson knew some general information and he knows the language  so it’s easy for him to make something appear big when it’s only him talking and his hands are empty. As I said earlier, even the cigarette smuggling conversation was smoke, no meat and potatoes. And if they think I would get booted out of here, again they were off base and out of context.

What makes Trento think Levinson had some sort of "embarrassing financial information" that caused the mullahcracy to want to put him in the deep freeze is never quite made clear. So, while we get more a few more tantalizing details of the meeting (or at least as Salahuddin tells it), there's very little to suggest (1) what prompted Bob Levinson to want to meet with Salahuddin or (2) what (beyond capturing an American bargaining chip to trade for some errant Revolutionary Guards) Iran hoped to accomplish in detaining Bob Levinson.

As with all the recent accounts of Levinson's purported meeting with Salahuddin, we know only one side of the story, Salahuddin's. And despite Trento's attempt to paint Salahuddin as a "reformed" terrorist and assassin (as well as a possible Western intelligence asset), I see no reason not to believe that he was and is a very dangerous member of Iran's security apparatus. I think it's likely he lured Bob Levinson into Iranian custody just as he lured to Ali Akbar Tabatabai to his front door and sudden death.

So read Joe Trento's story by all means. But don't expect it to shed much light on the mysteries surrounding Bob Levinson's disappearance.

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

Posted by Rodger on April 23, 2007 at 11:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Free Bobby!


Bobby Levinson, that is.

Despite the mullahcracy's official stonewalling, more reports of Levinson's detention keep surfacing.

From Sunday's Times of London:

A former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran last month is being held by Revolutionary Guards in a “safe house” in Tajrish, northern Tehran, according to a source within the guard, writes Uzi Mahnaimi.

They want to swap Robert Levinson, 59, a private investigator from Florida, for Ali Reza Asgari, an Iranian general who vanished in mysterious circumstances in Turkey in February.

Levinson, who is said to be unwell, has apparently been interrogated by guards who intend to broadcast his testimony on television once Tehran acknowledges that it is holding him.

He disappeared on March 11 while on the island of Kish, an Iranian free trade zone where a visa is not required.

The item appears at the end of a longer piece by Marie Colvin titled "Cracks show under Iran’s strongman," which gives valuable (if troubling) insight into the current weirdness in Teheran.

Mahmoud is starting to make Kim Jong Il look like a paragon of calm and rationality.

UPDATE: Reuters is reporting that an unnamed "senior State Department official" now believes what most readers of this blog have suspected since April 4—namely, that Bob Levinson is a "guest of the Ayatollah."

"In the absence of any other explanation," the official is quoted as saying "you have to start considering other possibilities and that is that certainly it is possible he is being held."

As my teenage daughter would say: Like, duh.

UPDATE: An amusing exchange from today's State Department press briefing with Sean McCormack:

Question: What's different about this latest note to Iran than the previous one? Is anything -- or it's just the date?

Mr. McCormack: No, we did --

Question: Is it pretty please this time?

Mr. McCormack: As a matter of fact, in the note we did go through and suggest to them that there have been these various news accounts out there, some of which have been printed in Iranian press about Mr. Levinson and suggested to them that they might pursue these avenues of inquiry, suggesting that he met with an individual on Kish Island that is well known to the Iranians. And there was another press account which it was said that he was taken by the Iranian security forces. Now, again I underline I can't vouch for the validity of these accounts, but certainly it does raise questions. And we have gone back to the Iranians not only with the information we had provided them before, but also asking them to look into and pursue any leads that might arise from these press accounts that have been out there.

Question: So then that's something new? You did --

Mr. McCormack: That is something new, yes.

Question: And is there any -- you think that -- why weren't they in the initial -- your initial contacts? Why is this something that's just coming in now? I mean, these stories -- at least the Iranian accounts were several weeks ago.

Mr. McCormack: Well, we thought it was reasonable given the fact that the Iranians had come back from our initial formal inquiry and said that they didn't have any information. And we thought it was reasonable to bring it to their attention that there have been these press accounts concerning the circumstances of Mr. Levinson's disappearance and that it might be useful for them to track those down.

"Is it pretty please this time?" Hmmm … I think the press pool may have tumbled on to something here. (You can watch the video here.)

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

Posted by Rodger on April 23, 2007 at 07:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


"We think they've had long enough …"


The U.S. is finally losing patience with Iran's see-no-evil schtick.

From today's State Department press briefing:

Question: New topic? Have you heard back anything from the Iranians on Mr. Levinson?

Mr. McCormack: We have not heard any formal reply to our request for a status of his welfare and whereabouts.

Question: When you made this formal -- this most recent formal request, did you give them a specific deadline at which point you wanted to hear the information or just said as soon as possible or are you putting any kind of time constraints on --

Mr. McCormack:
We didn't, but the expectation is that you have a rapid response. They have had a sufficient period of time to pulse their system, to investigate and to determine where he might be. As I said yesterday, we believe he's still in Iran so we're looking to the Iranian officials to fill us in on what they know about his whereabouts.

Question: Do you have any reason to believe that they're kind of stonewalling you or that they know and they're not telling you, or do you think that they're in good faith looking into the matter?

Mr. McCormack: At this point, we haven't heard back from them with a formal reply so I think we'll have a better idea once we hear actually back from the Iranians via the Swiss in a formal way as to where we stand.


Question: So you don't think they're (inaudible) around here, the fact that they haven't replied, that this guy has been missing and you think he's in Iran?

Mr. McCormack: We think they've had long enough to determine where Mr. Levinson is. We're looking for a formal reply.

Could it perhaps be time for a couple more Quds Brigade commanders to disappear?

Posted by Rodger on April 17, 2007 at 08:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Still "clueless" in Teheran


Teheran is sticking to its story that it knows nothing regarding Bob Levinson's whereabouts:

Iran on Tuesday denied it was holding a former FBI agent reported by the United States to have disappeared on the southern island of Kish, saying it had no information on his whereabouts.

Washington has said that Robert Levinson, who according to unconfirmed US reports was making a documentary, disappeared after travelling to the Gulf resort island in March.

"They (the United States) claim that someone entered Kish. Iranian and US officials are investigating and following up this issue," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.

"Both sides are trying to obtain additional information. There was no arrest," he said.

Iran has never confirmed that the missing US citizen even entered its territory although US officials have repeatedly said he had visited the Islamic republic.

Maybe another carrier group in the Gulf would help refresh their memories.

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

Posted by Rodger on April 17, 2007 at 09:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)