Others held in Iran have returned home. Not her husband.
December 12, 2013 3:04 PM   Subscribe

In March 2007, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson flew to Kish Island, an Iranian resort awash with tourists, smugglers and organized crime figures. Days later, after an arranged meeting with an admitted killer, he checked out of his hotel, slipped into a taxi and vanished. For years, the U.S. has publicly described him as a private citizen who traveled to the tiny Persian Gulf island on private business. But that was just a cover story. An Associated Press investigation reveals that Levinson was working for the CIA. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts — with no authority to run spy operations — paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world's darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S.

Previously, and explanation of why the AP published the story now.
posted by dsfan (19 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say this is a pretty great feather in the cap of all the people on the "US intelligence services are out of control of their instrument" people.

There's a basic demonstration of a "no one can tell us what to do, we MAKE the rules where we go" attitude here. With a side of some weird acceptable losses thought process that makes me think of a 13 year old kid playing starcraft and going "Well i mean, i'll probably lose a couple units scouting the base but w/e that's just two more off my unit cap i can build at the barracks!"

He was the only one who didn't know he was disposable. This is like the story line of the first in the trilogy of a new jason bourne movie series or something. Just, what?

I'm kinda reminded of that comment in another recent thread about the intelligence services attracting the people no one else wants to deal with. Somewhere in this chain, in that analyst team, someone REALLY wanted to be M from james bond.
posted by emptythought at 3:28 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

See, this is why I don't think Scandal is as crazypants as most people seem to think it is.
posted by lunasol at 3:48 PM on December 12, 2013

Interesting story, yeah "out of control" aptly describes this. Almost zero sympathy for FBI agents wanting to play spy though : Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. etc. I'd love it if we learned more about actual CIA agents being abandoned, anything that builds distrust within the agency, and maybe encourages leaks.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:11 PM on December 12, 2013

What a depressing story of incompetence.
posted by Nelson at 4:21 PM on December 12, 2013

Such abrupt dead ends were indicative of a professional intelligence operation, the U.S. concluded.

QFT: In the United States for instance, there was this very clever analyst at the CIA who would have a contact send documents to her home so the higher-ups wouldn't find out about her operation.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:21 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Probably not the intended take home, but I really want to go to this Kish Island, awash with smugglers and organized crime figures.
posted by Flashman at 4:52 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Little island just off the coast of Iran, zooming into the port there are no sailboats (a reasonable sign of a civil society, and I like sailboats)

You really really REALLY do not want to go to Kish.
posted by sammyo at 6:05 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Note to (wanabe) spies: If you think it's like a hollywood movie, watch a few other genres, say vampire movies. Vampire movies are just as realistic as spy movies.

(Exception: Spies Like Us is actually a legitimate documentary, Chevy Chase is the man Bond was modeled after)
posted by sammyo at 6:22 PM on December 12, 2013

Chevy Chase has always struck me as the man that Chevy Chase wishes he were modeled after.
posted by Etrigan at 8:04 PM on December 12, 2013

Kish Island sounds like a Gulf version of Macau.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 8:05 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

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

Odd that someone as experienced as Levinson didn't see that the plausible deniability trap was set.
posted by grounded at 8:41 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm amazed at how productive he was without having support teams or run-ins like this before. His getting 20 valuable items a month is amazing. I have to think if it had been Iran, they would have used him somehow...but you know it's bad when the best case scenario is that Iran has him.
posted by whatgorilla at 9:01 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sucks to be this guy, but I figure as long as you're willing to work in field intelligence positions for some of the world's biggest and most corrupt intelligence services, backed by a government that is rapidly becoming (if not already become) completely devoid of any moral compass whatsoever...well, you're already sleeping with the enemy, and it isn't the brown guys you're going to investigate.

I'd consider my soul already sold if I were getting paychecks from the CIA or NSA, perhaps to a lesser extent from the FBI. They clearly think that no rule of law whatsoever applies to them, their government enables that mentality and the ensuing behavior, right up to the top levels, and the citizenry just kind of helplessly accepts it. What the fuck do you think is going to happen when you compromise yourself on a crime-infested island off a rogue state in the most unstable region of the world? You think Obama's gonna fly Seal Team 5 in for your scrawny ass? Or they're going to cut you loose and cut their losses?

Whether or not he was managed incompetently or even intentionally outside the scope of his organization or even the rule of law is beside the point. The fact that he was working there proved he was OK with what these organizations prove they are regularly capable and culpable of. He made his own bed.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:21 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, looks for the most part like Kish is just a low-rent Dubai. Pretty sure you'd be reasonably safe there without a US passport, and especially without an FBI pension. Heck, Vegas used to be completely mobbed up and people still flocked there.

As far as e.g. "plausible deniability", I dunno. He seems like the last sort of guy you'd want to send (alone) into a situation like this, conversational skills notwithstanding. I feel like there's maybe a Peter Principle / Dunning-Krueger thing going on here, where he felt that his ability to work people in organized crime blinded him to the dangers of doing intelligence work on someone else's turf. Careerism, by turn, blinded his self-appointed handlers. I mean, really, they have legions of guys like Raymond Allen Davis, who have experience in the region as well as situational awareness and self-protective skill sets. On another track, you have the diplomats and NOCs, all with existing networks. So why send this guy?
posted by dhartung at 11:28 PM on December 12, 2013

And fuck having to justify the reasons for publishing this. The AP doesn't need to defend their actions. If he had gone missing 1 or even 3 years ago, and there was still a proof of life question out there, yeah maybe, but this isn't that. This is year after year of the CIA trying to cover up their wrong-doing by using that same old excuse. If this guy is dead, his blood is on their hands, they are the ones who knew about this from the start and have been covering it up year after year. This needs to be exposed. The AP has clean hands.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:29 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

allkindsoftime, I don't think anyone here is saying that. The reasons for waiting had to do with the proof of life question directly and may have been (I'd need to reread it) under the family's leverage -- which is to say coming out with this earlier might have put his life in danger, and regardless of who knew or authorized what at the CIA, maintaining his innocence was still the optimal strategy for a negotiated release.
posted by dhartung at 11:33 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd consider my soul already sold if I were getting paychecks from the CIA or NSA, perhaps to a lesser extent from the FBI.

I'm pretty confident I've met more than one person working in Aid and intelligence. I think it's frigging appalling - aid orgs have enough stigma to overcome in some very desperate parts of the world - but it's definitely done by more than one country.
posted by smoke at 5:47 PM on December 13, 2013

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