Skip to main content

Missing American Robert Levinson not 'abandoned' in Iran, John Kerry says

By Mark Morgenstein and Ashley Killough, CNN
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 2140 GMT (0540 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Secretary of State John Kerry says he's raised issue of Levinson "at the highest level"
  • Levinson disappeared almost 7 years ago on an alleged business trip
  • Multiple reports this past week suggest Levinson may have been working for the CIA
  • McCain: If the government lied about Levinson, it may be time to reassess oversight

(CNN) -- The United States hasn't abandoned Robert Levinson, the retired FBI agent described by his wife as the "longest-held American hostage," Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday.

"There hasn't been progress in the sense that we don't have him back. But to suggest that we've abandoned him or anybody ... is simply incorrect and not helpful," Kerry told ABC's "This Week." "The fact is that I have personally raised the issue, not only at the highest level that I have been involved with, but also through other intermediaries."

Levinson disappeared in Iran in March 2007 during a business trip, purportedly undertaken as a private investigator looking into cigarette smuggling. However, The Associated Press and the Washington Post reported Thursday that contrary to what the State Department and Levinson's family have said for years, Levinson actually was working for the CIA in Iran. And a source involved in the matter told CNN there's proof that Levinson worked for the CIA undercover, and under contract, while also working as a private investigator.

White House: Levinson not a government employee when he made Iran trip

Fmr. CIA officer: Levinson likely alive

That allegation doesn't sit well with Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who is on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

"What disturbs me is apparently they did not tell the truth to the Congress. The CIA did not tell the truth to the American Congress about Mr. Levinson," McCain said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "If that's true, then you put this on top of things that our intelligence committees didn't know about other activities, which have been revealed by (NSA leaker Edward) Snowden -- maybe it means that we should be examining the oversight role of Congress over our different intelligence agencies."

Iran's government repeatedly has said it is not holding Levinson and does not know his whereabouts. During a September interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was asked what he could tell Levinson's family.

"We don't know where he is, who he is," Rouhani said. "He is an American who has disappeared. We have no news of him."

McCain: CIA did not tell Congress the truth about Levinson

Kerry said the United States is still looking for proof that Levinson is alive. A "number of different channels" are "being worked aggressively," he said.

Iran's previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he was willing to help find Levinson, and the family received what then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described in 2010 as "proof of life."

In 2011, the State Department said new evidence suggested that Levinson, who has diabetes and high blood pressure, was alive and being held somewhere in southwest Asia.

This year, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN, "We have every reason to believe that he's alive and that the Iranians control his fate."

Asked whether he believes the Iranian government is responsible for Levinson's disappearance, Kerry said he thinks the government "has the ability to help us here, and we hope they will."

McCain said he was "confident we are doing everything that we can" to get Levinson released from Iran,

He added that any negotiations in Levinson's case should also include attempts to free other Americans who are believed to be in Iranian custody.

Report: Iran arrests alleged MI6 spy working for Britain in Iran

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 0732 GMT (1532 HKT)
Beneath a dusty town in northeastern Pakistan, CNN explores a cold labyrinth of hidden tunnels that was once a safe haven for militants.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2249 GMT (0649 HKT)
CNN's Ravi Agrawal asks whether Narendra Modi can harness the country's potential to finally deliver growth.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 0444 GMT (1244 HKT)
CNN's Ben Wedeman visits the Yazji family and finds out what it's like living life in the middle of conflict.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Brazil's oldest foe secures its place in the World Cup final for the first time in more than two decades after defeating the Netherlands on penalties.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Israel has deployed its Iron Dome defense system to halt incoming rockets. Here's how it works.
A high speed train leaves Beijing south railway station on August 11, 2011.
How Beijing built the world's largest high-speed rail network in less than a decade.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
CNN's Becky Anderson looks at how practicing underwater is the perfect way to prepare for spacewalks.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0917 GMT (1717 HKT)
An emotional Brazil fan reacts after being defeated by Germany 7-1 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match between Brazil and Germany at Estadio Mineirao on July 8, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Spectacular Germany outplays Brazil to reach the World Cup final with a 7-1 win over the hosts.
Even those who aren't in the line of fire feel the effects of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq since extremists attacked.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0641 GMT (1441 HKT)
CNN's Jim Bittermann takes a look at a family who found the remains of their great- grandfather 100 years later.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT