Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The CIA is responsible for ex-FBI agent's capture in Iran by Wayne Madsen

The CIA is responsible for ex-FBI agent's capture in Iran
by Wayne Madsen

Amid the euphoria over the release by Iran of five Iranian-American long term prisoners and ten U.S. Navy personnel briefly detained after their two patrol boats became dead in the water, drifting into sensitive Iranian waters, the family of Robert Levinson is not happy that the ex-FBI agent was not among those Americans freed by Iran. The five Iranian-Americans were exchanged for seven Iranians charged by the United States for violating sanctions imposed on Iran. Those sanctions have just been lifted as a result of Iran's compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear program.

The secret about Levinson is that he was caught up in an "off-the-books" Central Intelligence Agency operation to spy in southern Iran. Levinson was contracted by ten CIA personnel, none of whom had the authority to run clandestine agents or assets, to travel in 2007 to Iran's Kish island from Dubai. Levinson posed as a businessman retained by the American tobacco industry to investigate counterfeit American cigarettes being trafficked through Kish, an island that is a frequent destination for tourists visiting Dubai because of its more freewheeling life style.

When this editor visited Tehran in 2014, I had the opportunity to inquire about Levinson's whereabouts. I also made it clear that his release would be viewed with appreciation in the United States, something that would help bring about closer relations between the United States and Iran. However, a media blitz launched by the Israel Lobby in the United States, in which I was attacked for my presence in a conference in Iran, helped to derail my inquiries. Senator Mark Kirk, the closeted Republican homosexual from Illinois, led the charge. 

I was the only conference attendee who was invited to fly to Shiraz where I was driven to speak to an Islamic university in Fasa and a townhall meeting, presided over by a local ayatollah, in Jahrom. These cities lie at the heart of Iran's most conservative Shi'a belt. The area is akin to America's "Bible Belt" of the south. The region's conservative nature is why Lebanon's Hezbollah feels safe in training its military members at a training base in Jahrom.

I was the only American that many of the people in these towns had ever met. I preached good will by the American people to the people of Iran and my speeches were met with intense attention and warm applause. I answered some tough questions about U.S. support for the Shah, Israel's influence in the United States, and the CIA's overthrow of Prime Minister Mohamed Mossadeq. 

It is noteworthy that to win over the Iranian people on any deal that would see a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations, the goodwill of the conservative Shi'as of the south is an absolute necessity. I was glad to have contributed in a small way to that thaw. However, I do not expect any thanks from John Kerry or his  State Department.

Although the loud and arrogant Israel Lobby damaged any attempt to get a full reading on Levinson, I was able to ascertain some facts. This information was also passed to the FBI agents who visited me after my return to the States and inquired about my trip. I was shocked that they were not at all interested in any information on the fate of their fellow FBI agent, Levinson. Perhaps they already knew his fate.

Iranian sources indicated that Levinson was never held by the Iranian government. Kish island and the mountainous high desert of southern Iran is plagued by organized criminal syndicates. Although the Iranian government has tried to subdue these gangs, which are very much involved in smuggling in and out of Kish island, its efforts have not met with great success. Levinson's cover story about trying to track down smugglers of counterfeit brand name U.S. cigarettes may be what put a price on his head in the first place. The CIA agents who contracted with Levinson, three of whom were fired for running Levinson without authority, knew little about plausible cover stories. Seven other CIA agents received official reprimands in their personnel records. To send a cigarette smuggling investigator into Kish would be akin to sending an amateur narcotics smuggling investigator into Medellin.

Last photos seen of Robert Levinson. The poor English is a clue that his captors wrote the messages.

The CIA's massive error in allowing Levinson to travel with a problematic cover to Iran, resulted in the CIA paying Levinson's family $2.5 million to forestall a lawsuit that could have seen sensitive and embarrassing details of the CIA's botched operation coming to light. The CIA was also forced to change its operational policies in order to to restrict analysts, such as the ten who ran Levinson, running agents abroad.

Iran was loathe to admit to the United States that because it has little control over criminal gangs in the south, including the group Iran has been battling smuggling gangs in southern Iran, it had little information about Levinson's fate. The largest smuggling gang, the "Criminals of the Mountain" mafia, operates in the mountains overlooking Jahrom in Fars province where this editor inquired about Levinson. The mountains are also perfect hiding spots to keep hostages for ransom.

The White House and State Department, which continue to push the bogus story that Levinson was a "private citizen involved in private business in Iran" and that he "went missing during a business trip to Kish Island, Iran," actually may have come to some sort of agreement with Iran. The official cover story protects the CIA and the Obama administration from charges that they countenanced an authorized spying mission against Iran while Iran does not have to admit that Levinson ended up in the hands of brigands in the south over which Tehran has little control.

The last "proof-of-life" photograph of Levinson was received in early 2011 by his family, which includes seven children.

There may be another reason Levinson was never released. It is known that Criminals of the Mountain and other syndicates, including Baluchis and Arabs, operating in southern Iran and the Persian Gulf are used by the Saudis and Turks to conduct weapons smuggling and espionage in Iran. Levinson may have acquired intelligence about Saudi and Turkish interlocutors with Iranian criminal gangs, something that would have certainly ensured his execution. If the Turks or the Saudis paid the gang that kidnapped Levinson the requested ransom demand, the ex-FBI agent's fate would have been sealed.