The family of Robert Levinson, the retired FBI agent who vanished nearly six years ago while working in Iran, have for the first time publicly released pictures of him in captivity and are pushing U.S. officials for a greater effort to bring him home.
"There isn't any pressure on Iran to resolve this," Christine Levinson told the Associated Press. "It's been much too long."
Iran has never definitively admitted involvement in Levinson's disappearance, but there has been evidence during his captivity that suggests Tehran knows more than it has let on.}
In awith CBS News, ahead of the United Nations General Assembly, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't deny Iran had Levinson in custody and even hinted that there had been talks about a prisoner exchange.
"I remember that last year Iranian and American intelligence groups had a meeting, but I haven't followed up on it," Ahmadinejad said. "I thought they'd come to some kind of an agreement."
Levinson is a father of seven and now has two grandchildren. In March of 2007, working as a private investigator, Levinson traveled to Dubai on a case involving counterfeit cigarettes. He took a side trip to Kish Island, an Iranian free trade zone that requires no entry visa. He met with a contact there and was arrested by Iranian authorities.
In the previously unseen photographs, a gray-haired, thick-bearded Levinson is seen in an orange jumpsuit - much like the inmates at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - loosely shackled with chains and holding a series of signs.
One reads: "This is the result of 30 years working for USA."
Another: "I am here in Guantanamo do you know where it is?"
Yet another reads "4th year ... you can't or you don't want ... ?" while one simply says "Help me."
Though U.S. diplomats and the FBI have tried behind the scenes to find Levinson, of Coral Springs, Fla., and bring him home, both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have said little about his case and have applied little public pressure on Iran for more information about Levinson's whereabouts - something Christine Levinson wants to change.
"It needs to come front and center again," she told the AP. "There needs to be a lot more public outcry."
Around two years ago, the family received a 54-second video showing a gaunt Levinson pleading for help and saying he was being held by a "group." In the background, Pashtun wedding music can be heard. The Pashtun people live primarily in Pakistan and Afghanistan, just across Iran's eastern border.
Investigations into the source of both the video and photos yielded little conclusive information into Levinson's whereabouts. U.S. operatives in Afghanistan managed to trace the cellphone used to send the photographs, officials said. But the owner had nothing to do with the photos, and the trail went cold.
The video was sent from a cyber cafe in Pakistan in November 2010. Yet the sender left no clues to his identity and never used that email address again.
Whoever was behind the photos and video was no amateur, U.S. authorities concluded. They made no mistakes, leading investigators to conclude it had to be a professional intelligence service like Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
Christine Levinson has watched more public pressure result in Iran's release of a trio of hikers, a journalist named Roxana Saberi and a team of British sailors captured by the Iranian Navy. Everyone has come home except her husband.
Washington's quiet diplomacy, meanwhile, has yielded scant results beyond the Iranian president's promise to help find Levinson.
"We assumed there would be some kind of follow-up and we didn't get any," Christine Levinson said. "After those pictures came, we received nothing."
In one meeting between the two countries, the Iranians told the U.S. that they were looking for Levinson and were conducting raids in Baluchistan, a mountainous region that includes parts of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. But the U.S. ultimately concluded that the Iranians made up the story. There were no raids, and officials determined that the episode was a ruse by Iranian counterintelligence to learn how U.S. intelligence agencies work.
Christine Levinson said she has met with Obama and John Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism czar and nominee to run the CIA. She said that both men pledged to do everything they could to free her husband. Now, nearly six years after his disappearance, she thinks Iran is being let off the hook.
"He's a good man," she said. "He just doesn't deserve this."
FBI spokeswoman Jacqueline Maguire said: "As we near the sixth anniversary of his disappearance, the FBI remains committed to bringing Bob home safely to his family."