Ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson became a private investigator. He also had another life — a consultant for the C.I.A. In 2007, Levinson, then 59, disappeared on Kish Island, in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran. He has been missing ever since. Barry Meier, a veteran New York Times reporter, has written a compelling book on the case titled: Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran.
The following is an excerpt.
November 13, 2010, Gulf Breeze, Florida
By Barry Meier
Rain splattered against the windshield of her silver- gray BMW as Sonya Dobbs pulled up to a security gate blocking the street. It wasn’t much of a gate, at least by Florida standards, just a long, rolling fence stretching across a road. She punched a code into the gate’s keypad.
After two unsuccessful tries, she used her cell phone to call her boss, David McGee, who opened the gate from inside his house. It slid back and Sonya drove through, a laptop resting on the passenger seat.
Sonya’s Saturday night had started very differently.
She had planned to spend it sorting through photographs. Sonya worked as Dave’s para legal at a large law firm called Beggs & Lane located in Pensacola, a city at the western end of Florida’s Panhandle, the narrow, two- hundred- mile- long coastal strip tucked between the Gulf of Mexico and the states of Alabama and Georgia.
Sonya wanted to carve out a second career as a photographer, and she had been on a chase boat the previous day in Pensacola Bay, snapping pictures of a new oceangoing tugboat, christened Freedom, as it went through test maneuvers. The photos showed the big black and gray tug slicing through the foamy water under a blue sky filled with white, puffy clouds. A maker of some of the boat’s parts had ordered pictures, and Sonya was happily spending her Saturday evening playing with different ways to crop the images.
Then the phone rang, and she heard a familiar voice on the other end of the line. Over the past three years, she had spoken to Ira Silverman hundreds of times, if she had to guess. Most days, the retired televi sion newsman phoned Dave at least once.
Their conversations were always about a mutual friend, Robert Levinson, a former agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation turned private investigator. Sonya had never met him, though she felt as if she had.
Bob disappeared in 2007 while on a trip to Iran. Dave and Ira, who had both known Bob for years, were trying to help his desperate family find him. Months after the investigator went missing, Dave convinced Bob’s wife, Christine, to ship his work files to Beggs & Lane. Sonya had read through them and or ga nized the reports. She was a natural snoop, at ease with computers. Before long, she had tracked down Bob’s email accounts and figured out the passwords.
As she walked through the record of his life, she learned a secret that Dave, Ira, and Chris already knew: the explanation that U.S. government officials were giving out publicly to explain Bob’s reason for visiting Iran wasn’t true, at least not the part that really mattered.
Since the investigator’s disappearance, there had been reported sightings of him in Tehran’s Evin Prison, the notorious jail where political dissidents are tortured or killed. Some tipsters had come forward to claim that the Revolutionary Guards, the elite military force aligned with Iran’s Islamic religious leaders, were holding him at a secret detention center. His family had made public pleas for information about him, and the FBI had assigned agents to the search.
But the hunt for the missing man had gone nowhere.
Ira’s call was about an email he had gotten earlier that Saturday containing a message that read like a ransom note. He had received similar emails before and had passed them on to the FBI. But this one
wasn’t like the others. This email had a file attached to it. Ira told Sonya he couldn’t figure out how to open the attachment and was forwarding it to her to see if she could.
The email read:
This is a serious message
Until this time we have prepared a good situation for Bob and he is in good health. we announce for the last ultimatum that his life is based on and related to you You should pay 3000000$ (in cash) and release our friends: Salem Mohamad Ahmad Ghasem, Ahmad Ali Alarzagh, Ebrahim Ali Ahmad.