Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran

Article excerpt

Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran By Barry Meier, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016, hardcover, 288p. List: $27; MEB: $20.

The case of Robert "Bob" Levinson, the CIA contractor who went missing in Iran in 2007, has long been of interest to me. Levinson and I share the same hometown of Coral Springs, FL and, living as I was in South Florida at the time of his disappearance, I was naturally inundated with news about his case.

While I was always largely sympathetic to Levinson, my feelings shifted significantly in December 2013, when the Associated Press reported that the official story about Levinson's disappearance was a sham. Far from being a businessman, the AP revealed, Levinson was in Iran on a CIA espionage mission. Suddenly Levinson was no longer an innocent hostage, but rather a captured spy.

It was with this somewhat unsympathetic attitude that I approached Missing Man. I expected Barry Meier's account of Levinson's disappearance to give credence to my distrust of the CIA and solidify Levinson as an unlucky but unsympathetic figure. The book would confirm one presumption, but shatter the other.

Meier begins his riveting account by providing an ample amount of context-Levinson does not depart for Iran until page 100. While all the material presented in the first 99 pages proves to be helpful to understanding the story, it can nonetheless tantalize a reader waiting for the "real" drama to start. That being said, fans of spy thrillers or those with an interest in espionage and the criminal underworld will find the many anecdotes contained in these opening pages to be of great interest. From my perspective, the best function of the introductory pages is the great lengths Meier takes to establish Levinson as a person: a family man, a workaholic and a patriot.

Levinson began his government career with the FDA, before working for three decades as a federal agent with the FBI. At 50, he decided to retire and work as a private contractor, where he could make more money to support his wife and seven kids. His departure from government did not go as planned, however, as he found the private cases he was hired to investigate unfulfilling compared to his intense work at the FBI.

Levinson decided he wanted back in the game and reached out to a good friend of his, Anne Jablonski, who worked for the CIA's Illicit Finance Group. He was eventually hired as a contractor to help the group dig up dirt on Iran. It was outside Levinson's comfort zone-he had spent his career largely focused on Latin America and the Soviet Union. This unfamiliarity with the Middle East would, in part, lead to his downfall. …

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