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FBI offers $1 million for leads leading to safe return of missing retired agent

From Scott Spoerry, CNN
updated 5:41 PM EST, Tue March 6, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Retired FBI Special Agent Robert Levinson vanished in 2007
  • He was working as a private investigator
  • He disappeared from a resort area in Iran
  • The FBI is offering $1 million for information leading to Levinson's safe return

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI offered a $1 million reward Tuesday for information leading to the safe return of former Special Agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in 2007 from Kish Island, a resort area in Iran.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters in Washington, "We often speak of the FBI family. Though he is retired from the FBI, Bob remains a member of the FBI family to this day...and his family is our family. Like all families, we stand together in good times and in times of adversity. Today, we stand together to re-affirm our commitment to Bob Levinson. We in the FBI will continue to do all that we can to ensure Bob's safe return."

Levinson, who became a private investigator after retiring from the FBI, was working on a cigarette smuggling case when he disappeared while on a business trip in Iran on March 8, 2007, five years ago this week.

In March 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. government had received indications that Levinson was being held by a group in a region that includes the border areas of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. At the time, the Iranian government said it would make inquiries on Levinson's whereabouts, but so far Iran has not admitted making any progress.

As of now, the FBI says it does not know what group is holding Levinson, what the group's demands might be or even a reason for his capture, something that FBI Assistant Director James McJunkin acknowledged by saying, "Personally, it's been very frustrating."

Whoever his captors are, in 2010 they sent a "proof of life" videotape and photographs of Levinson to his family.

In the video, he asked the U.S. government for help: "Please help me get home," said a gaunt-looking Levinson on the tape, citing his 33 years of service in the FBI as a reason for that help. The photographs showed him with a large beard.

Levinson suffers from diabetes and appears to have lost 50 to 60 pounds since his capture. He will turn 64 on March 10. In addition to his wife of 37 years, Levinson has seven children and two grandchildren.

The videotape was not publicly released until December 2011. Assistant Director McJunkin said the tape was withheld so that the U.S. government could use it to follow every possible lead in the case.

McJunkin acknowledged that the reward was a large one, and said that the FBI would be publicizing the $1 million reward in the region where Levinson was believed to be held, using billboards, radio announcements and handbills.

The FBI has had success in the past offering large awards, and McJunkin said, "We are committed to bringing Bob home safely to his family. We hope this reward will encourage anyone with information, no matter how insignificant they may think it is, to come forward. It may be the clue that we need to locate Bob." A telephone tip line will be provided to listeners and viewers in that region so that they can confidentially provide information.

His wife Christine, holding back tears at a news conference Tuesday morning but backed up by a large group of FBI agents and staff, expressed her appreciation for support from around the world, saying that she hoped her family's Internet website (www.helpboblevinson.com) would soon be able to post the words, "Thank you everyone, Bob is home."

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