Wednesday marks the ninth year since Bob Levinson disappeared
Ellen Glasser: U.S. failure to push publicly and hard for answers about him is outrageous
Editor’s Note: Ellen Glasser is a past president of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, an apolitical organization of more than 8,500 former and current FBI agents. The FBI has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading directly to Robert Levinson’s safe location, recovery, and return. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Theodore Roosevelt once said: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” These are powerful words that apply to leadership in dangerous times. In negotiating with the enemy state of Iran, our nation’s leaders did the “next best thing” by giving away much and getting little in return. But by failing to impose a condition for Robert “Bob” Levinson’s release as part of recent diplomatic efforts, they did the “worst thing.” This is a failure of American will at the highest level.
Wednesday marks the ninth year since Bob Levinson, described last year by the FBI as one of the longest-held American civilian hostages in history, disappeared. Every citizen in America should know Bob’s name and understand the urgency of his plight. He is a retired FBI agent, a lifelong public servant, and a family man, but, above all, he is an American citizen. He belongs to all of us. In March 2007, he was working on Iran’s Kish Island when he was taken, and he was reported by state-sanctioned Iranian media to be in the custody of Iranian security forces. Since that time, the FBI has worked tirelessly to locate him and bring him home.
Over the last year, our government has engaged in head-scratching diplomatic negotiations with Iran, and many of the key pieces of the deal fell into place recently. On January 16, we secured the release of American citizens who were unjustly detained there. But in exchange, we released several Iranians who had been accused of violating U.S. sanctions. On the same day, we wired $1.7 billion to Iran to settle a financial dispute. We had already approved a tenuous nuclear deal. We opened the door for the lifting of trade sanctions. These concessions were all big strategic and economic wins for Iran.
With this diplomacy, the failure to push publicly and hard for answers about Bob was nothing short of outrageous. A rare opportunity was squandered when we had the most possible leverage to bring him home. From what we know, it appears that no new pressure was exerted on Iran to produce information on his status or whereabouts. Given their record, there should be no doubt that Iranian leaders have this information, but are unwilling to share it. This deal reflects a decision that put political legacy over core American values.
On a personal level, Bob’s family says it was not forewarned when the other captives were released. As the media began to report that one American citizen had been left behind, statements from the White House gave the tinny appearance of deflection and spin, not sincerity. Bob’s family – an American family – deserves better.
Is this really the best that the United States can do? Nine years without answers is unacceptable. Assurances from the White House and State Department are not enough. Polite requests to Iran for help are not enough. Good intentions are not the same as a successful outcome. It is time for Americans to demand more for this fellow citizen. This means contacting a congressman and/or the White House and demanding that our government redirect the diplomatic agenda with Iran. It is time to demand that Bob’s release is a condition to any deals. And it is time to demonstrate the strength of American will and a determination to do the right thing.