The FBI today offered a $1 million reward for information leading to the rescue of former agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran on a business trip five years ago this week and is being held hostage by an unknown group.
Levinson's wife of 37 years, Christine Levinson, and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced the reward at a Washington press conference this morning. The FBI also said it would put up billboards with pictures of Levinson in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the region.
"Today we stand together to reaffirm our commitment to Bob Levinson," said Mueller. "We in the FBI will continue to do all that we can to ensure Bob's safe return, his safe return to Christine and their family, his safe return to the FBI family, and to the country that he has served so well and so diligently for over 28 years."
Christine Levinson said "there are no words to describe the nightmare that my family and I have been living every day. I never imagined that we would still be waiting for Bob to come home five years later."
Robert Levinson, a former FBI Special Agent, vanished from Kish Island, Iran, on March 9, 2007, and was thought to be dead until a "proof-of-life" video surfaced in late 2011, the first sign since his disappearance that he is still alive. In the video, posted by his family on their website, a gaunt Levinson addresses "my beautiful, my loving, my loyal wife Christine," says he is being held hostage, and warns that his diabetes medication is running out.
"I am not in very good health," says Levinson.
He does not name his captors but pleads for the United States to deal with them.
"I need the help of the United States government to answer the requests of the group that has held me for three and a half years," he says, wearing a thin shirt and sitting on the floor in front of a rock facing.
Levinson reportedly visited the resort island as a private investigator on behalf of a documentary producer. He had planned to meet with an American fugitive accused of murdering a former Iranian official and was last seen checking into a hotel arranged for the meeting. U.S. officials reported that he was not acting in any way as part of the U.S. government or its agencies.
U.S. officials presumed Mr. Levinson dead prior to the hostage video, which was sent anonymously to his family's Pakistan and Afghanistan e-mail accounts. Other than the video, the captors have made no effort to contact either the family or U.S. officials.
Iran has repeatedly denied any knowledge of his whereabouts or the identity of his captors. However the U.S. State Department, which has continued pressing Iran for relevant information, believes Iranian officials know more than they have shared. U.S. officials also think Levinson may be held in the border region of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The family posted on their website Thursday, imploring the public to "generate as much press coverage around the five year anniversary of the kidnapping" as possible. They ask individuals to utilize Facebook to spread the message of their case.
Mr. Levinson retired from the FBI ten years before his disappearance to work for a private investigation firm. He is the father of 7 children.
"We will never give up hope, " says a statement on the family's website, "and every day we pray that today will be the day that our father will be released and allowed to return to the loving arms of his family."
"We often speak of the FBI family, and though he is retired from the FBI, Bob remains a member of the FBI family to this day," said Mueller. "It is our privilege to stand with the Levinson family for as long as it takes to bring Bob home."