New evidence has surfaced that former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing on a popular Iranian resort island nearly four years ago, may still be alive, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.
"We have received recent indications that Bob is being held somewhere in southwest Asia," Clinton said in a brief statement.
Clinton provided no details on how the information was obtained or where exactly Levinson might be. But her statement marks the first public claim that the U.S. has discovered evidence Levinson could still be alive since his disappearance and the Levin family said they are "tremendously encouraged" by it.
"It has been almost four years since I have seen my beloved husband Robert Levinson," Christine Levinson wrote today on the website HelpBobLevinson.com. "Our family is tremendously encouraged by the news Bob is alive but remains concerned for his safety and well being.
"Our seven children, our two grandchildren, and I await the day we will be reunited," she said.
Clinton did not give any indication who may be holding Levinson, but asked the government of Iran for help in rescuing him.
"As the Government of Iran has previously offered its assistance in this matter, we respectfully request the Iranian government to undertake humanitarian efforts to safely return and reunite Bob with his family," she said. "We would appreciate the Iranian government's efforts in this matter."
A spokesman for the FBI was similarly vague with regard to the new information.
"This is an ongoing investigation. What is important is that we work to bring Bob Levinson home safely. His family misses him dearly and we remain concerned about his health given his struggle with diabetes," the spokesman said.
The U.S. State Department has repeatedly called on Iran to help locate Levinson, but has never said they believe him to be in Iran. One U.S. official briefed on the case told ABC News today investigators do not believe he is there, despite one senator's claim and WikiLeaks documents that support the theory.
During Secretary Clinton's confirmation hearing in January 2009, Senator Bill Nelson, a current member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence, said flatly, "We think he is being held by the government of Iran in a secret prison."
The Telegraph of London newspaper reported last month on a secret US diplomatic cable, posted online public by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, that quotes an unidentified escaped prisoner who says he saw Levinson's name on a prison door in Iran.
The individual, who had been rounded up after the 2009 protests, is quoted as saying he saw the name "B. LEVINSON" on a door frame.
According to the Telegraph, the cable states, "He said that at the time he did not know who Levinson was and only after his release did he use the search engine Google to find that Levinson was a missing American citizen."
The cable says the prisoner was unable to provide current information about Levinson's wellbeing, but described the prison's terrible conditions and said it had the "smell of blood."
Levinson was last seen on March 9, 2007 on Iran's Kish Island where he traveled to work for a private investigative firm. He had left the FBI 10 years earlier. U.S. authorities say he was last seen checking into a hotel for a meeting.
For years, Iran has resisted American requests to investigate Levinson's disappearance, but they did allow his wife and son to travel to Iran in December 2007 to look into the matter. Iranian officials have said they have no evidence Levinson even entered the country.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in September 2010 he had no idea where Levinson might be.
"I think we should ask that question from the FBI," Ahmadinejad told CNN's Larry King. "How am I supposed to know? There are many individuals who come to our country and leave. He came and he left, as usual."