Christine Levinson said she “never could have imagined” she would still be waiting for the return of her husband nearly a decade after he disappeared off Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007.
“I thought it would be a matter of days, and now it’s been nine years,” she told ABC News Tuesday. “Some of my children call me at midnight or later, crying, because they can’t stop thinking about Bob. They don’t know what to do. [They call] more so now, nine years later, in some cases than they did before.”
For years the U.S. government maintained that Levinson was working as a private investigator when he was taken hostage, but then in late 2013 the Levinson family acknowledged he was actually working as a freelance “spy” for a rogue CIA operation. Though an Iranian press report days after his disappearance indicated he was being held by Iranian authorities, the Iranian government has since long-denied holding Levinson or even knowing where he is -- the latter claim doubted by some U.S. officials and Levinson’s family.
The last best chance to get Levinson home, the family says, flew by in January when the U.S. government traded seven Iranian prisoners for five Americans held in Iran -- a deal that did not include freedom for Robert Levinson.
Still, Secretary of State John Kerry said at the time that Levinson was “very, very much” a part of the larger negotiation and said that the Iranians “have agreed to continue to help us try to find the whereabouts and whatever may or may not have happened to Bob Levinson.”
“I feel horrible for the [Levinson] family,” Kerry said in January. “I know it’s very difficult for them.”
Two months later, Christine Levinson said there doesn’t appear to have been any change in Levinson’s case, and if the Iranians have provided any new information, it hasn’t gotten to her. But she’s holding out hope and said she has no choice but to take the Iranians “at their word.”
Today White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest released a statement saying Levinson "remains a top priority for the United States, and we continue to spare no effort to bring him home."
"We continue to call upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to provide assistance in his case, as agreed to as part of the prisoner exchange finalized earlier this year, so that we can bring Mr. Levinson home," Earnest said.
Ellen Glasser, former president of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, told ABC News that she is convinced Iranian officials know exactly how to find Levinson. She also blames the U.S. government in part for Levinson’s dire predicament, as it has still not officially admitted Levinson’s connection to the CIA, long after such an admission may have been useful.
“It’s like a criminal case,” said the 24-year FBI veteran, “the short period after the crime has occurred, that’s the critical time period to get somebody released. So I believe that after Bob was taken, valuable time was lost as the government, the CIA in particular, was trying to figure out how they were going to handle this. I can’t tell you how much was lost, but I think that was gross mishandling, absolutely.”
Christine Levinson said the Iranians have always asked what her husband was doing on Kish.
“I believe that affected a lot of things and still affects things. I do believe that would’ve gotten Bob home, if they would have admitted it,” she said.
And though nearly a decade has gone by, Christine said she has not given up hope that her husband is alive and will someday walk back through her door. In the meantime, she said the family is in desperate need of at least some kind of proof life -- like the video and photos the family received in 2010 and 2011.
“We have never, since the video or the pictures, received any information about what has to be done to get Bob home. We need proof of life and we need to know that he’s okay, or we need them to let us know that he’s not okay,” Christine Levinson said. “We want to know what happened to him and we want him home immediately and we want to know what has to be done to make that happen.”
Earlier this week Levinson’s children posted a video on YouTube showing the ex-FBI agent in happier times, surrounded by family and friends. Text in somber video reads, “We need more than just a promise of help from Iran. We need answers. We need Bob Levinson sent home… We will never stop. Help Bob Levinson.”