Yellow Ribbon Project

Longest-Held U.S. Hostage in History Hits 9th Anniversary

Supporters gather during a rally for Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran nine years ago, at the Center for the Arts in Coral Springs, Fla., on March 5, 2016. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Today marked nine years since former FBI agent Bob Levinson went missing off the coast of Iran — and nine years of a Florida family pleading for information or action from the Obama administration that would bring Bob home.

Levinson, who served 28 years with the FBI and DEA, went missing off the coast of Iran in March 2007 while working as a private investigator. Levinson’s family later received images of him in captivity, though the Iranian government has maintained they don’t know who is holding him.

He is the longest-held U.S. hostage in history.

The last proof-of-life photos were received by the family in 2011. Thursday is his 68th birthday.

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dropped a hint about Levinson and basically acknowledged he was in their custody or within their grasp in a September 2012 interview with CBS. “I remember that last year Iranian and American intelligence groups had a meeting, but I haven’t followed up on it,” he said. “I thought they’d come to some kind of an agreement.”

“Nine years is an incomprehensible amount of time for him to be missing without any word of his whereabouts,” FBI Director James Comey said today. “The FBI family feels personally connected to ensuring Bob’s safe return and we are doing everything in our power to investigate all leads.”

The FBI is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to Levinson’s safe return, and maintains a web page with updates including in Farsi.

While the FBI referred to Levinson as a hostage, neither the White House nor the State Department did. State Department press secretary John Kirby simply said that “we would certainly agree with the FBI that he’s been gone too long.”

“What I’ll tell you again is we think it’s time for him to come home and we want more information about his whereabouts,” Kirby said.

In a separate statement, Secretary of State John Kerry stressed his desire “to underscore our commitment to locate Bob and bring him home.”

“For almost a decade, a beloved husband, brother, father, and grandfather has been kept from celebrating family milestones most take for granted. No one should have to endure what Mr. Levinson and his family have endured for so long,” Kerry said.

“As the president has said, and as I have told the Levinson family when I have met with them, we will never forget Bob, and we will not rest until the Levinson family is whole again.”

The Levinson family was devastated when he was not part of the post-nuclear deal prisoner swap that brought home five other Americans: Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, and Matthew Trevithick. They started the hashtag #WhatAboutBob, demanding to know why he had been left behind.

“The U.S. government in its entirety will continue all efforts to locate Bob and bring him home,” Kerry said. “The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has committed to cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Mr. Levinson, and we are holding Iran to its promise.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest declared “today the United States renews its unrelenting commitment to securing Mr. Levinson’s return.”

“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.

The Levinson family’s congressman, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), who voted against the Iran nuclear deal, recently got his resolution passed calling for Iran to cooperate in bringing his constituent home.

One of their senators, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said “more needs to be done by the Obama administration to pressure the Iranian government to provide information regarding Bob’s whereabouts.”

“It is outrageous that the Iranian government has failed to provide any information that would help bring Bob home to Florida. Iran is a police state. Very little happens on Iranian territory that the authorities are not aware of,” Rubio said. “The Obama administration missed an opportunity to make the freedom of Americans held in Iran a priority during the nuclear negotiations, and has left Bob’s case unresolved even as they have continued to make concession after concession to Tehran to bring other prisoners home.”

Rubio co-sponsored the Senate resolution calling on Iran to follow through on its repeated promises to help.

“We must bring Bob home,” he stressed.