There is a strong suspicion that Levenson may be imprisoned somewhere in Iran, and there is a precedent.
The disappearance of former FBI special agent Bob Levenson in Iran in March 2007 is a continuing obstacle to any future improvement in relations with Tehran. So who is he?
Having spent his career battling organized crime, Levenson worked as a private detective in his retirement, taking advantage of his fluency in Russian and his knowledge of the Moscow mob.
Based in Miami, Levenson traveled to Iran to investigate cigarette smuggling and, after meeting an Iranian contact, checked out of his hotel, never to be seen again.His contact, a shady businessman and fugitive from a murder warrant issued in Maryland, claims that Levenson may have been arrested by the secret police.
However, the Iranian authorities continue to deny all knowledge of Levenson, even though there is no evidence that he ever left the country. No airline has carried him, and his passport has not shown up anywhere.
There is a strong suspicion that Levenson, who never worked in the FBI’s counter-intelligence division, may be imprisoned somewhere in Iran, and there is a precedent.
A year before Levenson’s disappearance a British couple and their Australian skipper were seized on their yacht in the Arabian Gulf and then detained in a prison in Bandar Abbas. They were accused of espionage, refused access to British diplomats, and when a consular official tried to reach them he was roughed up.
Meanwhile they were subjected to isolation, interrogation and threats. Fortunately, thanks to the bravery of Rupert Wise’s wife, the mother of two small children, her captors were brow-beaten and shamed into letting her make a call to her nanny in Bahrain who raised the alarm.
Feisty and determined, she even climbed onto a prison roof and wrote SOS in the hope of attracting the attention of a passing reconnaissance satellite.
The appalling ordeal of Linda and Rupert Wise is proof that the Republican Guard operates independently from the central government in Tehran, and that the provincial administrations, run by local governors, often act on their own initiative without consulting the military or other authorities. There have been other instances of this behaviour, including the temporary seizure of a team of Royal Marines.
During the Congressional confirmation hearing for Secretary of State Hilary Clinton she was reminded of the Levenson case, so it will doubtless be high on the agenda as the back-channels start to negotiate a new diplomatic link between Iran and the United States.
The mistake the State Department could make now it to think for one moment that the current regime in Tehran is either civilized or even capable of honouring a commitment.