The family of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran nine years ago, slammed the Obama administration Monday for not informing them that their relative was not included in a prisoner exchange announced over the weekend.
“We had to learn it from the TV ourselves, and that’s very disappointing and heartbreaking,” Robert Levinson’s wife, Christine, told the Associated Press. She used stronger language in another interview, telling ABC News that she felt “extremely betrayed” by the White House.
Christine Levinson told ABC that she had tried unsucessfully to meet face-to-face with adminstration officials for the past six weeks. Hours after the prisoner exchange was announced Saturday, she said Deputy National Security Adviser Lisa Monaco called to apologize, claiming the White House had meant to inform her before the news broke, but the Iranian government had leaked the word early.
Robert Levinson disappeared from an Iranian resort on March 9, 2007, while in the country on an unauthorized mission for the CIA. It’s unclear where he is; Iranian officials have said they don’t know but Levinson’s family does not believe them.
Levinson’s son Dan told The Associated Press that it felt like “once again, he’s been left behind” and that the U.S. can’t give up on bringing his father back.
The Levinson family has expressed happiness for the families of the four American prisoners released by Iran in exchange for the U.S. pardoning or dropping charges against seven Iranians. A fifth American was also released separately.
In discussing the release, President Obama said the U.S. would continue working to find Levinson. But when asked by reporters whether Levinson was still alive, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “We have no idea.”
Levinson’s family insists he is still alive, even with health issues including diabetes, gout and high blood pressure. They last got some visual record of him in video and photos that were sent about five years ago.
“I have been held here for 3 1/2 years,” Levinson says in the video. “I am not in good health.”
“The people who are working on the case directly, they have told us there is no evidence to suggest my dad is not alive,” Dan Levinson said.
“We’re not going to give up because obviously we’re doing everything we can,” he said. “We need to make sure his country is doing the same.”
The family plans to mark Levinson’s upcoming birthday, which falls on March 10 — the day after the anniversary of his disappearance. It’s part of the way they’ve tried to cope with his absence.
“We talk about him all the time,” Christine Levinson said.
They’ve also tried to make his presence real for the three grandchildren he’s never met, teaching them a song Levinson came up with when his children were small.
“If you talk to the grandchildren, they all know how to sing the baby song,” she said.
Levinson’s family worries about what Levinson’s ordeal has done to a man who loved making friends and meeting people.
“I hope that he hasn’t lost hope,” Christine Levinson said.