Seeking Robert Levinson, the C.I.A. Consultant Who Vanished

In early March, a small group of private investigators, including two former F.B.I. agents, gathered for a meal at Old Tbilisi Garden, a restaurant in Greenwich Village that specializes in Georgian food.

It was a somber occasion. Two months earlier, the United States and Iran had exchanged prisoners, including several Americans held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Another American, Robert A. Levinson, long missing in Iran and a friend of those present, was not part of the deal. Mr. Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent who became a private investigator, also had another life: as a consultant for the C.I.A.

In March 2007, Mr. Levinson, then 59, disappeared on Kish Island, in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran, while trying to recruit a fugitive American-born assassin as a C.I.A. source inside Iran. He was last seen alive in 2010 in a hostage video pleading for help and in photographs wearing a Guantánamo-style jumpsuit. The images did not disclose who was holding him. It is not known whether Mr. Levinson, who was eager to expand his role at the C.I.A. and who apparently decided on his own to go to Iran, is still alive.

The event at Old Tbilisi was held to observe the ninth anniversary of his disappearance. Former colleagues toasted him and traded stories. Mr. Levinson, like those present, had spent his career in a shadow land, one where spies, agents and private eyes persuade informants to spill secrets in exchange for money or a deal. It is a risky game that can pay off big or that can go very wrong, as Mr. Levinson’s trip to Iran did...


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