Latest World News

VOA Interview: Family of American Missing in Iran Discloses FBI Ad Campaign


The family of retired American FBI agent Robert “Bob” Levinson, who disappeared in Iran after being abducted in 2007, says U.S. authorities are trying to reinvigorate interest in a reward for information leading to his return home.

Levinson disappeared on March 9, 2007, at age 58 while visiting Iran’s Kish Island as a private investigator. He had retired in 1998 from a 22-year career with the FBI.

U.S. officials and family members said in March 2020 they concluded that Levinson had died in Iranian custody at some point in the preceding years.

Iranian officials have denied responsibility for Levinson’s abduction and asserted that he left Iran many years ago.

In a statement this month marking 16 years since Levinson disappeared, FBI Director Christopher Wray said, “We remain as committed as ever to bringing him home.”

Since 2015, the FBI has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information “leading directly to the location, recovery and return” of Levinson.

The State Department also has offered a reward of up to $20 million for similar information since 2019.

In a March 9 press briefing, then-State Department spokesman Ned Price said Iranian authorities had yet to account for Levinson’s fate.

“We once again call on them to do so,” he said.

Two Iranian intelligence agents whom the U.S. has accused of direct responsibility for Levinson’s abduction and probable death were sanctioned in December 2020 by the Trump administration. So far, Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai are the only Iranians to be sanctioned by the United States in connection with the case.

Levinson’s daughter, Sarah Moriarty, discussed the U.S. rewards and sanctions related to her father in a March 16 interview for VOA’s Flashpoint Iran podcast.

In response to a VOA request for comment about Moriarty’s remarks on the FBI reward, the agency said in a Thursday email that it is “currently running social media advertisements in various countries seeking information” regarding Levinson.

“The FBI uses various methods, including public social media ads, to reach a specific audience and gather information from the public and sources. The FBI obtains some of the best information to combat threats we face through information provided by the public,” the agency wrote.

The following transcript of Moriarty’s interview has been edited for length and clarity.

VOA: What is your assessment of how the Biden administration has been working on Bob’s case in recent weeks and months?

Sarah Moriarty, daughter of Robert Levinson: I think they raise my father’s case in discussions through intermediaries. I think the Iranian regime just refuses to acknowledge anything. They continue to say that he’s not in their country. But all evidence points to the fact that he was last seen on Kish Island and his passport never showed up anywhere else. So, the Iranian regime is responsible for giving us those answers. And the State Department, from my understanding, keeps trying to push. But they get nothing. It’s cruel.

VOA: The U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, was in Qatar this month for a security forum, and he said that resolving hostage cases is a team sport that requires everyone to get involved. Do you have any sense of what kind of a team is working on Bob’s case?

Moriarty: I’ve met Roger personally several times now. I think he’s a great person, and I really believe that he is doing everything that he can. I think that a lot of it sits with the FBI, and they’re trying to reinvigorate interest in the reward because of the unrest in Iran right now. Maybe somebody will want to come forward to help us, or will want to come forward because it is a life-changing amount of money.

I’m not sure exactly what is happening on the ground. I have to be honest — with my dad, I don’t think there’s a lot of movement. We’re no closer to finding him or getting any answers than we were 16 years ago.

FILE – Sarah Moriarty, the daughter of Robert Levinson, a U.S. hostage in Iran, listens during a news conference in Washington, Dec. 3, 2019.

VOA: You mentioned that there is some effort to reinvigorate the monetary rewards for information leading to resolving your dad’s case. What does that reinvigoration involve?

Moriarty: I believe that they’re going to be doing some sort of advertising campaign in the region to make people aware of the reward. But I also know, from my interactions for the past 16 years, that that is not necessarily the motivation for the Iranian people. And so I just beg someone out there to help us and understand us from a family perspective. My father meant the world to me, and to all of my family. We need him home. We need justice for him. We need answers.

VOA: One step that the Trump administration took was to sanction some Iranian individuals who were deemed responsible for his disappearance. Is there any sign that these sanctions have had some effect, and do you want to see more of them?

Moriarty: I would love to see more sanctions specific to my father’s hostage-taking. I know that it’s difficult. But I think with these sanctions, the U.S. government should be not just announcing them, but finding ways to enforce them, partnering with other countries that are facing the same issues, helping to make more transparency around who is being sanctioned and what for, and also focusing those sanctions directly on this hostage-taking and wrongful detention of Americans.

I’d like to see sanctions amplified, and I’d like to see the Iranian regime stop doing this. They took my father off the face of the Earth, never to be seen from or heard from again, and gave him absolutely no human rights whatsoever. And my family will never be whole again. So, I would like to see justice for my father. I would like the Iranian regime to own up to what they did to my father. And I would like the U.S. government to hold them accountable for it, and to deter them from doing this type of thing to others.

Source: Voa News