FBI Director Robert Mueller has made a personal plea for the safe return of a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran five years ago. NBC's Pete Williams reports.
U.S. investigators believe the captors of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, missing since 2007, are in the border region that Iran shares with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
That detail, one of the most specific ever offered by the FBI in the long search for Levinson, emerged Tuesday as FBI Director Robert Mueller announced the offer of a $1 million reward for information that leads to Levinson’s safe return.
A 22-year veteran of the FBI, he disappeared five years ago from the resort island of Kish in Iran, after meeting a contact while working as a private investigator looking into cigarette smuggling. Very little has been learned about his whereabouts since then, despite an intensive investigation and the release of a video last fall in which he pleaded for help.
"There have been some indications that a group has him" and that they are located in the border regions of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, said James McJunkin, the FBI assistant director in charge of the Washington field office.
Over 100 current and former agents stood on the front steps of the FBI's Washington, D.C., office Tuesday in a show of solidarity with their former colleague and his family. Levinson's wife of 37 years, Christine, choked up as she discussed her ordeal.
"There are no words to describe the nightmare my family and I have been living every day. I never imagined that we would still be waiting for Bob to come home five years later," she said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Levinson case “remains a priority for the United States.”
Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
An FBI poster shows a composite image of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, right, indicating how he would look now after five years in captivity, an image, center, taken from the video released by his kidnappers, and a picture before he was kidnapped, left, displayed during a news conference.
“We welcome the assistance of our international partners in this investigation. We also call on the Government of Iran to uphold its promise of assistance and help safely return Mr. Levinson to the United States,” she said in a written statement.
The FBI is spreading the word of the reward offer through billboards, fliers, and radio announcements overseas. "Help Robert get back to his family by contacting your nearest American embassy or US consulate," the messages say, printed and broadcast in the languages of the border regions.
The billboards and fliers include photos to show how Levinson appeared in the recent video and how he might look now, with longer hair and a graying beard. They also include local telephone numbers to receive confidential tips. Information can be sent over the Internet to an FBI tips link.
"We hope that this reward will encourage anyone with information about Bob or his captors, no matter how insignificant it seems, to contact the FBI," McJunkin said.
Levinson, whose 64th birthday is March 10, is diabetic with high blood pressure, and his family is concerned for his health. Agents say they have no hard evidence to indicate where he may have been taken the day he disappeared.
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