Iranian Officials Sanctioned Over Disappearance of FBI Agent

An FBI poster showing images of former FBI agent Robert Levinson is seen at a news conference in 2012. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

(CN) — The Trump administration announced sanctions against two Iranian intelligence officials Monday, blaming them for the 2007 disappearance of retired FBI agent Bob Levinson, who is now believed to be dead.

“It is clear that not only were senior Iranian officials responsible for Mr. Levinson’s disappearance, but that they took deliberate actions to obscure their involvement through an extensive disinformation campaign,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.

The U.S. Treasury Department said in its own statement Monday that Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai, who are high-ranking officials in Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, were directly involved in Levinson’s abduction, detention and probable death.

Citing the need to protect sources and intelligence methods, U.S. officials have not disclosed how they reached this conclusion nearly 14 years after Levinson went missing. Levinson’s family and the White House said in March they believe he died in Iranian custody.

“The abduction of Mr. Levinson in Iran is an outrageous example of the Iranian regime’s willingness to commit unjust acts,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

Any assets or property held in the U.S. by Baseri and Khazai will be blocked under the new sanctions, which could also limit their business dealings or movement outside Iran.  

Levinson went missing on Kish Island off the coast of Iran while gathering intelligence on the country’s nuclear program for the CIA in March 2007. He was last seen alive about 10 years ago when he appeared in a hostage video.

“The United States will always prioritize the safety and security of the American people and will continue to aggressively pursue those who played a role in Mr. Levinson’s detention and probable death,” Mnuchin added on Monday.

In the March announcement, Levinson’s family said U.S. intelligence provided information that concluded the agent “may have passed some time ago.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the case is personal because Levinson served as a special agent for 22 years and “will always be a part of the FBI family.”

“The government of Iran pledged to provide assistance in bringing Bob Levinson home, but it has never followed through. The truth is that Iranian intelligence officers —with the approval of senior Iranian officials — were involved in Bob’s abduction and detention,” Wray said in a statement Monday.

He added, “We will never waver from our commitment to find out more about Bob’s long captivity, to give the Levinson family the answers they deserve, and to finally bring Bob home.”

The Justice Department and State Department have jointly offered $25 million in exchange for information that could lead to Levinson’s discovery and return to the U.S.

The White House said the U.S. will “relentlessly pursue all others involved as the investigation continues.” McEnany called on Iran to answer questions related to Levinson’s disappearance in future talks.

“No family should ever endure the pain the Levinson family has for nearly 14 years,” the press secretary said.

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