WASHINGTON (CN) — Bob Levinson, the longest-held captive in U.S. history and former intelligence community member, died in Iranian custody, his family and the White House said in a statement Wednesday.
“We don’t know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the family said. “If not for the cruel, heartless actions of the Iranian regime, Robert Levinson would be alive and home with us today. It has been 13 years waiting for answers.”
Levinson, a former DEA and FBI agent, disappeared March 9, 2007, while on an unauthorized mission for the CIA. U.S. investigators concluded the Iranian government abducted Levinson, catalyzing a more than $1 million lawsuit filed by his family against the country.
White House security adviser Robert O'Brien said in a statement Wednesday night that Iran "must provide a complete accounting" of what happened to Levinson.
"While the investigation is ongoing, we believe that Bob Levinson may have passed away some time ago," he added.
Alongside emotional family testimony, two Iranian experts testified at trial last December that as an intelligence community member, Levinson would have given the regime leverage in brokering protections for its nuclear program.
With Iran’s backing of Lebanese militia and their involvement in Levinson’s capture, the coordination matched a pattern seen by experts commonly in the 1980s, they said.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly ruled the family was entitled to damages from Iran earlier this month, on the anniversary of Levinson’s disappearance.
“He has been unable to see his children grow up, enjoy professional success, marry, and become parents themselves—as they have many times over. But they have not forgotten him, not by a long shot,” Kelly wrote in a 25-page opinion.
It is unclear if Levinson’s remains will be returned to his family, but their statement Wednesday indicates his body has not yet been transported to the United States—if it is to ever make the journey at all. The family’s statement demands officials around the world to continue to press for the return of those remains.
“Those who are responsible for what happened to Bob Levinson, including those in the U.S. government who for many years repeatedly left him behind, will ultimately receive justice for what they have done,” they said. “We will spend the rest of our lives making sure of this, and the Iranian regime must know we will not be going away.”
The FBI Agents Association, an advocacy group made up of more than 14,000 active and former agents, said in a statement Wednesday they extended their sympathies to Levinson’s family. Their dedication to raise awareness about Bob’s disappearance was inspiring, they wrote.
“We will not forget Bob and will support all efforts to bring to justice those responsible for this horrific crime. We continue to stand with the Levinson family during this difficult time,” they said.
The Levinson family’s statement thanks many members of the federal government, including President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The statement also thanks Representative Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and other lawmakers, “who fought for Bob Levinson in every possible way.”
“Bob Levinson was a truly remarkable individual—the best husband, father, brother, grandfather and friend anyone could ever ask for,” the Levinson family said. “He was an American hero—a true patriot and his compassion and kindness knew no bounds. We will miss his warmth, humor, and wisdom, but most of all, we will miss the deep and unconditional love he had for each one of us.”
Due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, the Levinson family will refrain from holding a memorial service until “it is safe to do so.” The date and time are yet to be announced.
David McGee, the family’s attorney, did not immediately respond to an email for comment.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.