The unsettling tale of Bob Levinson, a private investigator gone missing in Iran.
New York Times reporter Meier (Pain Killer: A "Wonder" Drug's Trail of Addiction and Death, 2003, etc.) does admirable work in tying together the threads around Levinson’s 2007 disappearance, which has received sporadic coverage alongside the thorny relationship between the United States and Iran. For years, writes the author, “the explanation that U.S. government officials were giving out publicly to explain Bob’s reason for visiting Iran wasn’t true.” Levinson, a retired FBI agent with a large family, was supplementing his income as an international corporate investigator focused on product counterfeiting by marketing information to the CIA’s Illicit Finance Group. His handlers, who would deny the relationship after the disappearance, greatly valued his raw intelligence: “A ‘gold mine,’ that’s what the CIA was calling him.” Traveling to an Iranian coastal island to meet with a notorious American fugitive, Levinson’s disappearance escalated into a diplomatic morass, with the FBI reluctantly investigating the CIA’s initial obfuscation and Levinson’s grieving family and friends making their own inquiries. The prevailing assumption was that Levinson was seized by Iranian intelligence, whose “agencies believed there was no such thing as a retired FBI agent.” Throughout the book, the case takes dramatic turns, including a tense meeting between Levinson’s wife and the Iranian U.N. ambassador; the censure of his handlers, “the strongest disciplinary actions taken by the agency in decades”; and the scandal from the exposure of the agency’s role. However, Levinson remained out of reach. Meier constructs a clear narrative that still becomes convoluted, as individuals from the U.S., Europe, and Iran insert themselves and their shady motivations into the mystery. He relies heavily on written communications between Levinson, his friends and handlers, and his pursuers, which adds documentation but also slackens the pace.
A chilling real-world espionage yarn.