WASHINGTON -- Two years after a hostage video and photographs of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson raised the possibility that the missing American was being held by terrorists, U.S. officials now see the government of Iran behind the images, intelligence officials told The Associated Press.
Levinson, a private investigator, disappeared in 2007 on the Iranian island of Kish. Iran has repeatedly denied knowing anything about his disappearance, and disturbing video and photos that his family received in late 2010 and early 2011 seemed to give credence to the idea.
The extraordinary photos -- showing Levinson's hair wild and gray, his beard long and unkempt -- are being seen for the first time publicly after the family provided copies to the AP.
In response to Iran's repeated denials, and amid secret conversations with Iran's government, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in March 2011 that Levinson was being held somewhere in South Asia. The implication was that he might be in the hands of a terrorist or criminal organization somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
The statement was a goodwill gesture to Iran, one the United States hoped would prod Tehran to help bring him home. But nothing happened.
Two years later, the consensus now among U.S. officials involved in the case is that, despite years of denials, Iran's intelligence service was almost certainly behind a 54-second video and five photographs of Levinson that were emailed anonymously to his family.