Bob Levinson’s Death Isn’t What Made Him a Hero

The recent report of former FBI agent Robert Levinson’s death in Iranian captivity, while not the conclusion of the saga, nevertheless brings a tragic ending to the 13-year effort to see him returned safely to his family and the country he served so capably and heroically for over three decades.

For those unfamiliar with Bob’s story, he was captured by the Iranians on Kish Island in March 2007 while acting under CIA contract. For 13 years, the Iranian regime denied, obfuscated and lied about having knowledge of Bob’s whereabouts and detention. He remained in their custody throughout, suffering ill health while being subjected to harsh treatment and horrifying conditions.

Bob Levinson deserves to be remembered and honored. In an organization that prides itself on its unparalleled ability to conduct complex, difficult, and important investigations, Bob stood out as an FBI superstar. In New York, he worked organized crime cases and contributed substantially to the ultimately successful campaign to cripple the Mafia in that city. In Miami, he played a major role in the FBI’s expanded effort to investigate international drug cartels, which were importing illegal narcotics that wreaked havoc on American society.

“Bobby,” as he was generally known, was anything but one-dimensional. In my time at the FBI, he was recognized by both his peers and superiors as a highly talented agent, and had a well-deserved reputation as an all-around “good guy” worthy of affection and respect.

In a statement announcing the news of Bob’s death, the Levinson family thanked those in the US government who had worked to facilitate his release. They praised the efforts of President Trump, as well as cabinet members, directors of both the CIA and the FBI, and members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike. Yet the family also placed blame for what happened to Bob on “those in the U.S. government who for many years repeatedly left him behind.”

The Levinson family, in the same statement, recognized the dedicated “men and women of the FBI” who viewed Bob’s case as “a personal mission” over the years. “We cannot even begin to describe our gratitude,” they shared. “He will always be one of the FBI’s own.”

I know what they say is true. The personnel assigned to this case, supported by FBI leadership, gave it their best. The Society of Former Agents of the FBI never wavered in their support of the Levinsons and did everything possible to keep Bob’s story in the public spotlight. The FBI truly is a family, and that is especially evident when any member faces adversity.

Of course, the resolution of this matter was ultimately and always in the hands of the Iranian regime. Sadly, we saw them act in a deplorable manner entirely consistent with their past behavior. Their statements about Bob’s abduction and captivity were deceptive, false, and sometimes contradictory. Their repeated denials of knowledge of his whereabouts, coupled with their offers to assist in locating him, were painfully manipulative and cruel.

If any further evidence is necessary to expose the foolishness of trusting the Iranian regime, the Levinson case provides it in abundance. We asked a simple question: “Are you holding Robert Levinson — yes or no?” It was much less complex than the many questions surrounding their nuclear program, or their activities as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Yet all we got in response were lies and more lies.

Bob Levinson’s blood, spilled at the hands of the Iranian regime, has sadly been added to that of too many Americans. From the 241 US military personnel killed in the 1983 barracks bombings in Beirut, to the hundreds struck down more recently in the Middle East and Afghanistan by Iranian weapons, America has long suffered the consequences of Tehran’s malice.

While Bob will not be rejoining his loving family, this story is not yet over. The Levinsons, the FBI, and indeed the American people still demand and deserve answers. Bob’s body must be returned immediately, so that his family can find some degree of closure and mourn as is their due. We also need to know exactly what happened to Bob during his confinement, as well as the circumstances surrounding his death. Most of all, we need to identify those responsible for his abduction, captivity, abuse, and death – and vigorously work to ensure they face justice.

Bob Levinson’s story inspires reflection on the sacrifices made by those who selflessly spend their lives, mostly in anonymity, in service of their country. There is a quote carved into the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C., which reads, “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.” Nobody’s life embodies the spirit of that sentiment more than Bob Levinson’s.

Steven L. Pomerantz, former assistant director of the FBI, is director of the Homeland Security Program at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post