U.S. Investigator with Type 1 Still Missing

On Saturday, January 16, Iran released four United States’ citizens formerly held in detention in a prisoner swap held after a deal was struck to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. However, the whereabouts of U.S. citizen Robert Levinson, who has Type 1 diabetes and has been imprisoned in Iran since March 2007, remain unknown; Levinson also suffers from hypertension and gout. Levinson, if alive, would currently be 67.

A retired FBI agent, Levinson has worked with the DEA primarily on thwarting Russian organized crime in New York and Florida. A report from The Guardian reveals that the first government report, after his incarceration explained that Levinson was in Iran as a private investigator investigating cigarette smuggling, and garnering intelligence for the book he was supposedly writing on Russian organized crime. In a later investigation, it was revealed that Levinson was in fact working as an unofficial consultant with the CIA under a government contract. On assignment, he uncovered sensitive information concerning Iran’s future nuclear program. Uncovered in email correspondence, Levinson explained his plan to meet a potential informant, Dawud Salahuddin, to discuss Iranian corruption and terrorism. Levinson met his contact, officially checked out of his hotel on March 8th, and is believed to have been apprehended by Iranian authorities.

In the years since his detention, Levinson’s family has received a single, 54-second video and a short series of photographs. The proof-of-life video, received in November 2011, shows Levinson had lost weight. In the video, he pleads, “I have been held here for three and a half years. I am not in very good health. I am running very quickly out of diabetes medicine… Please help me get home.”

The photographs released five months later show Levinson with a full beard wearing an orange jumpsuit and chains around his neck, and holding a series of crudely made signs. Since the photographs, his family has received no official word on Levinson, his health, or any treatment.

The video and photographs were traced and examined for potential leads by American authorities; when no clues were found it was concluded that whoever sent the video had to be professional. This led to the belief by many that he was imprisoned by a professional intelligence agency in Iran. The Iranian government adamantly expresses that they do not know the location of Levinson, but they are willing to work with U.S. authorities in the search.

The video and photographs show that at one time Levinson was receiving at least minimum medication to survive, which must have included the insulin. As anyone with Type 1 can attest, there is a lot more needed for proper treatment than just insulin, however. The video shows he is thinner, which could be attributed to lack of adequate insulin treatment, but could also be the result of many other physical stressors of being held in captivity. If Levinson is receiving adequate treatment to stay alive, but not to stay well, he could be enduring significant complications and physical discomfort because of his Type 1 diabetes.

It has been four years since any word has been heard from Levinson or his captors. One can only hope that this new period of openness between Iran and the U.S. will lead to his release, or at least a final determination of his fate.

In March 2015, the FBI raised its reward for information leading to Levinson’s return home; tipsters can now receive up to $5 million for useful information that leads to his safe return. Levinson’s family also maintains a website asking for information on his whereabouts. You can go to or for more information.

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Courtney Major currently attends Emerson College where she majors in Writing, Literature, and Publishing with a minor in Marketing Communications.

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