The Associated Press recently decided to publish information tying ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson to CIA personnel. Why? There are things better left unsaid and out of print.
The material and email referenced in the AP, and many other stories since, revealed relationships between Levinson, former colleagues and friends at the CIA but, fortunately, no official status or sanctioned missions. The reason for Levinson’s presence in Iran was not a matter that the American people were interested in. The only concern for those following or engaged in this issue, was and is, Mr. Levinson’s unconditional release and the freedom of other Americans unjustly imprisoned in Iran. As such, the AP story was not the unveiling of a highly sought after “truth”.
Who benefits from this information becoming public? Certainly not Robert Levinson who, if still alive, has an even bigger bullseye on his head as a result of these media reports. But there are others.
For example, how will it affect the status of Mr. Saeed Abedini, a Michigan Christian pastor who is serving an eight-year sentence in Iran after he attempted to establish an orphanage while sharing his Christian faith? In Congressional testimony yesterday, Abedini’s wife testified she was told by relatives who had seen her husband in recent weeks that he has internal bleeding from repeated beatings by prison guards and criminal inmates.
What about the ramifications for other U.S. citizens unjustly imprisoned by rogue regimes? The linkages made in the original AP account and subsequent news reports lend credibility to Iran’s claims of espionage.
Amir Mirza Hekmati, for example, is a former Marine who was visiting his grandparents in Iran when he was taken into custody in August 2011. He was accused of spying for the CIA and sentenced to death. While his conviction was reportedly overturned, he continues to be held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison.
News accounts such as these also further legitimize the claims of other pariah states, such as Cuba and North Korea, who use false espionage charges to target and mistreat or torture Americans. It does not take much to incite these regimes. They believe in just about every conspiracy theory imaginable.
For example, Alan Gross was a USAID contractor working to lift the veil of censorship on the Jewish community in Cuba. He was called an American spy by dictator Fidel Castro and sentenced to 15 years under the spurious charge of “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state”. After four years, he remains unjustly imprisoned.
So why would AP, who claimed to have refrained from publishing this information on prior occasions, choose to do so now? After all, the only clear beneficiary of this action is the Iranian regime.
One possible explanation points to the White House.
Obama Administration officials had been skewered by Congressional leaders in both chambers and from both sides of the political spectrum for the nuclear deal with Iran and for failing to fully implement sanctions since Rouhani took over. In response, the Treasury and State Departments this week announced sanctions on 19 companies and individuals deemed to be supporting Iran’s nuclear and missile programs or seeking to evade U.S. sanctions targeting the regime and its threatening activities.
This triggered huffing and puffing from Iranian regime officials. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi reportedly told the Fars news agency today that the action by the U.S. Treasury “is against the spirit of the Geneva deal.”
The Obama Administration could not allow enforcement of U.S. laws to interfere with its rapprochement with Iran or jeopardize the Geneva agreement it has touted as a seminal accomplishment. But, could it have given a nod to AP to release the Levinson story as a means of pacifying Iran? Plausible.
Whatever the background in this instance, it is time some in the media acted more responsibly when deciding whether to publish information that could not only undermine U.S. national security but could threaten American lives.