In this week's intelligence briefing, I investigate a mystery in the Gulf — why was a former FBI agent, a specialist in narcotics and organized crime, meeting with a wanted killer?
At the state department briefing, a spokesman confirmed that the U.S. government is intensifying its efforts to locate Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, missing in Iran since March 8. Because the U.S. has no diplomatic ties with the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, state department officials have been working through the Swiss until now.
We have asked two European countries to work on Mr. Levinson's behalf — to knock on doors in Tehran to see if they can determine any information that might lead to determining Mr. Levinson's whereabouts.
Levinson worked for the FBI during the 80s until the mid 90s. According to federal law enforcement sources, he never handled intelligence or counterterrorism cases.
After he left the FBI, FOX News confirmed that Levinson was a contractor that dealt with cigarette smuggling for big tobacco companies, including BAT — British American Tobacco — based in London. In a statement, the company "categorically denied" that Levinson was in Iran on its behalf.
Levinson was last seen on the Iranian island of Kish — a location favored by tourists in the Gulf. It was at the Maryam, a luxury hotel on the island, that an American citizen and fugitive claims he met Levinson.
David Belfield, also known as Daoud Salahuddin, is a convert to Islam. He is accused of murdering a loyalist to the former shah 27 years ago, in suburban Maryland. Belfield eventually fled to Iran through Canada. In many ways, Salahuddin is the one of the first Islamic terrorists to strike here in the U.S.
A state department spokesman said the U.S. government is interested in seeing him back here, to stand trial, for a murder he allegedly committed nearly three decades ago.
The FBI has had some interest in seeing him returned back to the United States to stand trial. We don't, as far as I know, have any contact with Mr. Belfield.
Belfield is a bit of a celebrity in radical Islamic circles. A Canadian documentary team released a movie last year about him and the Maryland murder.
This month, Belfield told "The Financial Times of London" and FOX News that he did meet with Levinson at the Maryam hotel. And, that same evening, Belfield claims he was picked up by Iranian police.
When he returned the next morning, Belfield says Levinson was gone. This information, now carried in media reports, has been sent on to Iran through various intermediaries.
I can't vouch for the account that Mr. Belfield provided to “The Financial Times,” as well as others, that he met with Mr. Levinson. I can't invalidate it, but I can't confirm it for you.
According to diplomatic sources, the official line from the Iranians is that they have no information on Levinson. A state department spokesman said he finds it quite hard to believe, adding that this may be a case where one part of the Iranian government is acting without the knowledge of the other.
The question now is whether Levinson is being held against his will, essentially hostage, at a time when Iran is clearly willing to use this tactic. First it was with the British … maybe the U.S. is next?
Catherine Herridge is the Homeland Defense Correspondent for FOX News and hosts FOX News Live Saturday 12-2 p.m. ET. Since coming to FOX in 1996 as a London-based correspondent, she has since reported on the 2004 presidential elections, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Medicare fraud, prescription drug abuse and child prostitution. You can read the rest of her bio here.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.