Susan Boothe was so exasperated by the cute nickname her father gave her as a child, that even now, decades later, she won’t repeat it. But since her father, Robert Levinson, disappeared in Iran eight years ago, she’d give anything to hear him say it again.
“My father has always been my absolute favorite person in the entire world,” said Boothe, one of seven children of the 1966 Herricks High School graduate. “It’s very hard. I don’t talk about it as much.”
Levinson, a former 20-plus-year FBI agent, vanished from Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007 while investigating money skimming from Iranian oil revenues for the U.S. government, according to the family’s attorney, David McGee.
“[Levinson] did intelligence-gathering for the CIA,” McGee said. “He was looking into the skimming from Iran’s oil money. There were people in Iran that were skimming the money and hiding it in the west.”
Last Monday, the FBI boosted its reward for information on Levinson’s location to $5 million, up from $1 million in 2012. In November 2013, Levinson became the longest held American in U.S. history.
“We mark eight years since Bob disappeared in Iran, and we are increasing the reward for his location and safe return to his family,” said FBI Director James B. Comey.
McGee said the two intelligence agencies tried to cover up Levinson’s CIA ties, which included spying on its nuclear program. He uncovered email correspondence from Levinson, detailing operations of his secret contract with the CIA.
“As we endure this terrible nightmare from which we cannot wake, we know that we must bear it for Bob, the most extraordinary man we have ever known,” Levinson’s wife, Christine, said in a statement on the family’s website, helpboblevinson.com.
After pressure from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the CIA admitted the relationship, McGee said.
“They were betrayed,” McGee said of the family. “It was a fact and it’s been acknowledged. The family is deeply concerned about his absence and disappearance and the failure of having him returned.”
After graduating from Herricks in 1966, Levinson attended New York University and finished at City College of New York with a degree in sociology. He joined the Drug Enforcement Administration (then the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) in 1972 before fulfilling a lifelong dream of joining the FBI six years later.
“Ever since he was 8 years old, he wanted to be an FBI agent,” Boothe said. “He loved to read books. He was very into learning and knowledge.”
Levinson relocated with Christine and Susan from Los Angeles to Levittown in 1977, when Boothe was 6 months old. Now of Orlando, FL, Boothe still struggles with her father’s absence of nearly 3,000 days.
“We still have our lifelong friend who lived across from us in the neighborhood [on Long Island],” she said. “My grandparents and all my aunts and uncles lived in surrounding towns like Wantagh and New Hyde Park, Massapequa, Babylon. We have relatives all over.”
For Boothe and her six siblings— Stephanie Curry, Sarah Moriarty, Samantha, Daniel, David and Douglas Levinson—familial bonds keep hope alive.
“We are a very close-knit, loving family as evidenced by this whole situation,” Boothe said.
She remembers dinner time in the Levinson home as a child, with NBC Nightly News echoing in the background. Her father always stressed staying up-to-date with current events. Boothe continues the tradition with her family in Orlando today.
“My mom [Christine] would cook and we’d listen to the news in the background and my dad would explain things to us,” Boothe said. “He’d ask questions. ‘Do we understand what’s going on in the world? What do you think?’”
When Levinson was home, work was an afterthought. Boothe still marvels at his ability to switch roles so completely and seamlessly.
“He’s the ultimate father, grandfather, husband,” she said. “My dad is always there for me. Always there for all of us.”
The spies depicted in movies pale in comparison to Levinson, Boothe feels, because fatherhood came first. He took his children rollerskating every Saturday in their elementary school days and tried to make household chores not only fun, but also an effective learning tool. And a drive could be very entertaining.
“He’d put music on or at the time, CDs had just come on the market,” Boothe said. “He would sing in the car and drum his hands a certain way and lift up his index finger and sing along.”
The family still reels each March 8, hoping news will come of Levinson’s location. For Boothe, she stares into the eyes of her just over a year old son Bobby, each day, hoping her dad can meet his grandson.
“The sun rises and sets on my father,” said Boothe. “It always has. It always will.”