In a world of seemingly random massacres in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, Calif.; Islamic State beheadings; and an erratic potentate in a nuclear-armed North Korea, we like to think that the CIA, the FBI and the other 14 agencies charged with gathering intelligence are doing their damnedest to keep us safe. And, for the most part, they are. But embedded within the vast U.S. intelligence complex is a bloated bureaucracy that creates turf battles and massive inefficiencies that can lead to dire and even deadly consequences. The tale of Robert Levinson — a retired Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI agent turned CIA contractor who disappeared in 2007 from a resort island in the Persian Gulf — underscores the dangers of the multi-headed bureaucratic monster called the CIA.

In January of this year, after the United States and Iran reached a deal to curb the Islamic republic’s nuclear program, the two countries swapped prisoners. Levinson was not part of the agreement. Proof that he was alive has come only twice — in a 2010 video, in which he pleaded for help from his government, and in 2011 photos of Levinson wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and looking ill and disheveled.

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