Source: USA TODAY
The White House says it “strongly urged” the Associated Press not to run a story disclosing that Robert Levinson — a retired FBI agent missing in Iran — was investigating that country’s government as part of a rogue CIA operation.
It was “highly irresponsible,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Carney would not comment in detail on the story, but said that Levinson “was not a U.S. government employee” when he went into Iran in 2007.
The administration is still seeking Levinson’s release, Carney said.
In its story, the AP said it “first confirmed Levinson’s CIA ties in 2010 and continued reporting to uncover more details. It agreed three times to delay publishing the story because the U.S. government said it was pursuing promising leads to get him home.
“The AP is reporting the story now because, nearly seven years after his disappearance, those efforts have repeatedly come up empty. The government has not received any sign of life in nearly three years. Top U.S. officials, meanwhile, say his captors almost certainly already know about his CIA association.”
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement that, “without commenting on any purported affiliation between Mr. Levinson and the U.S. government, the White House and others in the U.S. government strongly urged the AP not to run this story out of concern for Mr. Levinson’s life.”
Said Hayden: “We regret that the AP would choose to run a story that does nothing to further the cause of bringing him home. The investigation into Mr. Levinson’s disappearance continues, and we all remain committed to finding him and bringing him home safely to his family.”
On the AP blog, Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll wrote that “publishing this article was a difficult decision.”
She added: “This story reveals serious mistakes and improper actions inside the U.S. government’s most important intelligence agency. Those actions, the investigation and consequences have all been kept secret from the public.”
The New York Times and Washington Post also published stories about Levinson’s case.
The Levinson family, in a website posting, did not comment on publication of the stories, saying instead that “Bob is a courageous man who has dedicated himself, including risking his own life, in service to the U.S. government. But the U.S. government has failed to make saving this good man’s life the priority it should be.”
The family also said:
“There are those in the U.S. government who have done their duty in their efforts to find Bob, but there are those who have not. It is time for the U.S. government to step up and take care of one of its own. After nearly 7 years, our family should not be struggling to get through each day without this wonderful, caring, man that we love so much.”
Also from the AP story:
“An Associated Press investigation reveals that Levinson was working for the CIA. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts — with no authority to run spy operations — paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world’s darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S.
“The CIA was slow to respond to Levinson’s disappearance and spent the first several months denying any involvement. When Congress eventually discovered what happened, one of the biggest scandals in recent CIA history erupted.
“Behind closed doors, three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined. The CIA paid Levinson’s family $2.5 million to pre-empt a revealing lawsuit, and the agency rewrote its rules restricting how analysts can work with outsiders.
“But even after the White House, FBI and State Department officials learned of Levinson’s CIA ties, the official story remained unchanged.”
Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.