White House Press Secretary Jay Carney came armed to Friday’s press briefing with notes and a written statement to unequivocally deny the explosive, new Associated Press report that revealed retired FBI agent Robert Levinson was working for the Central Intelligence Agency when he disappeared nearly seven years ago in Iran.
The AP report utterly contradicted the position maintained by the U.S. government for years that Levinson was a private citizen conducting private business when he went missing on the Iranian island of Kish in March 2007.
When asked by a reporter if the Obama administration was planning to continue to “falsely say” Levinson was a private citizen on a business trip now that it “has been proven to be untrue,” Carney said:
“Bob Levinson was not a U.S. government employee when he went missing in Iran. As there is an ongoing investigation into his disappearance, I’m not going to comment further on what he may or may not have been doing in Iran.”
“I am not going to fact check every allegation made in the story you referenced, a story we believe it was highly irresponsible to publish and which we strongly urged the outlet not to publish out of concerns for Mr. Levinson’s safety,” he continued.
“If there’s somebody detained overseas and it’s published, true or false, that he is working for the CIA, I think it is dictated by logic that that very likely puts that person in greater danger,” Carney answered when asked again by the reporter about the AP allegations.
“What I can tell you is he was not a U.S. government employee when he made that trip.”
However, an AP investigation revealed that Levinson did indeed work 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.
Details of the unusual disappearance were described in documents obtained or reviewed by the AP, plus interviews over several years with dozens of current and former U.S. and foreign officials close to the search for Levinson. Nearly all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive case.
The AP 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.
Watch Carney’s exchange during the press briefing via NBC News: