The Associated Press reports in an investigative piece that an ex-FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007 and was last seen in a "proof of life" photograph more than two years ago had been working for the CIA, despite official denials from the U.S.
Robert Levinson, who would now be 65, vanished after traveling in March 2007 to the Iranian island of Kish, described by The Associated Press as a resort "awash with tourists, smugglers and organized crime figures."
He was being paid to gather intelligence on Iran by a team of analysts who had no authority to run spy operations in what amounted to "an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules," the AP writes.
Since Levinson was in the process of negotiating a new contract with the agency, "After he vanished, CIA officials told Congress in closed hearings as well as the FBI that Levinson did not have a current relationship with the agency and downplayed its ties with him," a co-author of the AP investigative article, Adam Goldman, wrote in The Washington Post.
For years after his disappearance, the U.S. publicly described Levinson "as a private citizen who traveled to the tiny Persian Gulf island on private business."
The Two-Way's Mark Memmott wrote about Levinson two years ago, when his family publicly pleaded for his release.
Within the CIA, the revelation of the rogue operation with Levinson as point man "prompted a major internal investigation that had wide-ranging repercussions at Langley, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive case," the Post says.
The CIA "ultimately concluded it was responsible for Levinson while he was in Iran and paid $2.5 million to his wife, Christine," the Post says, quoting unnamed U.S. intelligence officials.
"Levinson's whereabouts are unknown today. Investigators can't even say for certain whether he's still alive. The last proof of life came about three years ago when the Levinson family received a video of him and later pictures of him shackled and dressed in an orange jumpsuit.
" 'I have been held here for three-and-a-half years,' he says in the video. 'I am not in good health.'
"U.S. intelligence officials concede that if he is alive, Levinson, who would now be 65, probably would have told his captors about his work for the CIA as he was likely subjected to harsh interrogation."
In response to the AP story, National Security Council spokesman Caitlin Hayden released the following statement Thursday evening:
"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," Hayden said. "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."