In a stunning about face, US government officials confirmed that an American Jew who vanished from Iran six years ago was involved in a rogue CIA operation.
The acknowledgement, reported by The Washington Post and The Associated Press on December 12, contradicts government statements over the years that Bob Levinson was in Iran on a simple business trip when he vanished in 2007.
A retired FBI agent, Robert Levinson had traveled to the Iranian island of Kish in March of 2007 to investigate corruption there, reports the Washington Post. The CIA denied any current relationship with Levinson during a Congressional hearing following his disappearance, however officials speaking on the condition of anonymity now say that Levinson went to Iran at the direction of CIA analysts, and was in discussion to renew his CIA contract while there.
This “rogue mission” of sorts constituted an “extraordinary breach” of CIA rules and safeguards, noted the Associated Press. The AP investigation found that the analysts directing Levinson’s movement abroad had no direct authority to run the dangerous covert activities.
Despite the repeated CIA public denials, internally the Levinson incident created a dramatic shake-up at the spy agency, with three veteran analysts losing their jobs and another seven being disciplined, reports the AP. Levinson’s family was also paid over $2.5 million by the CIA, and rules were changed to prevent this sort of unauthorized spy craft.
In the meantime Levinson remains unaccounted for. In a written statement sent to various media outlets, the missing American’s family criticized the government for failing to make Levinson’s rescue a priority, reports CNN.
“Bob is a courageous man who has dedicated himself, including risking his own life, in service to the U.S. government,” the statement read. “But the US government has failed to make saving this good man’s life the priority it should be. 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.”
A CNN source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that after six and half years in captivity–not to mention probably harsh interrogation–whoever is keeping Levinson is aware that he was working with the CIA.
The White House has since condemned the AP for running its story, with White House spokesman Jay Carney calling the decision “highly irresponsible,” according to USA Today.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, also criticized the AP in a statement saying, “Without commenting on any purported affiliation between Mr. Levinson and the U.S. government, the White House and others in the US government strongly urged the AP not to run this story out of concern for Mr. Levinson’s life.”
A Levinson family spokesman, meanwhile, told CNN that “the family is aware of the risk created by this story and are praying for his safety, as they have for six years. All they want is to bring Bob home.”