|U.S. citizen missing in Iran worked for CIA: AP, Washington Post||
TEHRAN - A former FBI agent who went missing in Iran was working for the CIA there, not conducting private business as officials have previously claimed, the Associated Press and the Washington Post reported on Thursday, according to CNN.
Both the State Department and Bob Levinson’s family have long denied he was working for the U.S. government when he disappeared on a trip to Iran in 2007.
But Thursday’s reports from the Washington Post and the AP claim that Levinson had been on a CIA mission to dig up information.
A source who’s involved in the matter told CNN that there’s proof that Levinson worked for the CIA undercover and under contract while also working as a private investigator.
The AP says it decided to move forward with publishing the sensitive story after holding off several times.
“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 news agency said in its report.
“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.”
In a written statement, the family criticized the U.S. government’s response to the situation.
Officials contacted by CNN on Thursday declined to comment on any alleged ties between Levinson and the U.S. government.
“We have no comment on any purported affiliation between Mr. Levinson and the U.S. government,” CIA spokesman Chris White said. “The U.S. government remains committed to bringing him home safely to his family.”
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden criticized the AP for publishing the story and said it “does nothing to further the cause of bringing him home.”
“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,” she 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.”
After Levinson’s disappearance, the Washington Post and AP reported, CIA officials initially downplayed his ties with the agency and said he did not go to Iran for the agency.
“But months after Levinson’s abduction, e-mails and other documents surfaced that suggested he had gone to Iran at the direction of certain CIA analysts who had no authority to run operations overseas,” the Washington Post story says, citing officials. “That revelation prompted a major internal investigation that had wide-ranging repercussions at Langley.”
The AP’s story describes the situation as “one of the biggest scandals in recent CIA history.”
According to the reports, the CIA changed how analysts work with contractors as a result. And the agency paid $2.5 million to Levinson’s family, the Washington Post and AP said.
CNN’s source said that David McGee, a family friend who used to be a federal prosecutor in Florida, helped find the documents that proved Levinson’s CIA connection. Ever since Levinson’s disappearance, McGee had been trying to do whatever he could to locate his friend.
With the help of his paralegal, McGee found e-mails exchanged between a CIA analyst and Levinson. The e-mails discussed Levinson’s 2007 trip to Iran, the source said. And more importantly, they revealed the trip had a CIA connection, as the AP and the Washington Post reported.
McGee met with the CIA and negotiated a $2.5 million settlement with Levinson’s family to fend off a lawsuit, the source told CNN.
But all the while, in public statements, the U.S. government continued to deny any ties between Levinson and the CIA -- work that, according to the AP and Washington Post reports, was done off the books.
During an exclusive interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in September, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “We don’t know where he is, who he is,” Rouhani said. “He is an American who has disappeared. We have no news of him.”
In 2011, the State Department said new evidence suggested that Levinson, who has diabetes and high blood pressure, was alive and being held somewhere in southwest Asia.
At the time, Levinson’s family members told CNN’s New Day that they were worried because they haven’t had any word since they received five photos in 2011.
The pictures show Levinson in an orange jumpsuit, holding messages.
“We have not received any recent information about him,” said his wife, Christine Levinson, “although I do believe he is safe and will come home to us soon.”
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