The family of Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing while reportedly on an unauthorized CIA mission in Iran, have slammed the U.S. government for failing to save a “good man’s life.”
“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,” his family said in a statement released Friday. “It is time for the U.S. government to step up and take care of one of its own.”
Levinson disappeared in Iran in March 2007. At the time, the State Department and his family said he was on a business trip to the Iranian resort of Kish Island.
But The Associated Press revealed on Thursday that Levinson, a veteran FBI agent with expertise on Russian criminal circles, had actually been working under contract to the CIA for an intelligence-gathering mission to Iran.
The news agency held its story for three years at the request of the government, which said the revelation would undermine an active investigation. In its report, the AP accused the CIA of being slow to respond to Levinson’s disappearance and of paying Levinson’s family $2.5 million to “pre-empt a revealing lawsuit.”
"The AP is reporting the story now because, nearly seven years after his disappearance, those efforts have repeatedly come up empty,” the agency said. “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.”
The CIA has not responded to these allegations but on Friday, White House spokesperson Jay Carney called the AP story "highly irresponsible."
"He was not a U.S. government employee when he made that trip," said Carney. "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."
The National Security Council had previously condemned the AP’s decision to go ahead with the story — but it did not contest the report.
“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,” NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. “We regret that the AP would choose to run a story that does nothing to further the cause of bringing him home.”
Levinson’s family has not had any contact with him since early 2011, when they received proof-of-life photos. But they are holding out hope and urge the government to be more active in its investigation.
“After nearly seven years, our family should not be struggling to get through each day without this wonderful, caring, man that we love so much,” they said Friday.
Levinson’s whereabouts and captors are unknown, the AP reported. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stated publicly that he has no information on the disappearance.