A former American FBI agent, who retired from active service about a decade ago and has been missing in Iran for the last six years, was on an unauthorized mission for the CIA, Associated Press and the Washington Post reported on Thursday, contradicting the U.S. government’s stance that the missing citizen visited Iran on private business.
Robert Levinson went missing in March 2007 while on a trip to Kish Island, an Iranian resort in the Persian Gulf, but both the State Department and Levinson’s family have long denied that Levinson was working for the U.S. government at the time of his disappearance. The revelation was held off several times in the past because the U.S. government said it was working on “promising leads” to arrange for Levinson’s return, AP said.
Levinson reportedly went to Iran as directed by CIA analysts who were not authorized to run operations overseas. His disappearance prompted a major internal investigation and several CIA officials were reprimanded, in what AP describes as “one of the biggest scandals in recent CIA history.”
Three analysts were eventually forced out of the agency, which also paid $2.5 million to Levinson’s family to avoid making the story public and also to avoid a lawsuit, the news outlets said. The information was gathered through U.S. and foreign officials, and from secret documents.
“We have no comment on any purported affiliation between Mr. Levinson and the U.S. Government,” CIA spokesman Chris White said, according to a CNN report. “The U.S. Government remains committed to bringing him home safely to his family.”
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden expressed “regret” over AP’s decision to run the story, saying it “does nothing to further the cause of bringing him home.”
There is no information about Levinson’s whereabouts, and according to the State Department’s disclosure in 2011, he was alive and was being detained in southwest Asia. In September, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had said that Iran had no information about Levinson.
“We don't know where he is, who he is,” Rouhani said in an interview with CNN on a U.S. visit. “He is an American who has disappeared. We have no news of him.”