The Obama administration slammed the Associated Press for reporting Thursday that a former FBI agent missing in Iran was actually carrying out an unauthorized mission for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Robert Levinson, who had been described as abducted during a 2007 business trip to Iran, was working for the CIA on a mission never authorized by those in charge at the spy agency, according to the AP report.
While not confirming the CIA ties, the White House ripped the public detailing of the episode, saying it did nothing to help Levinson’s cause.
“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,” National Security Council 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. The investigation into Mr. Levinson’s disappearance continues, and we all remain committed to finding him and bringing him home safely to his family,” she added.
The CIA originally denied knowledge of Levinson’s rogue mission but acknowledged the major break in protocol by agency analysts when Congress discovered the incident.
In his daily briefing with reporters, White House press secretary Jay Carney Friday called it "highly irresponsible" for AP to publish the story but refused to "fact check" the media organization's findings.
The AP also said three employees were pushed out of the CIA and seven others were disciplined for their role in the Levinson mission. And the agency reportedly paid Levinson’s family $2.5 million to avoid a potential lawsuit.
The U.S. government has not seen any sign of Levinson in roughly three years.
Some had hoped to use momentum from a newly struck deal over Iran’s nuclear program to secure Levinson’s release. However, the administration has been careful not to link nuclear negotiations to American captives being held in Iran.
This story was originally published at 8:47 a.m. and has been updated.