The White House on Friday decried an Associated Press story that says a Florida man was a contractor for the CIA on a rogue mission went he went missing in Iran -- though it refused to talk about any CIA ties.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Robert Levinson -- the Florida man who went missing off Kish Island in Iran in 2007 -- "was not a U.S. government employee" when he went missing -- but Carney wouldn't say whether was a contract employee. In earlier statements, the White House had said Levinson, a retired FBI agent, was on private business when he was in Iran.
Carney said he couldn't say much about Levinson because of an ongoing investigation, but he criticized the Associated Press for running the story, which it had been working on since 2010. Carney said the White House believes it was "highly irresponsible to publish" the story and that it had urged AP not to do so, "out of concerns for Mr. Levinson's safety."
The AP said it found "in an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts - with no authority to run spy operations - paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world's darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S."
Carney insisted Levinson's return "remains a top priority of the U.S. government. And he called it "dictated by logic" that saying that someone detained overseas was working for the CIA, "very likely puts that person in greater danger."
AP's Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said publishing the story was a "difficult decision." But she said the story reveals "serious mistakes and improper actions" by the CIA and that "publishing articles that help the public hold their government to account is part of what journalism is for."
Levinson's family, which operates a blog, helpboblevinson.com, issued a statement that took issue with the government, not the news agency.
"The U.S. government has failed to make saving this good man’s life the priority it should be," the statement said. "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."