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White House: American Seized In Iran Wasn't On CIA Payroll

A photo provided by Robert Levinson's family shows the retired FBI agent in captivity in April 2011.
A photo provided by Robert Levinson's family shows the retired FBI agent in captivity in April 2011.

A day after The Associated Press reported that an ex-FBI agent who went missing in Iran nearly seven years ago was on a rogue mission for the CIA, the White House has reiterated its long-held position that Robert Levinson was not on the U.S. payroll when he disappeared.

As we reported on Thursday, the last time Levinson's family saw him was in an April 2011 "proof of life" photo from his unknown abductors. He vanished in March 2007 after traveling to the Iranian island of Kish.

The AP says Levinson made the trip as he was in the process of negotiating a contract with the CIA but was nonetheless being paid to gather intelligence by "a team of analysts who had no authority to run spy operations" in what amounted to "an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules."

The U.S. government has always maintained that Levinson was a private citizen when he traveled to Iran.

White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated Friday that, "He was not a U.S. government employee when he went missing in Iran."

"As there is an ongoing investigation into his disappearance, I am not going to comment further on what he may or may not have been doing in Iran," Carney said.

He said the U.S. government received indications in 2011 that Levinson was being held "somewhere in Southwest Asia."

"At the time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly asked the Iranian government to undertake humanitarian efforts to safely return and reunite Bob with his family — because the Iranian government had previously offered its assistance in this matter," he said.

Carney's statement follows a similar one made by Secretary of State John Kerry, who was speaking at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv on Friday:

"[With] respect to Mr. Levinson, I don't have any comment whatsoever on the condition with respect to employment or any other issue except to say to you that we have raised the issue of his whereabouts on a continuous basis," Kerry said. "I have personally raised it with the Iranians in the course of our discussions, and we will continue to try to seek his release and return to the United States."

Update at 5:20 p.m. ET. Levinson Was Anxious About Mission:

The New York Times reports Friday that as he waited in Geneva prior to going to Iran in early 2007, Levinson was "anxious about [his] secret mission."

"'I guess as I approach my fifty-ninth birthday on the 10th of March, and after having done quite a few other crazy things in my life,' he wrote in an email to a friend, 'I am questioning just why, at this point, with seven kids and a great wife, why would I put myself in such jeopardy.'"

"He would like some assurance, he added, that 'I'm not going to wind up someplace where I really don't want to be at this stage of my life.'"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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