White House press secretary Jay Carney blasted an Associated Press report about Robert Levinson, an American who went missing in Iran and is alleged to have ties to the CIA, as "highly irresponsible" on Friday.
"I would say that if there's somebody detained overseas and it is published — true or false — that he's working for the CIA, I think it is dictated by logic that that very likely puts that person in greater danger," Carney said.
The AP's story, which the news agency said it held for three years out of safety concerns, said Levinson had worked as a contractor for the intelligence agency before he went missing in Iran six years ago. The U.S. has long denied that he was a government employee.
Carney reiterated that claim on Friday.
"What I can tell you is he was not a U.S. government employee when he made that trip. But I'm not going to get into any more detail," Carney said.
The press secretary sidestepped questions about whether he would consider a contractor a government employee, saying he could not comment further.
The White House also defended its efforts on Levinson's behalf. Carney noted that in 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly asked the Iranian government to assist in a search for him. More recently, President Obama raised Levinson's case in his historic phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
"Today we reiterate that same request to the government of Iran, or to anyone else who might have information about Mr. Levinson's whereabouts, to undertake efforts to ensure that he returns safely to his family," Carney said.