Report: American prisoner in Iran was CIA operative

A U.S. citizen incarcerated by Iranian intelligence for the past several years was a longtime CIA operative tasked with gathering information on the Iranian regime and other American adversaries across the globe. 

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Former FBI agent Robert Levinson has reportedly been in Tehran's custody since disappearing during a business trip to Kish Island in March 2007. 

At the time, the State Department claimed Levinson was a private citizen conducting business with Iranian-based firms at the time of his disappearance. 

However, an investigation by the The Associated Press showed Levinson was an employee of the CIA, handled by a team of U.S. intelligence analysts who sent the former FBI and DEA agent into Iran and elsewhere to spy for the United States. 

Three senior intelligence analysts were forced out of Langley, while seven others were reprimanded for their role in intelligence operations carried out by Levinson, the AP reports.

Tasks like planning espionage missions and running intelligence assets like Levinson in the field are handled by case officers or other operational staff within the U.S. intelligence community, not by analysts or other non-operational members. 

The CIA also reportedly handed over a $2.5 million payout to Levinson's family and tightened its restrictions on how intelligence analysts are allowed to interact with operational assets. 

The last known evidence that Levinson is still alive came in late 2010, according to the AP. Another so-called "proof of life" documentation arrived in the United States in early 2011. 

Since then, there has been no other correspondence or documentation that Levinson, now 65 years old, is still alive. 

In a statement Thursday evening, National Security Council Spokesperson 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.”

In November, the White House issued a statement pressing Tehran for Levinson's release. 

'We reiterate the commitment of the United States government to locate Mr. Levinson and bring him home safely to his family, friends, and loved ones,” the White House Office of the Press Secretary said in a statement last month. 

“We welcome the assistance of our international partners in this investigation, and we respectfully ask the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to assist us in securing Mr. Levinson’s health, welfare, and safe return," according to the Obama administration. 

The plea came as Washington and Tehran were negotiating the terms of a deal that would lift several U.S. economic sanctions against the country, in exchange for greater transparency into Iran's nuclear enrichment program. 

Republicans hammered the White House's plea for Levinson's release. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the Obama administration was using the case as a "bargaining chip" during the nuclear negotiations.