Robert Levinson
Robert Levinson (Reuters)

The family members of American citizen and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing seven years ago in Iran while working for a secretive CIA mission, have lambasted the US government for failing to save the man and secure his release.

The family members of Levinson called on the Obama administration to "step up and take care of one of its own", only a day after a sensational investigative piece from Associated Press revealed that he had been a CIA operative on an unapproved mission when he went missing in Iran in March 2007.

The 65-year-old, who has now become the American hostage to be held in a foreign land for the longest time, went missing during a purported "business trip" to the Iranian island of Kish seven years ago. The US government had repeatedly called on Iran to help locate him but Iran always denied having any knowledge of the man.

Now that the lid has been opened on who Levinson really was, the White House reacted cautiously to the entire story. "I cannot comment further on what he may or may not have been doing in Iran," Jay Carney, the White House press secretary told reporters.

Levinson's family initially expressed annoyance over AP's decision to release the story but later said that since the fact is already out, they would go public on everything they knew. US government failed to "make saving this good man's life the priority it should be", the family said through a spokesman.

The shocking Associated Press investigation alleges that Levinson was gathering information on corruption in the controversial Islamic republic and had been reporting to Anne Jablonski, who was a top-ranking CIA analyst. It always remained unknown to officials that she had been paying Levinson for the field work in Iran.

After seven years of hunt for the man, it was revealed that the CIA paid off his family and reprimanded many other analysts involved. The Intelligence agency is said to have paid $2.5 million to Levinson's family to avoid a public lawsuit, and also disciplined 10 veteran analysts, rewriting its rules restricting how analysts can work with outsiders.

While the White House accused AP of breaking the news and being irresponsible, questions were raised on why the CIA initially denied any connection with the man. The AP revealed that several media officials had learned the true story much before but they continued masking the fact and claimed that Levinson had been on a private "business trip" to Kish, apparently to save Levinson from any untoward treatment by his captors.

After the extraordinary details were revealed by Associated Press on Thursday night, other media outlets started claiming they had also known that Levinson had been a CIA Operative ever since he disappeared but had concealed the fact to save Levinson of dire consequences .

Washington Post said that it had known the truth for years while ABC News on Friday said it had also known about Levinson's connections to the CIA. New York Times too published a lengthy article, giving details about its knowledge on the same.