The AP released a bombshell report Thursday detailing the story of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007.
The story exposed a major CIA scandal — Levinson was paid to gather intelligence on Iran for a team of analysts who had no authority to put together such an operation.
After his disappearance, the U.S. government had repeatedly denied he was an intelligence asset, saying he was just a private citizen doing private business.
The report on Levinson, who may or may not still be alive, certainly doesn’t help him avoid punishment in Iran — a country notorious for jailing foreigners on often specious charges of spying. That such a report is so sensitive is reason enough for AP to release a statement on exactly why they chose to publish now.
It’s an important story — and as AP’s story notes, Levinson was not trained to resist interrogation and very likely told his captors about CIA involvement, especially if he was subjected to mental and physical abuse.
Kathleen Carroll, AP’s Senior Vice President and Executive Editor, explained the rationale behind the story’s publication:
Publishing this article was a difficult decision. This story reveals serious mistakes and improper actions inside the U.S. government’s most important intelligence agency. Those actions, the investigation and consequences have all been kept secret from the public.
Publishing articles that help the public hold their government to account is part of what journalism is for, and especially so at The Associated Press, which pursues accountability journalism whenever it can. This seems particularly true on this subject at a time when the decisions of intelligence agencies are being extensively debated.
The AP has been seeking information on Levinson’s whereabouts from governments, agencies and any other source possible for several years. Government officials tell us that they, too, have hit a wall, though their efforts continue.
In the absence of any solid information about Levinson’s whereabouts, it has been impossible to judge whether publication would put him at risk. It is almost certain that his captors already know about the CIA connection but without knowing exactly who the captors are, it is difficult to know whether publication of Levinson’s CIA mission would make a difference to them. That does not mean there is no risk. But with no more leads to follow, we have concluded that the importance of the story justifies publication.
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