By BRIAN ROSS and LEE FERRAN
The White House today danced around allegations that former FBI agent Robert Levinson was on an intelligence-gathering mission for the CIA when he disappeared from Iran's Kish Island in 2007, except to point out he was not an "employee" of the secretive agency when things went bad.
"Bob Levinson was not a U.S. government employee when he went missing in Iran," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters today. "I won't comment further on what he may have been doing [there]."
In a lengthy interview to be broadcast on ABC News' "World News With Diane Sawyer," David McGee, an attorney for the Levinson family, described the 65-year-old's long relationship with the CIA as an intelligence collector for what turned out to be a rogue group of CIA analysts. Late Thursday The Associated Press and The Washington Post first reported Levinson's ties to the CIA as a private contractor - technically not a U.S. government employee.
ABC News and a number of other news organizations had known of Levinson's links to the agency for years but were asked by the family and U.S. officials to hold off reporting them because it could put his life in danger. U.S. officials have said they do not know who is holding Levinson, but suspect the involvement of the Iranian government. Iranian leaders, for their part, have repeatedly offered to help find Levinson.
Asked several times today about the AP report, Carney said he stood by previous administration descriptions of Levinson as a "private citizen," but repeatedly said he could not comment further "on what he may or may not have been doing in Iran."
"I understand that this is a complicated issue and it is also very sensitive and deals obviously with the safety and security and the life of an American citizen overseas. It also deals with matters that are under investigation by the FBI so I am limited for a variety of reasons what I can say about it," Carney said.
Earlier today Secretary of State John Kerry was similarly evasive, telling reporters in Israel that he didn't have "any comment whatsoever on the condition with respect to employment or any other issue except to say that we have raised the issue of his whereabouts on a continuous basis… [and] we will continue to try and seek his release and return to the United States."
McGee told ABC News the Levinson family believes some in the U.S. government have betrayed the 65-year-old grandfather and abandoned him in dire straits.
"Rather than acknowledge what they had done and try and save Bob's life, they denied him," McGee said.
WATCH the FULL REPORT tonight on 'World News With Diane Sawyer' at 6:35 p.m. EST