ABC News and The New York Times have known since 2007 that Robert Levinson, the ex-FBI agent who was kidnapped in Iran, was not, as the U.S. government and his family claimed, an independent businessman: He was working for the CIA.
The Times’ report today disclosed this timeline; ABC News’ report does not—but a source at the network confirmed to Gawker that ABC reporters discovered the CIA connection in 2007 as well. At the request of the government and Levinson’s family, however, both outlets repeatedly stated, without any caveats, that Levinson was on a “business trip” when he was captured. A review of their coverage indicates that ABC News did so at least 7 times, and the Times at least 3 times, a report by gawker.com said.
It’s one thing for a news outlet to keep secrets at the request of the government, or in order to keep someone safe. It’s another thing to affirmatively and knowingly spread lies. And this isn’t the first time the Times has knowingly repeated false information at the request of the CIA. The paper was criticized in 2011 after it revealed that it had known that Ray Davis, an American accused of murder in Pakistan, had been a CIA contractor, even as it repeated false statements from Barack Obama claiming he was a diplomat.
Here are the lies, for the record. First, ABC News:
December 2, 2009: “Levinson, now 61, was last seen March 9, 2007, while he was on a business trip to Kish Island, Iran. At the time he disappeared, he was working for a private investigative firm and had left the FBI 10 years prior.”
September 23, 2011: “After more than four years of negotiating for information about the disappearance of U.S. citizen and former FBI agent Robert Levinson during a business trip on Iran's southern coast, U.S. officials are hopeful this week's release of two American hikers will now shine a spotlight on the cold case.”
September 24, 2012: “He disappeared in March 9, 2007 while on a business trip to the Iranian resort island of Kish.”
March 6, 2012: “The FBI today offered a $1 million reward for information leading to the rescue of former agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran on a business trip five years ago this week and is being held hostage by an unknown group.”
January 8, 2013: “Robert Levinson was kidnapped while on a business trip to Iran's Kish Island in 2007.”
January 9, 2013: “Levinson, a private investigator, was on a business trip to the Iranian island of Kish in 2007, when he went missing.”
January 9, 2013: “Levinson was captured while on a business trip in 2007.”
And the New York Times:
April 16, 2009: “A former F.B.I. agent who went missing in 2007 while on a business trip, Robert Levinson, is also believed to be imprisoned.”
November 11, 2009: “Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent who traveled to Iran on a business trip, has been missing since 2007.”
May 4, 2010: “Mr. Ahmadinejad took a slightly harder line on the question of Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent who disappeared while on a business trip to Iran three years ago.”
(In other reports, the Times explicitly caveated claims that Levinson was on a business trip, attributing them to either his family or government officials.)
The Associated Press, which first reported Levinson’s CIA ties on Thursday evening, confirmed the circumstances of his capture in 2010. Since then the wire service has published just one story, on November 27 on this year, indicating Levinson was on a business trip.