(WASHINGTON): The White House has criticized the Associated Press (AP), the American news agency,  for finally revealing that an American who went missing since 2007 in southern Iran was working for the Central Intelligence Agency in the US.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called AP “highly irresponsible” after the news agency broke the story on Thursday. After withholding the story for three years, the AP finally revealed on Thursday that retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in March 2007 during a visit to Iran’s Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, had actually been recruited by the CIA to run unauthorized spying operations.

According to the AP, the CIA paid $2.5m to Levinson’s family in a bid to pre-empt a revealing lawsuit. “We regret that the AP would choose to run a story that does nothing to  cause of bringing him home.” A spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council. The White House’s displeasure with the disclosure comes as the US State Department always insisted that Levinson was “a private citizen” who had traveled to Kish on “private business.”

After the AP revealed ties between Levinson and the CIA, the New York Times  also claimed that it knew about the story even before the AP; or more specifically, it learned about Levinson’s CIA ties in 2007, the very year he disappeared.

However, the Times says it withheld the story at the behest of the US government and Levinson’s family. According to the AP, in order to keep Levinson’s operations secret, the CIA had instructed him not to mail any packages to the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, or email documents to US government addresses. Instead, he had to send the intelligence he had gathered to the private home of a CIA analyst named Anne Jablonski in Virginia and contact Jablonski’s personal email account if he needed any instructions. Levinson’s whereabouts and captors are not known; however, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in 2011 that Washington believed he was “being held somewhere in southwest Asia.” Meanwhile, his family also acknowledged Friday he was working as a "spy" for a rogue CIA operation and accused the CIA, FBI and the Obama administration of "betraying" him by not doing enough to gain his release.

"The CIA sent Bob Levinson to Iran to do an investigation on its behalf," David McGee, a family lawyer and spokesperson deeply involved in efforts to get Levinson released, was quoted as saying.

McGee told ABC News the CIA and the FBI betrayed Levinson as it tried to hide the fact that he had a long-term relationship with the CIA, spying on Iran's nuclear programme and on the Hezbollah group in the rogue operation.