Captive's family: Time for U.S. to "step up" after CIA revelations

American missing in Iran was on rogue CIA mis... 04:20

Washington and Tehran are under scrutiny after new revelations about Robert Levinson, the man held captive longer than any other American.

The Associated Press reports that Levinson, a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran nearly seven years ago, was working for the CIA.

The U.S. had always described him as a private citizen.

CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, a former deputy director of national intelligence and an assistant director of the FBI at the time of Levinson's disappearance, reported on "CBS This Morning," that the AP was asked to hold the story for Levinson's safety and did so for three years, until Thursday.

The news comes as the U.S. and Iran are making historic progress on nuclear talks and easing sanctions. Now, the two countries may have a new point of negotiation.

It's a conversation that's been going on behind the scenes between the U.S. and Iran since Levinson vanished in 2007. The Iranian government has long denied any knowledge of Levinson's whereabouts.

But last year, when "CBS This Morning" interviewed the former Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he seemed to acknowledge for the first time that Iran was holding him.

"CTM" co-host Charlie Rose asked him then, "Is there anything that could happen, a trade or something that would allow him to come back to the United States?"

Ahmadinejad replied, "I remember that last year, Iranian and American intelligence groups had a meeting, but I haven't followed up on it. I thought they had come to some kind of an agreement."

But this year, when Rose followed up with the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, he seemed to know or admit knowing less about Levinson's fate, saying at the time, "We do not any information about this person. Actually our intelligence services say he is not in Iran."

The new disclosures that he was working for the CIA may now encourage Iran to finally admit they have been holding Levinson. He was seen in a 2010 hostage video, pleading for help.

Miller: Levinson report may give family more ... 00:54
 The Levinson family has been pushing the U.S. government to do more. Last year, Levinson's wife, Christine, said she was frustrated by the lack of progress in freeing her husband since he disappeared seven years ago. She said, "When this first happened, I expected him to be home in a couple of days."

CBS News received this statement from the Levinson family Thursday night: "There are those in the U.S. government who have done their duty in their efforts to find Bob, but there are those who have not. It is time for the U.S. government to step up and take care of one of its own. After nearly seven years, our family should not be struggling to get through each day without this wonderful, caring, man that we love so much."

Miller added on "CTM," "This changes everything. ... This is something they did not want out there. Adam Goldman's story and the AP pushes that news forward, but on the other hand, there's a wide assumption in the U.S. government that the Iranians, after holding him for seven years, already knew this. So now that that's out there, two things happen: number one, Iran saves face. ... And the family can push harder in a public way, saying, 'This is one of our own who was doing things for this country, and you need to step up and make a bigger effort'."

"CTM" co-host Norah O'Donnell remarked, "Seven years he has been held. This is the most extraordinary story, also because the U.S. government paid $2.5 million to the family of Robert Levinson so they wouldn't get out that he was ... (on a)  mission for the CIA."

Miller responded, "So I think what he was doing for the CIA is basically a research contract. This is the kind of thing that the analysts give to academics and other experts. The thing is, as a former FBI agent, Levinson was going and doing investigations and talking to people, bringing back evidence. Because this was out of form for the CIA, a number of people -- three -- were fired in the agency over this."

Miller added, "It was an unorthodox use of this guy, and that is what got him in trouble."