Nightly News   |  December 13, 2013

Family of missing CIA contractor alleges government cover-up

The mysterious disappearance of Robert Levinson has now turned into a CIA scandal. According to the family’s lawyer, Levinson was sent to Iran on a mission, and later abandoned by the CIA. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> now to revelations that rippled through the u.s. intelligence community and left one american family feeling they were abandoned by their government. this an unusualmasmasking of a top secret mission it was reported that robert levinson who vanished in iran seven years ago had been working on a covert cia mission, one that wasn't even sanctioned by the cia . andrea mitchell in our washington bureau tonight with more on this. good evening.

>> reporter: good evening. the mysterious disappearance of robert levinson has turned into a scandal and a government cover-up the family believes jeopardized efforts to bring him home. last seen three years ago, bearded and gaunt, wearing an orange jump suit made to look like a guantanamo detainee, but a hopeful sign he was still alive for his wife christine and their seven children. what is your message to his captors?

>> we will do whatever we need to to bring bob home alive to his family. we miss him terribly.

>> reporter: since bob levinson disappeared in iran seven years ago, the u.s. denied he was working the for a government agency including in testimony to the senate intelligence community . today the white house was still playing word games , denying he was a cia employee.

>> he was not a u.s. government employee when he made that trip. i'm not getting into more detail.

>> reporter: according to family, friends and former officials he was a cia contractor. his handler, cia analyst anne jablonski running a rogue operation, supposedly without telling her bosses. a cover-up costing valuable leads that might have helped find the missing man. a family lawyer tells nbc's michael isikoff .

>> cia sent bob to iran to a mission. he got caught in the mission. after he was caught the cia abandoned him. they left him there.

>> reporter: former officials say when pressure from the family forced the cia to investigate, jablonski and two other top l analysts were forced out, seven others disciplined and the cia paid the family almost $3 million. still, iran has consistently denied holding levinson . is he alive?

>> i should ask this question. i don't know. we don't know. how can we know that?

>> reporter: there will the new president be different? the white house says president obama asked about him in september when they talked.

>> they want to show goodwill on a humanitarian basis so they can bring a dad and a husband home, this is the time to do it.

>> reporter: much of what emerged today has been known by news organizations which delayed publication at the government's request. the family and government sources confirmed the details yesterday of what they know. what is not known is whether levinson is alive and whether telling the story will do anything to clear up the mystery of his disappearance. brian?

>> andrea mitchell in our d.c. newsroom. thanks.

>>> tonight the pentagon says a