The State Department was not immediately able to provide any additional information about the report.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Dec. 11 that Washington was "obviously aware" of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea. She didn't confirm the reports.
In Seoul, the Segye Ilbo newspaper reported last week that Bae had been taking tourists on a five-day trip to the North when he was arrested. The newspaper cited unidentified sources.
News of the arrest comes as North Korea is celebrating the launch of a satellite into space on Dec. 12, in defiance of calls by the U.S. and others to cancel a liftoff widely seen as an illicit test of ballistic missile technology.
The announcement of the American's detainment could be a signal from the North that it wants dialogue with the United States, said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. He said trips by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter to North Korea to secure the release of other detained Americans created a mood for U.S.-North Korea talks.
"North Korea knows sanctions will follow its rocket launch. But in the long run, it needs an excuse to reopen talks after the political atmosphere moves past sanctions," Cheong said.
Cheong said he expects that the American will be tried and convicted in coming months. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has the power to grant amnesty and will exercise it as a bargaining chip, Cheong said.
Nuland said earlier this week that Washington had been trying to reach out to Kim.
"Instead, that was met not only with an abrogation of agreements that had been made by the previous North Korean regime, but by missile activity both in April and in December," she told reporters.