ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A 14-year CIA veteran was sentenced to more than two years in prison Friday for leaking a covert officer’s identity to a reporter.
The 2½-year sentence for John Kiriakou, 48, of Arlington, had been negotiated in advance as part of a plea bargain he struck with federal prosecutors last year for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. No one had been convicted under the law since 1985, when a former CIA clerk received two years in prison for divulging classified information about operations in Ghana to an agent from that country with whom she had been romantically involved.
At Friday’s sentencing hearing, though, U.S. District Judge Leone Brinkema made clear she would have sentenced Kiriakou to far more than 30 months if she had the discretion.
“I think 30 months is, frankly, way too light,” Brinkema said. “This case is not a case about a whistleblower. It’s a case about a person who betrayed a very solemn trust.”
Absent the plea deal, federal sentencing guidelines would have called for a prison term of at least eight years, which Brinkema said she would have imposed. She said she understood the government’s desire to secure a plea deal, given the difficulties in holding a public trial for national security cases that invariably delve into classified evidence.
Kiriakou, whose supporters have portrayed him as an anti-torture whistleblower being persecuted for exposing secrets about CIA torture, chose not to speak at Friday’s hearing, to which Brinkema responded, “Perhaps you’ve already said too much.”
Kiriakou did give a brief statement outside the courthouse after the hearing, thanking supporters.
“I come out of court positive, confident and optimistic,” he said.
Prosecutors said Kiriakou’s claim that he was acting as a whistleblower were laughable, given that the first public statements he made largely defended the CIA’s use of waterboarding.
“John Kiriakou put the life of a covert officer at risk; he put the officer’s family in danger; and he exposed our nation’s vital secrets,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride, whose office prosecuted the case. “Oaths matter and today’s sentence should serve as reminder to those who are entrusted with classified information that damage done by leaks is not speculative or hypothetical — it is actual and substantial.”
Kiriakou was an intelligence officer with the CIA from 1990 until 2004. He served overseas and at headquarters in Langley.
In 2002, Kiriakou played a key role in the agency’s capture of al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan. Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded by government interrogators, revealed information that led to the arrest of “dirty bomb” plotter Jose Padilla and exposed Khalid Sheikh Mohamed as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Accounts conflict, though, over whether the waterboarding was helpful in gleaning intelligence from Zubaydah, who was also interrogated conventionally.
Kiriakou, who did not participate in the waterboarding, expressed ambivalence in news media interviews about waterboarding, but ultimately declared it was torture. His 2007 interviews about the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah were among the first by a CIA insider confirming reports that several detainees, including Abu Zubaydah, had been waterboarded.
In court papers, prosecutors said the investigation of Kiriakou began in 2009 when authorities became alarmed after discovering that detainees at Guantanamo Bay possessed photographs of CIA and FBI personnel who had interrogated them. The investigation eventually led back to Kiriakou, according to a government affidavit.
Prosecutors said Kiriakou leaked the name of a covert operative to a journalist, who subsequently disclosed it to an investigator working for the lawyer of a Guantanamo detainee.
In previously sealed court papers that were made public late Thursday, Kiriakou’s lawyers say that the journalist who Kiriakou told about the covert officer was not actually a journalist but an investigator working for Guantanamo defense attorneys.
“Mr. Kiriakou now realizes that he made a very serious mistake in passing any information to Journalist A, but he would not have done so had he known how Journalist A would make use of that information,” defense attorney Robert Trout wrote.
Prosecutors say that leak was one of many that Kiriakou made, and that they simply lacked the resources to bring charges for all of the leaks.
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