Former CIA agent who outed fellow agent sentenced to 30 months
January 26, 2013 10:00 AM
Cliff Owen/Associated Press
John Kiriakou, formerly of New Castle, says he was acting as a whistle-blower when he leaked a covert officer's name to a reporter.
By Tracie Mauriello Post-Gazette Washington Bureau
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- CIA whistle-blower John C. Kiriakou, formerly of New Castle, was sentenced Friday morning to 30 months for disclosing the name of an intelligence officer to a journalist.
It is the first time in 27 years that the government has successfully prosecuted someone under the Identities Protection Act, which was passed in 1982 to deter radicals from deliberately disclosing identities of undercover agents, endangering their lives.
The sentence was part of a plea deal Mr. Kiriakou, an ex-CIA officer, entered into Oct. 23. He could have been sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who presides over the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, said she would have given him a stiffer sentence if the plea deal had allowed her discretion.
"I think 30 months is frankly way too light -- because the message has to be sent to every covert agent that when you leave the agency, you can't just start discussing the names of those with whom you worked," she said.
At the time of his guilty plea, CIA officials declared victory for the intelligence community, while prosecutors said the government has a vital interest in protecting the identities of covert operatives.
Mr. Kiriakou, 48, is expected to serve his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution at Loretto, a minimum-security prison 90 miles east of Pittsburgh where white-collar criminals have served. Judge Brinkema allowed him to remain free until prison officials tell him when to report to begin his sentence.
During brief remarks to reporters after the sentencing, Mr. Kiriakou said he felt "positive, confident and optimistic." He had no other comment except to thank his attorneys, his supporters and his wife.
"I've put her through a very tough year. We're both looking forward to this being behind us," he said.
Earlier, he posted a statement on a website launched as part of friends' efforts to raise money for his defense. "The decision to plead guilty was the most difficult decision of my life. I am now glad to have the certainty of being home with my children in 30 months," Mr. Kiriakou, a father of five, wrote. "I wish I could thank each and every one of you individually, as your support has meant the world to me."
The criminal charge stems from an email message Mr. Kiriakou sent in response to a freelance journalist who asked for the name of a covert officer involved in capturing suspected terrorists.
Mr. Kiriakou later told The New York Times that he thought the officer had retired and that he wouldn't have provided the name if he knew the man was still under cover.
In exchange for a guilty plea to that charge, prosecutors dropped other counts alleging that Mr. Kiriakou disclosed information about another operative and that he lied to the CIA's Publications Review Board.
At one point, Judge Brinkema asked Mr. Kiriakou if he wanted to address the court. He said, "Thank you, no, your honor."
She replied, "Perhaps you've already said too much."
The judge also said during the proceedings, "This case is not a case about a whistle-blower. It's a case about a man who betrayed a very solemn trust."
Prosecutors became aware of the security breach after the freelance journalist passed along Mr. Kiriakou's disclosure to attorneys for Guantanamo Bay detainees to confirm the information. Defense attorney Robert Powel Trout told the judge his client regrets revealing the agent's name.
Prosecutor Mark Schneider, though, said Mr. Kiriakou knew what he was doing when he willfully betrayed the government and his former CIA co-workers.
"This is not a case about recklessness. This is not even a case of negligence," Mr. Schneider said. When reporters asked for classified information, he willingly provided it without concern for the welfare of the covert agents whose names he provided, Mr. Schneider told the court.
"He acted in this case out of a sense of ego and narrow-minded self-interest" to enhance his media profile and improve his employment prospects, Mr. Schneider said.
Mr. Kiriakou had been a highly commended 15-year veteran of the CIA. He is credited with playing a key role in the 2002 capture of Abu Zubaydah, the third-ranking al-Qaida leader. He worked as an analyst, counterterrorism operations officer and chief of counterterrorist operations in Pakistan.
He left the agency in 2004 for a consulting job. In 2007, he began talking publicly about government interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, and has said his criticism of the government was tied to the charges.
Mr. Kiriakou lectured about it at the University of Pittsburgh in 2008, telling 150 students he was always conflicted about waterboarding and that its use should be re-evaluated.
Mr. Trout said his client never intended for his disclosures to harm the United States or its agents.
"He was concerned about certain practices that were employed in the fight against terrorism," he said.
He said Mr. Kiriakou wanted the spotlight to be shone on the interrogation tactics used, so he provided journalists with names of people who witnessed them so that they could decide for themselves whether to consent to interviews, Mr. Trout said. He thoughtlessly and naively believed he could control the use of that information after he disclosed it. Instead, a journalist shared it with attorneys for terrorism suspects.
Neil McBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said the charges had nothing to do with whistle-blowing or with Mr. Kiriakou's comments about waterboarding.
Rather, he said, the investigation began when the covert agents' names and images surfaced in terrorism suspects' case filings and, in some cases, in their cells in Guantanamo Bay.
"Mr. Kiriakou's prosecution did not have anything to do with" his vocal criticism of interrogation techniques, Mr. McBride said.
Mr. Kiriakou's supporters, though, say they believe he was selectively prosecuted because he had been outspoken about interrogation techniques.
"It sends a very chilling message that if you speak up, you are not only risking your career but your liberty, and you could go to jail for years," said Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director of the Government Accountability Project, which has represented Mr. Kiriakou in his whistle-blower suit.
She said there have been numerous similar security breaches that have not been prosecuted.
Mr. McBride told reporters that the Department of Justice is pursuing other cases but that security breaches are hard to prosecute because leakers are good at hiding their trails.
"The Justice Department has always taken leaks ... extremely seriously, and we will pursue cases when we become aware of them," he said.
"Today's sentencing should be a reminder to every individual who works for the government [and has access to classified information] that it is critical that information remain secure and not spill out into the public domain," Mr. McBride said.
Ms. Radack said Mr. Kiriakou lost his home, had to go on welfare and has been "bankrupted, blacklisted and broken" by the case.
Mr. Kiriakou was born in Sharon, Mercer County, and raised in New Castle, where he lived until college, when he moved to Washington, D.C., to major in Middle Eastern studies and legislative affairs at George Washington University. He now lives in Arlington, Va.