(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) — A former CIA officer who pled guilty to revealing the identity of a covert officer was sentenced Friday to 30 months in prison, becoming the first person convicted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in three decades.
John Kiriakou has been called a whistleblower by defenders for revealing details of the CIA’s use of torture on terror suspects, but federal prosecutors accused him in court papers of being a leaker who was motivated by fame and money and said his revelations were part of a “concerted campaign to raise his media profile.”
Kiriakou, who was originally charged with five separate counts and faced more than 30 years in federal prison, agreed to plead guilty to one count of intentionally disclosing information identifying a covert agent in October. His deal required Judge Leonie Brinkema to sentence him to two and a half years, though she said at his sentencing in Alexandria, Virginia that she wished she could have imposed a greater sentence.
Neil McBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement that Kiriakou had “betrayed the trust bestowed upon him by the United States and he betrayed his colleagues whose secrecy is their only safety … 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.”
Kiriakou, 48, was a CIA intelligence officer between 1990 and 2004, serving at headquarters and in various classified overseas assignments. In March 2002, Kiriakou participated in the CIA’s capture of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan.
In a December 2007 ABC News report, Kiriakou said Zubaydah had broken after one session of waterboarding and begun answering questions from interrogators.
“From that day on, he answered every question,” Kiriakou said. “The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.”
U.S. government documents released in April 2009 indicate that Kiriakou’s account that Abu Zubaydah broke after only one waterboarding session was incorrect. The CIA actually used the waterboard “at least 83 times during August 2002 in the interrogation of Zubaydah,” according to the previously classified memos.
The federal investigation into Kiriakou was prompted when a January 2009 defense filing from lawyers representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay was found to include information that did not come from official government sources. In spring 2009, investigators also discovered photographs of CIA and U.S. government contractors in the possession of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Attorney General Eric Holder appointed U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in 2010 as a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation in order to avoid a conflict of interest, since officials at the Justice Department in Washington were working on the cases against the Guantanamo detainees.
Kiriakou was indicted in 2012. The indictment included the charge that Kiriakou disclosed the name of a covert CIA operative, and classified information about that operative and another employee, to a reporter.
The indictment also alleged that Kiriakou confirmed the identity of a CIA employee to a New York Times journalist, who published the name of the officer in a June 2008 article that revealed the officer’s role in the Abu Zubaydah interrogation. Kiriakou also allegedly told the journalist that Abu Zubaydah was interrogated using a “magic box,” information that appeared in the same New York Times article.
Kiriakou pled guilty to disclosing the name of an operative. Four other charges, including making false statements and three counts of violating the Espionage Act, were dropped.
More than 2,000 people have signed an online petition that calls Kiriakou a “hero” and whistleblower and asks President Obama to commute his sentence.
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