Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- A former Central Intelligence Agency officer who helped capture alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah admitted to revealing secret information on two other CIA officers involved in questioning terror suspects.
John Kiriakou, 48, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, to one count of intentionally disclosing information identifying a covert agent. It was the first successful prosecution of a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 27 years, according to an e-mailed statement from CIA Director David H. Petraeus.
“Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy,” Petraeus said.
Kiriakou, of Arlington, Virginia, was charged in January and accused of making illegal disclosures about the CIA officers and their involvement in classified operations to journalists on multiple occasions from 2007 to 2009. The plea agreement calls for 30 months in prison when he’s sentenced on Jan. 25, according to prosecutors.
As part of the plea agreement, the government dropped three charges of violating the Espionage Act for allegedly disclosing national defense information to unauthorized individuals. Prosecutors also abandoned a charge that Kiriakou lied to the CIA in an effort to trick the agency into allowing him to publish classified information in his book, “The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.”
A CIA officer from 1990 to 2004, Kiriakou served at headquarters and in classified overseas assignments, according to a statement of facts filed today in court.
Kiriakou revealed the name of a covert CIA officer in an August 2008 e-mail to a journalist who in turn sent the information to a defense investigator representing a detainee at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to the criminal complaint. The information was used to assemble photographs defense lawyers presented to detainees to determine whether any of the people pictured were involved in their interrogation, prosecutors said.
The covert employee’s association with the CIA had been classified for more than two decades, according to the statement of facts.
Kiriakou was also accused of disclosing to three different journalists that another CIA officer participated in the operation to capture and question Zubaydah, including providing contact information for the officer to two of the reporters. The operation was part of the CIA’s classified Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program.
As the leader of the CIA team that captured Zubaydah, Kiriakou was the first agency official to confirm publicly that Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding. In a 2007 ABC News interview, Kiriakou said the technique, which simulates drowning, was torture.
The waterboarding broke Zubaydah in 35 seconds, leading to information that helped thwart “maybe dozens of attacks,” he told ABC.
It turned out Kiriakou, who didn’t participate in the waterboarding, was wrong. Zubaydah underwent the technique at least 83 times, according to a Justice Department legal memo.
“I believe now that the CIA did not report these sessions even internally, which means that my colleagues and I had been misled,” he wrote in a 2010 Washington Post article.
Kiriakou’s actions “were not motivated by disloyalty to the United States, and they were without malice to others or benefit to himself,” his lawyer, Robert Trout, said in an e-mailed statement.
On June 22, 2008, the New York Times published an article that publicly named a CIA officer who had been involved in the Zubaydah operation.
The article, written by Scott Shane, focused on a man using the name Deuce Martinez, whom it described as a “soft-spoken” CIA analyst who spoke no Arabic, interrogating Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
By building rapport with Mohammed, Martinez gathered information on al-Qaeda’s structure, past plots and future plans, according to the article. Kiriakou talked to the Times reporter after being warned by the CIA not to discuss classified matters, according to the article.
“The government has a vital interest in protecting the identities of those involved in covert operations,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said in an e-mailed statement. “Leaks of highly sensitive, closely held and classified information compromise national security and can put individual lives in danger.”
The case is U.S. v. Kiriakou, 12-cr-00127, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).
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