Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- A former Central Intelligence Agency officer who helped capture alleged al-Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah was sentenced to 30 months in prison for revealing secret information to journalists about two other CIA agents.
John Kiriakou, 48, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, in Alexandria, Virginia, after pleading guilty Oct. 23 to one count of intentionally revealing information identifying a covert agent.
“This case is not a case about a whistle-blower; this is a case about a man who betrayed a solemn trust,” Brinkema said today at the sentencing. “I think 30 months is frankly way too light.”
The judge earlier signed off on a plea agreement for that sentence. As part of the agreement, prosecutors dropped three counts alleging Kiriakou violated the Espionage Act by revealing national defense information to unauthorized individuals.
The government also dropped a charge that Kiriakou lied to the CIA in an effort to deceive 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.”
David Petraeus, then CIA’s director, hailed Kiriakou’s guilty plea as the first successful prosecution of a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 27 years.
“Kiriakou’s action damages and undermines the confidence in the government’s ability to conduct intelligence operations,” said Mark Schneider, a prosecutor. Kiriakou made the disclosures “out of a sense of ego and narrow-minded self-interest to enhance his employment prospects,” Schneider said in court. “He knew what he was doing was illegal.”
Defense attorney Robert Trout said that Kiriakou identified a CIA agent to a reporter because he wanted to continue public discussion about practices employed in combating terrorism.
Trout didn’t specify a practice in court. In a court filing released yesterday, Kiriakou’s lawyers said he was the first person associated with the CIA to acknowledge the use of waterboarding on terrorism suspects.
In a 2007 ABC News interview, Kiriakou said the technique, which simulates drowning, was torture.
“Mr. Kiriakou felt that the spotlight should continue to be shone,” Trout told Brinkema. ”I believe it was that motivation that caused him to think that various individuals could shed light on this.”
“He thoughtlessly and naively did not appreciate that once he made any disclosure of classified information he lost control of it,” Trout said.
Trout contrasted Kiriakou’s punishment with the commuted sentence of ex-vice presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby for lying to investigators probing leaks by officials in the administration of President George W. Bush that led to the unmasking of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent.
In the Plame case “there was no prosecution based on the outing of a covert agent” and Libby never spent time in prison, Trout said. Bush commuted Libby’s sentence.
Kiriakou is one of six Americans indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 during President Barack Obama’s administration, twice as many as in the previous 90 years. All were accused of leaking secrets to journalists.
Kiriakou, of Arlington, Virginia, was charged last January with making illegal disclosures about the CIA officers and their roles in secret operations to reporters on multiple occasions from 2007 to 2009.
He gave the name of a CIA officer, described in court records as Covert Officer A, in an August 2008 e-mail to a journalist who passed it along to a defense investigator representing a detainee at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The information was used to assemble photographs that defense lawyers showed to detainees to try to determine whether any of the people pictured were involved in their interrogations, prosecutors said.
“The kind of damage caused by the defendant’s disclosures cannot be underestimated, and the disclosure of the identity of Covert Officer A is particularly compelling from a damage perspective,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride wrote in a sentencing memo. “As the government has learned from Covert Officer A, his identity was so closely held for two decades, that even some members of his own immediate family did not know of his association with the CIA.”
Kiriakou also told journalists that another CIA officer was involved in the capture of Zubaydah, an operation that was part of the agency’s classified rendition, detention and interrogation program.
Kiriakou was the leader of the CIA team that captured Zubaydah in March 2002.
The ex-CIA officer was singled out for prosecution because of his statements about waterboarding, said Jesselyn Radack, an attorney with the Government Accountability Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates on behalf of whistle-blowers.
“I think it was definitely about the CIA getting ticked off about the statements he was making about torture,” said Radack, who represented Kiriakou on issues pertaining to whistle-blower law. “I think they wanted to make an example of him.”
Kiriakou declined Brinkema’s invitation to make a statement before being sentenced.
“Perhaps you’ve already said too much,” the judge said.
The case is U.S. v. Kiriakou, 12-cr-00127, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Zajac in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com.