CIA 'whistle-blower' pleads guilty to leak of interrogator's name

John Kiriakou a whistle-blower who wanted to expose role in secret renditions, lawyer says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2012, 4:45am

A former CIA officer has pleaded guilty to leaking the identity of a Guantanamo Bay interrogator to a reporter and will be sentenced to more than two years in prison.

As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges against John Kiriakou, 48, that had been filed under the world-war-one-era Espionage Act. They also dropped a count of making false statements. The law under which Kiriakou was convicted, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, had not yielded a conviction in 27 years.

Kiriakou was described by one of his lawyers as a whistle-blower, who identified the covert operatives to a journalist because they were involved in the CIA's secret rendition programme.

Under the plea, all sides agreed to a prison term of two-and-a-half years. US District Judge Leonie Brinkema noted the term was identical to that imposed on Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to former vice-president Dick Cheney. Libby was convicted in a case where he was accused of leaking information that compromised the covert identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, though Libby's sentence was commuted by then-president George W. Bush.

Kiriakou, who wrote a book detailing his CIA career, initially tried to argue he was a victim of vindictive prosecution by government officials who believed he portrayed the CIA negatively, but the judge rejected those arguments.

Kiriakou was a CIA veteran who played a role in the agency's capture of al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in 2002. Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded by government interrogators and eventually revealed information that led to the arrest of "dirty bomb" plotter Jose Padilla and exposed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Kiriakou declined to comment after Tuesday's hearing, but his lawyer, Robert Trout, said Kiriakou "is a loyal American who loves his country ... and served it for many years in classified and often dangerous assignments".

After the hearing, another of Kiriakou's lawyers described him as a whistle-blower. Jesselyn Radack, an expert on whistle-blower issues with the Government Accountability Project, said it was an outrage that Kiriakou will serve jail time.

She said Kiriakou was motivated to take the plea by the fact he has five children and wanted to ensure he would be out of prison in time to see them grow up.

Prosecutors dispute the notion that Kiriakou was any kind of whistle-blower. In court papers, they 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.

The papers indicated prosecutors believed Kiriakou leaked the name to a journalist, who subsequently disclosed it to an investigator working for the lawyer of a Guantanamo detainee.