A well-respected Central Intelligence Agency officer, who upon retiring became a counterterrorism analyst for NBC and MSNBC News, was headed to federal prison on Friday after entering into a plea deal with the Justice Department on Friday, according to the FBI.
John Kiriakou, a 14-year veteran of the CIA, was sentenced to more than two years in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for revealing to a journalist the identity of a man whose 20-plus-year career as a covert CIA agent had never been disclosed publicly.
The 48-year-old Kiriakou, who resided in Arlington, Va., also confessed that he disclosed information revealing the role of yet another CIA employee in classified activities.
Kiriakou pled guilty to one count of intentionally disclosing information identifying a covert agent. As part of the plea agreement, the United States and Kiriakou agreed that a sentence of 30 months in prison was the appropriate disposition of this case.
The presiding jurist, Judge Leonie Brinkema, told the media she would have given him much more time if she could.
“John Kiriakou betrayed the trust bestowed upon him by the United States, and he betrayed his colleagues whose secrecy is their only safety,” said U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride.
“In his own words to the FBI, John Kiriakou called actions such as his, ‘immoral’ and the potential damage done ‘terrifying.’ 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. Oaths matter and today’s sentence should serve as reminder to those who are entrusted with classified information that damage done by leaks is not speculative or hypothetical—it is actual and substantial, and the Justice Department will hold them accountable," MacBride noted.
"While I applaud the conviction, I think that less than three-year prison sentence is far from being adequate in this case. Kiriakou appears to be a hero to the political-left in this country because he leaked intelligence during the Bush Administration," said former police detective and military intelligence officer Sid Franes.
"The news media are in the midst of one of the biggest cover-ups regarding intel leaks," Franes added.
According to court records, the case is a result of an investigation triggered by a classified filing in January 2009 by defense counsel for high-value detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This filing contained classified information the defense had not been given through official government channels, including information about certain government employees and contractors.
The investigation revealed that on multiple occasions, one of the journalists to whom Kiriakou illegally disclosed classified information, in turn, disclosed that information to a defense team investigator. This information was reflected in the classified defense filing and enabled the defense team to take or obtain surveillance photographs of government personnel. The investigation concluded that no laws were broken by the defense team.
In his statement, Kiriakou admitted that he made illegal disclosures about two CIA employees and their involvement in classified operations to two journalists on a number occasions between 2007 and 2009.
Court records indicate that the e-mails seized during the investigation revealed that Kiriakou disclosed information to journalists about dozens of CIA officers, including numerous covert officers of the National Clandestine Service beyond the one identified in the defense filing by lawyers for the high-value detainees in Guantanamo Bay.
The government raised this with the court to demonstrate that the charged conduct was in no sense aberrational or reflective of an atypical lapse of judgment.
Kiriakou admitted that, through a series of e-mails with a journalist, he disclosed the full name of a CIA officer (referred to as “Covert Officer A” in court records) whose association with the CIA had been classified for more than two decades. In addition to identifying the officer for the journalist, Kiriakou also provided information to the journalist that linked the officer to a CIA counterterrorism program known as the Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) Program and a particular RDI operation.
In addition, Kiriakou confessed that he disclosed to the name and contact information of a CIA officer, identified in court records as “Officer B,” along with his association with an operation to capture terrorism subject Abu Zubaydah in 2002. Kiriakou knew that the association of Officer B with the Abu Zubaydah operation was classified.
Kiriakou provided this information to journalists without inquiring what the journalists would do with the information. Without Kiriakou’s knowledge, Journalist A passed the information he obtained from Kiriakou to an investigator assisting in the defense of high-value detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The investigator had been unable to successfully identify either officer until he received this information from Journalist A, which led to Officer B being secretly photographed and his photographs being tendered to high-value terrorist detainees -- a result Kiriakou himself described as “terrifying.”
Kiriakou also admitted that he lied to the CIA regarding the existence and use of a classified technique, referred to as a “magic box,” while seeking permission from the CIA’s Publications Review Board to include the classified technique in a book.