Alexandria, Virginia - A federal judge rejected arguments that a former CIA officer was acting as a whistleblower on the agency's use of torture when the officer leaked a covert agent's name to a reporter, sentencing him to more than two years in prison.
A plea deal John Kiriakou made with prosecutors required the judge to impose a sentence of 2½ years. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she would have given him much more time if she could.
Kiriakou's supporters describe him as a whistleblower who exposed aspects of the CIA's use of torture against detained terrorists. Prosecutors said his claim was laughable, given that the first public statements he made largely defended the CIA's use of waterboarding.
Kiriakou's 2007 interviews about the interrogations of al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah were among the first by a CIA insider confirming reports that several detainees had been waterboarded.
The 48-year-old pleaded guilty last year to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. No one had been convicted under the law in 27 years.
Absent the plea deal, federal sentencing guidelines would have called for a prison term of at least eight years, which the judge said she would have imposed. She said she understood the government's desire to secure a deal, given the difficulties in holding a public trial for national security cases that invariably delve into classified evidence.
Kiriakou chose not to speak at Friday's hearing, to which Brinkema responded, “Perhaps you've already said too much.”
Kiriakou did give a brief statement outside the courthouse after the hearing, thanking supporters.
“I come out of court positive, confident and optimistic,” he said.
Kiriakou was an intelligence officer with the CIA from 1990 until 2004.
In 2002, he played a key role in the agency's capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan. Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded by government interrogators, revealed information that exposed Khalid Sheikh Mohamed as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Accounts conflict, though, over whether the waterboarding was helpful in gleaning intelligence from Abu Zubaydah, who was also interrogated conventionally.
Kiriakou, who did not participate in the waterboarding, expressed ambivalence in interviews about waterboarding, but he ultimately declared it was torture.
In court papers, prosecutors 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.
Prosecutors said Kiriakou leaked the name of a covert operative to a journalist, who disclosed it to an investigator working for the lawyer of a Guantanamo detainee.
In previously sealed court papers that were made public late Thursday, Kiriakou's lawyers say that the journalist who him told about the covert officer was not actually a journalist but an investigator working for Guantanamo defense attorneys.
“Mr. Kiriakou now realizes that he made a very serious mistake in passing any information to Journalist A, but he would not have done so had he known how Journalist A would make use of that information,” defense attorney Robert Trout wrote.
Prosecutors say that leak was one of many that Kiriakou made and that they simply lacked the resources to bring charges for all of the leaks.
Kiriakou was initially charged under the World War I-era Espionage Act, but those charges were dropped as part of a plea bargain. - Sapa-AP