An ex-CIA officer who helped track down and capture a top al-Qaeda figure was charged on Monday with disclosing classified secrets, including the role of one of his associates on that covert mission, in the latest of a series of US prosecutions of suspected leakers.
John Kiriakou, 47, is charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and the Espionage Act. A federal judge ordered Kiriakou to be released on a US$250,000 unsecured bond.
Kiriakou declined to comment as he left the courthouse on Monday.
According to authorities, Kiriakou divulged to three journalists, including a New York Times reporter, the role of “Officer B,” who worked with Kiriakou on the capture of suspected al-Qaeda financier Abu Zubaydah in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, and his case has been made an example by those who believe the interrogation technique should be outlawed. And Kiriakou’s public discussions of Zubaydah’s waterboarding were a key part of the debate.
In a separate accusation, Kiriakou is alleged to have disclosed the identity of a covert operator to an unidentified journalist. Authorities say that journalist then gave the officer’s name to a team of defense lawyers representing a suspect the US held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. When the lawyers included information about the officer in a sealed legal brief in 2009, the CIA became suspicious and the government began to investigate.
The affidavit states that the defense lawyers were found to have done nothing wrong. According to the affidavit, FBI agents interviewed Kiriakou last week, and he denied leaking the information. When specifically asked whether he had provided the Zubaydah interrogator’s name to the Times for a 2008 article, he replied, “Heavens, no.”
A New York Times spokeswoman declined to comment.
Kiriakou’s attorney, Plato Cacheris, told reporters after the hearing that his client would plead not guilty. He also said a potential defense argument could be that the charges criminalize conduct that has been common between reporters and government sources for decades.
If convicted, Kiriakou could face up to 30 years in prison and a US$1 million fine.
The case was secretly investigated by a top federal prosecutor, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who is best known for his successful prosecutions of Scooter Libby, former US vice president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, for perjury and of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich for corruption.
Kiriakou has worked as a consultant to ABC News, although he hasn’t appeared on the network since early 2009.
The charges also accuse Kiriakou of lying about his actions in an effort to convince the CIA to let him publish a book, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror, in 2010.
The Department of Justice’s campaign to prosecute leakers has been very aggressive under US President Barack Obama.