A former CIA officer who was among the first to go public with details about the agency’s use of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques was sentenced to 2½ years in prison Friday for disclosing a covert operative’s name to a reporter.
John Kiriakou, 48, of Arlington has portrayed himself as a whistleblower concerned about the use of the harsh tactics, but U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema emphatically rejected that idea in federal court in Alexandria.
“This is not a case of a whistleblower,” Brinkema said. “This is a case of a man who betrayed a solemn trust.”
She added that she would abide by the 30-month sentence Kiriakou and federal prosecutors had reached as part of an October plea deal but said it was “way too light.” Prosecutors said Kiriakou’s action endangered the officer and damaged the CIA’s ability to collect intelligence.
Kiriakou was the first person in 27 years to be convicted of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. His prosecution is part of a broader Obama administration crackdown on the disclosure of national security information. There have been five other leaks-related prosecutions since the president took office — more than every other previous administration combined.
In 2008 and 2009, Kiriakou gave a journalist the name of a CIA operative who had taken part in interrogations, according to court documents. His indictment also states that he leaked the name of a second operative and the person’s involvement with the capture of al-Qaeda operative Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, to the first journalist and to a New York Times reporter.
Prosecutors said in court Friday that the disclosures were just the “tip of the iceberg.” They said search warrants on Kiriakou’s e-mail revealed he had given journalists information about dozens of other CIA officers, as well. However, Kiriakou only admitted guilt in the first leak as part of the plea deal.
Prosecutors said Kiriakou’s motive was simple: He wanted to raise his media profile so he could get consulting work and sell copies of a forthcoming book about his involvement in the war on terrorism. Kiriakou worked for the CIA between 1990 and 2004 and played a role in the capture of Abu Zubaida.
In 2007, Kiriakou dramatically detailed the waterboarding techniques used against Abu Zubaida in an interview with ABC News, although he did not participate in them himself.
Robert Trout, Kiriakou’s attorney, said his client made the disclosures because he was trying to “spotlight” the interrogation techniques.
“It is clear at no time did Mr. Kiriakou intend to harm the United States or cause injury to anyone,” Trout said. “He was concerned about certain practices that were employed in the war against terror.”
The investigation into Kiriakou was triggered in 2009, when attorneys for detainees at Guantanamo Bay filed a motion that contained the names of covert government personnel that had not come from official channels, according to court documents.
“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 H. MacBride.
After the sentencing, Kiriakou made brief remarks, saying he “came out of court positive, confident and optimistic” but said nothing during the sentencing, a fact that wasn’t lost on the judge.
“Perhaps, you’ve already said too much,” Brinkema told him.
Greg Miller contributed to this report.