A former CIA officer has been charged under the Espionage Act for disclosing “classified” information to journalists, the latest in an unprecedented crackdown on whistle-blowers and “national security” leaks by the Obama administration.
John Kiriakou is facing decades in prison if convicted. He is accused of providing secrets, including the name and activities of one of his undercover colleagues, to unidentified reporters. One of the journalists is alleged to given the name of the covert CIA officer to lawyers representing a Guantanamo Bay prisoner.
Kiriakou is also accused of giving reporter Scott Shane of the New York Times information that Shane used in a 2008 story that named CIA analyst Deuce Martinez as a key figure in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda logistics chief who was water boarded. Martinez’s role in the interrogation was classified though he was not working undercover.
At a hearing in Alexandria, Va., a federal judge ordered Kiriakou released on a $250,000 unsecured bond. Kiriakou’s attorney, Plato Cacheris, said afterward that the defense may argue that the charges criminalize conduct that has been common between reporters and government sources for decades.
The lawyers and their investigators, including attorneys from the ACLU, did not break the law, the Justice Department said. No reporters were charged.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero called the investigation “incredibly troubling” and said it would have a chilling effect on reporters, whistle-blowers and defense lawyers. Romero criticized “the fact that the government continues to investigate those who research and report on the individuals who committed torture and yet don’t prosecute those who undertook that torture.”
Alleged emails from Kiriakou disclosed classified information to journalists, including the name of a CIA agent known as “Covert Officer A.” Kiriakou denied giving the information to reporters when interviewed by FBI agents on Jan 12.
In addition Kiriakou is being accused of trying to include classified information in his memoir by lying to the CIA’s Publication Review Board. The book, published in 2010, was titled, “The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.”
The case against Kiriakou marks the fifth time the Obama administration brought charges of violating the Espionage Act against current or former government officials who allegedly leaked information to journalists. The most of any previous administration.
Former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, is accused of leaking information to a New York Times reporter. State Department official, Stephen Kim, is charged with leaking information about North Korea to Fox News. FBI translator, Shamai Leibowitz, plead guilty in 2010 and was sentenced to 20 months in prison for giving information to a blogger. A sixth defendant, Bradley Manning, has been charged in connection with alleged disclosure of documents to the website Wikileaks.
CIA Director David H. Petraeus said he supported the Kiriakou investigation. “Unauthorized disclosures of any sort, including information concerning the identities of other agency officers — betray the public trust, our country and our colleagues,” he said in a statement.
Steven Aftergood, who follows the intelligence community for the Federation of American Scientists, and other skeptics of official secrecy questioned how the government could use the Espionage Act to prosecute people who were not spying, but allegedly providing information to reporters.
“What’s missing from all these cases is any allegation that these people have actually caused harm to the United States,” said Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director for the Government Accountability Project, which represented former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake in an Espionage Act case that collapsed last year.
Many on the left have pushed for prosecution of those in the Bush administration that sought to legalize torture, but President Obama has stated that his administration will be about “looking forward as opposed to looking backward”. Apparently his looking forward only applies to the officials that authorized, condoned and ordered indefinite detention and torture. For those who are brave enough to expose the most grievous misdeeds of the previous administration it seems Obama is looking so far backward he is taking cues from the former administration and doubling down.