In the Obama administration's latest effort to punish government officials who leak information to the press, the Justice Department has indicted a former Central Intelligence Agency officer for allegedly telling journalists details of counterterrorism operations.
A federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, unveiled a five-count indictment against John C. Kiriakou, who gained attention for publicly expressing misgivings about the efficacy of waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning.
According to the indictment, Kiriakou disclosed the identity of a colleague to journalists and divulged information about the part a different colleague played in the capture of suspected al-Qaida financier Abu Zubaydah. According to the Justice Department, some of the information provided to a journalist later surfaced in a case presented by attorneys representing prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.
Kiriakou is also charged with telling a journalist that Zubaydah was pursued with the help of a magic box -- a device that can track a cell phone's location, according to the New York Times story that allegedly uses information gleaned from Kiriakou -- and subsequently lying about the magic box when he submitted a draft of his book to a CIA review board. He allegedly told his co-author Michael Ruby that he planned to tell the board, we've fictionalized much of it, even if we haven't.
The Justice Department has said its case against Kiriakou is essential to protecting intelligence gatherers.
Safeguarding classified information, including the identities of CIA officers involved in sensitive operations, is critical to keeping our intelligence officers safe and protecting our national security, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement after Kiriakou was charged in January. Today's charges reinforce the Justice Department's commitment to hold accountable anyone who would violate the solemn duty not to disclose such sensitive information.
The Obama administration has aggressively prosecuted whisteblowers, using the Espionage Act to go after six people accused of leaking classified information. Its case against a former National Security Agency official who criticized a data collection program as expensive and inefficient collapsed this summer, and a Pentagon report later corroborated the official's critique.
Rather than address its own corruption, ineptitude and illegal actions, the government made me a target of a multi-year, multimillion-dollar federal criminal 'leak' investigation as part of a vicious campaign against whistleblowers, the official, Thomas Drake, wrote in an op-ed after he was exonerated.
The case against Kiriakou is just as flimsy, according to Jessica Radack, director of national security and human rights for the pro-transparency Government Accountability Project.
It is outrageous that John Kiriakou - the whistleblower - is the only individual to be prosecuted in relation to the Bush administration's torture program, Radack said in a statement on the organization's website. The interrogators who tortured prisoners, the officials who gave the orders, the attorneys who authored the torture memos, and the CIA agents who destroyed the interrogation tapes have not been held professionally accountable, much less charged with crimes.
Kiriakou served as an intelligence officer between 1990 and 2004. In a 2007 interview with ABC, he said that he struggled with the ethical implications of waterboarding but maintained it had led Zubaydah to divulge valuable information. He later admitted that he was not present at Zubaydah's interrogation and said he was recounting what he had heard from other agents.