Ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou’s indictment made simple
January 25, 2012 3 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
On Monday, the United States Department of Justice charged former Central Intelligence Agency officer John Kiriakou with leaking classified government information to reporters and deceiving a CIA review board. An FBI press release accused Kiriakou of repeatedly providing secrets to journalists between 2007 and 2009, and said the former CIA officer would be tried under the Espionage and the Intelligence Identities Protection Acts. The latter forbids the disclosure of the identities of undercover intelligence personnel, which is precisely what Kiriakou is accused of having done. An American of Greek descent, Kiriakou joined the CIA in 1990 and did tours in Greece, Pakistan, and elsewhere, before retiring in 2004. While in Pakistan he commanded the CIA team that helped capture senior al-Qaeda logistician Abu Zubaydah. In 2010 he published a memoir titled The Reluctant Spy. Two years earlier, Kiriakou had made international headlines by becoming the first US intelligence official to publicly acknowledge that a terrorism suspect —in this case Zubaydah— had indeed been waterboarded while in CIA custody. Speaking on ABC News, the former CIA officer recognized that waterboarding was torture, but said it was “necessary” in the “war on terrorism”. In subsequent interviews, however, he questioned whether any actionable intelligence had been extracted from waterboarding, and opined that torturing terrorism detainees “caused more damage to [America’s] national prestige than was worth it”. Kiriakou’s skepticism, at a time when the incoming President, Barack Obama, publicly condemned waterboarding as torture, worried the CIA. Eventually, the Obama Administration backed down on its public proclamations about torture, and ruled out criminal prosecutions of CIA personnel. But he Agency didn’t forget Kiriakou’s role.
We now understand that FBI prosecutors began investigating the former CIA operative in 2009, after the Agency noticed a change in tactics employed by lawyers suing the CIA for torturing detainees held at the Guantánamo Bay prison complex. Specifically, the prosecution appeared to know the identities of CIA interrogators who performed waterboarding on terrorism detainees. How did they get the names? FBI investigators concluded that Kiriakou was one of their sources. He is now accused of having given names of CIA interrogators to reporters, including perhaps The New York Times’ Scott Shane. It was some of these reporters, claims the FBI, who eventually passed the classified information on to prosecutors. While probing Kiriakou’s communications, FBI investigators said they also found evidence that he consciously misled the CIA panel tasked with vetting the manuscript of his 2010 book. The alleged incident involved the mention in his memoir of a “magic box”, which allowed US intelligence operatives to locate targeted cell phones. Kiriakou told the CIA panel that, in reality, there was no “magic box”, and that he had made the whole thing up. But apparently the information in Kiriakou’s book was accurate, and now the Agency has actually gone to the extent of declassifying this information, so that Kiriakou can be openly prosecuted in court.
This latter clue points to both the seriousness and eagerness with which the CIA and the Obama Administration are approaching this case. It is the sixth such indictment of a former government official for blowing the whistle under President Obama’s watch —a little ironic, considering that the Administration has refused to prosecute US government officials who tortured terrorism detainees during interrogation sessions, or who engaged in warrantless wiretapping of Americans, but has gone after those who publicly spoke about it. The FBI says that its agents confronted Kiriakou with the results of their investigation, and that the former CIA officer vehemently denied all charges. If convicted, Kiriakou could face up to three decades in prison and close to $1 million in fines.