John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who was charged Monday with leaking classified information to reporters, is not a totally unfamiliar name. In 2007, he made headlines when he discussed on CNN and other media outlets the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists being detained in secret prisons overseas.
He was the first official to publicly confirm Washington’s worst-kept secret – that Abu Zubayda had been waterboarded while detained by the CIA.
Kiriakou didn’t claim to have first-hand knowledge, but he said his job at CIA headquarters gave him access to cables that indicated the simulated drowning technique was used just once, because Zubayda, allegedly al Qaeda’s top military strategist, cracked and provided actionable intelligence.
His credibility was shattered when a government report released a year later stated the technique was actually used 83 times against Zubayda. In a March 2010 interview with CNN, Kiriakou claimed he had been duped by the agency. He questioned whether any useful information really came from the detainee and believed “it caused more damage to our national prestige than was worth it.”
Kiriakou wrote a book that was published in 2009 about his experiences at the CIA titled “The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.” Clearly the highlight of his 14 years at the agency was his participation in the CIA operation to capture Zubayda. Much of his book is devoted to that episode.
The book is also filled with many more stories about Kiriakou’s personal experiences as a spy: how he tried to avoid surveillance while working undercover in Greece; what it was like running foreign agents; and his fear of pending terrorist attacks just prior to 9/11.
Kiriakou departed the CIA in 2004 and worked in private industry before joining the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2009 as a a senior investigator. He left that job after a little more than a year and has most recently been a managing partner at Rhodes Global Consulting firm.
He now faces up to 30 years in jail and a million dollars in fines if convicted on charges of illegally identifying a covert officer, illegally disclosing national defense information to reporters, and lying to a CIA publications board.
But a conviction – even a trial on all of the charges – is not a sure bet if recent leak cases are any indication.
The case against former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling could be falling apart after a federal judge late last year banned two key prosecution witnesses from testifying at his trial. Sterling is accused of leaking national defense information to New York Times correspondent James Risen, who used them in his book, “State of War.”
Separately, former National Security Agency analyst Thomas Drake was charged under the Espionage Act with leaking information to a reporter.
Drake, who considered himself a whistle-blower, faced up to 35 years in prison if convicted for providing a Baltimore Sun reporter with details about failed computer systems and waste at the NSA. Prosecutors dropped most of the charges after a federal judge ruled classified information would have to be presented in open court.
Drake pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of exceeding the authorized use of a government computer. He was sentenced to one year probation.