Former intelligence officials use “reprehensible” and “egregious” to describe the alleged acts of a former CIA officer charged by the government with betraying his own when he revealed the identities of two overseas operatives to the media.
These former officials reject the image of John Kiriakou as a high-minded “whistleblower” who sought to expose official wrongdoing or a botched intelligence operation.
Mr. Kiriakou took his leaking to a more dangerous level, they say, by explicitly telling one reporter the name of a current CIA covert officer and giving the name to three journalists of another CIA hand — the analyst who interrogated Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other top al Qaeda figures, according to Justice Department documents.
It is rare for the U.S. government to catch a former or current CIA employee who has exposed a fellow undercover officer. The last time a CIA official was charged with such a crime was in 1985.
Alarming to the intelligence community in the Kiriakou case is that “Journalist A,” as the Justice documents identify the reporter, provided the covert officer’s identity to an investigator for the lawyers defending some of the most senior al Qaeda terrorist suspects detained at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
All the while, the documents say, Mr. Kiriakou played a duplicitous game by leaking the names to the New York Times and other media, then denouncing the practice to one of the men he exposed, according his emails seized by the FBI.
“I consider this egregious and clearly so does the agency,” said Bart Bechtel, a former CIA clandestine officer. “In general, cover or identities, true or alias, falls under sources and methods. It is incumbent on all officers, current or former, to protect these.”
Ask about the outed covert officer’s ability to continue his career, Mr. Bechtel said: “The exposed officer can still do many things, such as being an instructor-mentor to junior officers. The greater concern may be the effect on his family and their safety.”
Bruce Klingner, who worked as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA, called Mr. Kiriakou’s alleged actions “a betrayal of the trust the U.S. government placed in him.”
“I think it’s reprehensible,” said Mr. Klingner, now a national security analyst at the Heritage Foundation think tank. “Any of us who worked in the CIA, we took any number of oaths to protect classified information. … Some whistleblowers will try to wrap themselves in various ‘just causes’ and say they’re doing it for a [greater] good. They can claim that, but it’s still a violation of the law.”
Covert no more
As for the covert officer’s career, Mr. Klingner said: “Certainly the officer would be constricted in what kind of assignments he could have overseas, particularly if he’s working counterterrorism. It’s not only whether his effectiveness or cover is reduced, but it is also a much great danger to his life.”
Mr. Kiriakou’s attorney, Plato Cacheris, did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment.
Mr. Cacheris told reporters after Mr. Kiriakou’s arraignment last week that his client planned to plead not guilty and that the defense might argue that the Justice Department is criminalizing what has become a long-standing practice between reporters and government sources.
The Justice Department issued a lengthy news release and affidavit to chronicle the moves it said Mr. Kiriakou took to leak the officers’ names and then deny involvement.
Mr. Kiriakou worked with the exposed covert officer, a team leader in the overseas operation to capture and interrogate top 9/11 conspirators.
Three of the captured were subjected to CIA waterboarding, which human rights groups call torture. The George W. Bush administration defined the technique as “enhanced interrogation” that netted a rich amount of information about al Qaeda financing, operators and plots.
Mr. Kiriakou also worked with the exposed analyst, Deuce Martinez, who was not involved in waterboarding but hunted terrorists extensively in Pakistan and conducted interrogations, including that of al Qaeda senior operator Abu Zubaydah.
After retiring, Mr. Kiriakou began talking publicly about the top-secret operation, officially called the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program. He had a 2007 interview with ABC News and openly discussed the program. At one point, the CIA warned him about disclosing secrets.
‘The Reluctant Spy’
In 2010, Mr. Kiriakou published a CIA-cleared memoir, “The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.” He told of his role as head of counterterrorism in Pakistan and the capture of Zubaydah, who is now detained at Guantanamo Bay along with Mohammed.
“‘The Reluctant Spy’ is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the inner workings of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, the truth behind the torture debate, and the incredible dedication of ordinary men and women doing one of the most extraordinary jobs on Earth,” the book’s publicity blurb says.
After Mr. Kiriakou began talking, journalists pumped him for more information. He complied by providing the two names that set off a chain of events with far-reaching ramifications, the government documents say.
He allegedly disclosed the name of Mr. Martinez to a New York Times reporter, who in June 2008 produced “Inside a 9/11 Mastermind’s Interrogation,” a detailed account of the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program. Mr. Martinez’s name appeared in the second paragraph and throughout. The Times article also quoted Mr. Kiriakou by name.
Michael V. Hayden, who was CIA director at the time, and Mr. Martinez’s attorney had asked the Times not to print his name, saying it would put him in danger. The Times refused, saying Mr. Martinez, retired at the time, had not been in the clandestine service working undercover.
Mr. Kiriakou also provided Mr. Martinez’s identity, complete with email address, to two other reporters, according to court documents. “Journalist A” provided the information to a defense investigator, who located the former analyst and took his photograph, apparently surreptitiously.
Defense lawyers provided four unidentified photographs of Mr. Martinez, along with others of government officials, to detainees as part of their pretrial investigation to determine who interrogated the suspects.
The Justice Department said the lawyers committed no wrongdoing.
In the second outing, Mr. Kiriakou provided the name, via email, of the covert agent to “Journalist A,” who gave it to the defense investigator, according to court documents. The officer’s name has not surfaced in the news media.
The government affidavit says Mr. Kiriakou worked to cover his tracks once Mr. Martinez’s name surfaced.
A week after the 2008 New York Times article appeared, Mr. Kiriakou told Mr. Martinez in an email that he had complained to the newspaper’s ombudsman that the use of his name was “despicable and unnecessary” and could put his former colleague in danger. He denied to Mr. Martinez that he had cooperated with the Times reporter.
A few days before his arrest, in a recorded interview with the FBI, Mr. Kiriakou was told that the defense filing contained the covert officer’s name — the one he provided to “Journalist A.”
“How the heck did they get him?” he asked the FBI. “[The officer] was always undercover. His entire career was undercover.”
The CIA declined to comment to on what effect the disclosure has had on the still-active covert officer’s career or on Mr. Martinez.
Mr. Kiriakou’s naming names unraveled for him when defense attorneys included classified information and the covert agent’s name in a court filing. It prompted the CIA to request Justice to begin an unauthorized-disclosure investigation that resulted in his arrest this month.
Mr. Kiriakou, who worked as a staffer for Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, faces four charges, three of which fall under the 1917 Espionage Act for providing classified information to those not authorized to receive it, and one charge under the 1982 Covert Agent Identity Protection Act.
The 2008 New York Times article that named Mr. Martinez and quoted Mr. Kiriakou did not prompt a government investigation. The Justice Department says Mr. Kiriakou was not under investigation until defense attorneys filed the classified legal brief in January 2009.
“This is not a whistleblower case,” Justice spokesman Dean Boyd told The Washington Times. “We simply followed the facts, which led us to the person we believe provided names.”
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Justice Department has investigated and brought charges in five cases against former or current government employees who allegedly spilled secrets to reporters. The Obama Justice Department filed charges in all five cases, beginning in December 2009.
Sharon Scranage, a former clerk for the CIA station in Ghana, is the only person convicted under the 1982 protection act. She pleaded guilty to providing names to her boyfriend, a Ghanian intelligence officer, and was given a five-year prison term that later was reduced to two years.
The Kiriakou case stands out because it is the only one of the five that involves providing the name of a covert officer to a journalist.
The case marks the second of the five in which a person has been charged with leaking secrets to a New York Times reporter based on evidence in seized emails between the reporters and sources.
A year ago, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was indicted under the Espionage Act for providing information to reporter and author James Risen about a 1990s classified operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.
In both cases, the Times reporters did not provide any information on their sources to the government.
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