Ex-CIA Agent, Whistleblower John Kiriakou Sentenced to Prison While Torturers He Exposed Walk Free
NERMEEN SHAIKH: A retired CIA agent who blew the whistle on the agency’s Bush-era torture program has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. John Kiriakou becomes the first CIA official to be jailed for any reason relating to the torture program. Under a plea deal, Kiriakou admitted to a single count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act by revealing the identity of a covert officer to a freelance reporter, who did not publish it. Under the plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges brought under the Espionage Act.
In 2007, Kiriakou became the first CIA official to publicly confirm and detail the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding when he spoke to ABC’s Brian Ross.
JOHN KIRIAKOU: At the time, I felt that waterboarding was something that we needed to do. And as time has passed and as September 11th has—you know, has moved farther and farther back into history, I think I’ve changed my mind, and I think that waterboarding is probably something that we shouldn’t be in the business of doing.
BRIAN ROSS: Why do you say that now?
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Because we’re Americans, and we’re better than that.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: John Kiriakou’s supporters say he has been unfairly targeted in the Obama administration’s crackdown on government whistleblowers. In a statement urging President Obama to commute Kiriakou’s sentence, a group of signatories including attorneys and former CIA officers said, quote, "[Kiriakou] is an anti-torture whistleblower who spoke out against torture because he believed it violated his oath to the Constitution. ... Please, Mr. President, do not allow your legacy to be one where only the whistleblower goes to prison."
Prosecutor Neil MacBride, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, defended the government’s handling of the case.
NEIL MacBRIDE: As the judge just said in court, today’s sentence should be a reminder to every individual who works for the government, who comes into the possession of closely held sensitive information regarding the national defense or the identity of a covert agent, that it is critical that that information remain secure and not spill out into the public domain or be shared with others who don’t have authorized access to it.
AMY GOODMAN: John Kiriakou joins us now from Washington, D.C. He spent 14 years at the CIA as an analyst and a case officer. In 2002, he led the team that found Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda. He’s father of five. In 2010, he published a memoir entitled The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.
And we’re joined by one of John Kirakou’s attorneys, Jesselyn Radack. She’s the director of National Security & Human Rights at the Government Accountability Project, a former ethics adviser to the United States Department of Justice.
We reached out to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia, but they declined our request for an interview.
John Kiriakou, why are you going to jail? Explain the plea deal you made with the government.
JOHN KIRIAKOU: Well, thanks, first of all, for having me and giving me the opportunity to explain.
I’m going to prison, ostensibly, for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. I believe, and my supporters believe, that this, however, was not a case about leaking; this was a case about torture. And I believe I’m going to prison because I blew the whistle on torture. I’ve been a thorn in the CIA’s side since that interview in 2007, in which I said that waterboarding was torture and that it was official U.S. government policy. And I think, finally, the Justice Department caught up with me.