January 23rd, 2012
12:45 PM ET

Former CIA officer accused of leaking classified info

By CNN's Pam Benson

Government prosecutors charged a former CIA officer Monday with disclosing classified information to journalists, including the names of CIA officers involved in top secret activities.

John Kiriakou, a CIA intelligence officer from 1990 to 2004, illegally divulged the name of a CIA covert officer and the role of another agency officer involved in a classified operation, the Justice Department said. He is also accused of lying to the CIA board responsible for reviewing the book he was writing to make sure no classified material was being divulged.   (A copy of the complaint is here).

The investigation of Kiriakou was triggered when defense attorneys for a high-value terrorism detainee held on the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, filed a document with the military commission in January 2009 that contained classified information about CIA officers. This secret information had never been disclosed by the government to the defense team.

The CIA reviewed the defense materials and filed a crime report with the Justice Department that initiated an investigation led by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Then, according to the government, in the spring of 2009, photographs of certain CIA personnel and other federal employees or contractors were found in the cell of a high-value detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

According to the complaint affidavit filed in the case, Kiriakou exchanged e-mails with a reporter, referred to in Department of Justice documents as journalist A, in the summer of 2008 in which he disclosed the name of a covert officer when asked. The journalist gave the covert officer's name to an investigator working for the defense team on the Guantanamo detainee's case.

Although the name of the covert officer was included in the defense filing, the investigator did not take his photograph because he understood he was a covert officer, the Justice Department said.

The affidavit states Kiriakou also disclosed or confirmed to three journalists another CIA officer who was involved in a classified operation.

The affidavit identifies the officer as an analyst with the CIA's Counterterrorism Center who worked with Kiriakou on the operation to capture and interrogate suspected terrorist Abu Zubayda. Zubayda was allegedly al Qaeda's top military strategist until his capture in 2002 and was one of the high-value detainees who was subjected to the controversial waterboarding technique by CIA interrogators.

Although the analyst involved in the Zubayda operation was not a covert officer, his participation in the operation was classified. Kiriakou's e-mail revealed he had disclosed the name of this individual, including his contact information, to the journalists, according to the affidavit.

One of those reporters, referred to in Justice Department documents as Journalist B, wrote an article published in the New York Times in June 2008 in which the analyst's name and his role in the Zubayda operation were revealed.

According to the affidavit, Kiriakou also e-mailed the first journalist about the analyst.

It was the first journalist who provided the analyst's name and phone number to the defense investigator, enabling the investigator to accurately identify the officer and photograph him. Those photographs were found in the prisoner's cell at Guantanamo Bay.

The defense attorneys used the photograph of the CIA officer as well as pictures of other government employees and individuals in a photo line-up of sorts, to see if their client recognized any of the people as those who had interrogated them.

Kiriakou wrote a book published in 2009 titled, "The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror." While writing the book in 2007, he discussed with his co-author a technique known as the magic box, which he said was used during the Zubayda operation. The magic box was described in the June 2008 New York Times article as "an electronic scanner that could track any switched-on mobile phone and give its approximate location."

According to the affidavit, Kiriakou told the CIA's Publication and Review Board that the technique was actually fictional and could be included in his book.

The affidavit includes an excerpt from an e-mail Kiriakou wrote to his co-author about the review board. "I laid it on thick. And I said some things were fictionalized when in fact they weren't. There's no way they're going to go through years of cable traffic to see if it's fictionalized, so we might get some things through."

CNN interviewed Kiriakou about his book in March 2010.

In a written statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said, "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."

CIA Director David Petraeus sent a message to employees on Monday reminding them of their duty to protect secrets. "Given the sensitive nature of many of our agency's operations and the risks we ask our employees to take, the illegal passage of secrets is an abuse of trust that may put lives in jeopardy," Petraeus said.

Kiriakou made an initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, Monday afternoon. He was released into the custody of his wife and must obtain a $250,000 bond. His travel is restricted to the Washington metropolitan area.

After the court session, Kiriakou's attorney, Plato Cacheris, told reporters his client was informed of the charges only last week and attorneys are still studying them. He expects Kiriakou to plead not guilty to all charges.

Kiriakou is charged with one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act "for allegedly illegally disclosing the identity of a covert officer," the Justice Department said in a news release. If convicted on that charge, he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, it said.

He also faces two counts of violating the Espionage Act for "allegedly illegally disclosing national defense information," with each count carrying a maximum 10 years in prison, and one count of making false statements to a CIA board, which carries a sentence of up to five years.

Each count also carries a maximum fine of $250,000.

CNN's Jamie Crawford contributed to this report

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Filed under: Central Intelligence Agency • CIA • Intelligence
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