Former CIA officer Kiriakou sentenced to 30 months in prison for leaking information to reporters

Lilly Chapa | Content Regulation | News | January 25, 2013

Former CIA officer John Kiriakou was sentenced today to 2 1/2 years in prison for disclosing an undercover officer’s name to a New York Times reporter in 2007.

Federal Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said in court that the 30-month sentence she handed down was "way too light" and that she would have given him a longer sentence if she could, according to a number of news outlets. Brinkema also emphasized that "this is not a case of a whistleblower." Before issuing the sentence, Brinkema asked Kiriakou if he had anything to say. When he declined, the judge said, “perhaps you have already spoken too much.”

Kiriakou, who is the first CIA officer ever sentenced for leaking information, pleaded guilty in October to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 in order to avoid up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

However, Kiriakou is hailed as a hero and supported by a number of open government organizations, including the Sunlight Foundation and the Open Government Partnership. Kiriakou also was recently honored by the Government Accountability Project with a portrait by the painter Robert Shetterly. The painting was part of a series called "Americans Who Tell the Truth" and was unveiled on Wednesday at a packed, standing room event in Washington, D.C.

Jesselyn Radack, one of Kiriakou's attorneys, said her client meets the "textbook definition of whistleblower."

"He revealed gross abuse and illegality and the world seems to recognize him as a whistleblower," Radack said. "It’s unfortunate that the government can’t.”

Kiriakou said in an interview at the event that he accepts his sentence "without bitterness.”

“I am sorry for the pain I’ve caused my family, but I believe that when people see something that’s wrong, cruel, unjust and undemocratic that they have to step up and say something about it," he said.

Kiriakou was indicted in April after lawyers representing high-profile prisoners at Guantanamo Bay received identifying information about CIA employees. According to the indictment, Kiriakou repeatedly provided three reporters from different news organizations, including the Times, with classified information that could have caused damage to national security.

Kiriakou, who worked for the CIA from 1990 to 2004, was charged with three counts of violating the Espionage Act. Additionally, he was charged with one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and one count of making false statements to the CIA Publications Review Board for a book he published, according to the indictment.

Enacted nearly 100 years ago, the Espionage Act of 1917 makes it a crime to collect and share information that could potentially damage the national defense, cause injury to the United States and provide an advantage to a foreign nation.

Kiriakou was initially charged last January after a sealed brief -- filed by the defense team representing the detainees at Guantanamo Bay -- turned up confidential information not authorized through proper government channels, according to a Department of Justice press release. In the original complaint filed against Kiriakou, the Justice Department alleged that he leaked information to a journalist who in turn gave the classified information to the defense team. No journalists were named in the federal indictment.

“I head to prison accepting responsibility for my actions and hoping that maybe our country is better, more informed and more transparent from the debate I helped initiate,” Kiriakou said in the interview. “I never gained anything, and in fact I’ve lost everything. I believe I was prosecuted not for what I did but for who I am: a CIA officer who said torture was wrong and ineffective and went against the grain.”

Kiriakou is among six government employees accused within the past few years of violating the Espionage Act by speaking to the news media.