An ex- CIA agent and major critic of US torturing of “terror suspects,” who was charged with leaking classified information, has been forced to plead guilty to a single charge in a plea bargain agreement with government prosecutors.
The plea agreement, commonly forced on defendants by US prosecutors to avert controversy and costly legal costs, would oblige the former intelligence officer, John C. Kiriakou, to plead guilty in federal court on Tuesday and send him to prison for up to 30 months for allegedly passing secrets to reporters, The Washington Post reports today.
The conviction of Kiriakou to a single charge of “disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA operative” marked the end of a case that was described as “part of the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on leaks.”
The 47-year-old agent, according to the report, is most widely recognized for being among the first former agents of premier American spy agency to publicly expose CIA’s secret interrogation program, describing in a 2007 television interview the use of waterboarding - internationally recognized as a torture tactic - on al-Qaeda suspects.
Kiriakou worked undercover for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for years and reportedly took part in multiple operations that led to the capture of alleged al-Qaeda suspects in Pakistan.
The controversial case was one of six leaks-related prosecutions brought by the US Justice Department since Obama became president, more than all previous administrations combined. The plea deal comes just months following an announcement by the US judiciary that it was closing its investigation of the deaths of foreign inmates in secret CIA prisons overseas without bringing a single charge.
Kiriakou, says the report, had initially pleaded not guilty to all the charges brought against him by the US government, insisting that he had never “knowingly shared classified information or leaked other secrets.” The Obama administration’s case against him was based mostly on e-mail exchanges between Kiriakou and news reporters, as well as his responses when confronted about the disclosures by FBI agents.
The accused agent and his attorney declined to respond to requests for comment. A legal associate, however, cautioned Monday evening that Kiriakou may still change his mind about the plea deal offered by the prosecutors.
As part of the agreement, US government prosecutors are expected to drop four other charges against Kiriakou, including the accusation that “he had illegally shared sensitive national defense information with reporters and had lied to the CIA’s publication review board about the contents of a memoir he published,” the report says.
“The government will say that any guilty plea is a win, and the defense will say they were forced into a corner,” said Steven Aftergood, an expert on classification issues with the Federation of American Scientists. “In some sense, they will both be right.”
Legal experts on leaks crimes emphasize that the government will most likely consider a guilty plea from Kiriakou as a significant victory given the collapse of previous leaks cases, including the attempted prosecution of a former National Security Agency executive, Thomas Drake.