A former CIA officer was charged Monday in federal court with leaking classified information to the media about two other CIA officers, including disclosing the name and contact information of one involved in the capture of al Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah.
John Kiriakou, 47, of Arlington, was named on four counts of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and the Espionage Act, along with making false statements to the CIA Publications Review Board in an unsuccessful bid to trick the agency into allowing him to include classified information in a book he was seeking to publish.
Authorities said Mr. Kiriakou told a New York Times reporter about the Zubaydah operation in 2002, at a time the information was classified. Zubaydah, captured in Pakistan, has been described as a key al Qaeda leader who was a major recruiter and a suspect in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
An affidavit said FBI agents interviewed Mr. Kiriakou last week, during which he denied leaking the name of one of the covert officers, telling the agents "How the heck did they get him? ... His entire career was undercover." Asked about releasing the name of the other officer, he reportedly replied, "Heavens no."
"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," said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
CIA Director David H. Petraeus, in a statement to agency employees, said the CIA "fully supported the investigation from the beginning and will continue to do so."
"In return for the secrecy we need to do our work, the American people and our elected representatives expect us to uphold our nations laws and values," he said. "Unauthorized disclosures of any sort — including information concerning the identities of other agency officers — betray the public trust, our country, and our colleagues.
"Given the sensitive nature of many of our agencys 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," he said.
Open-government advocates condemned the prosecution, saying it would have a chilling effect on the news medias ability to report in the public interest.
"Too often, without leaked information, there is no information," said Steven Aftergood, head of the Government Secrecy Project at the Federation of American Scientists. "The public had a right to know" the information Mr. Kiriakou is accused of leaking.
The four-count criminal complaint said Mr. Kiriakou made illegal disclosures about the two CIA officers and their involvement in classified operations on multiple occasions between 2007 and 2009.
The investigation began in 2009 after defense attorneys for suspected terrorists filed a classified legal brief that included details that had not been disclosed by the government. Authorities concluded that Mr. Kiriakou leaked the information to reporters, and the reporters had then provided the information to the defense.
According to a court affidavit, photographs of the CIA officer who participated in the Zubaydah interrogation were found in the possession of terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The investigation concluded that no member of the defense team did anything wrong, including lawyers with the ACLU.
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald in Illinois, who was appointed special attorney in 2010 to supervise the investigation, said, "I want to thank the Washington field office of the FBI and the team of attorneys assigned to this matter for their hard work and dedication to tracing the sources of the leaks of classified information."
James W. McJunkin, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office , said protecting the identities of Americas covert operatives "is one of the most important responsibilities of those who are entrusted with roles in our nations intelligence community.
"The FBI and our intelligence community partners work diligently to hold accountable those who violate that special trust," Mr. McJunkin said.
• Washington Times reporter Shaun Waterman contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.