DOJ Indictment of Former CIA Officer for Leak Raises Questions

The Justice Department last week indicted a former CIA officer and recent author on charges of leaking to reporters the name of a covert operative, part of an Obama administration crackdown on leakers. The five-count indictment April 6 accuses John C. Kiriakou, 47, an opponent of waterboarding, of crimes in connection with the capture of an alleged al Qaeda financier, Abu Zubaydah, in Pakistan.

Eric HolderDavid PetraeusThe charges and other news reports on related Mideast struggles raise questions in Washington about selective enforcement of law by such officials as Attorney General Eric Holder, left, and CIA Director David Petraeus, right. Petraeus became CIA director last September after 37 years of Army service, including U.S. leadership of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Updated: Two separate controversies arose last week. One was the lawbreaking disclosed last week in a 2006 member by former Department of State legal counsel Phillip Zelikow, who argued for the immediate cessation of anything that looked like torture but whose views were ignored and suppressed. OpEd News, suppressed. "The failure to follow Zelikow's clear statement of the law," says commentator Michael Collins, "withholding the memo without justification, and the failure to prosecute those responsible for the previous acts represent evidence of crimes."

The second matter is why prominent former U.S. officials are permitted to lobby in Washington for an Iranian group called M.E.K. that is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. On April 6, New Yorker national security correspondent Seymour Hersh published Our Men in Iran? Hersh suggested that U.S. military forces have been training M.E.K. (Mujahideen-e-Khalq) since 2005 at a secret government site in Nevada to fight the current Iranian government.

Some commentators suspect that M.E.K. recently helped fatally poison Iranian nuclear scientists. In 2009, investigative reporter and former National Security Agency analyst Wayne Madsen published an eye-witness account of paramilitary activities at the Nevada site. But the New Yorker column has generated much more comment. M.E.K., still on the State Department list of terrorists, has reportedly hired many former U.S. officials of the highest stature to advocate its interests even though DOJ may seek felony charges and prison terms for U.S. citizens assisting such terrorist groups.

As for Kiriakou, he was a CIA intelligence officer between 1990 and 2004. He served both at headquarters and in classified overseas assignments. After retirement he published a book, "The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror." Sometimes he spoke visibly as an ABC-TV consultant and sometimes as a source. ABC's Jason Ryan reported last week's charges as follows: Kiriakou disclosed the name of a covert CIA operative, and classified information about that operative and another employee, to a reporter identified as Journalist A. The indictment also alleges that Kiriakou confirmed the identity of a CIA employee to a New York Times journalist, who published the name of the officer in a June 2008 article that revealed the officer's role in the Abu Zubaydah interrogation. Kiriakou also allegedly told the journalist that Abu Zubaydah was interrogated using a "magic box," information that appeared in the same New York Times article.

The indictment of Kiriakou, returned by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, is part of an aggressive Obama Justice Department crackdown on leakers. An Associated Press report quoted one of the defendant's lawyers, Plato Cacheris, as saying earlier this year that that the charges criminalized routine conduct between journalists and their government sources. AP further reported:

The Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection organization, blasted the indictment -- the sixth criminal leak case opened under the Obama administration. Jesselyn Radack, the organization's national security and human rights director, said the Justice Department was punishing a whistleblower under a law intended to prosecute spies and that Kiriakou was being targeted partly because of his public statements questioning the use of waterboarding. 'Back when no one was saying anything, back in 2007 when we were arguing about the validity of waterboarding, he was the only CIA official to say waterboarding was torture,' she said.

The indictment charges Kiriakou with one count of disclosing the identity of a covert CIA officer, three counts of disclosing sensitive national defense information, and one count of making false statements to the CIA's Publications Review Board in an effort to trick the board into allowing him to publish classified information in his book.

In a parallel case with distinct differences, authorities obtained a 30-month prison sentence for former Bush White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, an advisor to Vice President Cheney and President Bush. Libby outed the identity of CIA covert agent Valarie Plame Wilson, whose work involved secretly investigating Iraq's weapons capabilities using covert techniques and sources. Evidence suggests the White House outed her to punish her family for a report by her husband, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson. During the White House-orchestrated run-up to the Iraq War, he disappointed White House officials by reporting that he had failed to find evidence in 2003 on a trip to Niger that Iraq was trafficking in materials suitable for weapons of mass destruction. Fair Game

President Bush commuted Libby's prison term. But the defendant failed to receive the pardon he wanted to erase his felony conviction. The Wilsons moved away from Washington in disgust with the legal system, as portrayed in Valerie Plame Wilson's book, Fair Game, and a movie by that name, at right.

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment

Related News Coverage


OpEd News, Obama Justice Department indicts ex-CIA agent for exposing torture, Bill Van Auken, April 9, 2012. Thursday's indictment of John Kiriakou for exposing CIA torture of detainees confirms yet again that the Obama administration is continuing and deepening the crimes carried out by the Bush White House. Kiriakou, a CIA agent for 14 years, is being prosecuted for speaking to two journalists about the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah. In December 2007, he appeared in an ABC News interview, becoming the first CIA official to confirm the use of waterboarding of so-called "enemy combatants" and to describe the practice as torture. It is now known that Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in the space of one month while being held in a series of CIA "black sites" from Thailand to Poland to Diego Garcia. Zubaydah, severely wounded when he was captured by US and Pakistani intelligence agents, had already been suffering the effects of a shrapnel wound to the head he received during the CIA-backed war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Under US control, he was beaten, placed in extreme temperatures, and subjected to music played at debilitating volumes, sexual humiliation and sleep deprivation.

Associated Press / Daily Mail (United Kingdom), CIA agent who publicly opposed waterboarding charged with leaking classified secrets to journalists, April 6, 2012. A high profile CIA agent made famous by his public opposition to waterboarding has been indicted by a grand jury for leaking government secrets to reporters. John C. Kiriakou is accused of telling journalists the name of another operative and his role in the capture of 'al-Qaida' financier Abu Zybaydah shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

ABC-TV, Ex-CIA Officer Indicted for Alleged Leaks, False Statements, Jason Ryan, April 6, 2012. Former CIA officer John Kiriakou was charged in a five-count indictment Thursday for allegedly disclosing classified information to journalists and lying to the CIA about information he included in his book, "The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror."

Michael CollinsOpEd News, The unclassified Zelikow torture memo as evidence of crimes, Michael Collins, April 10, 2012.  "My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views," he [Zelikow] continued. "They did more than that: The [2006] White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department's archives." Phillip D. Zelikow, State Department Counselor, 2005-2007, to Congress, May 13, 2009. Former legal counsel to the Department of State, Phillip Zelikow, produced a convincing and elegant argument for the immediate cessation of anything that looked like torture in February 2006. The government declassified the memo last week and National Security Archive released it on April 3. The failure to follow Zelikow's clear statement of the law, withholding the memo without justification, and the failure to prosecute those responsible for the previous acts represent evidence of crimes.

WLS-AM (Chicago), FBI whistle-blower trying to get book published, April 10, 2012. A lawyer for FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds said Tuesday the bureau's prepublication review office has adopted overly expansive restrictions that are preventing Edmonds from publishing a book about her life at the FBI. Edmonds, once a contract linguist at the bureau, was fired a decade ago after complaining to FBI managers about shoddy wiretap translations and alleging that an interpreter with a relative at a foreign embassy might have compromised national security by blocking translations in some cases and notifying targets of FBI surveillance. Edmonds sued for unlawful termination, but Attorney General John Ashcroft stopped her lawsuit by invoking the state secrets privilege. He said her claims might expose government secrets that could damage national security. Attorney Stephen Kohn said his client's book, Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story, contains no classified information, yet has been under review by the bureau for the past year. Bureau regulations promise reviews will take only 30 working days. In all, reviews can cover a dozen different factors, which may significantly delay the 30-day limit, said FBI spokesman Paul Bresson. Kohn said the bureau's interpretation of its legal responsibility has gone far beyond classified information. The lawyer cites language in a Feb. 7 FBI letter that says the matters Edmonds writes about involve "many equities, some of which may implicate information that is classified." Kohn also cites a non-disclosure agreement Edmonds signed that says the agreement is intended to prevent disclosure that would be "contrary to the law, regulation or public policy."

Salon, U.S. filmmaker repeatedly detained at border, Glenn Greenwald, April 8, 2012. One of the more extreme government abuses of the post-9/11 era targets U.S. citizens re-entering their own country, and it has received far too little attention. With no oversight or legal framework whatsoever, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them and questions them at the airport, often for hours, when they return to the U.S. after an international trip, and then copies and even seizes their electronic devices (laptops, cameras, cellphones) and other papers (notebooks, journals, credit card receipts), forever storing their contents in government files. No search warrant is needed for any of this. No oversight exists. And there are no apparent constraints on what the U.S. Government can do with regard to whom it decides to target or why....

The case of Laura Poitras, an Oscar-and Emmy-nominated filmmaker and intrepid journalist, is perhaps the most extreme. In 2004 and 2005, Poitras spent many months in Iraq filming a documentary that, as The New York Times put it in its review, “exposed the emotional toll of occupation on Iraqis and American soldiers alike.” The film, “My Country, My Country,” focused on a Sunni physician and 2005 candidate for the Iraqi Congress as he did things like protest the imprisonment of a 9-year-old boy by the U.S. military. At the time Poitras made this film, Iraqi Sunnis formed the core of the anti-American insurgency and she spent substantial time filming and reporting on the epicenter of that resistance. Poitras’ film was released in 2006 and nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

FireDogLake, US Pressures UK to Not Hear Rendition, Torture Victims’ Cases in Open Court, Kevin Gosztola, April 9, 2012. A new report published by the United Kingdom-based new organization The Guardian highlights the rendition and torture of a Libyan militant, who led the fight against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and his pregnant wife.Making use of documents uncovered in Tripoli after Gaddafi was defeated by coalition and rebel forces last year, the report pays particular attention to revelations on UK involvement in an act that was previously believed to have been authorized solely by the United States.

New Yorker, Our Men in Iran? Seymour M. Hersh, April 6, 2012. From the air, the terrain of the Department of Energy’s Nevada National Security Site, with its arid high plains and remote mountain peaks, has the look of northwest Iran. The site, some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas, was once used for nuclear testing, and now includes a counterintelligence training facility and a private airport capable of handling Boeing 737 aircraft. It’s a restricted area, and inhospitable—in certain sections, the curious are warned that the site’s security personnel are authorized to use deadly force, if necessary, against intruders. It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K. The M.E.K. had its beginnings as a Marxist-Islamist student-led group and, in the nineteen-seventies, it was linked to the assassination of six American citizens.
Salon, Report: U.S. trained terror group, Glenn Greenwald, April 6, 2012. So let’s review what we have here. If this [Seymour Hersh/New Yorker] report is true, it means the U.S. Government actively trained a group that the U.S. Government itself legally categorizes as a “foreign terrorist organization,” a clear felony under U.S. law: "Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life." That alone compels serious DOJ and Congressional investigations into these claims. Worse, this reportedly happened at the very same time that the U.S. aggressively prosecuted and imprisoned numerous Muslims for providing material support for groups on that list even though many of those prosecuted provided support that was far, far less than what the U.S. Government itself was providing to MEK.

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), SPECIAL REPORT. Gearing up for an attack on Iran -- in the Nevada desert, Wayne Madsen, Oct. 16, 2009 (Subscription required). Excerpts:

WMR reporting from Nevada -- U.S. and Iranian diplomats may be meeting in seven-party talks over Iran's nuclear weapons program, all the while hoping for a diplomatic solution to end the controversy over the Iranian program. However, here is the high desert of Nevada, which one senior official referred to as "looking like the Middle East."  Because of the similarity in the terrain of the Department of Energy's Nevada Test Site and Iran, U.S. Special Operations forces are training at a facility at the test site that officials say "doesn't actually exist."

However, this editor saw where the facility is located, butting up against a mountain range half-way between the Frenchman Flat atomic bomb test site and the Sedan Crater, the site of the largest peaceful use underground thermonuclear test conducted by the United States. The "non-existent" facility is where Special Forces teams are specifically training for "counter-nuclear proliferation" operations in Iran. The Nevada Test Site has a number of underground facilities that fell into disuse after the United States adopted a nuclear testing moratorium in 1992. Specifically, U.S. Special Forces team are training in what is called a "realistic environment" at the test sit and are using the facility's tunnel system to test the results of the use of bunker buster bombs. The training is highly classified but it appears that some of the costs are being laundered through the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Harper's / No Comment, Witness for the Prosecution, Scott Horton, April 5, 2012. Yesterday the Obama Administration, after a delay of several years, released an important document relating to the Bush Administration’s torture policies: a memorandum by Philip Zelikow, a high-ranking State Department lawyer and confidant of Condoleezza Rice, which aggressively refuted Justice Department memoranda that sought to authorize the use of thirteen “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA. Zelikow’s memo concluded that the use of these techniques would constitute prosecutable felonies—war crimes. As Zelikow explained in an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009, his memo, when it was circulated in February 2006, caused senior figures in the Bush White House to go ballistic—they actually sought to collect and destroy all the copies. The memo is not only a significant historical document, it may also provide important evidence in future criminal prosecutions arising out of the Bush-era torture programs. Indeed, the Bush White House fully appreciated this possible consequence, which explains why they tried so hard to make the memo disappear and why Bush-era officials apparently pressed their successors to withhold the memo, delaying its release for three years.

AP / Guardian, Memo shows US official disagreed with Bush administration's view on torture, Previously-unreleased document shows state department official thought techniques were 'cruel' and 'degrading' punishment, April 3, 2012.  A memo about harsh interrogation techniques shows that a former US state department official strongly dissented from the Bush administration's secret legal view in 2005 that an international treaty against torture did not apply to CIA interrogations in foreign countries. Until now, the February 2006 analysis by Philip Zelikow has been a high-level, classified internal critique of the Bush administration's controversial interrogation policies. At the time he wrote his criticism, Zelikow was secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's representative on terrorism issues to the national security council's deputies committee.

Catching Our Attention

Time Magazine / Battleland blog, Lies, Damn Lies, and The Pentagon's Latest Budget Numbers, Winslow Wheeler, April 9, 2012. There's a pair of must-reads just out for anyone paying attention to the Pentagon's acquisition nightmare: one is a routinely scheduled, but important, report from the Defense Department; the other comes from one of the very few entities doing even minimal oversight of the Department of Defense these days, the Government Accountability Office. Reviewing the reports separately results in a muddled picture of how the Pentagon buys its weapons. Happily, each report fills some of the data missing in the other. But, the two reports still leave some gaping holes, while providing a false impression of progress in the way the Defense Department buys weapons.The two reports are GAO's annual review of major hardware acquisition, Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs, and DoD's new Selected Acquisition Report (SAR), both released March 30. What follows is my own After-Action Report -- including the gaps, contradictions, and false assurances -- after studying the data they do and don't -- contain.

Associated Press / USA Today, Connecticut state Senate votes to abolish death penalty, Jessica Hill, April 5, 2012. The state Senate voted Thursday to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut, a state that has executed only one prisoner in a half-century and is now on track to join a national trend away from capital punishment. In an early morning vote that followed more than 10 hours of debate, the Senate approved legislation that would set life imprisonment as the maximum punishment for all future cases. The bill, which has the support of the state's Democratic governor, now goes to the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, where it's expected to win approval. In the past five years, four other states have abolished the death penalty —New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey and New York. Connecticut would become the 17th state without a death penalty. Repeal proposals are also pending in several other states including Kansas and Kentucky, while advocates in California have gathered enough signatures for an initiative to throw out the death penalty that is expected to go before voters in November.

CNN, Mike Wallace, the face of investigative reporting in America, Brant Houston, April 9, 2012. For decades, Mike Wallace defined the image of the hard-charging investigative reporter. News of his death at 93 came Sunday and with it a multitude of remembrances and assessments of a complex man. Wallace's longevity and his medium -- the TV network -- put a face on investigative reporting for the public. His career reflected how investigative journalism evolved from the 1950s into the 21st century -- and showed why we still need it.

Rolling Stone, Why Obama's JOBS Act Couldn't Suck Worse, Matt Taibbi, April 9, 2012. Boy, do I feel like an idiot. I've been out there on radio and TV in the last few months saying that I thought there was a chance Barack Obama was listening to the popular anger against Wall Street that drove the Occupy movement, that decisions like putting a for-real law enforcement guy like New York AG Eric Schneiderman in charge of a mortgage fraud task force meant he was at least willing to pay lip service to public outrage against the banks. Then the JOBS Act happened.  The "Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act" will very nearly legalize fraud in the stock market. In fact, one could say this law is not just a sweeping piece of deregulation that will have an increase in securities fraud as an accidental, ancillary consequence. No, this law actually appears to have been specifically written to encourage fraud in the stock markets.

Harper's / No Comment, The Court's Body-Cavity Fixation, Scott Horton, April 4, 2012. In a case that may summarize conservative judicial attitudes toward human dignity, Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Supreme Court has decided on the claim of Albert Florence, a man apprehended for the well-known offense of traveling in an automobile while being black. Florence was hustled off to jail over a couple of bench warrants involving minor fines that had in fact been paid—evidence of which he produced to unimpressed police officers. He was then twice subjected to humiliating strip searches involving the inspection of body cavities. Florence sued, arguing that this process violated his rights....The decision reflects the elevation of the prison industry’s interest in maintaining order in its facilities above the interests of individuals. And it does so by systematically misunderstanding the reasons behind strip searches. In advancing such rationales, the Court ignores the darker truth about strip searches: they are employed for the conscious humiliation and psychological preparation of prisoners, as part of a practice designed to break them down and render them submissive.