In the Line of Fire: Questions about Former CIA Agent’s Arrest
NEW YORK (MintPress) — Former CIA officer and media darling John Kiriakou, who was recently charged with espionage, lying to investigators and disclosing the identity of a covert agent, is not the only one in the family facing an uncertain future. In the wake of Kiriakou’s arrest last month, his wife Heather, a top CIA analyst, has resigned, apparently under pressure from her superiors to do so. She was on maternity leave at the time.
Kiriakou, who left the CIA in 2004, first came to prominence in 2007 when he gave an interview to ABC News admitting the use of water boarding as a CIA interrogation technique. During the interview, he described the water boarding of Abu Zubaydah, a top Al-Qaeda operative whom Kiriakou helped to arrest in Pakistan in 2002.
Although many of the facts he gave in the interview later turned out not to be true, he played a major role in stirring up public debate about the of water boarding, which President Obama in 2009 declared constituted torture and was illegal.
Deciphering the charges
Despite the furor caused by Kiriakou’s interview, nothing in the criminal complaint alleges any wrongdoing connected to it.
Instead, it makes the charge that Kiriakou revealed the name of a CIA colleague responsible for interrogating Zubaydah to three journalists, including a New York Times reporter. The Times did not publish the operative’s name but apparently passed it along to defense attorneys for a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, who then wrote a classified legal brief that mentioned the officer by name.
The complaint also alleges that Kirikaou provided the name of another CIA agent, Deuce Martinez, who was not an undercover officer but who was identified in a 2008 front page piece in the New York Times detailing the interrogation of Zubaydah and other Al-Qaeda leaders.
Finally, Kiriakou allegedly lied to the CIA so he could publish his 2010 memoir “The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.” The CIA has to vet all employees’ proposals for books to make sure that classified information isn’t disclosed. The affidavit cites an email Kiriakou wrote to his co-author, saying he would get the CIA to allow parts of the book to be published by saying they were fictionalized and therefore couldn’t possibly be classified.
Part of a pattern
Kiriakou is the sixth current or former government official that the Obama administration has charged with espionage for leaking classified information to reporters. The Espionage Act of 1917 was used only three times by all previous presidents combined.
That, despite the fact that when Obama entered office he pledged unprecedented transparency for government operations. Instead, what had previous been used almost entirely against foreign spies is being aggressively employed for domestic purposes.
“Obama has effectively told the CIA ‘you’re in charge and if you want to go after them we will,’” Scott Horton, a prominent human rights attorney and professor at Columbia Law School, tells MintPress. “There’s also been a lack of independent discretion by the Justice Department; there was much more under Bush than there is under Obama.”
Attorney General Eric Holder maintains that the leaks by Kiriakou jeopardized national Security. “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,” he said in a statement.
“Is that really what they think?,” counters Horton. “The intelligence assessment is there are fewer than 400 Al Qaeda operatives in the world, and there’s no immediate threat to people in the U.S. CIA operatives travel with fake names anyway, so the notion of their safety being compromised strikes me as barely plausible.”
So what is behind the arrest? Even though Kiriakou wasn’t officially condemned for his ABC News interview, many believe the CIA has been looking for a way to retaliate ever since.
“I think that he described the approval structure for torture and they are furious about that,” says Horton. “Second, while he worked as a senior assistant to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he was aggressively probing some things the CIA did that it did not want revealed. The reaction to all of this was to put pressure on the Justice Department to take him down.”
Kiriakou is not going down quietly. His attorney said he would plead not guilty to the charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. And he says he is determined to fight the case.
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