ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A former CIA officer accused of leaking to journalists the identities of two former colleagues involved in the agency's detention and interrogation program for high-level al-Qaida suspects pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a single charge. The plea deal was a victory for the Obama administration's crackdown on unauthorized disclosures of government secrets.
The former officer, John Kiriakou, 48, stood in a federal courtroom in the Eastern District of Virginia and told the judge that he had violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act by disclosing the name of a former colleague to a reporter, who has been identified as Matthew Cole, formerly of ABC News. Under the terms of the plea deal, Kiriakou will be sentenced to 21/2 years in prison.
But prosecutors agreed to drop several other charges, including accusations that he identified another colleague involved in interrogations to a different journalist, Scott Shane of the New York Times, and that he lied to a CIA publication board reviewing his memoir.
Kiriakou worked for the CIA from 1990 to 2004. He was a leader of the team that located and captured Abu Zubaydah, a suspected high-level member of al-Qaida, in Pakistan in 2002. He came to public attention in 2007 when he gave an interview to ABC News portraying the suffocation technique called waterboarding as torture, but calling it necessary.
Kiriakou spoke calmly in court as he stood to face Judge Leonie Brinkema. His lawyer, Robert Trout, stood beside him as the judge asked him a series of questions to make sure he understood the details and ramifications of his plea before she asked him how he would plead.
"Guilty," he said, nodding slightly.
Brinkema set a hearing to sentence Kiriakou formally on Jan. 25. But she indicated that she thought the 30-month term in the plea deal was appropriate, noting that it was the same term that I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, received for obstruction charges in connection with the investigation into the disclosure of the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson. President George W. Bush later commuted Libby's prison term.
In a statement to employees of the CIA on Tuesday, the director of the agency, David Petraeus, hailed the guilty plea as the first successful prosecution under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 27 years and called it "an important victory" for the intelligence community.