Commentary Magazine


Scott Shane’s Shame

John Kiriakou, the former CIA operative who pled guilty to one count of leaking information, was sentenced on Friday to 30 months in prison. I have known John for almost two decades since I was a State Department intern in Bahrain at a time he served there. Even though we have often been on different sides of the issues, work has often led us to cross paths and, because of mutual friends, we have also seen each other socially on sporadic occasion. While I do not defend the crime to which Kiriakou has plead guilty and has now been sentenced, as often in these matters, I suspect the case is more complicated than that depicted in the press. With so much material classified, it can be near impossible to present a defense if most of the material upon which the defense would be based cannot be used because it is rightly or wrongly classified. There certainly seems to be ample evidence that the prosecution was selective. While that does not mitigate the wrong, it should raise questions if the FBI identified other leaks in the same case involving far more material released by another but which the CIA chose not to pursue.

The public learned more background about both Kiriakou and the case on January 6, when New York Times reporter Scott Shane published a major piece describing the case, and how the FBI nabbed Kiriakou. From the first paragraph, it is clear that Kiriakou helped Shane with the story. While The New York Times’ ombudsman has written about issues surrounding a reporter writing a story about a case in which he is a participant, if my understanding is correct, the Times’ coverage omits one crucial detail: Because he wanted to ensure a scoop, Shane apparently broke an agreement to embargo the story until after Kiriakou’s sentencing, putting at risk the ability of Kiriakou’s family—including very young children—to see their father.

One can have their own opinion about Kiriakou’s actions and responsibilities, but when the government has bankrupted the family—and when the CIA has fired the wife in retaliation for the husband’s action, it would make a huge difference financially if because of a prosecutor’s spite, the family had to get to Alaska rather than drive to Pennsylvania.

I do not know where John will serve his sentence. But if a reporter depends upon his honor to win access to sources, it is a wonder that any source would talk to the New York Times.