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Topic: John Kiriakou

Where’s the Outrage Over CIA Outing?

The White House had egg on its face today. The news about the accidental outing of the name of the CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan seemed to be just one more instance in a long list of incompetent episodes in a second term that is proving to be as problematic as even President Obama’s sternest critics predicted. But the story of how the name of the station chief—which is, obviously, classified material, and was sent out in an email to thousands of journalists as one of a number of people briefing the president during his Memorial Day weekend trip to Afghanistan—should not be dismissed as merely the latest episode of the real life situation comedy that is Obama’s second-term West Wing staff.

Coming as it did from an administration and a political party that has often sought to successfully criminalize the leaking of such information in the recent past, we have a right to ask where’s the outrage about this colossal error? But more than that, this absurd tale also speaks volumes about the hypocrisy and selective prosecution policies pursued by the same people now telling us to move along because there’s nothing to see.

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The White House had egg on its face today. The news about the accidental outing of the name of the CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan seemed to be just one more instance in a long list of incompetent episodes in a second term that is proving to be as problematic as even President Obama’s sternest critics predicted. But the story of how the name of the station chief—which is, obviously, classified material, and was sent out in an email to thousands of journalists as one of a number of people briefing the president during his Memorial Day weekend trip to Afghanistan—should not be dismissed as merely the latest episode of the real life situation comedy that is Obama’s second-term West Wing staff.

Coming as it did from an administration and a political party that has often sought to successfully criminalize the leaking of such information in the recent past, we have a right to ask where’s the outrage about this colossal error? But more than that, this absurd tale also speaks volumes about the hypocrisy and selective prosecution policies pursued by the same people now telling us to move along because there’s nothing to see.

It should be remembered that it was only a few years ago that the same Democratic Party that currently runs the White House was up in arms because the name of a CIA official was leaked to the press. While initially thought to be an act of political revenge by a Bush administration seeking to get even with officials who opposed their Iraq policies, it turned out that the person who actually gave up the now famous name of Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak was Richard Armitage, a State Department official who was just as hostile to the White House as much of the press. But the outrage about Plame’s outing in the liberal mainstream press was universal and white-hot. An angry Washington press corps helped manufacture a crisis that forced President Bush to appoint a special prosecutor to look into an act that was proclaimed to be nothing short of treason. The prosecutor—Patrick Fitzgerald—spent millions of taxpayer dollars largely on trying to pin the leak on Bush political advisor Karl Rove or Vice President Dick Cheney. Even after he learned that it was Armitage who had done the deed and that there was no ill intent or crime to be prosecuted, Fitzgerald didn’t let up and wound up successfully prosecuting Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby for perjury over something he said to a grand jury about the case. Libby was innocent in Plame’s outing as well as of the perjury charge, but that didn’t stop the press from crucifying him. Even today, many Americans still think it was Libby who outed Plame and that in doing so he had endangered her life even though both assertions are false.

Libby’s ruin was the result of partisan politics but once Bush’s Democratic opponents took over in January 2009, they began their own campaign to make leakers pay. In one prominent example, another CIA official, John Kiriakou was sent to prison for leaking the name of another CIA officer who had conducted the waterboarding of al-Qaeda terror suspects.

But when it comes to their own incompetence, this White House isn’t so up in arms about leaks whatever their causes.

Let’s remember that what occurred this past week was far worse than anything that happened to Plame. Plame was, after all, serving in an office in Virginia and, while classified, was no secret. By contrast, the CIA station chief whose name was released is in peril every day in Kabul. He is serving on the front lines of a shooting war and the release of his name in this indiscriminate manner may well have compromised his effectiveness if not his safety.

No matter what the cause of this leak, the person who did it should be punished. If not, those throughout the security establishment who have been harshly treated by an administration that is paranoid about leaks have a right to complain. So does Libby. In the past, high-ranking Democrats such as Clinton administration National Security Advisor Sandy Berger have often gotten a pass or a slap on the wrist for security breaches that were considered serious offenses when committed by Republicans. If the press lets Obama get away with this blunder, it will be just one more example of the refusal of the national press to hold this administration to the same standards that it judges the president’s opponents.

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Targeting Kiriakou Unacceptable

John Kiriakou, the former CIA agent and convicted leaker, has made mistakes. Last October, he pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection act of 1982 after he confirmed a CIA officer’s identity to a reporter. What John did was wrong and a crime for which he is now doing the time, even if prosecutors allegedly withheld evidence that the reporter to whom John leaked had received more information of a more sensitive nature from a currently-serving CIA officer but that the CIA had declined to prosecute in that case, reinforcing the notion that John’s prosecution was rooted more in politics than justice. I do roll my eyes at John’s rhetoric about “illegal torture,” as John, I suspect, is simply catering to the mythologies of his leftist supporters, as the right has pretty much abandoned him.

Full disclosure: John and I have been casual friends for almost two decades, dating back to a time when he worked and I interned at the U.S. embassy in Bahrain. We may disagree politically, but neither of us bases friendships on politics. We kept in touch both before and after his arrest. Through mutual friends, I have followed his day-to-day travails in prison and so was aware of some of what was in his letter, but this part shocked me and is, if true, absolutely unacceptable:

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John Kiriakou, the former CIA agent and convicted leaker, has made mistakes. Last October, he pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection act of 1982 after he confirmed a CIA officer’s identity to a reporter. What John did was wrong and a crime for which he is now doing the time, even if prosecutors allegedly withheld evidence that the reporter to whom John leaked had received more information of a more sensitive nature from a currently-serving CIA officer but that the CIA had declined to prosecute in that case, reinforcing the notion that John’s prosecution was rooted more in politics than justice. I do roll my eyes at John’s rhetoric about “illegal torture,” as John, I suspect, is simply catering to the mythologies of his leftist supporters, as the right has pretty much abandoned him.

Full disclosure: John and I have been casual friends for almost two decades, dating back to a time when he worked and I interned at the U.S. embassy in Bahrain. We may disagree politically, but neither of us bases friendships on politics. We kept in touch both before and after his arrest. Through mutual friends, I have followed his day-to-day travails in prison and so was aware of some of what was in his letter, but this part shocked me and is, if true, absolutely unacceptable:

I was ushered into the office of SIS, the Special Investigative Service. This is the prison version of every police department’s detective bureau… The CO [Corrections Officer] showed me a picture of an Arab. “Do you know this guy,” he asked me. I responded that I had met him a day earlier, but our conversation was limited to “nice to meet you.” Well, the CO said, this was the uncle of the Times Square bomber, and after we had met, he called a number in Pakistan, reported the meeting, and was told to kill me…. The CO said they were looking to ship him out, so I should stay away from him. But the more I thought about it, the more this made no sense. Why would the uncle of the Times Square bomber be in a low-security prison? He should be in a maximum. So I asked my Muslim friends to check him out. It turns out that he’s an Iraqi Kurd from Buffalo, NY. He was the imam of a mosque there, which also happened to be the mosque where the “Lackawana 7″ worshipped… The FBI pressured him to testify against his parishioners. He refused and got five years for obstruction of justice….  In the meantime, SIS told him that I had made a call to Washington after we met, and that I had been instructed to kill him! We both laughed at the ham-handedness by which SIS tried to get us to attack each other.

John has made mistakes, but the fact that he has been on the front lines of the war on terror, both before and after 9/11, is without doubt. It is also true that John had previously assisted the FBI on a counter-espionage investigation in which an Asian country was targeting congressional staffers. While John cooperated with the FBI; then-Senator John Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director refused to do so. Whatever one thinks of John and his mistakes, it is reprehensible if true and also racist to seek to trick a former CIA officer and a Muslim to target each other. The war on terror isn’t a parlor game, nor is it the job of any corrections officer to have someone target a man who has spent his career fighting terrorists or, indeed, anyone. Left, right, or center, this is unacceptable. Let us hope there will be an investigation and that the corrections officer in question, if found guilty, finds himself on the other side of the bars.

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John Kerry and the Spy

Scott Shane’s New York Times account of the prosecution of former CIA operative John Kiriakou begins:

Looking back, John C. Kiriakou admits he should have known better. But when the F.B.I. called him a year ago and invited him to stop by and “help us with a case,” he did not hesitate. In his years as a C.I.A. operative, after all, Mr. Kiriakou had worked closely with F.B.I. agents overseas. Just months earlier, he had reported to the bureau a recruiting attempt by someone he believed to be an Asian spy. “Anything for the F.B.I.,” Mr. Kiriakou replied.

Hence, under the pretense of that counterterrorism episode, Kiriakou agreed to speak to the FBI without a lawyer present. What Shane does not describe, however, is the backstory, an episode that reflects on how newly-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry has put his own personal ambition above national security.

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Scott Shane’s New York Times account of the prosecution of former CIA operative John Kiriakou begins:

Looking back, John C. Kiriakou admits he should have known better. But when the F.B.I. called him a year ago and invited him to stop by and “help us with a case,” he did not hesitate. In his years as a C.I.A. operative, after all, Mr. Kiriakou had worked closely with F.B.I. agents overseas. Just months earlier, he had reported to the bureau a recruiting attempt by someone he believed to be an Asian spy. “Anything for the F.B.I.,” Mr. Kiriakou replied.

Hence, under the pretense of that counterterrorism episode, Kiriakou agreed to speak to the FBI without a lawyer present. What Shane does not describe, however, is the backstory, an episode that reflects on how newly-confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry has put his own personal ambition above national security.

Kiriakou was serving on Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff when he was allegedly approached by an Asian national who apparently offered him money for information. Kiriakou is not a wealthy man and despite the leaking plea, he is a patriot; he not only refused, but he also apparently reported the contact to the FBI immediately, as all government officials in a similar situation should.

The FBI requested Kiriakou cooperate in an effort to gather evidence on the alleged spy—presumably wear a wire or some such thing—and Kiriakou agreed. Enter Senator Kerry: Fearing any controversy which could envelope him—and a foreign intelligence service seeking confidential information counted in his mind as controversy—Kerry and his Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director Frank Lowenstein, now with the Podesta Group, forbade any cooperation with the FBI that would prolong an investigation and involve a Kerry staffer cooperating with the FBI.

Problem solved, if the problem is political imagery. But if the problem is defense of national security, then Kerry seems to have decided his own ambition was the greater concern. How unfortunate, then, that he has been rewarded for such a cynical calculation. And how typical it is that The New York Times would not report on the broader issue because it might reflect badly on a politician the paper supports.

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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.

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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.

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Secrecy, National Security, and the Case of John Kiriakou

Scott Shane of the New York Times has written a long and somewhat awkward article about the indictment, plea bargain, and federal prison sentencing of former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Long, because the story is complicated, and Shane must recount about a decade’s worth of national security history and policy to get us from A to Z. Awkward, because Shane is a prominent element in the federal indictment against Kiriakou.

At the heart of this case is information Kiriakou provided to Shane for a story, and to another reporter for a second story. We often see such stories play out through a drama in which reporters protect their sources and risk jail time to do so. But in this case, Shane could not protect Kiriakou, nor was it at all clear that Kiriakou would have needed such protection. Kiriakou became a minor media star in 2007 when he spoke out about the agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding. Kiriakou defended the decision to waterboard in 2002 (“I think the second-guessing of 2002 decisions is unfair,” he told Shane) but was against the practice going forward. Shane asked Kiriakou about another CIA officer. Kiriakou said he knew the officer, and that the two had worked together in pursuit of Abu Zubaydah. The officer never agreed to talk to Shane, and had never been undercover. But Kiriakou’s email to Shane turned up in the indictment against him for revealing the identity of an agent.

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Scott Shane of the New York Times has written a long and somewhat awkward article about the indictment, plea bargain, and federal prison sentencing of former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Long, because the story is complicated, and Shane must recount about a decade’s worth of national security history and policy to get us from A to Z. Awkward, because Shane is a prominent element in the federal indictment against Kiriakou.

At the heart of this case is information Kiriakou provided to Shane for a story, and to another reporter for a second story. We often see such stories play out through a drama in which reporters protect their sources and risk jail time to do so. But in this case, Shane could not protect Kiriakou, nor was it at all clear that Kiriakou would have needed such protection. Kiriakou became a minor media star in 2007 when he spoke out about the agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding. Kiriakou defended the decision to waterboard in 2002 (“I think the second-guessing of 2002 decisions is unfair,” he told Shane) but was against the practice going forward. Shane asked Kiriakou about another CIA officer. Kiriakou said he knew the officer, and that the two had worked together in pursuit of Abu Zubaydah. The officer never agreed to talk to Shane, and had never been undercover. But Kiriakou’s email to Shane turned up in the indictment against him for revealing the identity of an agent.

Kiriakou is accused of revealing the name of that agent to Shane and one other agent to a different reporter. There are obvious questions here about the nature of the reporter-source relationship. Neither man in this case thought he was doing something unlawful or unethical. Nothing came of the disclosure. As Max wrote with regard to the scandal surrounding David Petraeus, some information remains officially classified or secret long after it has been revealed in the media. Thus, such information becomes common knowledge, yet discussing it is not decriminalized. The decision to investigate and prosecute such conversations, then, can smack of political motivation–all the more so for someone like Kiriakou, who became an uncommonly public figure for a CIA agent by leaving the agency and going public with his opinions about the CIA’s methods.

However, Shane remains an interested party here, with a clear preference for Kiriakou’s exoneration, both legally and personally, since Shane wants continued access to such sources and a clear conscience to do so. Thus, Shane’s readers will be subject to justifications and false choices that conveniently absolve him of guilt. In that vein, Shane writes on the Obama administration’s increased push for combating leaks it sees as unhelpful to the White House:

The resulting chill on officials’ willingness to talk is deplored by journalists and advocates of open government; without leaks, they note, Americans might never have learned about the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods or the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping. But for supporters of greater secrecy, the chill is precisely the goal.

This is, clearly, an overly simplistic view of the issue. First of all, not all leaks are created equal: some are legal and others break federal law. Second, some leaks are clearly damaging to national security, and thus put Americans in unnecessary danger. Some don’t. The press coverage of Washington is built around the use of leaks and unnamed sources, much of which is perfectly legal. The Times takes this practice to such an obsessive degree that reading the Times, one often expects to hear the week’s weather forecast followed by “according to an unnamed satellite who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he has not been authorized by the sun to discuss these matters.”

A good example of a damaging leak is the New York Times’s decision to publish in 2006 the details of a highly successful secret program used by the government to track the finances of terrorist activity. The program was legal and constitutional, but the Times saw an opportunity to damage the Bush administration’s national security efforts, and took it—safety of Americans be damned. Democrats and Republicans, experts and officials, pleaded with then-Times Executive Editor Bill Keller not to publish the story. Keller ignored them.

The point here is that neither the government nor the crusading journalist is always right. Rather, they both err in judgment or in law—and sometimes both. Shane asked a source for information that would land the source in a federal prison and nearly bankrupt his family, costing his wife her job as well. So the neat categories into which Shane seeks to divide the voices in this scandal are understandable, but that doesn’t make them any less mistaken or self-serving.

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