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.
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.
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.