ALEXANDRIA, Va.-A former Central Intelligence Agency officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to disclosing information identifying a covert agent, capping a high-profile leak investigation that began when Guantanamo Bay detainees were found to possess photos of secret government agents.
Under a plea deal with prosecutors, the 48-year-old agent, John Kiriakou, will be sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison, most likely to be served at a minimum-security prison camp in Pennsylvania. He also will pay a $250,000 fine.
The case marked the first time in 27 years that someone was successfully prosecuted under a law making it a crime to disclose the identities of covert U.S. intelligence operatives. The Obama administration has aggressively pursued leak investigations, an approach that government-transparency advocates and other critics have charged seeks to criminalize whistleblowers for speaking out about government misconduct.
CIA Director David Petraeus told the agency's employees in an email that the case shows the importance of the oaths they take to preserve the nation's secrets.
"There are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy,'" Mr. Petraeus wrote.
Mr. Kiriakou, who had served as an intelligence officer at the CIA from 1990 to 2004, had been scheduled to go to trial next month. He had faced five separate charges stemming from his alleged disclosures to reporters of the names of one covert agent and a CIA analyst whose work history was classified.
His plea before Judge Leonie Brinkema in U.S. District Court in Virginia came after a pretrial ruling made it easier for prosecutors to win a conviction. Judge Brinkema ruled that prosecutors would have to prove only that the leaked information could be used to harm the U.S., not that Mr. Kiriakou intended to harm the U.S.
A higher standard had been applied in a previous leak prosecution, but Judge Brinkema ruled it wasn't necessary in Mr. Kiriakou's case because he was a government employee with security clearances and clearly understood the rules about disclosing classified information.
The probe began in 2009 when authorities discovered detainees at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, possessed photographs of CIA and Federal Bureau of Investigation personnel. Eventually, the FBI uncovered a 2008 email exchange in which Mr. Kiriakou gave the name of one covert operative to a journalist, who then passed it on to a private investigator working for the lawyer of a Guantanamo detainee.
Judge Brinkema noted that Mr. Kiriakou's sentence was the same as that given to former White House aide Scooter Libby in a CIA leak case. Mr. Libby's sentence, for false statements, later was commuted by then-President George W. Bush.
Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, a group that has been assisting Mr. Kiriakou, called the case "a travesty" because, she said, he was a whistleblower pointing out alleged wrongdoing in the CIA's rendition program of terror suspects.
"John didn't feel like he was outing anybody," she said, adding that he chose to plead guilty because "he wants to have his life back."
Ms. Radack said Mr. Kiriakou's financial strains were overwhelming. She said that he had paid about $110,000 in legal bills and owed roughly $500,000 more, and that his wife was pushed out of the CIA, where she also had worked.
The family moved to a smaller house and began receiving welfare and Medicaid benefits, Ms. Radack said.
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