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Ex-CIA officer pleads to leaking operative info

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A former CIA officer pleaded guilty yesterday to leaking the identity of one of the agency's covert operatives to a reporter and will be sentenced to more than 2 years in prison.

As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges for John Kiriakou, 48, that had been filed under the World War I-era Espionage Act. They also dropped a count of making false statements.

The law under which Kiriakou was convicted, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, had not yielded a conviction in 27 years.

Under the plea, all sides agreed to a prison term of 2 1/2 years. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema noted the term was identical to that imposed on Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was accused of leaking information that compromised the covert identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Libby's sentence was commuted by President George W. Bush.

Kiriakou, who wrote a book detailing his CIA career, initially tried to argue he was a victim of vindictive prosecution by government officials who believed he portrayed the CIA negatively, but the judge rejected those arguments.

A CIA veteran, Kiriakou played a role in the agency's capture of al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in 2002. Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded by government interrogators and eventually revealed information that led to the arrest of "dirty bomb" plotter Jose Padilla and exposed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Accounts conflict, though, over whether the waterboarding was helpful in gleaning intelligence from Zubaydah. Kiriakou, who did not participate in the waterboarding, expressed ambivalence in news media interviews about the technique, but ultimately declared it was torture.

After the hearing, lawyer Robert Trout told reporters Kiriakou "is a loyal American who loves his country . . . and served it for many years in classified and often dangerous assignments." Kiriakou declined to comment.

One of Kiriakou's lawyers described him as a whistle-blower. Jesselyn Radack, an expert on whistle-blower issues with the Government Accountability Project, said it was an outrage that Kiriakou will serve jail time. She was glad, though, that the charges under the Espionage Act, which she characterized as vague and overbroad, were dropped.

Prosecutors dispute the notion that Kiriakou was any kind of whistle-blower.

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