War/Security

At least being railroaded isn’t as bad as being waterboarded

Could the charges on which former C.I.A. agent John Kiriakou are being jailed be any flimsier?

You may have heard that John Kiriakou, who worked undercover and as a terrorist logistics specialist for the C.I.A. before retiring, took a plea and admitted that he violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Scott Shane of the New York Times explains why. First, his family’s financial difficulties that followed in the wake of his charges

… were complicated by Mr. Kiriakou’s legal fees. He said he had paid his defense lawyers more than $100,000 and still owed them $500,000; the specter of additional, bankrupting legal fees, along with the risk of a far longer prison term that could separate him from his wife and children for a decade or more, prompted him to take the plea offer, he said.

This is only the first case prosecuted under that act since Defense Department official Lawrence Franklin was charged with leaking to AIPAC, in 2005. Shane writes:

Thus Mr. Obama has presided over twice as many such cases as all his predecessors combined, though at least two of the six prosecutions since 2009 resulted from investigations begun under President George W. Bush.

One can’t help but conclude that the charges brought against Kiriakou were, in large part, an indication of just how angry the C.I.A. and the administration were with the criticism of waterboarding that, post-retirement, he’d aired out in the media. His actual crime, meanwhile? Shane’s explanation is worth posting in its entirety.

In 2008, when I began working on an article about the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, I asked him about an interrogator whose name I had heard: Deuce Martinez. He said that they had worked together to catch Abu Zubaydah, and that he would be a great source on Mr. Mohammed, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks.

He was able to dig up the business card Mr. Martinez had given him with contact information at Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the C.I.A. contractor that helped devise the interrogation program and Mr. Martinez’s new employer.

Mr. Martinez, an analyst by training, was retired and had never served under cover; that is, he had never posed as a diplomat or a businessman while overseas. He had placed his home address, his personal e-mail address, his job as an intelligence officer and other personal details on a public Web site for the use of students at his alma mater. Abu Zubaydah had been captured six years earlier, Mr. Mohammed five years earlier; their stories were far from secret.

Mr. Martinez never agreed to talk to me. But a few e-mail exchanges with Mr. Kiriakou as I hunted for his former colleague would eventually turn up in Mr. Kiriakou’s indictment; he was charged with revealing to me that Mr. Martinez had participated in the operation to catch Abu Zubaydah, a fact that the government said was classified.

Yeah, I know: That’s it? Shane solicits a quote from retired C.I.A. officer (and current Brookings Institution fellow and Daily Beast columnist) Bruce Riedel, for whom Kiriakou served capably while in the C.I.A.

 “To me, the irony of this whole thing is, very simply, that he’s going to be the only C.I.A. officer to go to jail over torture,” even though he publicly denounced torture, Mr. Riedel said. “It’s deeply ironic under the Democratic president who ended torture.”

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

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3 replies »

  1. This is actually my field and has been for almost 3 decades. One of the secrets of intel work is that intell officers and operatives know all that time that they are taking great risks because every operation demands that bourders be stretched. When that happens it frequently is very much the decision of the individual to decide what will happen and what decisions will be made and those decisions are career ending or making decisions. I will give you a simple example.

    in the 1980s I was part of a team that watched the Russians on Green street in San Francisco. All above board, legal, boring stuff that needed to be done. Then something happened forced me to make a decision that could have landed me in hot water and end my careet, or, accelerate it. Keep in mind that this was during Iran Contra Costa.

    At the time I was a junior nobody. I was approached by a General Officer and asked to do something that needed to be done and it was clear that I was being asked to do something that was over the line. Imagin that it was sort of like this. Imagin say, that what was asked was that I be willing to drive the General officer from Presideo of San Francisco across town to the SF Airport in 20 minutes. Can’t be done. So the General makes it very clear that he MUST make it to the Airport in 20 minutes no matter what. He further makes it clear that under no circumstances am I as the drive authorized to speed, break the law or take any sort of risk. He makes it clear that even under the most risky circumstances that it might not be possible but that it is absolutely necessary. He makes it clear that if I an not able to drive him while agreeing and understanding that he is not asking me to even bend the rules, then someone else will be found to drive him.

    Of course it is clear that failure to make the drive in that 20 minutes would have grave reprecussions for the mission and for the country. Loss of the General is equally as bad for the country. But the General is very clear that he needs both to make it to the airport in 20 minutes and that no laws be broken. Success does not mean promotion or advancement. There is no quid pro quo, it just something that needs to be done.

    So what do you do? Do you say Yes and obey every single law and get the Gereral to the airport in 40 minutes. Do you take the gereral and drive like a mad man, running stop lights and speedint so he arrives on time and still has plausible deniability, Or do you tell the Gereral that you can’t do it knowing that your career will be over.

    Operatives are put in this position all the time. The needs for the misison don’t change. But each time something happens and the laws and regulations are changed, more and more people are aksed to be the “driver”.

  2. Can the charges against John Kiriakou be any flimsier? Yes. Especially as we will soon learn that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence.