A former Central Intelligence Agency officer pleaded guilty on Tuesday to disclosing the identity of a covert agent, saying he revealed the name in an email to a journalist in 2008.
John Kiriakou, 48, entered the plea in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He is expected to spend up to 2-1/2 years in prison for the secrecy violation, in which he helped journalists who wanted information on the CIA’s interrogation of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah.
The guilty plea closes one of several prosecutions the Obama administration has brought in an aggressive campaign against alleged leakers of classified information. His Justice Department has prosecuted more leak cases than all previous administrations combined.
Kiriakou was to go on trial next month on the disclosure allegation and four other charges. He had said he was not guilty when the charges were made public in January.
Kiriakou briefly lashed out at prosecutors during a 30-minute court hearing.
He told Judge Leonie Brinkema that prosecutors required him to describe in court papers too much of his contact with journalists, with the coauthor of a memoir about Kiriakou’s life as a CIA agent, and with FBI agents.
The information, he said, was inflammatory and irrelevant to the one leak charge to which he pleaded guilty.
The judge partly agreed, calling the information in court papers “window dressing.” But she said it would not affect his sentence.
In exchange for the change of plea, prosecutors agreed to drop the four other charges and to limit Kiriakou’s prison sentence to 2-1/2 years.
The sentence is binding under the terms of a deal between Kiriakou’s lawyers and prosecutors, but Brinkema scheduled a formal sentencing hearing for January.
She called the sentence “reasonable under the circumstances” and noted it was the same sentence that a judge gave to former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in 2007 in another case of blown CIA cover. President George W. Bush commuted Libby’s term, sparing him from prison.
The maximum penalty Kiriakou faced under federal law for the one charge was 10 years.
Kiriakou’s lawyer Robert Trout told Brinkema in court that prosecutors offered Kiriakou a plea agreement before he was indicted, but that the offer was rejected.
“In my judgment, it was not as favorable” as the offer Kiriakou accepted on Tuesday, Trout said. He did not disclose details.
Kiriakou would serve his sentence in a minimum-security prison camp in Pennsylvania if the U.S. Bureau of Prisons agrees to the arrangement between defense lawyers and prosecutors.
Kiriakou also agreed to a $250,000 fine.