Knight Center
Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

U.S. sentences first CIA officer for media leaks; CPJ calls Obama to reset "legacy on whistleblowers"



John C. Kiriakou became the first Central Intelligence Agency officer sentenced to prison for leaking classified information to the media, reported The New York Times on Friday, Jan. 25. According to the Times, Kiriakou will serve 30 months in prison for releasing the name of an undercover CIA agent to a reporter and information about the intelligence agency’s use of waterboarding, a controversial interrogation technique.

Kiriakou is not the first government employee prosecuted for releasing information to the media during President Obama’s time in office. Since Obama took office in 2009, his administration has charged five other current and former government employees for releasing classified information to the press, more than all previous administrations combined, according to the Times.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Obama administration to live up to its pledge to become the most “transparent administration in history,” and use his second term in office to set an example for the defense of freedom of expression and access to information.

CPJ wrote on its website that during Obama’s first term his administration “repeatedly invoked executive privilege, fought freedom of information requests, and--most disturbingly to press freedom advocates--aggressively went after whistleblowers who leaked classified information.”

The press freedom group criticized the president’s record of supporting whistleblowing in principle while aggressively prosecuting those who speak out. Activists lauded the president for signing the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement act in November 2012, reported Mother Jones, and extended its protections to national security personnel and government contractors. CPJ, however, noted that the president included a “wide loophole” in the law’s application in a signing statement made to a later bill.

CPJ wrote that some press freedom groups are wary that the administration’s prosecutions could lead to future charges against the press. CPJ reported that while no one has been charged for publishing secret information, reporters have been subpoenaed to testify and expose their confidential sources.

Others blame WikiLeaks for the government’s aggressive stance on leaks. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum last summer to deter his possible extradition and prosecution in the United States.

Kiriakou is the first person successfully prosecuted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 27 years, according to the Times. The reporter the ex-CIA official spoke to did not publish the undercover agent’s name, although the Times pointed out that the agent’s identity appeared in a sealed legal filing and on an “obscure” website.



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