NEW CASTLE —
CIA whistleblower John C. Kiriakou, formerly of New Castle, was sentenced this morning to 30 months for disclosing the name of an intelligence officer to a journalist, who never published it.
The sentence was part of a plea deal Kiriakou entered into on Oct. 23.
He could have been sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
Judge Leonie M. Brinkama said she would have given him a stiffer sentence had it gone to trial or if she had discretion.
At the time of his guilty plea, Central Intelligence Agency officials declared victory for the intelligence community, while prosecutors said the government has a vital interest in protecting the identities of covert operatives.
It is the first time in 27 years that the government has successfully prosecuted someone under the Identities Protection Act, which was passed in 1982 to deter radicals from deliberately disclosing identities of undercover agents, endangering their lives.
Kiriakou, 48, is expected to serve his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution at Loretto, Pa., a minimum-security prison 90 miles east of Pittsburgh where white-collar criminals including former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland have served.
"The decision to plead guilty was the most difficult decision of my life. I am now glad to have the certainty of being home with my children in 30 months," Kiriakou, a father of five, wrote in a statement posted to a website launched as part of friends' efforts to raise money for his defense. "I wish I could thank each and every one of you individually, as your support has meant the world to me."
The criminal charge stems from an email message Kiriakou sent in response a freelance journalist who asked for the name of a covert officer involved in capturing suspected terrorists. Kiriakou later told the New York Times that he thought the officer since retired and that he wouldn't have provided the name if he knew the man was still under cover.
In exchange for a guilty plea to that charge, prosecutors dropped other counts alleging that Kiriakou disclosed information about another operative and that he lied to the CIA's Publications Review Board.
At one point, Judge Brinkema asked Kiriakou if he wanted to say something. He said, "Thank you, no, your honor."
She replied, "Perhaps you've already said too much."
The judge also said during the proceedings, "This case is not a case about a whistleblower. It's a case about a man who betrayed a very solemn trust.. . . I think 30 months is frankly way too light — because the message has to be sent to every covert agent that when you leave the agency you can't just start discussing the names of those with whom you worked."
Prosecutors became aware of the security breach after the freelance journalist passed along Kiriakou's disclosure to attorneys for Guantanamo Bay detainees in order to confirm the information. The journalist never published the name.
Kiriakou had been a highly commended was 15-year veteran of the CIA He is credited with playing a key role in the 2002 capture of Abu Zubaydah, the third-ranking Al-Qaeda leader. He worked as an analyst, counterterrorism operations officer and chief of counterterrorist operations in Pakistan.
He left the agency in 2004 for a consulting job. In 2007 he began talking publically about government interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, and has said his criticism of the government was tied to the charges.
"It sends a very chilling message that if you speak up you are not only risking your career, but your liberty and you could go to jail for years," said Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director of the Government Accountability Project, which has represented Mr. Kiriakou in his whistleblower suit. She said he lost his home, had to go on welfare and has been "bankrupted, blacklisted and broken" by the case.
Kiriakou lectured about it at the University of Pittsburgh in 2008, telling 150 students he was always conflicted about waterboarding and that its use should be re-evaluated.
He was born in Sharon, Pa., and raised in New Castle, where he lived until college when he moved to Washington, D.C., to major in Middle Eastern studies and legislative affairs at George Washington University.