WASHINGTON A former Central Intelligence Agency officer has been arrested and charged with illegally disclosing classified information to journalists, including the identity of a covert officer and details about the capture of terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah, the Justice Department said on Monday.
John Kiriakou, 47, worked for the CIA from 1990 to 2004 as an intelligence officer and then worked as a senior staff member for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2009 until May 2011.
He was accused of revealing to one journalist in 2008 the identity of the covert CIA officer who was involved in the agency's program to secretly capture terrorism suspects, bring them to U.S.-run detention facilities and interrogate them.
Kiriakou was also accused of revealing to three reporters the identity of a second CIA officer involved in the capture and interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, believed to be al Qaeda's field commander who was captured in March 2002 in Pakistan.
The case emerged after their names were included in sealed filings made by defense lawyers in the cases involving terrorism suspects held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to the criminal complaint.
The covert officer's name was never publicly revealed, but the New York Times published the second officer's name in 2008. U.S. authorities said they never provided that information to the defense lawyers.
Kiriakou provided contact information for both officers as well as details about the second officer's role in the Zubaydah operation, it said.
Photographs of the second individual were also found among materials held by the terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo prison. After those incidents, U.S. officials launched an investigation.
"Both Officer B's association with the RDI (Rendition, Detention and Interrogation) program, and the Abu Zubaydah operation in particular, were classified until that information recently was declassified in order to allow this prosecution to go forward," according to an FBI affidavit.
The Justice Department said that one of the journalists that Kiriakou aided had provided the information about the two CIA officers to an investigator for the defense team for detainees at the prison.
Defense lawyers used the photographs in a group of unidentified people to see if the detainees recognized anyone who participated in the questioning of them. No charges were filed against the defense team.
The interrogation of Zubaydah has been controversial because interrogators used the technique known as waterboarding, which simulates drowning, to try to obtain information from him. Two other terrorism suspects were also subjected to waterboarding.
Kiriakou denied any wrongdoing during an interview with the FBI last week. Kiriakou's lawyer was not immediately available for comment.
He was charged with one count of revealing the identity of a covert agent, two counts of violating the Espionage Act for disclosing national defense information and one count of making false statements.
The count charging illegal disclosure of a covert officer's identity carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, which must be imposed consecutively to any other prison term. The two espionage counts each carry up to 10 years in prison while lying provides for up to five years in prison.
CIA Director David Petraeus issued a statement saying the agency supported the investigation and reminded employees of their obligation to keep classified information secret.
"Given the sensitive nature of many of our Agency's operations and the risks we ask our employees to take, the illegal passage of secrets is an abuse of trust that may put lives in jeopardy," he said.
(Reporting By Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Philip Barbara)