The CIA agent sentenced to prison for leaking the identify of a covert officer involved in waterboarding acknowledged he made a “terrible mistake” but said he prides himself on highlighting the agency’s use of torture.
“I wear this conviction as a badge of honor because this conviction is not about leaking. This case was about torture from the very beginning,” John Kiriakou told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie on Monday. “If every officer or former CIA officer was prosecuted for referring a reporter to a former colleague for an interview, the prisons would be bursting with CIA officers.”
Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison last Friday as part of a plea deal. U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said she would abide by the terms but called the sentence “way too light.”
"This is not a case of a whistleblower," Brinkema said. "This is a case of a man who betrayed a solemn trust."
But Kiriakou defended his actions, denying his intent was to raise his media profile and saying what he did fit the precise legal definition of a whistleblower.
“That is someone who brings to light evidence of waste, fraud or illegality and that’s what I did,” he said.
Kiriakou originally defended the CIA’s interrogation techniques, saying in a 2007 interview he felt the agency had “gotten a bum rap on waterboarding.” But he told TODAY he was misled at the time.
Former CIA agent John Kiriakou talks with TODAY's Matt Lauer in 2007 about the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes.
“I was relying on what the CIA had told CIA officers inside the building, that these methods were effective. That turned out to be a lie,” he said.
Prosecutors said Kiriakou leaked the name of a CIA operative to a reporter who then passed it along to defense attorneys representing detainees in Guantanamo prison. Kiriakou told TODAY he should have never revealed the name of the undercover agent.
“That was a terrible mistake,” he said. But he also said he didn’t realize he was endangering the individual because he had heard the agent had retired.
“I didn’t realize that he had retired undercover,” Kiriakou said. “That’s not an excuse. It’s not a defense. It’s an explanation.”
Prosecutors said Kiriakou endangered the life of the undercover officer and damaged the CIA’s ability to pursue, capture and interrogate key suspects involved in the September 11 attacks on the United States.
“I accept responsibility for my wrongdoing,” he said but he then turned the blame to others.
He said prosecutors also should have pursued the reporter involved “because he really wasn’t a journalist; he was working for the defense.”
Kiriakou said he also hopes President Obama will commute his sentence because “I know in his heart, he’s anti-torture.”
“This case is about torture and I would hate for there to be only one person going to prison related to the torture program and it being me when the torturers are walking free,” he said. “And those who conceived of the torture are free, those who destroyed evidence of the torture are free and even the attorneys who papered over the torture are free.”
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