Ex-CIA Operative Says Prison Was Punishment for Whistleblowing on Torture

John Kiriakou confirmed use of waterboarding to ABC News in 2007.

ByABC News
December 9, 2014, 12:46 PM

— -- Former CIA officer John Kiriakou is the only CIA employee connected to its interrogation program to go to prison. But he was prosecuted for providing information to reporters, not for anything connected to waterboarding or other actions that today’s Senate Intelligence Committee report calls “torture.”

No other person connected to the program has been charged with a crime, after the Justice Department said their actions had been approved legally or that there was not sufficient admissible evidence in a couple cases of potential wrongdoing, even in light of the death of two detainees in the early 2000s.

Today the Justice Department said that the Senate Intelligence report didn’t provide new information that would lead them to reopen any of the old cases.

Kiriakou was the first person with direct knowledge of the CIA interrogation program to publicly reveal its existence, in an interview with ABC News in 2007. He is now serving a nearly-three-year prison sentence for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, but he says that’s only what the government wants people to believe.

“In truth, this is my punishment for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s illegal torture program and for telling the public that torture was official U.S. government policy,” Kiriakou said in a letter last May from a prison in Loretto, Penn. “But that’s a different story.”

In his groundbreaking interview with ABC News and later with other news outlets, Kiriakou described the details of the program which he had been briefed on but never witnessed firsthand. In some cases, it turned out that even Kiriakou, who served briefly as an ABC News consultant, was misled or kept in the dark about the extent of the program.

ORIGINAL: Coming in From the Cold, CIA Spy Calls Waterboarding Necessary But Torture

For instance, he told ABC News that al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah broke after being water boarded once for less than 35 seconds and began answering “every question” the next day. “The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks," Kiriakou said.

But later it was revealed Kiriakou was wrong and Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times, according to CIA documents released in 2009. Kiriakou later said in a book that the number of waterboarding sessions “rais[ed] questions about how much useful information he actually supplied.”

Though Kiriakou’s 2007 admissions angered the CIA, the Agency said they were unrelated to the DOJ investigation that in 2012 accused Kiriakou of disclosing the name of the covert CIA operative to a reporter.

Kiriakou pleaded guilty to one charge in early 2013 and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Since, he and his supporters have mounted a public campaign aimed at getting him a pardon.

[Editor's Note: A previous version of this report mistakenly identified Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) as the al Qaeda member whose waterboarding session was described by Kiriakou. While KSM was later waterboarded, Kiriakou was describing the interrogation of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in his interview with ABC News.]