ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A judge on Friday rejected claims from a former CIA officer that he is the victim of vindictive prosecution and refused to drop charges that he allegedly leaked covert operatives' names to journalists.
Lawyers for John Kiriakou sought to have most of the charges against him dismissed, arguing in court papers that the case is retribution for public statements by Kiriakou that portrayed the CIA in an unflattering light. They argued that similar leaks have not been the subject of a criminal prosecution.
At Friday's hearing, though, the judge cut off the argument before it began and ruled that the prosecution would go forward.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema called the defense arguments "interesting" and "provocative" but said they failed to meet the high burden necessary to dismiss charges. She also expressed skepticism about the claim of selective prosecution, noting that the Obama administration has increased the number of prosecutions against those who allegedly leak government secrets. She cited a case currently on her docket, that of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who is accused of leaking classified information about covert operations in Iran to a New York Times reporter.
Kiriakou's lawyers, Robert Trout and Plato Cacheris, also sought to have the charges dismissed as impermissibly vague. Trout argued that Kiriakou has First Amendment rights to speak out on matters of public interest, and that it is problematic to restrict those rights by alleging the disclosure of classified information when there is an acknowledged problem within the government of excessive classification of information.
Brinkema said she would issue a written ruling later on the defense motion, but expressed skepticism that it is the court's role to decide whether classified information should or should not be classified. And she said it seems clear that disclosing the names of classified operatives would fall outside the protections of the First Amendment.
Kiriakou was involved in the capture of al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded. Kiriakou publicly confirmed the waterboarding and expressed conflicting opinions about its effectiveness. Kiriakou's comments were cited by both advocates and opponents in the national debate over whether waterboarding of high-value terrorist detainees is ever appropriate.