After Tuesday's hearing, one of Kiriakou's lawyers described him as a whistleblower. Jesselyn Radack, an expert on whistleblower issues with the Government Accountability Project, said it was an outrage that Kiriakou will serve jail time. She was glad, though, that the charges under the Espionage Act — which she characterized as vague and overbroad— were dropped.
She said Kiriakou was motivated to take the plea by the fact that he has five children and wanted to ensure he would be out of prison in time to see them grow up.
Kiriakou deserves to be considered a whistleblower, she said, because the name he revealed to a journalist was an individual involved in the CIA's rendition program, which Radack said engaged in torture. More broadly, she said Kiriakou became a strong voice against waterboarding and other torture tactics.
Prosecutors dispute the notion that Kiriakou was any kind of whistleblower. In court papers, they said the investigation of Kiriakou began in 2009 when authorities became alarmed after discovering that detainees at Guantanamo Bay possessed photographs of CIA and FBI personnel who had interrogated them. The investigation eventually led back to Kiriakou, according to a government affidavit.
The papers indicated prosecutors believed Kiriakou leaked the name to a journalist, who subsequently disclosed it to an investigator working for the lawyer of a Guantanamo detainee.
Neil MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said "the government has a vital interest in protecting the identities of those involved in covert operations. Leaks of highly sensitive, closely held and classified information compromise national security and can put individual lives in danger."
Radack, though, said the identity of the covert operative in question was something of an open secret among journalists covering human rights cases — she even identified him by name after the hearing in front of a bank of TV cameras. Court records refer to him only as "Covert Officer A," whose association with the CIA had been classified for two decades.