Ex-CIA agent likely betrayed trust to sell book

Former CIA officer John Kiriakou, left, and his attorney, leave federal court
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou, left, and his attorney John Hundley, leave federal court in Alexandria, Va., Jan. 23, 2012.

Former CIA officer John Kiriakou was a high-level case officer who worked in Afghanistan and aided in the capture of senior al Qaeda leaders.

His unique access and work as an operative make the case against him all the more unusual: on Monday, he was charged with leaking classified information to journalists, including the names of two former CIA colleagues - one being a covert agent.

He allegedly revealed their identities in interviews, emails and conversations with reporters.

The legal crux of the government's case against Kiriakou is that, like all other intelligence agents or anyone else with access to classified information, he will have had to swear and sign an official document declaring that anything he learned in the course of his work that was classified would remain so - a legally binding agreement.

After his CIA career, Kiriakou worked with the producers of the film "The Kite Runner." While working with the Hollywood team, Kiriakou was told, with all his stories, he should write a book. Former colleagues as well as journalists he was in contact with believe that his frequent appearances on television and in the newspapers was part of a strategy to raise his profile to get the book deal. Kiriakou's book, "The Reluctant Spy," was published in March of 2010.

There is an ongoing debate within the secret agencies of the intelligence community about a new generation of spies who are not content to just come in from the cold, but then want to tell the story. "Sure, there are discussions about the evolution of intelligence officers culture and what stories can be told, but this is different," said one former high ranking CIA official. "This is about revealing names of case officers who work in dangerous places, and that is not a gray area. That is night and day."

The effect of revealing the names of case officers publicly was part of the controversy in the now-famous Valerie Plame case. Intelligence officials argue that revealing names goes beyond compromising the case officers or analysts who work overseas. Even if they are back in the U.S. or retired, the ripple effect can give foreign governments the ability to work backwards and possibly figure out who those agents dealt with on their soil - putting any contacts in danger, too.

John Miller previously worked across the intelligence community with the CIA, NSA, FBI and other agencies. For more of his analysis, watch the video in the player above.
  • John Miller
    John Miller

    John Miller is a senior correspondent for CBS News, with extensive experience in intelligence, law enforcement and journalism, including stints in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI.