The agency is trying to get a pass on crimes even before they’re committed and it represents a threat to press freedom.
By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News
The CIA has quietly asked the Senate Intelligence Committee to include a provision in its next authorization bill that would vastly expand the definition of a “covert agent” whose identity would be protected from unauthorized disclosure.
The current law, called the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1981, defines a covert agent as any intelligence officer who is serving abroad or who has served abroad in a covert capacity in the past five years. The new bill would expand that protection to include all unacknowledged intelligence personnel even if they have never left the United States.
Let me be clear: This measure is not at all about protecting the identities of CIA officers doing their jobs. It is about protecting those CIA employees who have committed crimes against humanity. It’s a cover-up. Take it from me. I have first-hand experience with this law.
The Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) has been used only twice since its passage. It was used to convict Sharon Scranage, a CIA secretary who had had an affair with an intelligence officer in Ghana and had given him the names of all CIA employees in the country and the identities of Ghanaians who were working for the CIA. She was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in a minimum-security prison. My prosecution was the second and it came in retaliation for my blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program. I never made public the name of any covert operative and I ended up with 23 months.
These two minor prosecutions aside, very few revelations of CIA identities have ever led to court cases. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage famously leaked Valerie Plame’s name to two syndicated columnists. He was never charged with a crime. Former CIA Director David Petraeus leaked the names of 10 covert CIA operatives to his adulterous girlfriend, apparently in an attempt to impress her, and was never charged. Former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed the name of the covert SEAL Team member who killed Osama bin Laden. He apologized and was not prosecuted.
Implementation a Joke
The implementation of this law is a joke. The CIA doesn’t care when an operative’s identity is revealed — unless they don’t like the politics of the person making the revelation. If they cared, half of the CIA leadership would be in prison. What they do care about, though, is protecting those employees who commit crimes at the behest of the White House or the CIA leadership.
In 2011, when I was the senior investigator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a journalist called me to say that he had information that the CIA was placing officers under cover who had been prominent participants in the agency’s torture program. I wrote the CIA a letter under John Kerry’s signature asking for clarification and saying that placing people under cover solely for the purpose of protecting them from prosecution was a regulatory violation. Six weeks passed before a colleague came into my office and said, “The Agency finally responded to your letter.” I told him that I had just checked my mail less than an hour earlier and that I hadn’t seen anything. He said that the letter had been classified at the Top Secret level and, at the time, I had only a Secret clearance. I asked what the letter said. His response was quick. “It says to go fuck yourself.”
Former Vice President and current Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden was one of the senators in 1981 who voted against the IIPA, which he believed was unconstitutional in the first place. Biden said in an op-ed in The Christian Science Monitor in 1982 that, “The language (the IIPA) employs is so broadly drawn that it would subject to prosecution not only the malicious publicizing of agents’ names, but also the efforts of legitimate journalists to expose any corruption, malfeasance, or ineptitude occurring in American intelligence agencies.” It’s nothing more than an attack on a free press.
The CIA doesn’t care about a free press, though. The proposed provision in the authorization bill would save the CIA the trouble of having to explain itself to the likes of the media, to members of the congressional oversight committees, or even to the courts. And it raises far more questions than it answers. Why is such a provision necessary in the first place? What exactly is it supposed to protect? What was the precipitating event?
There are, of course, no legitimate answers to those questions. No CIA officers have been exposed. None have been threatened. None have had their lives put in danger by unauthorized disclosures. That’s a red herring. This new provision is a power grab. It is an attempt to get a pass on crimes even before they’re committed. It’s prior restraint. It’s un-American and we have to fight it.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.
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