WASHINGTON -- A former CIA officer scheduled to be sentenced on Friday for leaking protected information said in an interview Wednesday that the suspected suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz demonstrates how aggressive federal prosecutors can be.
"I'm frankly surprised that more people haven't committed suicide because of the way the Justice Department overreaches on these cases," said John Kiriakou, a 14-year CIA veteran who pleaded guilty to leaking the identity of another officer involved in the agency's terrorist interrogation program. "In my view, the Aaron Swartz prosecution is very typical of the Justice Department's policy of going after people in such a big way that the point is not necessarily to prosecute them, but it is to destroy them personally."
"As bad as the Bush Justice Department was, we didn't see this kind of ... vindictive and selective prosecution of people that we see under Obama," Kiriakou said. "That's really what it is, it's vindictive and it's selective."
Kiriakou is expected on Friday to become the first CIA officer ever to be sentenced for leaking information. A coalition of politicians, celebrities, former CIA officials and government whistleblowers have signed a letter asking President Barack Obama to commute his sentence. The letter, set to be sent to Obama on Thursday and obtained by The Huffington Post, was signed by former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, folksinger Pete Seeger, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, director Oliver Stone, former Guantanamo Military Commissions Chief Morris Davis and NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, among others.
Kiriakou, a father of five originally from Pennsylvania, faces 30 months in prison for emailing the name of a covert CIA officer to a freelance reporter in August 2008. A 2007 interview with ABC News on waterboarding thrust him into public view, and several journalists began to rely on him as a source.
He defended the agency's conduct in the ABC News interview, though he said he later came to the conclusion that torture violated the Constitution. His supporters note in their letter to Obama that while he never tortured anyone himself, the government's case makes him the "only individual to be prosecuted in relation to the torture program of the past decade."
Kiriakou, who spoke to HuffPost just a few hours before the unveiling of his portrait in a series called "Americans Who Tell The Truth" at the restaurant and bookstore Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C., said he gave his initial interview to The New York Times before he made his plea deal in October. "Maybe I shouldn't say anything more than that, only because I stand to lose so much more on Friday if I say anything more than that," he said.
Kiriakou said he believes in his heart that he was targeted for speaking out about torture but admits the evidence is circumstantial. "From the day I went on ABC News in 2007, every year since then I've been audited by the IRS," he said. "Every single year since then. The FBI never stopped investigating me."
Read the letter:
CORRECTION: This article incorrectly stated that Kiriakou lives in Pennsylvania. He is originally from Pennsylvania and has family there but currently lives in Virginia.