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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. A former CIA officer has been charged with leaking secrets to reporters and then lying about it. The Justice Department has accused John Kiriakou of violating the Espionage Act by outing his colleagues and passing sensitive details about counter-terrorism operations to the New York Times and other media outlets.

Kiriakou appeared in federal court in Virginia this afternoon, where he was released after posting a quarter million dollar bond. NPR's Carrie Johnson has our story.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: In the spring of 2009, authorities found pictures of CIA officers and contractors in the cells of some of the highest profile al-Qaida detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The discovery caused an uproar and prompted the Justice Department to investigate whether lawyers for those detainees had broken the law.

But as with many questions that involve leaks of classified information, investigators wound up with a surprising answer. They exonerated lawyers for the detainees and pointed the finger at one of their own: John Kiriakou, who left the CIA in 2004 after working at headquarters in several overseas assignments.

Here's Kiriakou talking about his government service on CNN two years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

JOHN KIRIAKOU: I was fortunate in my career. I had some real luck in some of my postings abroad.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ah, you were good at it?

KIRIAKOU: I had a knack for it.

JOHNSON: Kiriakou made a big splash after he left the CIA by talking openly about one of the agency's biggest cases, the capture and waterboarding of al-Qaida logistics chief Abu Zubaydah. Here he is on ABC, where he later became a contributor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

KIRIAKOU: Frankly, there were lives at stake and we knew that he was the biggest fish that we had caught. We knew he was full of information.

JOHNSON: Information now at the root of Kiriakou's legal troubles. Four criminal charges, including lying to the CIA about material he put in his book called "The Reluctant Spy." Prosecutors say Kiriakou violated the oath he took to protect the nation's secrets when he joined the CIA by disclosing the identity of a covert operative to a reporter and by confirming to the New York Times and others that another CIA officer took part in the operation against Abu Zubaydah.

They say he even gave reporters the officer's contact information while denying the whole thing to the officer himself. Authorities say they found incriminating messages in two email accounts connected to Kiriakou.

Bad trade craft, says former national security official Pat Rowan.

PAT ROWAN: He was an intelligence officer for about 14 years and, remarkably, doesn't understand that emails are retrievable.

JOHNSON: Rowan says the criminal complaint is remarkable because it describes in unusual detail the way the government went about its investigation.

ROWAN: The core of the case is the pipeline between the defendant and GITMO.

JOHNSON: According to the Justice Department, the pipeline worked like this: Kiriakou allegedly told a reporter, known in court papers as Journalist A, that a certain CIA officer had worked on the Abu Zubaydah case and the reporter turned around and gave the information to a defense investigator working for the Guantanamo detainees.

Rowan, the former national security prosecutor, says that leaves Kiriakou with few options.

ROWAN: Then the question will be what can Kiriakou do to make this prosecution painful to the government?

JOHNSON: Kiriakou's lawyer, Plato Cacheris, may have a few strategies up his sleeve, such as demanding information about other people who worked on the sensitive programs and arguing that what Kiriakou did is business as usual in Washington.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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