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January 10, 2013

Surviving a Whistleblower Prosecution: ‘You’re Left With How Do I Live the Rest of My Life’

Posted in: Whistleblowers

Former CIA officer John Kiriakou is not only the first CIA officer to be convicted of a classified leak but he also can be considered the first successful leak prosecution by the administration of President Barack Obama.

A few days ago, I posted videos of a discussion I had with NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake on the similarities between his prosecution and the prosecution of Kiriakou. The first segments addressed what it is like when you realize you are a government target. Now, in Part 3 of the discussion, Drake addresses the decision to plead guilty and take a deal rather than risk being convicted and sentenced to a long term in jail.

“It’s always a choice,” to fight the government, “but the pressures are always immense,” Drake states. Kiriakou faced the possibility of being sentenced to 45 years in prison, Drake faced a possible sentence of 35 years in prison.

Drake says he would not enter into plea negotiations unless the government agreed to drop all ten felony counts he faced. The government wanted to enter into negotiations because their case had collapsed. They ended up putting their best option forward because they wanted Drake to plead to something to validate coming after him in the first place.

“You are faced with, well if I plead out it all ends. If I plead out, I don’t have the worry or risk of going to trial and in the Fourth Circuit or both areas where you have a lot of government workers being drawn as a jury of your peers,” Drake describes. “You may still be found guilty. It’s possible.”

One has to think about how much time has elapsed. You just want to put the prosecution and your legal struggle behind you. A plea agreement is certain. It allows you to move forward with your life.

Drake pled guilty to a misdemeanor of exceeding authorized access on a computer, a misdemeanor. There was no jail time and no fine.

Given what Kiriakou was facing and how he faced a different situation because he was charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Act by revealing the name of an “undercover” officer, Kiriakou made the choice to plead guilty and do thirty months in jail time.

In conclusion, Drake explains, “Your life is completely turned upside down.”

“Both of us had many, many years in government,” Drake adds. “I had served four times in government service. I was only a few years from retirement. All that is gone. John had served in the CIA for number of years. He was a Senate staffer.

He understands what it’s like to be faced with many years in prison, what it’s like to be charged with alleged felonious acts.

“All the normal people you had worked with in terms of the social space and networks is pretty much shattered.” You face massive debt and the fallout of your prosecution must be dealt with on a day-to-day basis with your immediate family.

Drake has a bit of a distance now. The case concluded almost a year and a half ago (even though he still has civil litigation that is ongoing).

“You’re left with how do I live the rest of my life,” Drake concludes “And we’re both extremely public figures. We’re more than passing footnotes in history. I was the fourth person charged under the Espionage Act for non-spy activities.”

Drake has been a public speaker throughout the past year. Like Drake, the government can probably expect Kiriakou to do the same after he gets out of jail. They may have successfully pushed him to plead guilty to a charge. He may serve jail time, but, when all is said and done, they will have to face the fact that they chose to make him a target.

For more on John Kiriakou’s case, go here.


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