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Ex-CIA agent charged with leaking classified info on Gitmo case

Former CIA interrogator John Kiriakou describes waterboarding in an interview with Chris Matthews on "Hardballl."

A former U.S. Senate investigator who had previously worked for the CIA was arrested Monday and charged with repeatedly leaking classified information to journalists as well as violating the federal law that forbids disclosing the identity of covert intelligence officers.

John Kiriakou, who between 2009 and last year worked as an investigator for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was charged by a federal grand jury with one count of violating the Intelligence Agencies Protection Act, two counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of lying to the CIA about his actions in an effort to convince the agency to let him publish a book, "The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror."

Kiriakou turned himself into the FBI Monday morning. In an initial court appearance in Alexandria, Va., Monday afternoon, Kiriakou waived a preliminary hearing and was released on a $250,000 bond after surrendering his passport and agreeing to stay in the Washington area and not to contact any witnesses in the case. His lawyer, Plato Cacheris, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The charges cap a three-year investigation by Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago,  into how photographs of covert CIA officers involved in the interrogation of terror suspects ended up in the Guantanamo prison cell of one of the accused 9/11 terrorists. The discovery of the photographs stunned top CIA officials. Fitzgerald was then appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder to oversee the probe because of his prior expertise in the intelligence protection act as special counsel in charge of the Bush era investigation into the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

DOCUMENT: Read the complaint against Kiriakou

The investigation initially focused on the role of defense lawyers, who used a private investigator to obtain surveillance photos of CIA officers. But the probe found no wrongdoing by the defense lawyers or the investigator. Instead, a Justice Department complaint charged, it found that Kiriakou provided information to three journalists, emailing one of them the name of a covert officer who then supplied the name of the officer to a defense investigator. (The journalist is not identified in the complaint). The complaint also alleges that Kiriakou provided another reporter at the New York Times with classified information about another CIA officer's role in the capture of accused Gitmo terrorist Abu Zubaydah. The information was included in a front page June 22, 2008, article in the Times entitled, "Inside the Interrogation of a 9/11 Mastermind" that raised questions about the use of waterboarding.

Msnbc's Alex Witt talks with author John Kiriakou about his book "The Reluctant Spy."

In an interview with FBI agents last week, Kiriakou denied disclosing information about the CIA officer to the New York Times reporter, Scott Shane, answering, "Heavens no," when asked if he had done so, according to the criminal complaint. But the complaint charges that Kirikou provided the reporter with the CIA officer's phone number and personal address.

The charges are the latest in a series of criminal leak cases brought by the Justice Department under President Barack Obama. But the cases have so far proven difficult for federal prosecutors; one major one, involving former NSA employee Thomas Drake, accused of leaking classified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter, resulted in a resounding defeat for the Justice Department last year when federal prosecutors withdrew all criminal charges against him.

Kiriakou spent 14 years with the CIA, between 1990 and 2004. He was hired by Kerry in 2009 to help investigate national security related issues for the Foreign Relations Committee. This came after Kiriakou gained prominence by giving a 2007 interview to ABC News about the use of waterboarding and how it allegedly broke Zubaydah in 35 seconds -- a claim that has been much disputed. (It was later disclosed that Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times.)  Kiriakou, who for a time worked as an ABC News consultant and appeared on several NBC News and MSNBC TV programs, later said that he did not personally participate in the waterboarding and had only read about it in intelligence reports.

A judge last year refused to find the CIA in contempt of court when it destroyed dozens of videotapes of the interrogation of Zubaydah and other detainees.

Dec. 11: Former CIA agent John Kiriakou talks with TODAY's Matt Lauer about the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes.

In December 2007, the CIA acknowledged doing so as part of the detention program begun after the Sept. 11 attacks.
A spokeswoman for Kerry, Jodi Seth, emailed this statement Monday to NBC News: “John Kiriakou was an investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from mid-2009 to 2011 when he left the committee voluntarily.  These charges date back to actions allegedly taken when he was employed by the intelligence community and both pre-date and are unrelated to his work for the committee. Understandably, our office has no information beyond what is publicly available, and only today did we become aware of this situation.”

In a statement issued after the charges were filed, CIA Director David Petraeus issued a statement to agency employees reminding them of the need to protect classified information.

"In return for the secrecy we need to do our work, the American people and our elected representatives expect us to uphold our nation’s laws and values," Petraeus said in the email. "When we joined this organization, we swore to safeguard classified information; those oaths stay with us for life. Unauthorized disclosures of any sort -- including information concerning the identities of other Agency officers -- betray the public trust, our country and our colleagues. Given the sensitive nature of many of our agency’s operations and the risks we ask our employees to take, the illegal passage of secrets is an abuse of trust that may put lives in jeopardy."

Michael Isikoff is NBC News national investigative correspondent. Msnbc.com news services contributed to this report.