WASHINGTON — John C. Kiriakou, the first C.I.A. officer to be imprisoned for leaking classified information to a reporter, has been released to home confinement after serving nearly two years in federal prison in Pennsylvania.
Under the conditions of his release last Tuesday, Mr. Kiriakou, 50, is required to stay for the next three months at his house in Arlington, Va., where he lives with his wife and the youngest three of his five children. He is permitted to leave home for church services, doctor visits, job interviews and required classes at a halfway house on such subjects as “life skills” and resume writing, he said in an interview on Monday.
Sounding upbeat, Mr. Kiriakou said he was overjoyed to be home but had learned a great deal from his incarceration. “Going to prison opened up a whole world I’d never thought of before,” he said, saying that he would like to get involved in prison reform.
Mr. Kiriakou, who first came to public attention in 2007when he spoke publicly about waterboarding, is one of eight current or former government employees prosecuted by the Obama administration for disclosing secrets to reporters; only three such cases were prosecuted under all previous presidents.
The crackdown has been in response to pressure from intelligence agencies and members of Congress to get tougher with unauthorized disclosures, but press advocates and journalists have complained that it has discouraged officials from talking about security matters.
Mr. Kiriakou worked from 1990 to 2004 as a C.I.A. analyst and a counterterrorism officer, including in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He helped lead the operation that captured Abu Zubaydah, who helped run a training camp for Al Qaeda fighters and other militants, and whose detention after a shootout in Pakistan was hailed as the agency’s first big success after Sept. 11. Mr. Kiriakou described the episode in a 2012 memoir, “The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the C.I.A.’s War on Terror.”
He was charged in 2012 with disclosing classified information to journalists, including this reporter. Later that year, in a plea deal, he admitted to one of the leaks, saying he had disclosed the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer to a freelance journalist, Matthew Cole, though Mr. Cole did not publish the name. Mr. Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison and sent to a low-security prison in Loretto, Pa. Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., who presided over the case, said at the time that she would honor the plea agreement but thought that the sentence was “way too light.”
In 2007, in an interview with ABC News, Mr. Kiriakou became the first former C.I.A. official to publicly discuss the agency’s use of waterboarding, a suffocation technique with a prominent place in the history of torture. He later said that he intended to defend colleagues who had used extreme measures in the anxious aftermath of Sept. 11, and he inaccurately claimed that Abu Zubaydah had opened up after mere seconds of waterboarding; documents later showed he had been subjected to the treatment 83 times. But Mr. Kiriakou told ABC that he had come to believe that waterboarding was wrong.
The leak case against him did not mention his ABC interview, and prosecutors insisted that it played no role in their decision to charge him. But like several others charged with leaking since 2009, Mr. Kiriakou has been embraced as a whistle-blower by civil liberty advocates and government critics who say he was punished for speaking out about C.I.A. torture.
He endorsed that view of his case on Monday. “I have maintained from the day of my arrest that my case was never about leaking,” he said. “My case was about torture. The C.I.A. never forgave me for talking about torture.”
He said that although he regretted being separated from his family while he was in prison, he was proud to have played a role in exposing torture. “And I would do it all over again,” he said.
Despite what he portrayed as the agency’s official resentment, Mr. Kiriakou said that he was heartened in prison to receive sympathetic letters from about three dozen current and former C.I.A. officers, and visits from four of them. He said he felt vindicated when he watched on a prison television as Senator Dianne Feinstein, as chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, denounced the C.I.A.’s former interrogation program and described the committee’s 6,000-page report that said it was mismanaged and ineffective.
Mr. Kiriakou said he was working temporarily from home on “business development” for a company that builds medical facilities overseas. In the long run, he said, he would like to work on issues including civil liberties, changes in the prison system and restrictions on torture.
When Mr. Kiriakou pleaded guilty, David H. Petraeus, who was then the C.I.A. director, praised the conviction. “Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy,” he said.
Since then, Mr. Petraeus, who resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair, has himself come under criminal investigation over accusations that he disclosed classified information to the woman with whom he was having an affair, Paula Broadwell. Mr. Petraeus has denied that he gave secrets to Ms. Broadwell and has said that he is not interested in a plea deal.
Mr. Kiriakou said he doubted that Mr. Petraeus would be charged, saying the Obama administration has a double standard that tolerates leaks from high-level officials. But he said he did not believe that Mr. Petraeus should be charged.
“I don’t think he should be prosecuted, because there was no criminal intent and no harm to national security — just as in my case,” Mr. Kiriakou said.