TODAY | January 28, 2013
>>> this half hour with a former cia officer sentenced to 30 months in jail, the first former cia officer to be sentenced to jail for leaking classified documents . first his backstory with andrea mitchell .
>> reporter: john kiriakou is enjoying family time. his last few weeks before going to jail. the first cia officer to be impris imprisoned for disclosing classified information to a reporter.
>> i want to say i came out of court positive, confident and optimist optimistic.
>> reporter: kiriakou plead guilty to revealing the ooit identity of a convert cia officer involved in interrogating al qaeda terrorists, an officer whose own family didn't know he worked for the cia . his identity later became public, after turning up in a defense motion for guantanamo detainees .
>> it led investigators to mr. kiriakou who admitted in court that he knowingly intentionally outed the identity of this agent.
>> reporter: identifying himself as a whistleblower for leaking the waterboarding techniques.
>> in your opinion, torture or not torture?
>> yes, torture. i'm not saying it wasn't necessary at the time. i'll let the lawyers decide whether it was legal, but at the time i think it was necessary to disrupt terrorist attacks .
>> reporter: playing a key role in capturing al qaeda leaders but prosecutors say he is no hero. initially they charge him with leaking other names but dropped those charges when he agreed to plead guilty .
>> he revealed other classified information to other reporters and this was really just the tip of the iceberg .
>> reporter: in court friday, federal judge leoni brinkama called the sentence, frankly, way too light. signed a letter urging president obama to commute the sentence.
>> it is terribly ironic that in an administration that outlawed the use of torture for interrogating detainees, the only person going to prison is the person who spoke out against torture.
>> reporter: joining others who say kiriakou is being used as an example for an administration determined to crack down on leaks. andrea mitchell , nbc, washington.
>> john kiria kchkou is joining us. good morning. good to see you.
>> thank you for having me.
>> some say you betrayed your former colleagues in order to sell books and get a consulting firm going. others say you were wrongly convicted.
>> i wear this conviction as a badge of honor because it's not about leaking. this case was about torture from the very beginning. if every cia officer or former cia officer was prosecuted for referring a reporter to a former colleague for an interview, prisons would be bursting with cia agents.
>> let me stop you right there. you acknowledged, you pleaded guilty and you admitted you identified a cia officer who was, in fact, convert. that's against the law. you don't disagree with that?
>> no. i never should have done that. that was a terrible mistake.
>> do you think prosecutors should have let this slide?
>> i think there are administrative matters that certainly could have been taken. when this happen with his current cia officers, you get a letter of reprimand in your file, two weeks without pay. there are other laws or other government regulations that can be used to take care of something like this but to pursue me for the intelligence identities protections act was heavy handed. in fact, the author of the intelligence identities protections act volunteered to testify at my trial because he said that's not why the law was written. i have come to learn that most whistleblowers don't believe they're whistleblowers in the beginning. i do meet the legal definition of whistleblowing, bringing forward waste, fraud or illegality. and that's what i did.
>> you're saying that the government started targeting you after you spoke out first in 2007 , a time when you said these practices, in your view, were torture. you said that officials high in the government authorized them. you also said they worked. in fact, in 2007 , you told msnbc you were coming forward then because you thought that the agency had gotten, quote, a bum rap on waterboarding. that's someone who is defending these practices not --
>> yes, i did defend them. because i was relying on what officers told me in the building, these methods were effective. that turned out to be a lie.
>> fair enough. how does that make you a whistleblower?
>> in that first interview in 2007 i said it was torture and it was official u.s. government policy.
>> if your purpose was to blow the whistle by talking to these reporters -- you admitted not just to the leaking of one name but you also acknowledge giving classified information to yet a second reporter. did you ask these journalists, hey, what are you going to do with this information?
>> let me correct you on one thing. this is something that the prosecution has been saying from the very beginning. they actually charged me with espionage for, quote, unquote, leaking a namative former colleague to a "new york times" reporter. the colleague was never undercover. i did not leak the name. the reporter came to me with a name.
>> you disclosed the connection of that officer to a classified operation. that's what you acknowledge in your statement of fact.
>> the classified operation being the rendition, interrogation program. it was no secret that the cia in 2008 , 2009 was seeking to capture and detain al qaeda leaders.
>> let's try to clear something up. in a recent "new york times" article you express remorse about disclosing this man's identity. you said if i'd known the guy was still undercover i would never have mentioned him. you said in an interview, he was always undercover, how the heck did they get him? in connection with this guilty plea you said, yes, i knew he was undercover.
>> which is it?
>> i knew he was undercover during the course of his career. i also heard he retired and was living somewhere in northern virginia . i didn't realize he retired undercover. that's not an excuse or a defense. it's an explanation.
>> are you hoping that president obama will commute your sentence? you have many supporters who think that he should.
>> i've been very fortunate. there are many prominent americans from the left, from the right and from the center who are asking the president to commute my sentence. i hope that he does, of course. i have believed in president obama , i still do. i voted for president obama . and i know that in his heart he's anti-torture. this case is about torture. and i would hate for there to be only one person going to prison related to the torture program and it being me when the torturers are walking free and those who conceived of the torture are free, those who destroyed evidence of the torture are free and even the attorneys who papered over the torture are free.
>> does that absolve you of your wrongdoing in this case?
>> no, no, and i accept responsibility for my wrongdoing.
>> you disclosed the name of this officer to the journalist, who in turn passed it to a defense investigator, a picture of this officer ended up in the jail cell of a terror suspect.
>> how do you feel about that?
>> i feel awful. and i wonder why the justice department didn't investigate the journalist. because he really wasn't a journalist. he was working for the defense.