The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia recently announced that it has charged John Kiriakou with repeatedly disclosing classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities. Specifically, Kiriakou has been charged with one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and two counts of violating the Espionage Act. Kiriakou was also charged with one count of making false statements for allegedly lying to the Publications Review Board of the CIA in an unsuccessful attempt to trick the CIA into allowing him to include classified information in a book he was seeking to publish.

Upon conviction, the count charging illegal disclosure of a covert officer’s identity to a person not authorized to receive classified information carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, which must be imposed consecutively to any other prison term; the two counts charging violations of the Espionage Act each carry a maximum term of 10 years in prison; and making false statements carries a maximum prison term of five years. Each count carries a maximum fine of $250,000.

Being that the allegations against Kiriakou are in the form of a criminal complaint, the government’s next step will be to initiate and conduct a grand jury investigation, if they have not already done so. Since grand jury investigations are secret, the government could have already begun such an investigation and interviewed various witnesses involved in the offenses above. The grand jury investigation will determine whether there is probable cause to indict Kiriakou before arraigning him and is generally required in the federal criminal justice system, unless waived by the defendant. If Kiriakou waives his right to a grand jury investigation the prosecution can alternatively proceed by filing an information.

There are several reasons why a defendant would agree to waive his right to a federal grand jury investigation and its determination of probable cause. Since grand jury investigation are ex parte proceedings (held only by the prosecution) they tend to conclude with a finding of probable cause. Additionally, if the defendant has previously spoken to prosecutors he may have already negotiated a favorable plea agreement that would only be available to him at these early stages of the prosecution. The defendant may also want to reduce the risk of uncovering additional offenses that would necessarily be uncovered if a grand jury investigation was commenced. Whatever the reason, the steps moving forward are highly personal and will be ultimately determined by the defendant after close consultation with and advice from defense counsel.

The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in Federal Criminal Defense matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or

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