CIA Director David Petraeus said in a statement that the first successful prosecution in 27 years under a 1982 law making it a crime to disclose the identities of covert U.S. intelligence operatives showed the importance of the oaths they take to preserve the nation's secrets.
"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," his statement said.
Kiriakou, the first U.S. official to confirm waterboarding of al-Qaida captives, pleaded guilty Tuesday to giving the name of former colleague Deuce Martinez to investigative journalist Matthew Cole, formerly of ABC News.
Under the plea deal, all sides agreed the 48-year-old former CIA counter-terrorism operative would likely spend 2 1/2 years in prison, probably at a minimum-security prison camp in Pennsylvania. He will also pay a $250,000 fine.
If he had been convicted in trial, Kiriakou could have spent decades in prison.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema noted the proposed term was the same given in 2007 to former White House aide Scooter Libby in a separate CIA leak case. Libby's sentence -- for false statements in an investigation into the disclosure of the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson -- was later commuted by President George W. Bush.
Kiriakou, who worked for the agency from 1990 to 2004 and was named chief of counter-terrorist operations in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, was a leader of the team that located and captured suspected high-level al-Qaida facilitator Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in 2002.
Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded a reported 83 times by government interrogators as part of the Bush administration's "extraordinary rendition" program. He was also subjected to other controversial interrogation techniques, including forced nudity, sleep deprivation, confinement in small dark boxes, deprivation of solid food, stress positions and physical assaults, ABC News and other news organizations reported.
Abu Zubaydah eventually revealed information that led to the arrest of "dirty bomb" plotter Jose Padilla and exposed Khalid Sheik Mohammed as the Sept. 11, 2001, attack mastermind.
Kiriakou is one of six current or former officials to be charged by the Obama administration with leaking -- twice the number of cases brought by all previous presidents combined.
Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department ethics adviser now with the whistle-blower-aiding Government Accountability Project, called the Kiriakou case "a travesty."
She called Kiriakou, who her non-profit organization was assisting, a whistle-blower pointing out alleged wrongdoing in the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.
"John didn't feel like he was outing anybody," The Wall Street Journal quoted her as saying. He chose to plead guilty because he wanted "to have his life back," she said.
Kiriakou's financial strains were overwhelming, Radack said. He paid about $110,000 in legal bills and owed about $500,000 more; his wife was pushed out of the CIA, where she had also worked; and the family moved to a smaller house and began receiving welfare and Medicaid benefits, she said.