In 2007, John Kiriakou was settling into a lucrative life as a former spy. His fourteen-year career as a C.I.A. officer had included thrilling, if occasionally hazardous, tours as a specialist in counterterrorism. In Athens, in 1999 and 2000, he recruited several foreign agents to spy for the United States, and at one point was nearly assassinated by leftists. In Pakistan, in 2002, he chased Al Qaeda members, and when Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda logistics leader, was wounded and captured, Kiriakou guarded his bedside. (Kiriakou recounted many of his exploits in a colorful memoir, "The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the C.I.A.'s War on Terror.") In 2004, he retired, and soon took a job with the accounting and consulting firm DeLoitte. He worked in the field of corporate intelligence and advised Hollywood filmmakers on the side.

At the time, the press was looking into allegations that C.I.A. officers and contractors were involved in torture, and it wasn't long before they sought out Kiriakou for comment. For several years, the agency had managed to keep secret the scope of its abusive interrogations of Al Qaeda-affiliated prisoners, which had the formal approval of President George W. Bush. Gradually, however, investigative reporters revealed details of the interrogations, and in 2006 Bush acknowledged the existence of the C.I.A.'s detention program. The American Civil Liberties Union obtained confirming documents through the Freedom of Information Act, but what the public knew often came from journalists quoting anonymous sources.

On December 6, 2007, the Times published a story by Mark Mazzetti revealing that the C.I.A. had made classified videotapes of harsh interrogations, Abu Zubaydah's among them. The tapes were made in 2002, but the agency destroyed them three years later. Jose Rodriguez, who then led the National Clandestine Service, had ordered the tapes destroyed, despite reservations expressed by others in the Bush Administration. . . .