Durham graduated with honors from Colgate University in 1972.
In January 2008, he was appointed to lead the U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation into the 2005 CIA interrogation tapes destruction. On November 8, 2010, Durham closed the investigation without recommending any criminal charges be filed.
In December 2000, Durham revealed secret FBI documents that convinced a judge to vacate the 1968 murder convictions of Enrico Tameleo, Joseph Salvati, Peter J. Limone and Louis Greco because they had been framed by the agency. In 2007, the documents helped Salvati, Limone, and the families of the two other men - who died in prison - win a US$101.7 million civil judgment against the government.
Amid allegations that FBI informants James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi had corrupted their handlers, US Attorney General Janet Reno named Durham special prosecutor in 1999. He oversaw a task force of FBI agents brought in from other offices to investigate the Boston office's handling of informants.
In 2002, Durham helped secure the conviction of retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr., who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on federal racketeering charges for protecting Bulger and Flemmi from prosecution and warning Bulger to flee just before the gangster's 1995 indictment.
Durham's task force also gathered evidence against retired FBI agent H. Paul Rico who was indicted in Oklahoma on state charges that he helped Bulger and Flemmi kill a Tulsa businessman in 1981. Rico died in 2004 before the case went to trial.
In September 2009 University of Toledo law professor Benjamin G. Davis attended a conference where former officials of the Bush administration had told conferences participants shocking stories, and accounts of illegality on the part of more senior Bush officials. Davis wrote an appeal to former Bush officials to take their accounts of illegality directly to Durham. In November 2011, Durham was included on The New Republic's list of Washington's most powerful, least famous people.
- Politi, Daniel (2008-01-03). "The Jump Off". Slate.
- The Associated Press (2008-01-02). "Criminal probe opened over CIA tapes". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
- Apuzzo, Matt (2008-01-03). "Veteran prosecutor takes over CIA probe". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
- Mazzetti, Mark; Savage, Charlie (November 9, 2010). "No Criminal Charges Sought Over C.I.A. Tapes". New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2011.
- Murphy, Shelley (2008-01-07). "US prosecutor's tenacity is rewarded". The Boston Globe.
- Shapiro, Lila (2009-08-24). "'Inhumane' CIA Terror Tactics Spur Criminal Probe". Huffington Post.
- Johnson, Carrie (2009-08-25). "Holder Hires Prosecutor to Look Into Alleged CIA Interrogation Abuses". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-06.
- Benjamin G. Davis (2009-09-25). "Torture Tales: Calling John Durham". The Jurist. Retrieved 2009-09-27.
- The Editors (2011-11-03). "Washington's Most Powerful, Least Famous People". The New Republic. Retrieved 2011-10-25.
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