John Kiriakou

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John Kiriakou
Born Sharon, Pennsylvania, USA
Nationality USA
Occupation Intelligence officer, author
Known for First to describe the CIA's use of waterboarding

John Kiriakou (born August 9, 1964) is a former CIA analyst and case officer, former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former counterterrorism consultant for ABC News, blogger for Huffington Post,[1] and author.[2][3][4]

He is notable as the first U.S. government official to confirm in December 2007 the use of waterboarding of al-Qaeda prisoners as an interrogation technique, which he described as torture.[5][6]

On October 22, 2012, Kiriakou pled guilty to disclosing classified information about a fellow CIA officer that connected the covert operative to a specific operation. Kiriakou became the second CIA worker convicted of violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, after Sharon Scranage.[7] He was the first person to pass classified information to a reporter, although the reporter did not publish the name of the operative.[8] He was sentenced to 30 months in prison on January 25, 2013, and reported to the low-security Federal correctional facility in Loretto, Pennsylvania, to begin serving his term on February 28, 2013.[9] Bruce Riedel, a former intelligence adviser to Barack Obama who turned down an offer to be considered for CIA director in 2009, has sent the President a letter signed by eighteen other CIA veterans urging that the sentence be commuted.[10]

Kiriakou received a prison "send-off" party at an exclusive Washington, D.C. hotel hosted by political peace activists dressed in orange jumpsuits and mock prison costumes.[11] In 2012, Kiriakou received the Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage for standing up for constitutional rights.[12]


Kiriakou was born August 9, 1964, in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and raised in nearby New Castle, Pennsylvania, the son of elementary school educators. Kiriakou's grandparents immigrated from Greece.[13] He is married and has five children.


Kiriakou graduated from New Castle High School in 1982 and attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a Bachelor's degree in Middle Eastern Studies and a Master's degree in Legislative Affairs. Kiriakou was recruited into the CIA by a graduate school professor who had been a senior CIA official.[4]

CIA career[edit]

Kiriakou spent the first eight years of his career as a Middle East analyst specializing on Iraq.[4] He maintained a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance.[4] He learned Arabic and was assigned to the American Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, as an economic officer from 1994-1996.[4] He returned to Washington, D.C., and went back to work on Iraq until transferring to the CIA's Directorate of Operations in 1998.[4] He became a counter-terrorism operations officer and served overseas in Athens, Greece, working on Eurocommunist terrorism issues. In Greece, Kiriakou recruited foreign agents to spy for the United States, and was nearly assassinated by leftists.[14] Kiriakou returned again to CIA Headquarters in 2000.[4]

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Kiriakou was named Chief of Counterterrorist Operations in Pakistan. In that position, he claims to have led a series of raids on al-Qaeda safehouses that resulted in the capture of dozens of al-Qaeda fighters. On the night of March 28, 2002, Kiriakou claims to have led a raid in which Abu Zubaydah, then thought to be al-Qaeda’s third-ranking official, was captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan.[4] Following a 2002-2004 domestic assignment, Kiriakou resigned from the CIA in 2004.

Over the course of Kiriakou's career, he was awarded 10 Exceptional Performance Awards, a Sustained Superior performance Award, the Counterterrorism Service Medal, and the State Department's Meritorious Honor Award.[4]

Life after the CIA[edit]

Kiriakou next worked as a senior manager in Big Four accounting firm Deloitte & Touche's competitive intelligence practice.[15] Kiriakou was a terrorism consultant for ABC News from September 2008 until March 2009. Following Senator John Kerry's (D-MA) ascension to the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2009, Kiriakou became the Committee's senior investigator, focusing on the Middle East, international terrorism, piracy, and counter-narcotics issues.[16] He left the Committee in 2011 to become managing partner of Rhodes Global Consulting, and an Arlington, Virginia-based political risk analysis firm.[17] He again resumed counter-terrorism consulting for ABC News from April 2011 to April 2012.[17] He speaks often at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Disclosing torture[edit]

On December 10, 2007, Kiriakou gave an interview to ABC News[18] where he was described as participating in the capture and questioning of Abu Zubaydah, who is accused of having been an aide to Osama Bin Laden. Kiriakou, who did not witness the waterboarding, said he had been told by CIA associates, it had taken only a single brief instance of waterboarding to extract answers to an interrogator's questions from Abu Zubaydah.

...He was able to withstand the waterboarding for quite some time. And by that I mean probably 30, 35 seconds...and a short time afterwards, in the next day or so, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate.[19]

Eventually it was reported that Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded at least 83 times,[20] and that little or no useful extra information may have been gained by "harsh methods".[21][22] Kiriakou was under the mistaken belief from the CIA that Zubayda was waterboarded only once, and even that single instance he described as a form of torture and expressed reservations about whether the value of the information was worth the damage done to the United States' reputation.

Kiriakou's accounts of Abu Zubaydah's waterboarding, and the relatively mild nature of it, were widely repeated, and paraphrased,[5][Note 1] and he became a regular guest expert on news and public affairs shows, on the topics of interrogation, and counter-terrorism.

On July 3, 2013, Kiriakou published an open letter, on Firedoglake, warning former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to beware of being tricked by FBI officials.[23] He warned Snowden to anticipate FBI officials wearing clandestine listening devices who may attempt to betray and entrap him into making comments that, heard out of context, would seem incriminating.


On January 23, 2012, Kiriakou was charged with repeatedly disclosing classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee, Deuce Martinez, in classified activities.[24][25][26] In addition to leaking the names and roles of CIA officers, Kiriakou was alleged to have lied to the CIA to get his book published.[27]

His lawyer was Robert Trout.[28] Lawyer and whistleblower Jesselyn Radack helped him with the case. She had previously helped NSA official Thomas Andrews Drake in his espionage case.[29]

On April 5, he was indicted.[30] The indictment charges Kiriakou with one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, three counts of violating the Espionage Act, and one count of making false statements for allegedly lying to the Publications Review Board of the CIA.

On April 13, Kiriakou pleaded not guilty to all charges and was released on bail.[31]

Starting on September 12, 2012, the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia conducted closed Classified Information Procedures Act hearings in Kirikaou's case.[32] On Monday, October 22, 2012, he agreed to plead guilty to one count of passing classified information to the media thereby violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act; his plea deal spared journalists from testifying in a trial.[33]

On January 25, 2013, Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison, making him the second CIA officer to be jailed for revealing classified material of CIA undercover identities.[10]

New York Times reporter Scott Shane referenced the Kiriakou case when he told NPR that Obama's prosecutions of journalism-related leaking were having a chilling effect on coverage of national security issues.[34]

General David Petraeus, CIA director, made a statement to CIA employees: "This case yielded the first IIPA successful prosecution in 27 years, and it marks an important victory for our Agency, for our Intelligence Community, and for our country. Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws".[35]

His current place of incarceration location is available online. Initially it is Federal Correctional Institution, Loretto.[36]

In June 2013, Kiriakou wrote an open "Letter From Loretto" to Edward Snowden expressing his support and giving advice, including "the most important advice that I can offer, DO NOT, under any circumstances, cooperate with the FBI".[37]


Kiriakou won the 2012 Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage, which is awarded to "national security whistleblowers who stood up for constitutional rights and American values, at great risk to their personal and professional lives".[12] In November 2013, Kiriakou was awarded the "Peacemaker of the Year" by the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County.[38] In December 2013, he received a 2013 Giraffe Hero Commendation, awarded to people who stick their necks out for the common good.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "...The waterboarding lasted about 35 seconds before Abu Zubaida broke down, according to Kiriakou, who said he was given a detailed description of the incident by fellow team members. The next day, Abu Zubaida told his captors he would tell them whatever they wanted... He said that Allah had come to him in his cell and told him to cooperate, because it would make things easier for his brothers..."


  1. ^ "John Kiriakou". Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  2. ^ Jeff Stein (2010-01-26). "CIA Man Retracts Claim on Waterboarding". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 2010-03-09. Well, it's official now: John Kiriakou, the former CIA operative who affirmed claims that waterboarding quickly unloosed the tongues of hard-core terrorists, says he didn't know what he was talking about. 
  3. ^ "Colbert: Waterboard Kiriakou, CIA Faker". Politifi. 2010-02-06. Archived from the original on 2010-03-01. John Kiriakou, the former CIA employee whose claims about Waterboarding became an oft-cited defense of the Torture practice, got the "Colbert Report" treatment this week. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i John Kiriakou, Michael Ruby (2010). The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror. Random House. ISBN 9780553807370. Retrieved 2010-03-09. 
  5. ^ a b Warrick, Joby; Dan Eggen (11 December 2007). "Waterboarding Recounted". The Washington Post. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  6. ^ Davis, Mark (12 December 2007). "His second guess is wrong". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  7. ^ Toby Harden (June 7, 2007). "The spies who loved. . . and lost their jobs". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2014-12-11. Scranage was a lowly secretary in the CIA's Accra station in the 1980s who betrayed the names of American informants in Ghana after being seduced by her boyfriend, who turned out to be a Ghanaian intelligence agent. ... 
  8. ^ Shane, Scott (January 5, 2013). "Ex-Officer Is First From C.I.A. to Face Prison for a Leak". New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Ex-CIA officer Kiriakou "made peace" with leak decision". BBC News. February 28, 2013. 
  10. ^ a b "Ex-Officer for C.I.A. Sentenced to 30 Months in Leak Case". The New York Times. January 25, 2013. Retrieved January 25, 2013. 
  11. ^ Montgomery, David (February 22, 2013). "CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou gets posh send-off to prison". Washington Post. Retrieved February 28, 2013. 
  12. ^ a b Fabrikant, Mel (October 12, 2012). "National Security Whistleblowers Honored with Callaway Award". The Paramus Post. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  13. ^ Savage, Charlie (January 25, 2012). "Ex-C.I.A. Officer’s Path From Terrorist Hunter to Defendant". New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2013. 
  14. ^ Steve Coll (April 1, 2013). "The Spy Who Said Too Much:Why the Administration targeted a C.I.A. officer". The New Yorker. 
  15. ^ "John Kiriakou LinkedIn Profile". Retrieved March 13, 2012. 
  16. ^ Savage, Charlie (January 24, 2012). "Ex-CIA Officer's Path from Terrorist Hunter to Defendant". The New York Times. 
  17. ^ a b "Rhodes Global Consulting". Retrieved March 13, 2012. 
  18. ^ "How ’07 ABC Interview Tilted a Torture Debate", New York Times
  19. ^ "Part One of the Transcript with John Kiriakou",
  20. ^ "CIA waterboarded key Al-Qaeda suspects 266 times: memo", Agence France-Presse, 04/20/2009
  21. ^ "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots", The Washington Post
  22. ^ "My Tortured Decision", Ali Soufan, April 22, 2009, The Washington Post
  23. ^ "CIA leaker warns Snowden of FBI agents". Press TV. 2013-07-03. Archived from the original on 2013-07-03. Retrieved 2013-07-03. "FBI agents will lie, trick, and deceive you," Kiriakou wrote in an open letter to Snowden published by FireDogLake on Tuesday. "They will twist your words and play on your patriotism to entrap you. They will pretend to be people they are not - supporters, well-wishers, and friends - all the while wearing wires to record your out-of-context statements to use against you. The FBI is the enemy; it’s a part of the problem, not the solution," he said. 
  24. ^ Matthew Barakat (2012-01-24). "Ex-CIA man accused of leaking classified info". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2012-01-25. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  25. ^ Benson, Pam (January 23, 2012). "Former CIA officer accused of leaking classified info". CNN. Retrieved January 24, 2012. 
  26. ^ Savage, Charlie (January 24, 2012). "Ex-C.I.A. Officer Charged in Information Leak". New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2012. 
  27. ^ "Ex-spy Kiriakou, accused in CIA leaks, played key role in public debate over waterboarding". Associated Press. January 24, 2012. Retrieved February 1, 2012. 
  28. ^ Charlie Savage, "Former C.I.A. Operative Pleads Guilty in Leak of Colleague’s Name", New York Times, October 23, 2012
  29. ^ Josh Gerstein, "Feds dispute CIA leaker's contrition", Politico, January 2013
  30. ^
  31. ^ "'Reluctant' CIA spy pleads not guilty to leaking charges, gets bail". Express Tribune. AFP. April 14, 2012. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  32. ^ Van Buren, Peter (September 11, 2012). "Protecting Torturers, Prosecuting Whistleblowers". The Nation. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  33. ^ Williams, Pete; Greenberg, Rich; Isikoff, Michael (October 22, 2012). "Ex-CIA agent pleads guilty to leaking identity of covert operative". NBC News. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  34. ^ Fresh Air, WHYY (Philadelphia Radio), Interview of Scott Shane by Terry Gross, February 12, 2013
  35. ^ Message from the Director: Former Officer Convicted in Leak Case October 23, 2012, David H Petraeus, (Archive)
  36. ^ Bureau of Prisons (Archive), inmate locator, John Kiriakou
  37. ^ Kevin Gosztola (July 2, 2013). "CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou's Open Letter to Edward Snowden". Firedoglake. Retrieved July 4, 2014. 
  38. ^ Blaylock, Dylan. "Kiriakou Honored Yet Again: Wins 'Peacemaker of the Year' Award". Government Accountability Project. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  39. ^ Medlock, Ann. "Letter to John Kiriakou". Giraffe Heroes Project. Retrieved 24 February 2014. 

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