August 9, 1964 |
Sharon, Pennsylvania, USA
|Occupation||Intelligence officer, author|
|Known for||First to describe the CIA's use of waterboarding|
John Kiriakou (born August 9, 1964) is a columnist with Reader Supported News.
He was a CIA analyst and case officer, senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, counterterrorism consultant for ABC News, and author. He was the first U.S. government official to confirm in December 2007 that waterboarding was used to interrogate Al Qaeda prisoners, which he described as torture. On October 22, 2012, Kiriakou pleaded guilty to disclosing the identity of a fellow CIA officer. He was the first CIA officer to be convicted for passing classified information to a reporter, although the reporter did not publish the name of the operative. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison on January 25, 2013, and served his term from February 28, 2013, until February 3, 2015, at the low-security Federal correctional facility near Loretto, Pennsylvania.
Early life and education
Kiriakou was born August 9, 1964, the son of elementary school educators in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and raised in nearby New Castle, Pennsylvania. Kiriakou's grandparents had immigrated from Greece. He 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. He is married and has five children.
Kiriakou was recruited into the CIA by a graduate school professor who had been a senior CIA official. Kiriakou spent the first eight years of his career as a Middle East analyst specializing on Iraq. He maintained a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance. He learned Arabic and from 1994-1996 he was assigned to the American Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, as an economic officer. He returned to Washington, D.C., and went back to work on Iraq until 1998 when he transferred to the CIA's Directorate of Operations. He became a counter-terrorism operations officer and worked in Athens, Greece, on Eurocommunist terrorism. In Greece, Kiriakou recruited foreign agents to spy for the United States, and was nearly assassinated by leftists. In 2000, Kiriakou returned to CIA Headquarters.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Kiriakou was named Chief of Counterterrorist Operations in Pakistan. In that position, he led a series of military raids on al-Qaeda safehouses, capturing dozens of al-Qaeda fighters. Kiriakou led a raid on the night of March 28, 2002, in Faisalabad, Pakistan, capturing Abu Zubaydah, then thought to be al-Qaeda’s third-ranking official. Following a 2002-2004 domestic assignment, Kiriakou resigned from the CIA in 2004.
Life after the CIA
From 2004 until 2008, Kiriakou worked as a senior manager in Big Four accounting firm Deloitte & Touche's competitive intelligence practice. From September 2008 until March 2009, Kiriakou was a terrorism consultant for ABC News. 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. In 2011, he left the Committee to become managing partner of Rhodes Global Consulting, and an Arlington, Virginia-based political risk analysis firm. From April 2011 to April 2012, he resumed counter-terrorism consulting for ABC News. He speaks often at colleges and universities around the country about the CIA, terrorism, torture, and ethics in intelligence operations.
On December 10, 2007, Kiriakou gave an interview to ABC News in which he described his participation in the capture of Abu Zubaydah, who was accused of having been an aide to Osama Bin Laden. Kiriakou said he did not witness his waterboarding, but he had been told by CIA associates, it had taken only a single brief instance of waterboarding to extract answers.
- ...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.
Kiriakou's accounts of Abu Zubaydah's waterboarding, and the relatively mild nature of it, were widely repeated in 2007, and paraphrased,[Note 1] and he became a regular guest expert on news and public affairs shows, on the topics of interrogation, and counter-terrorism.
In 2009, it was reported that Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded at least 83 times, and that little or no useful extra information may have been gained by "harsh methods". Kiriakou was under the mistaken belief that Zubaydah 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 has said that he chose not to blow the whistle on torture through internal channels because he believed he “wouldn’t have gotten anywhere” because his superiors and the congressional intelligence committees were already aware of it.
Founding member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Kiriakou is a founding member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. In September 2015 Kiriakou and 27 other members of VIPS steering group wrote a letter to the President challenging a recently published book, that claimed to rebut the report of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee on the Central Intelligence Agency's use of torture.
Trial, sentence and imprisonment
On January 23, 2012, Kiriakou was charged with 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. In addition, Kiriakou was alleged to have lied to the CIA to get his book published. His lawyer was Robert Trout. Lawyer and whistleblower Jesselyn Radack helped him with the case. She had previously helped NSA official Thomas Andrews Drake in his espionage case.
On April 5, 2012, Kiriakou was indicted for 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.
Starting September 12, 2012, the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia conducted closed Classified Information Procedures Act hearings in Kiriakou's case. On 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. All other charges were dropped.
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, in violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, after Sharon Scranage in 2007. 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.
General David Petraeus, former CIA director stated: "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." Ironically, General Petraeus would later be accused of having illegally disclosed classified information to his mistress, including code words, covert officers’ names and correspondence with the president. But although Petraeus revealed significantly more information than Kiriakou, he wasn’t charged under the Espionage Act or Intelligence Identities Protection Act and was sentenced to only two years of probation and a $100,000 fine.
In January 2013, Bruce Riedel, a former intelligence adviser to Barack Obama who turned down an offer to be considered for CIA director in 2009, sent the President a letter signed by eighteen other CIA veterans urging that the sentence be commuted. 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. On February 28, 2013, Kiriakou began serving his term at the low-security Federal Correctional Institution, Loretto in Loretto, Pennsylvania. 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".
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. 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 February 3, 2015, Kiriakou was released from prison to serve three months of house arrest at his home in Arlington, Virginia. Following his release, Kiriakou said his case was not about leaking information but about exposing torture, continuing, “and I would do it all over again.” The journalist has now expressed interest in campaigning for prison reform.
In his writing, Kiriakou continues to strive for increased transparency in governmental agencies. His books have been praised by several members and commentators within the intelligence community, including Barry Eisler, Jane Mayer, and Daniel Ellsberg.
The Convenient Terrorist: Abu Zubaydah and the Weird Wonderland of America's Secret Wars (Skyhorse, 2017) is a comprehensive account of the hunt for Abu Zubaydah, his capture, interrogation, torture, and incarceration at Guantanamo.
Doing Time Like a Spy: How the CIA Taught Me to Survive and Thrive in Prison (Rare Bird Books, 2017) is a memoir about Kiriakou's 30-month prison sentence, which he began serving on February 28, 2013 for exposing the CIA's torture practices. The book includes Kiriakou's popular blog series "Letters From Loretto" in addition to providing a serious discussion about the American prison system.
The CIA awarded Kiriakou with 10 Exceptional Performance Awards, a Sustained Superior performance Award, the Counterterrorism Service Medal, and the State Department's Meritorious Honor Award. 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". In November 2013, Kiriakou was awarded the "Peacemaker of the Year" by the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County. In December 2013, he received a 2013 Giraffe Hero Commendation, awarded to people who stick their necks out for the common good. In 2016, he was awarded the Sam Adams Award. Also in 2016, he was given the prestigious PEN First Amendment Award by the PEN Center USA. He was awarded the first Blueprint International Whistleblowing Prize for "bravery and integrity in the public interest" by the Australia-based 'Blueprint for Free Speech' think tank in 2017.
Related media works
In 2014 Silenced, a documentary by Academy Award nominated director James Spione featuring Kiriakou was released. The film explored the US government's response to whistleblowers who disclosed covert violations of constitutional privacy and terrorism laws. The film revealed in detail the personal toll on those three who had questioned or reported crimes within the NSA, CIA, military, and other organizations. The experiences of Kiriakou, military veteran Thomas Andrews Drake and attorney Jesselyn Radack were told, and showed that the integrity and courage to report criminal facts was not considered valuable to many officials in the US government, instead it was a dangerous and treasonous act. Silenced won several film festival awards, before its release to major cable networks in March 2015, and it was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2016 for Best Long-Form Documentary.
- Alfreda Frances Bikowsky
- Espionage Act of 1917
- Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly disclosing to a reporter that North Korea might test a nuclear bomb
- Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning), convicted in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act
- Plame affair, CIA agent name leaked and Scooter Libby prosecuted from the investigation
- Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, charged with violating the Espionage Act for allegedly revealing details about Operation Merlin
- "...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..."
- "John Kiriakou". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2012-01-29.
- 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.
- "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.
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- Former CIA Officer John Kiriakou Indicted for Allegedly Disclosing Classified Information, Including Covert Officer’s Identity, to Journalists and Lying to CIA’s Publications Board FBI Press release April 5, 2012
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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. ...
- Fresh Air, WHYY (Philadelphia Radio), Interview of Scott Shane by Terry Gross, February 12, 2013
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"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.
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- Radack, Jesselyn. "Feds ready whistleblower trial." Salon. April 13, 2012.
|Silenced: trailer Audience Original Documentary, Jan 30, 2015|
|Exclusive: Freed CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou Says "I Would Do It All Again" to Expose Torture, Democracy Now, February 9, 2015|
|I Believed America Could Do No Wrong - John Kiriakou, Former CIA Official, on Reality Asserts Itself at The Real News Network|
- John Kiriakou on Twitter
- "Letter to Loretto". Institute of Policy Studies. May 5, 2015.
- USA v John Kiriakou: Selected Case Files from the Federation of American Scientists
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Douglas Valentine (March 27–29, 2015). "A Conversation With CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou". Counterpunch.
- IMDB: Silenced 2014 documentary's listing on Internet Movie Database
- The VICE News Interview: John Kiriakou, April 3, 2015; Interview conducted by Kaj Larsen
- CIA Whistleblower John C. Kiriakou: the Gonzo Today Interview