John Kiriakou

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John Kiriakou
John kiriakou 6889.JPG
John Chris Kiriakou

(1964-08-09) August 9, 1964 (age 58)
Sharon, Pennsylvania, United States
Other names
  • John C. Kiriakou
  • Yiannis Kyriakou[Note 1]
EducationNew Castle High School
Alma materGeorge Washington University
Years active1990–present
EmployerCentral Intelligence Agency (CIA) (1990–2004)
Known forCIA torture disclosure
Criminal chargesDisclosing classified information[Note 2]
Criminal penalty30 months (2 ½ years)
Criminal statusServed twenty eight months (three months in home confinement)
Heather Katherine Kiriakou
(before 2018)
WebsiteColumn at Consortium

John Chris Kiriakou (born August 9, 1964) is an American author, journalist and former intelligence officer. Kiriakou is a columnist with Reader Supported News[3] and co-host of Political Misfits on Sputnik Radio.[4]

He was formerly an analyst and case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, counterterrorism and a consultant for ABC News.[5][6][7] 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.[8][9]

In 2012, Kiriakou became the first CIA officer to be convicted of passing classified information to a reporter disclosing the identity of a CIA officer.[10] He received a 30-month sentence for this whistleblowing.[11]

Early life and education[edit]

Kiriakou was born on August 9, 1964, the son of elementary school educators in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and raised in nearby New Castle, Pennsylvania. His grandparents had immigrated from Greece.[12] 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.

CIA career[edit]

Kiriakou was recruited into the CIA by a graduate school professor who had been a senior CIA official.[13] Kiriakou spent the first eight years of his career as a Middle East analyst specializing on Iraq.[13] He maintained a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance.[13] He learned Arabic and, from 1994 to 1996, was assigned to the American Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, as an economic officer.[13] He returned to Washington, D.C., and to work on Iraq until 1998 when he transferred to the CIA's Directorate of Operations.[13] 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.[14] In 2000, Kiriakou returned to CIA Headquarters.[13]

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.[13] Following a 2002-2004 domestic assignment, Kiriakou resigned from the CIA in 2004.[citation needed]

Life after the CIA[edit]

From 2004 until 2008, Kiriakou worked as a senior manager in Big Four accounting firm Deloitte & Touche's competitive intelligence practice.[15] 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 United States Senate investigator, focusing on the Middle East, international terrorism, piracy, and counter-narcotics issues.[16] In 2011, he left the committee to become managing partner of Rhodes Global Consulting, an Arlington, Virginia-based political risk analysis firm.[17] From April 2011 to April 2012, he resumed counter-terrorism consulting for ABC News.[17] He speaks often at colleges and universities around the country about the CIA, terrorism, torture, and ethics in intelligence operations.[citation needed]

Disclosing torture[edit]

On December 10, 2007, Kiriakou gave an interview to ABC News[18] in which he described his participation in the capture of Abu Zubaydah, who was accused of having been an aide to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Kiriakou said that he did not witness Zubaydah's interrogation, but had been told by CIA associates that 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.[19]

Following the interview, Kiriakou's accounts of Abu Zubaydah's waterboarding were widely repeated and paraphrased,[Note 3][8] and he became a regular guest expert on news and public affairs shows on the topics of interrogation and counter-terrorism.

In 2009, however, it was reported that Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded at least 83 times,[20] and that little or no useful additional information may have been gained by "harsh methods" of interrogation.[21][22]

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.[23]

Trial, sentence, and imprisonment[edit]

Nearly five years after the Justice Department had concluded Kiriakou committed no crime by giving his 2007 ABC interview, the CIA approached the new Obama Justice Department,[24] already engaged in its own unprecedented crackdown on government leaks,[25] and asked them to reopen the case.[24] 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.[26][27][28] In addition, Kiriakou was alleged to have lied to the CIA to have his book published.[29] His lawyer was Robert Trout.[30] Lawyer and whistleblower Jesselyn Radack told Politico that the government was wrong to deny Kiriakou's whistleblower status.[31]

According to PEN America:

The specific charges were that in 2008, Kiriakou confirmed the name of a CIA officer—which was already well known to people in the human rights community, according to the Government Accountability Project—to someone who claimed to be writing a book about the agency's rendition practices. In a separate 2008 incident, Kiriakou gave a New York Times journalist the business card of a CIA agent who worked for a "private government contractor known for its involvement in torture." That agent had never been undercover and his contact information and affiliation with the CIA was already publicly available on the Internet. Kiriakou faced up to 45 years in prison and millions of dollars in legal fees for these charges. In October 2012, he agreed to plead guilty to one charge of having violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act by giving a CIA agent's name to a reporter, and was sentenced to 30 months in jail.[23]

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.[32] On April 13, Kiriakou pleaded not guilty to all charges and was released on bail.[33]

Starting September 12, 2012, the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia conducted closed Classified Information Procedures Act hearings in Kiriakou's case.[34] 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.[35]

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,[36] in violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, after the 1985 arrest and conviction of Sharon Scranage.[37] 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.[38]

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.[36] 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.[39]

On February 28, 2013, Kiriakou began serving his term at the low-security Federal Correctional Institution, Loretto in Loretto, Pennsylvania.[11]

In summer 2013, Kiriakou wrote an open "Letter From Loretto" to Edward Snowden, published by the blog Firedoglake, expressing his support and giving advice, including "the most important advice that I can offer, DO NOT, under any circumstances, cooperate with the FBI".[40][better source needed] 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.[citation needed]

On February 3, 2015, Kiriakou was released from prison to serve three months of house arrest at his home in Arlington, Virginia.[41][42] 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." He has since expressed interest in campaigning for prison reform.[42]

In July 2018, Kiriakou signed a $50,000 agreement with an advisor to Donald Trump as payment for lobbying for a pardon, with the promise of an additional $50,000 as a bonus if it was granted.[43]

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity[edit]

Kiriakou is a founding member of the organization Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).[44][better source needed] In September 2015, Kiriakou and 27 other members of VIPS' steering committee wrote a letter to President Barack Obama challenging a recently published book that claimed to rebut the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Central Intelligence Agency's use of torture.[citation needed]


On the National Endowment for Democracy[edit]

In January 2022, Kiriakou commented to Declassified UK about their allegations that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a non-profit corporation funded by the United States Congress, had funnelled millions of dollars into British independent media groups since 2016. He said: "In 2011, the US Congress changed the law that forbade the Executive Branch from propagandizing the American people or nationals of the other 'Five Eyes' countries—the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.[Note 4] The National Endowment for Democracy, like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, countless Washington-area 'think tanks', and Radio/TV Martí [the US broadcaster that transmits to Cuba], are the vehicles for that propaganda.... And what better way to spread that propaganda than to funnel money to 'friendly' outlets in 'friendly countries'? The CIA's propaganda efforts throughout history have been shameless. But now that they're not legally relegated to just Russia and China, the whole world is a target."[45][non-primary source needed]


In his writing, Kiriakou continues to advocate for increased transparency in governmental agencies.


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.[13] 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".[49] In 2016, he was awarded the Sam Adams Award.[50] Also in 2016, he was given the prestigious PEN First Amendment Award by the PEN Center USA.[51]

Related media works[edit]

In 2014, Silenced, a documentary featuring Kiriakou by James Spione, was released.[52][53] The film explored the US government's response to whistleblowers who disclosed covert violations of constitutional privacy laws and terrorism laws. The film revealed in detail the personal toll on Kiriakou, military veteran Thomas Andrews Drake and attorney Jesselyn Radack, each of whom had questioned practices or reported crimes within the NSA, CIA, military, and other organizations.[54][non-primary source needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yiannis is John's paternal grandfathers name; Kyriakou is a Greek name, thus spelt differently.
  2. ^ Violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
  3. ^ "... 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 ..."
  4. ^ The Cold War-era U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 regulating the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs these media outlets, did not prohibit dissemination to Five Eyes countries, only domestic audiences; it was amended in 2012, and did not cover the NED - see Hudson, John (July 14, 2013). "U.S. Repeals Propaganda Ban, Spreads Government-Made News to Americans". Foreign Policy. Retrieved January 19, 2022.


  1. ^ Kiriakou, John (December 10, 2018). "Tsipras Has Betrayed the Greek People". Consortium News.
  2. ^ "John Chris Kiriakou v. Heather Katherine Kiriakou". Justia.
  3. ^ Lester, Caroline (May 14, 2018). "The CIA Spy Who Became a Russian Propagandist". The New Republic. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  4. ^ "Political Misfits – Radio Sputnik". Apple Podcasts. Retrieved January 29, 2022.
  5. ^ "John Kiriakou". Retrieved January 29, 2012.
  6. ^ Jeff Stein (January 26, 2010). "CIA Man Retracts Claim on Waterboarding". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 2010-03-07. 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.
  7. ^ "Colbert: Waterboard Kiriakou, CIA Faker". Politifi. 2010-02-06. Archived from the original on 2010-03-09. 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.
  8. ^ a b Warrick, Joby; Eggen, Dan (11 December 2007). "Waterboarding Recounted". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ Davis, Mark (12 December 2007). "His second guess is wrong". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved April 20, 2009.
  10. ^ Shane, Scott (January 5, 2013). "Ex-Officer Is First From C.I.A. to Face Prison for a Leak". The New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  11. ^ a b "Ex-CIA officer Kiriakou "made peace" with leak decision". BBC News. February 28, 2013.
  12. ^ Savage, Charlie (January 25, 2012). "Ex-C.I.A. Officer's Path From Terrorist Hunter to Defendant". The New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h 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.
  14. ^ Coll, Steve (April 1, 2013). "The spy who said too much : why the Administration targeted a C.I.A. officer". The Political Scene. The New Yorker. Vol. 89, no. 7. pp. 54–63. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
  15. ^ Javers, Eamon (December 19, 2016). "Accountants and spies: The secret history of Deloitte's espionage practice". CNBC. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  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. "Rhodes Global Consulting". Retrieved March 13, 2012.
  18. ^ "How ’07 ABC Interview Tilted a Torture Debate", The New York Times
  19. ^ "Part One of the Transcript with John Kiriakou", 7 December 2010
  20. ^ "CIA waterboarded key Al-Qaeda suspects 266 times: memo". ABS-CBN. Agence France-Presse. 20 April 2009.
  21. ^ Finn, Peter; Warrick, Joby (28 March 2009). "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots". The Washington Post.
  22. ^ Soufan, Ali (22 April 2009). "My Tortured Decision". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  23. ^ a b "Secret Sources: Whistleblowers, National Security and Free Expression" (PDF). PEN America. November 10, 2015. p. 24. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 14, 2015. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  24. ^ a b Kiriakou, John (March 15, 2018). "I went to prison for disclosing the CIA's torture. Gina Haspel helped cover it up". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  25. ^ Savage, Charlie (January 23, 2012). "Ex-C.I.A Officer Charged in Information Leak". The New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  26. ^ Barakat, Matthew (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.
  27. ^ Benson, Pam (January 23, 2012). "Former CIA officer accused of leaking classified info". CNN. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  28. ^ Savage, Charlie (January 24, 2012). "Ex-C.I.A. Officer Charged in Information Leak". The New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
  29. ^ "Ex-spy Kiriakou, accused in CIA leaks, played key role in public debate over waterboarding". Associated Press. January 24, 2012. Retrieved February 1, 2012.[dead link]
  30. ^ Charlie Savage, "Former C.I.A. Operative Pleads Guilty in Leak of Colleague’s Name", The New York Times, October 23, 2012
  31. ^ Josh Gerstein, "Feds dispute CIA leaker's contrition", Politico, January 2013
  32. ^ 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
  33. ^ "'Reluctant' CIA spy pleads not guilty to leaking charges, gets bail". Express Tribune. AFP. April 14, 2012. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  34. ^ Van Buren, Peter (September 11, 2012). "Protecting Torturers, Prosecuting Whistleblowers". The Nation. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  35. ^ a b 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.
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ Toby Harden (June 7, 2007). "The spies who loved ... and lost their jobs". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on November 3, 2007. 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. ...
  38. ^ Fresh Air, WHYY (Philadelphia Radio), Interview of Scott Shane by Terry Gross, February 12, 2013
  39. ^ Montgomery, David (February 22, 2013). "CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou gets posh send-off to prison". Washington Post. Archived from the original on February 26, 2013. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
  40. ^ Kevin Gosztola (July 2, 2013). "CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou's Open Letter to Edward Snowden". Firedoglake. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  41. ^ "John Kiriakou on Twitter". February 3, 2015. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  42. ^ a b Shane, Scott (9 February 2015). "Former C.I.A. Officer Released After Nearly Two Years in Prison for Leak Case". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 February 2015.
  43. ^ Schmidt, Michael S.; Vogel, Kenneth P. (2021-01-17). "Prospect of Pardons in Final Days Fuels Market to Buy Access to Trump". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  44. ^ Andy Worthington (2015-09-15). "28 Veterans of US Intelligence Fight Back Against CIA Claims That the Bush Torture Program Was Useful and Necessary". Archived from the original on 2015-09-28.
  45. ^ Kennard, Matt; Curtis, Mark (17 January 2022). "'CIA SIDEKICK' GIVES £2.6M TO UK MEDIA GROUPS". Declassified UK. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  46. ^ Kiriakou, John; Ruby, Michael (27 February 2012). The Reluctant Spy. ISBN 978-1616086282.
  47. ^ "The Convenient Terrorist". Skyhorse Publishing. Skyhorse Publishing. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  48. ^ a b "Doing Time Like a Spy". Rare Bird Books. Archived from the original on 9 March 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  49. ^ Fabrikant, Mel (October 12, 2012). "National Security Whistleblowers Honored with Callaway Award". The Paramus Post. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  50. ^ John Kiriakou, The Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, 2016, retrieved 17 November 2016
  51. ^ Rosenberg, Alyssa (August 20, 2015). "ProPublica and John Kiriakou to receive freedom of speech awards". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  52. ^ "Silenced 2014". IMDB. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  53. ^ "screenings schedule". Silence Documentary Film. James Spione, et al. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  54. ^ "Silenced, movie: about information". Facebook. James Spione, et al. Retrieved 28 March 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

External video
video icon Silenced: trailer Audience Original Documentary, Jan 30, 2015
video icon Exclusive: Freed CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou Says "I Would Do It All Again" to Expose Torture, Democracy Now, February 9, 2015
video icon I Believed America Could Do No Wrong - John Kiriakou, Former CIA Official, on Reality Asserts Itself at The Real News Network