John Chris Kiriakou
August 9, 1964
Sharon, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Nationality||American (1964–present) |
|Occupation||Intelligence officer, author, journalist|
|Known for||CIA torture disclosures|
John Chris Kiriakou (born August 9, 1964) is a Greek American author, journalist and retired intelligence officer. Kiriakou is a columnist with Reader Supported News and co-host of Loud and Clear on Sputnik Radio.
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. 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 to February 3, 2015, at the low-security federal correctional facility near Loretto, Pennsylvania, in the general population, not in the neighboring minimum security work camp, as had been reported.
Early life and education
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. 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. 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, was assigned to the American Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, as an economic officer. He returned to Washington, D.C., and 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, 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 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.
Following the interview, Kiriakou's accounts of Abu Zubaydah's waterboarding were widely repeated 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, however, it was reported that Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded at least 83 times, and that little or no useful additional information may have been gained by "harsh methods" of interrogation. Kiriakou had been under the mistaken belief that Zubaydah was waterboarded only once, and even that single instance he had described as a form of torture while expressing reservations about whether the value of the information obtained 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.
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Kiriakou is a founding member of the organization Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). 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.
Trial, sentence, and imprisonment
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, already engaged in its own unprecedented crackdown on government leaks, and asked them to reopen the case. 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 have 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 the 1985 arrest and conviction of Sharon Scranage. 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.
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 Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror (Bantam, 2010) discusses the CIA's response to 9/11 and their involvement in the Middle East through the Bush administration.
- 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 23-month prison term, which he began serving on February 28, 2013, for passing classified information to the media thereby violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. 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 featuring Kiriakou by James Spione 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.
- Alfreda Frances Bikowsky
- 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, convicted in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act
- Reality Winner, convicted in 2017 for revealing US intelligence had evidence of Russian attempts to hack voting machines
- 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 ..."
- Kiriakou, John (December 10, 2018). "Alexis Tsipras' Failed Attempt at Democratic Socialism". Consortium News. Retrieved December 15, 2018.
- Lester, Caroline (May 14, 2018). "The CIA Spy Who Became a Russian Propagandist". The New Republic. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
- "John Kiriakou". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
Jeff Stein (January 26, 2010). "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 2010-03-09.
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.
- Warrick, Joby; Eggen, Dan (11 December 2007). "Waterboarding Recounted". The Washington Post.
- Davis, Mark (12 December 2007). "His second guess is wrong". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved April 20, 2009.
- 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.
- "Ex-CIA officer Kiriakou "made peace" with leak decision". BBC News. February 28, 2013.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 89 (7): 54–63. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
- Javers, Eamon (December 19, 2016). "Accountants and spies: The secret history of Deloitte's espionage practice". CNBC. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
- Savage, Charlie (January 24, 2012). "Ex-CIA Officer's Path from Terrorist Hunter to Defendant". The New York Times.
- Rhodes Global Consulting. "Rhodes Global Consulting". Retrieved March 13, 2012.
- "How ’07 ABC Interview Tilted a Torture Debate", The New York Times
- "Part One of the Transcript with John Kiriakou", ABC.com 7 December 2010
- "CIA waterboarded key Al-Qaeda suspects 266 times: memo", Agence France-Presse, 20 April 2009
- "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots", The Washington Post 28 March 2009
- "My Tortured Decision", Ali Soufan, 22 April 2009, The Washington Post
- "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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Charlie Savage (January 23, 2012). "Ex-C.I.A Officer Charged in Information Leak". Retrieved March 17, 2018.
- 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.
- Benson, Pam (January 23, 2012). "Former CIA officer accused of leaking classified info". CNN. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
- Savage, Charlie (January 24, 2012). "Ex-C.I.A. Officer Charged in Information Leak". The New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2012.
- "Ex-spy Kiriakou, accused in CIA leaks, played key role in public debate over waterboarding". Associated Press. January 24, 2012. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- Charlie Savage, "Former C.I.A. Operative Pleads Guilty in Leak of Colleague’s Name", The New York Times, October 23, 2012
- Josh Gerstein, "Feds dispute CIA leaker's contrition", Politico, January 2013
- 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
- "'Reluctant' CIA spy pleads not guilty to leaking charges, gets bail". Express Tribune. AFP. April 14, 2012. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
- Van Buren, Peter (September 11, 2012). "Protecting Torturers, Prosecuting Whistleblowers". The Nation. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
- 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.
- "Ex-Officer for C.I.A. Sentenced to 30 Months in Leak Case". The New York Times. January 25, 2013. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
- 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. ...
- Fresh Air, WHYY (Philadelphia Radio), Interview of Scott Shane by Terry Gross, February 12, 2013
- Montgomery, David (February 22, 2013). "CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou gets posh send-off to prison". Washington Post. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
- Kevin Gosztola (July 2, 2013). "CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou's Open Letter to Edward Snowden". Firedoglake. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
- "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.
- "John Kiriakou on Twitter". February 3, 2015. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
- 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.
- "Doing Time Like a Spy". Rare Bird Books. Archived from the original on 9 March 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
- "The Reluctant Spy". Amazon. Amazon. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
- "The Convenient Terrorist". Skyhorse Publishing. Skyhorse Publishing. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
- "Doing Time Like a Spy". Amazon.com. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
- Fabrikant, Mel (October 12, 2012). "National Security Whistleblowers Honored with Callaway Award". The Paramus Post. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
- Blaylock, Dylan. "Kiriakou Honored Yet Again: Wins 'Peacemaker of the Year' Award". Government Accountability Project. Retrieved 1 November 2013.
- Medlock, Ann. "Letter to John Kiriakou" (PDF). Giraffe Heroes Project. Retrieved 24 February 2014.
- John Kiriakou, The Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, 2016, retrieved 17 November 2016
- Rosenberg, Alyssa (August 20, 2015). "ProPublica and John Kiriakou to receive freedom of speech awards". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
- "Inaugural Blueprint Prize Event Held in London". Blueprint for Free Speech. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
- "Silenced 2014". IMDB. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- "screenings schedule". Silence Documentary Film. James Spione, et al. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- "Silenced, movie: about information". Facebook. James Spione, et al. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- 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. 89 (7): 54–63. Retrieved 2016-01-01.
- Radack, Jesselyn. "Feds ready whistleblower trial." Salon. April 13, 2012.
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- 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
- John Kiriakou discussion with Greek MEP Stelios Kouloglou (in English with 1 minute introduction in Greek).