Former CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriakou, who is currently in the middle of serving a thirty-month prison sentence at the federal correctional institution at Loretto, Pennsylvania, has been writing “Letters from Loretto,” which Firedoglake has been publishing. The prison, however, has tried to frustrate his effort to exercise his First Amendment rights in just about every way imaginable.
Kiriakou was the first member of the CIA to publicly acknowledge that torture was official US policy under the administration of President George W. Bush. He was convicted in October 2012 after he pled guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) when he confirmed the name of an officer involved in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program to a reporter, even though the reporter did not publish it. He was sentenced in January 2013 and reported to prison on February 28, 2013.
The Bureau of Prisons’ own regulation states that “an inmate may write through ‘special mail’ to representatives of the news media specified by name or title.”
The facility initially took issue with Kiriakou marking the letters via “legal mail” to his one of his attorneys, Jessalyn Raddack, who forwarded the letters to Firedoglake. The prison informed Kiriakou that he had to stop this and send them directly to Firedoglake as “special mail” instead.
Months later, correctional officers (COs) tried to claim that Kiriakou was now wrong to mark the letters he had been mailing “special mail.” Kiriakou attempted to explain this was contrary to the regulation. He also tried to inform the officers that none of the material was going to his attorney, but rather was for the press. The officers still maintained he was wrong.
A copy of the regulation, which Kiriakou had printed off, was shown to the COs. They found a date at the bottom that indicated when the copy had been printed and argued that this regulation was outdated. The officers then consulted a physical book with the regulations to prove Kiriakou was wrong.
Officers flipped through and found the relevant regulation. They read it and, as Kiriakou recalled, one looked up at the other and whispered, “I think he’s right.”
Kiriakou also recalls that a friend in the prison, Dave, was pulled into a room and interrogated by a correctional officer (CO). He was asked to provide information on whether Kiriakou had an illegal cellphone.
The prison wanted to get Dave to say that Kiriakou was using an illegal cellphone to dictate the letters to Firedoglake. Dave refused to provide any statements that the prison could have used against him.
Having an illegal cellphone could get one’s sentence extended my multiple years. It can be serious for a prisoner if they get caught, but Kiriakou found this attempt to turn his friend against him ridiculous because the prison knows he goes to the mail room. They’ve seen him mail the letters in envelopes marked “special mail.”
In a previous letter from prison, Kiriakou described how a supporter named Chris had turned his first “Letter from Loretto” into a graphic and sent it to him. The warden rejected it because, “The Letters from Loretto pamphlet could jeopardize the secure and orderly running of the institution.” This indicated the prison considered Kiriakou’s letters to be dangerous, a threat to the “security, good order or discipline of the institution” or “to the protection of the public” or a document that “might facilitate criminal activity.”
How this could possibly be was unclear. Inmates are supposed to have an opportunity to challenge any rejection of mail, but the warden never gave him such an opportunity. So he was not aware that this had happened until the same supporter wrote him again to explain what had happened.
In July 2013, a senior prison administrator threatened him with “disciplinary action” and demanded that he put down in writing that he would “refrain from using Legal Mail/Special Mail to send out” his letters.
Kiriakou was forced to sign the memo on August 30, 2013, and not permitted to send a copy to his attorney or seek any legal advice before he signed. It reminded him that any thing he wrote for publication had to be cleared by the CIA’s Publications Review Board. The memo was demanding “all future Letters from Loretto” be sent to the Special Investigative Service (SIS) in the prison and then they would forward the letters to the CIA for approval.
According to Kiriakou’s letter, Mark MacDougall of Akin, Gump and Strauss, who is Kiriakou’s attorney, called the memo “illegal, unconstitutional and unenforceable.” Kiriakou was instructed to ignore the memo. (Note: Kiriakou added that he was sending his letters to PRB for approval even though he had no legal obligation to do so because the contents had nothing to do with intelligence.)
Even more pernicious, one prison official threatened Kiriakou with “diesel therapy,” which is the practice of transferring a prisoner from one prison to another every other week so a prisoner cannot receive phone, email, mailing or visitation privileges. Guards also conducted shakedowns of the prison unit where he lives after he was interviewed by The National Herald, a Greek-American newspaper.
“One of my cellmates, a 40-ish African-American whom I like, respect and consider a friend, made an important point,” Kiriakou recounted. “‘Don’t you see what they’re doing? They’re trying to make us mad with these shakedowns so that we’ll turn on you.’ He imagined a conversation: ‘Let’s piss off the big black guy so he pressures Kiriakou to stop writing and doing interviews.’”
It did not work. “My cellmate urged me to ‘keep up the fight. Keep telling people what it’s like in here.’”
There was subsequently a boorish and clownish attempt to remove his desk from the wall and confiscate it, as if taking his desk away would remove all the hard surfaces he would have to write on and compose his “Letters from Loretto.” A CO, who had been involved in the shakedowns, struggled mightily. He stripped the bolts and they wouldn’t budge so he gave up. And then the CO issued a work order to have the desk chipped off the wall.
“I had to go to the unit manager, who promised that the desk would not be removed,” Kiriakou added.
For a period, Kiriakou had established an understanding with the prison. The facility, which wanted the letters to stop being written, would promise at least nine months in a halfway house at the end of his sentence if Kiriakou would stop sending letters. Kiriakou held up his end of the bargain, but the prison did not. He now has said he is only going to get 86 days in a halfway house.
Kiriakou’s thirty-month sentence will be over in September 2015. So that means he is not likely to be released from Loretto until some time in the summer of next year.