Former CIA Officer John Kiriakou: Justice Department is Targeting Whistleblowers
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on waterboarding and exposed how CIA torture was policy, was convicted of a classified leak for sharing the name of an officer involved in the rendition program with a reporter. He is set to be sentenced to jail for thirty months on Friday.
Kiriakou appeared on an episode of “Citizen Radio” this morning. Interviewed by the show’s co-host Allison Kilkenny, he revealed that his attorneys have a document showing that he clearly was the victim of a selective prosecution.
“While I confirmed the name of one CIA officer involved in the torture regime,” Kiriakou stated, “There was a second CIA officer who provided the same reporter the names of ten undercover officers as well as information about counterterrorist operations and flight plans for the black flights going to CIA prisons but that CIA officer was not investigated and was not prosecuted.”
The reporter is Matthew Cole, who at the time claimed to be writing a book on a CIA rendition operation in Italy.
After seeing the document, the only thing Kiriakou could conclude was that the second CIA officer did not blow the whistle on torture. He added that he believes the Justice Department made a decision in 2007 to come after him and were very patient in developing a case against him.
Significantly, government prosecutors have accused Kiriakou of “trying to minimize the seriousness of his actions and is falsely claiming to be a whistleblower.” Josh Gerstein of POLITICO reported on a recent court filing, where prosecutors state:
To the extent the defendant falsely denies elements of the offense or relevant conduct in a sentencing allocution, or again seeks to claim the misbegotten title of whistleblower, such a claim should be squarely rejected and considered as a repudiation of his acceptance of responsibility for the criminal conduct he committed.
The filing, signed by US Attorney Neil MacBride, recommended he be sentenced to 30 months and a “supervised release term of three years.” It also sought to show that what Kiriakou did was not the result of some lapse in judgment.
…[T]he defendant’s emails seized during the investigation revealed that Kiriakou disclosed to journalists information about dozens of CIA officers, including numerous covert officers of the National Clandestine Service beyond the one identified in the indictment, as well as others since retired. As the narrowly framed charges reflect, the government was required to “balanc[e] the need for prosecution and the possible damage that a public trial [would] require by way of the disclosure of vital national interest secrets in a public trial.” United States v. Morison, 844 F.2d 1057, 1067 (4th Cir. 1988). For purposes of sentencing, however, it is sufficient to note that for Kiriakou the charged conduct was in no sense aberrational or reflective of an atypical lapse of judgment…
The filing reflects the fact that support for Kiriakou is growing and it is aware that more and more people are referring to him as a whistleblower.
On the Citizen Radio program, Kiriakou described his evolution from an officer to a whistleblower. “I’ve learned so much about the psychology of whistleblowing,” he recounted. “I did not set out to be a whistleblower. I’ve learned that no whistleblower sets out to be a whistleblower.”
What happened was while he was in the CIA he was asked if he wanted to be trained in the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture. This he found out involved waterboarding, putting people in dog cages, sleep deprivation, etc. He had a “moral problem” with that and turned down the opportunity. He also said he was “uncomfortable with it as a policy.” Then, news broke that “videotaped instances of waterboarding” had been destroyed.
He was contacted by ABC News. Someone with the network told him they had a source who says you waterboarded Abu Zubaydah.” Kiriakou thought that could not be true because he “was the only person kind to Abu Zubaydah.” He was invited to go on ABC News and defend himself and wound up doing two things that were ground-breaking.
Kiriakou was the “first former or current CIA officer to confirm the CIA was torturing prisoners.” He also “said it was not a product of rogue officers but official policy that went all the way up to the president.” And, after that interview, the FBI never stopped investigating him, he said.
Agents followed him wherever he went—when he was grocery shopping, when he was out to dinner and even when he was in church. They still follow him.
It’s a “very emotional psychological tool they use against you,” he said.
The result of being a government target has been losing his friends, having people push away from him because they don’t want to be involved and risk the possibility of the FBI coming after them. He also has racked up “legal fees approaching a million dollars.” It would take “multiple lifetimes” to pay his legal bills.
Kiriakou is the only CIA officer involved in the agency’s torture program to be convicted of a crime. He used to think it was not a good idea to prosecute officers responsible for torture because he believed only “guys at the working level” would be prosecuted but he has changed his mind.
“Now that we know more about who was involved and how many people were involved, it makes me sick to my stomach that this was a program that really was on quite a large scale with people at every level of the CIA and the National Security Council and in some cases in the Justice Department,” Kiriakou declared. “Nobody is facing the music for committing serious crimes. We even have al Qaeda prisoners or alleged Al Qaeda prisoners, who were killed during their interrogations, and nobody faced charges for that.”
He reported that support for commutation or a pardon is growing. Ralph Nader, Bruce Fein and Joan Claybrook signed a letter to President Barack Obama. A Change.org petition has been circulating as well as one from the Greek-American community. Another letter has also been signed by “more than a dozen and a half CIA officers,” FBI agents who served with Kiriakou in Pakistan and “notable Americans like Pete Seeger, Oliver Stone and Daniel Ellsberg.”
POLITICO obtained some of these letters. Gerstein reported:
“Many years later after the capture of Abu Zubaydah, people at work would stop him in the hallway to thank him for his service to our country, and John would laugh and remark to me how amazing it was that strangers would stop to speak to him,” one former colleague at CIA, Elizabeth Reidel, recalled. “I recognize that he has pled guilty to a crime but staunchly believe that he remains a man of upright character, decency and integrity,” wrote Riedel, a veteran analyst. (Her husband, former CIA official Bruce Riedel, chaired the interagency review on Pakistan and Afghanistan policy President Barack Obama ordered as he took office in 2009.)
“John is a highly ethical individual,” wrote former CIA officer Gene Coyle. “I actually use John as a positive example in my classes that I teach at Indiana University when discussing matters of consicence and ethical behavior by government employees, and where he has been a guest speaker….Hopefully, [his] time in prison will be as short as the law allows.”
“I cannot condone the crime to which John has pleaded guilty, but John Kiriakou is a fundamentally decent, loyal, honorable, and patriotic man who has repeatedly risked his life for our country and who has already suffered economic ruin as a result of this case,” wrote Donald Roberts, a former foreign service officer who worked with Kiriakou in Bahrain.
In conclusion, Kiriakou acknowledged the government’s prosecution has had a chilling effect with the New York Times reporting “many of their security sources have completely dried up.”
“The Justice Dept can deny all they want that they’re targeting whistleblowers, but I think the evidence is clear that they are targeting whistleblowers,” he stated.
If they’re not prosecuting whistleblowers or leakers that exposed official policy, then they are pursuing sports stars or Internet activists, especially those connected to WikiLeaks or Anonymous hacktivism. They are not prosecuting crimes, like fraud on Wall Street or torture by those who authorized it in the highest echelons of government during the administration of President George W. Bush. They are putting truth-tellers in prison and letting the ones who actually abused, hurt or devastated people roam free.
And, as Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project told POLITICO, “John meets the textbook definition of whistleblower. He revealed gross abuse and illegality and the world seems to recognize him as a whistleblower. It’s unfortunate the government can’t.”
*Firedoglake has launched its own petition in support of Kiriakou. You can sign it here.