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January 28, 2013

Convicted CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou Confronts Government Talking Points on NBC’s ‘Today Show’

Posted in: Whistleblowers

Former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who was sentenced to thirty months in jail last Friday after pleading guilty to providing the name of a covert officer to a reporter, appeared on NBC’s morning program, “The Today Show.” He was interviewed by Savannah Guthrie and, although the questions were mostly favorable to the government, Kiriakou was given an opportunity to explain himself on a show viewed by millions of Americans each morning.

Guthrie begins the interview with a typical View from Nowhere question. She says,”Some people say you betrayed your former colleagues in order to raise your media profile in order to sell books and get a consulting business going.” The “some people” is senior officials in the CIA and the Justice Department and people like US Attorney Neil MacBride, who chose to pursue a case against him. She continues, “Others say you were a whistleblower. You spoke out and now you’re being wrongly prosecuted.” Those “others” are progressive activists, some current and former intelligence agency employees, constitutional lawyers, people at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, key groups in the Greek-American community and even this blog, Firedoglake.

Remarkably, Guthrie asks, “You say you wear this conviction like a badge of honor?” She doesn’t say where she got this quote (even though she references sources for all other quotes during the interview). Where it comes from is the interview I did with Kiriakou the day before his sentencing:

 …I am wearing my conviction as a badge of honor. I am proud that I stood up to our government. I stood up for what I believed was right conviction or no conviction. I mean they can convict anybody of anything if they put their minds to it, but I wear this as a badge of honor. I am not a criminal. I am a whistleblower. The thing that I blew the whistle on is now the law of the land. Torture is illegal and it’s officially abandoned in our country and I’m proud to have had a role in that… [emphasis added]

Kiriakou says it is a “badge of honor” because “this conviction is not about leaking.” He adds, “This case was about torture from the very beginning. If every CIA officer or former CIA officer was prosecuted for referring a reporter to a former colleague for an interview, the prisons would be bursting with CIA officers.

Guthrie asks him to confirm that he admits he revealed the name of covert officer and violated the law and asks if prosecutors should have let it slide. To which Kiriakou responds, “There are administrative measures that could have been taken.” When current CIA officers commit this kind of violation, they get a “letter of reprimand” in their file or “two weeks without pay.” Other laws or regulations are used. The government’s decision to pursue him for conviction under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) was “heavy-handed,” he says. In fact, the author of the IIPA was willing to testify if his case went to trial and state that the Justice Department was using the law to go after him in a way that was not intended.

She continues to raise government talking points reminding him that he had not originally considered himself a whistleblower and originally when he spoke out he said torture worked and he was coming forward because the CIA had gotten a “bum rap on waterboarding.” Kiriakou explains the CIA lied to him and told officers in the agency that in an isolated circumstance the methods had been effective. When Guthrie pushes back and suggests this may not make him a whistleblower, he says the key was that he called the interrogation techniques being used torture and said it was official US policy.

Guthrie then proceeds to talk about other “crimes” or “leaks” he may have admitted to in the “statement of facts” portion of his plea. He was only convicted of releasing the name, but to go after Kiriakou’s credibility and weaken support for him, the government is discussing this part of the plea that includes details related to other charges that were dropped after Kiriakou pled guilty to violating the IIPA. Kiriakou objected to this information being in the plea, but the judge did not think he had anything to worry about. The problem is what the government alleges he did in committing other “leaks” is now part of the public record and media persons like Guthrie are referencing it to question Kiriakou’s character.

Kiriakou corrects Guthrie, “They actually charged me with espionage for ‘leaking’ the name of a former colleague to a New York Times reporter. That colleague was never undercover. I did not leak the name. The reporter [Scott Shane] came to me with the name and I confirmed it to that reporter.” Guthrie doesn’t accept this and says, “I think specifically the charges said that you disclosed the connection of that officer to a classified operation. That’s what you acknowledged in your statement of facts.” Kiriakou says that it was no secret the CIA’s Rendition, Detention & Interrogation program existed.

Ultimately, Kiriakou holds his own admitting responsibility while at the same time maintaining he did not deserve to be targeted and prosecuted.

The most troubling aspect of the interview is that it shows the government’s sleazy tactic is working. As the Government Accountability Project’s Jesselyn Radack pointed out over the weekend, the government now alleges “numerous” covert officers were outed by Kiriakou. This was never charged in the indictment. “Every American should be alarmed that government prosecutors can level allegations against you that are never charged,” wrote Radack.

Though it does not come up in the interview, he was sentenced based on a secret statement by the “victim” or covert officer whose name he disclosed to a reporter. That is equally Kafkaesque. Kiriakou should have been able to read the statement from the person whom he is going to jail for putting at risk. If something unfortunate had happened as a result, he would know and could truly accept responsibility for what he caused to happen. Yet the government revoked his security clearance the day before sentencing so he could not read the statement, which should lead many to presume that the harm done to the officer as a result of his communication with a reporter has been minimal or virtually non-existent.

Overall, even if one does not approve of Guthrie’s performance, Americans who rarely follow stories involving whistleblowing and leaks were able to hear from Kiriakou personally. The significance of that should not be ignored especially when it is clear the next phase of government persecution will be going after his character with allegations related to charges he did not plead guilty to committing. They’ll do this before, during and after he gets out of jail just to make sure he does not become someone the public accepts as a whistleblower.


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