ATHENS – The launch of a Greek version of CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou’s riveting story about revealing torture and his imprisonment for reporting it had an audience glued to his words and an ovation when he finished.
Fylakismenos Praktoras, by Patakis Publishers is the version of Doing Time Like A Spy: How the CIA Taught Me to Survive and Thrive in Prison, an account of his two-year sentence at a high-security Federal jail near Loretto, Pennsylvania.
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. Kiriakou had been instrumental in a number of key CIA operations and working as a counter-terrorism officer in Athens out of the Embassy after November 17 had killed five Americans, including the then CIA station chief Richard Welch in 1975.
He related the pressure after he’d captured a key terrorist in the Pakistani desert before discovering the man had been waterboarded.
“President (George) Bush went on TV and said ‘We … do … not torture!” Kiriakou said he recalled while watching the presentation. Kiriakou said he was invited on a TV show to discuss that and his experiences and realized the journalist had a high-level source likely in the White House.
“I knew they were going to try to pin that on me,” he said as he and his wife, also a CIA agent, were watching, the tipping point where he said he decided to reveal what he had learned about the torture that was being done, he said, with a directive straight from the President.
Ironically, while he was cleared during Bush’s tenure it was President Barack Obama who reopened the investigation.
While Kiriakou said he hadn’t committed a crime, but was reporting one – noting that GI’s in WWII and Vietnam were prosecuted for waterboarding – he said after racking up $1.1 million in lawyers fees and up against the combined efforts of the CIA, FBI, and Obama, who wanted to make an example of him, that he had a choice.
That was to fight and face 45 years in jail if convicted – the government had a near 99 percent conviction rate in such cases, he said – or plead guilty to a lesser count and spend two years in jail and get out to see his family.
He had no choice, he said. But while doing his time – meeting mobsters, white supremacists and an array of very bad people – he wrote Letters from Loretto, a blog smuggled out through his attorney.
After earning praise, as well as scorn, ridicule and threats and being portrayed as a traitor by detractors, Kiriakou, 53, now has a radio show but has yet to find a benefactor, especially in the Greek-American community of many wealthy people, offering him a job.
In November 2013, Kiriakou was awarded the Peacemaker of the Year by the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County and a month later got the 2013 Giraffe Hero Commendation, awarded to people who stick their necks out for the common good.
In 2016, he won the PEN First Amendment Award by the PEN Center and in 2017 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 operated by University of Melbourne lecturer Suelette Dreyfus.
She was on the panel during the book launch event, a discussion entitled Whistleblowers: Heroes or Renegades? Also appearing was former Athens News Editor John Psaropoulos, who writes The New Athenian blog and is a contributor to CNN, Al Jazeera English and the Weekly Standard and Kathimerini and SKAI TV investigative reporter Tasos Telloglou and Transparency International Greece Chairwoman Anna Damaskou.