NEW YORK – Christmas and Thanksgiving are the toughest times for John Kiriakou, who has completed his first year at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto in Western Pennsylvania. That is when he most feels his separation from his wife, Heather, and his five children.
On January 25, 2013, Kiriakou, whose 15-year tenure with the CIA produced awards and commendations – he is also lauded for leading the team that captured al-Qaeda’s Abu Zubaydah – was sentenced to 30 months in prison for admitting he violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
The New York Times reported that he e-mailed “the name of a covert CIA officer to a freelance reporter, who did not publish it,” and noted “Kiriakou is the first current or former CIA officer to be convicted of disclosing classified information to a reporter.”
Kiriakou has said in interviews that he believed the officer had retired, and during almost two hours of conversation with TNH senior writers Demetrios Tsakas and Constantine Sirigos said “I am 100 percent positive” all of it is payback for his public statements about waterboarding to ABC News in 2007.
The first thing visitors observe is that despite Kiriakou’s ordeal he is in good spirits.
He is happy his reputation is intact “because people saw this for what it was. This was a political issue, and although this will sound crazy,” he said after saying how terribly he missed his family, “I think I would do it all over again. Somebody had to stand up.”
He also said “thank you” to the people who have helped him in his time of trouble.
“I have always been proud to be Greek-American, but I have never been this proud,” he said, about their support. “The entire community has opened its arms and its wallets. People really care…I get 40, 50 letters a day. That’s what kept me going.”
Some individuals stand out, however, including journalist Michael Ignatiou and Nikos Mouyiaris, the founder of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), whom he has never met.
“I call my wife every other day and one day she asked ‘do you know Nikos Mouyiaris?’” He said he did not. “He is with the Cyprus U.S. Chamber of Commerce and he just sent us a check for $5000,” she told him.
Kiriakou said the money paid the taxes so they could save their house. Mouyiaris then sent another $5000, and HALC ran an online petition drive that yielded 32,000 signatures.
“It was incredible…and that support kept me going,” he said. “You never feel as alone in your life as when the FBI comes to your house and takes you away.”
“I also had a great deal of support from my local AHEPA Chapter 438 out of the Church of St. Katherine’s in Falls Church, VA. “These guys really are my brothers. Gus Moshos, who is 87 years old, focused on helping me like a laser beam. I can’t thank him enough.”
Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh “has been terrific,” he said. “He emails me, prays for my family, and he will visit me soon.”
Jim Gregorakis, a family friend, is a prominent Ahepan and “a faithful visitor and emailer.” Alex Georgiades, a Falls Church Ahepan and his whole family, who are from Cyprus, have been wonderful to me.” Georgiades’ father, the head of Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, is creating a job for Kiriakou for him there when he is released.
That may be the best thing of all. It keeps Kiriakou focused on a brighter future, when he can resume the pursuit of the good that drew him to government service in the first place.
“Dr. Georgiades built a hospital in Cyprus and before my arrest we were working together to build a hospital in Colombia, so we will pick up where we left off.”
He told TNH “The Catholics have been fantastic, and The Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County, CA gave him the Peacemaker of the Year Award. The Government Accountability project has also been helpful.
There were some disappointments. After his arrest he needed to generate political support. Ralph Nader’s family – whom he noted is Greek Orthodox from Lebanon – told him to get Archbishop Demetrios to sign a letter that prominent Americans were are circulating asking President Obama to commute Kiriakou’s sentence.
Morton Halperin, who drafted the law under which Kiriakou was prosecuted and who has stated that it was not intended to be used that way, also signed.
Metropolitan Savas signed, and Kiriakou sent the Archdiocese supporting documentation. He said that Father Alexander Karloutsos told him the Archbishop would ask President Obama directly, but as far as Kiriakou knows, that did not happen.
Father Karloutsos informed TNH that while others may have said they would speak to the Archbishop about the President, he did not tell Kiriakou so. Rather, “We did reach out to the proper authorities based on eleemosynary concern for a member of the Church.”
Clearly, Kiriakou’s Hellenic heritage gives him strength. “I am very proudly 100 percent Rhodian,” he said. His grandfathers migrated from the island of Rhodes to Western Pennsylvania and worked in the steel mills.
He is the first-born (in 1964) of Christos and Stella Kiriakou. He was soon followed by his brother Emmanuel, who is now a top music producer in Hollywood, and his sister, Tina.
FIRST, THE SHOCK
Although it is not far from where his family lived, Loretto was never on Kiriakou’s radar. It’s not where he believed putting his life on the line would get him. “I devoted my entire life to the national security, and I ever thought something like this would happen. “You are in shock when you first get here,” what happened didn’t hit him until later.
He has five roommates, including two child molesters, a drug dealer from Detroit, and the former Auditor General of Cleveland, OH.
It’s not the company he has kept throughout his life, expect for his fifth roommate, a retired intelligence officer with whom he worked overseas. They are now good friends.
Loretto doesn’t have cells, just open cubicles, six people in each, although they are designed for four.
He gets up every morning at 5:45. Breakfast is at 6 and he goes back to bed at 6:30. “I sleep until 10:30 because there is nothing else to do,” he said – his frustration masked by a smile.
After lunch at 11, he answers letter and works on his next book. He exercises after dinner, which is at 5PM, and then hangs out with friends.
He reads also reads “More than I’ve ever read in my life … people send me books. I’ve probably read 100 books in the last year.”
Writing his next book also gets him through the day.
His editor told him not write about prison: “Nobody cares about what happens to you in prison. It has to be about civil rights and civil liberties, it has to be about the case and about how political it was,” Kiriakou was told.
He said the message will be: “What happened to me could happen to anybody…If they want to get you, they will get you.”
On the other hand, his colleagues from Liberty University who visited said he must also write about prison life. The title he and his roommate and former colleague came up with is “Doing time like a spy, how the CIA taught us to survive and thrive in prison.”
SOME CHARGE WILL STICK
“They charged me with three counts of espionage based on a lunch I had with the New York Times and ABC News when I said torture [including waterboarding] was official U.S. Government policy and I thought that it was wrong and unconstitutional.” Those charges were thrown out.
The government also dropped charges pertaining to his book, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.
Asked how this has affected him as a person and a citizen, he said “I honestly feel that I haven’t changed of the years. The government has changed.”
He believes that every president, no matter what the campaign platform “is very quickly recruited by the intelligence establishment of this country and becomes part of the team.
“President Obama campaigned in 2008 for increased transparency but in fact he has only been an extension of the Bush Administration. If anything, we have less transparency now.”
Kiriakou said that after his comments on waterboarding, a few things happened that he now feels he should have seen as warnings, including harassment of his wife, Heather, who then worked for the CIA. After Kiriakou’s sentencing, she resigned under pressure.
After retiring from the CIA, Kiriakou went to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a senior investigator. A reporter called him about allegations that the CIA was placing torturers under cover in the State Department, so he sent the agency a letter of inquiry signed by then-Senator (now Secretary of State) John Kerry. After six weeks, the response was especially nasty.
Another time a human rights activist contacted him regarding the death of 2000 Taliban fighters early in the Afghan War. The press at the time called it the Dasht-i-Leili massacre and it was blamed on Afghan forces.
Kiriakou’s source said a witness said that there were two Americans present, and the implication is that on November 30, 2001 they had to be CIA.
After speaking with high officials for several weeks, Senator Kerry told him “Drop it.” Kiriakou told TNH “I guess I had really angered the CIA…All these things, and the next thing I know I am under arrest.”
THEY CAN’T IMPRISON YOUR VOICE
Kiriakou has something to say about his fate. He sent two messages to supporters called “Letters from Loretto” that each got one million hits on the Internet.
They were posted on firedoglake.com, one of the most influential political websites. Later in the day they were published by Esquire, Playboy, the Economist, and GQ. The following day it was all over the major TV networks.
“I got called into the warden’s office and he said ‘you have to stop.’”
Kiriakou’s response was “I have a Constitutional right to freedom of speech and I did not give up that right when I came through these gates.”
When the news about CIA-leaker Edward Snowden went viral, he wrote an open letter to Snowden urging him not to make the same mistakes that he did, to say nothing to the FBI.
That got another million hits and he kept writing. Until August, when the warden asked him “What will it take for you to stop writing these letters?” and Kiriakou responded “What’s it going to take for you to send me home to my family?” “What do you want?” the Warden asked: “One year in a halfway house. I would leave May 1st,” Kiriakou replied.
He was told that was impossible, and was offered six months, which he turned down.
The warden said he would make the request, but there was no guarantee, since the decisions are made in Washington.
Kiriakou was pleased. He stopped writing and turned down all press interviews and he withdrew two complaints he had made against staff – he had been harassed even to the point of having his Greek name made fun of. “I will not be treated with disrespect. I will not be,” he said emphatically.
He told TNH “some the guards are very good guys and some are bullies.” One yelled at him once “Hey – you think you’re a tough guy?” “Sometimes I am,” he said, “sometimes I’m not.”
They counteroffered with an attempt to try for nine months instead of a year, but by December told him they could not achieve that, either. “The deal is off, ” Kiriakou said, and they replied: “We hope you won’t start writing.”
He resumed that day. He still hopes for nine months, but “if they give me the six I’ll get out on October 31. And then we will see what life holds.”
He plans more books but would also like to do a radio program. There is a lot for him to talk about on radio, like Afghanistan and drones, and events in Greece.
“I remember waking up and I could not wait to get to work in the morning,” he said of his CIA tenure, especially when he was in Greece from 1998 to 2000, working to break November 17.
He was stunned by the recent escape of that terrorist group’s Christodoulos Xiros. “The guy has 23 murder convictions…and they let him go…I understand exhibiting compassion, but you can’t do that to a sociopath.”
Regarding striking a balance between liberty and security, he quoted Benjamin Franklin “’If a country increases it security in the pursuit of liberty too much, it will end up with neither’ – I believe that. I believe whistleblowing is critical to the survival of the democracy.”
He says the system in place is not sufficient to protect our rights.
“Intelligent people can disagree on what Snowden did…but the truth of the matter is it exposed government illegality and crimes against the American people, and that has to stop.”
In the meantime, he has the support of Congressmen like James Moran of Virginia and Lloyd Doggett of Texas, who have written the Bureau of Prisons. Moran, who has taken an interest from the start, is now working with one of his bosses, a former top CIA official, and three dozen other Congressmen, governors, and top officials to write an op-ed in the Washington Post saying Kiriakou should never have been prosecuted to begin with and that he should be released.
LOSSES, KEEPING IN TOUCH
Kiriakou speaks to his children every other day, sometimes every day. They are allowed just 300 minutes phone time per month – which amounts to only 10 minutes a day.
Not only has he lost everything, he still owes his attorneys $880,000.
“My family had to move out of our house,” which they then rented. They moved into a very small house a block away.
He sold his possessions on eBay and he cashed out all his stocks, bonds, and mutual funds to pay his legal bills and he raised another $50,000 to pay his law firm, Trout Cacheris, which reduced the bill. “They are good people,” he said.
The sentence caused him to lose his pension, although a presidential pardon can restore it.
His family visits once a month. His oldest child, Chris, is studying economics at Ohio State University. Costas is a high school senior. Maximos is 9, Kate (Katerina) is 7, and Charlie (Kyriakos) is 2.
“It’s terrible for them. Maximos prays every single night for Jesus to tell them to let me go.”
Asked how he would react if one of his children wanted to work for the CIA, he took a deep breath, paused and said, “You never know. They are independent people…I would tell them the same thing I tell my students at Liberty University,” he continued, “the only way to change the organization is from the inside…if that’s what they want to do, I would support it.”
If in the future a director of the CIA were to acknowledge that what happened to him was an injustice and asked him to return to help implement reforms, Kiriakou would say: “Yes. Done. I’ll take it.”
After all is said and done, he said “I love the CIA. I’m very proud of my service there, the things I did and what I accomplished.”
ONCE A SPY?
Asked how the inmates look at him, he said “when I first got here…they thought I was here to spy on them. But when the Mafia took me in – because I hate the FBI just as much as they do – people thought ‘he is OK.’”
He agreed that the Mafiosi are the aristocracy of the prison. “They are generally older, and they are respected as not being common criminals … they won’t go into your locker and steal your food when you go to the bathroom. There is a certain honor to them.”
The bottom rung are the child molesters. There are 400 of them, 30 percent of the population. “I think they are monsters. Their crimes sicken me…it’s a sickness, and they have no idea that they are sick.”
Over time, he was approached by inmates who needed help with things like filing appeals. He did so gladly, without accepting payment. The only ones he refuses to help are the pedophiles.
GREEK MUSIC THERAPY
Entertainment is limited. Various groups dominate the TV, and because of the child molesters there is no Internet access except for email. “They let us buy an overpriced MP3 player and I downloaded songs.”
He was also moved to buy a little transistor radio and one night when he could not sleep, he searched for interesting stations and discovered a Greek program in Toronto. That night it was all Dalaras and the next day he began to download Greek music – Theodorakis, Maria Farantouri, Grigoris Bithikotsis, and more.
He said the Greek music is therapeutic.
TNH’s visit has convinced him to subscribe. “I subscribed to The National Herald for years. I miss it a lot. I used to read the online edition every day.”
HOW TO HELP
Kiriakou’s main message to Greek-Americans is a request that they contact their Congressmen for help. Everything can be found on firedoglake.com, including sample letters.