Kiriakou: War of Terror Hero, Whistleblower

NEW YORK – At a time when Edward Snowden – who is accused of stealing and willfully revealing vital classified information – is enjoying “temporary asylum” in Russia – John C. Kiriakou, a former CIA operative and father of five who has been hailed as a hero for his role in capturing high level al—Qaeda terrorists, is languishing in the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, PA.

The National Herald, which has interviewed Kiriakou in the past , contacted his attorney, Plato Cacheris to learn about his status. He said “we still support Mr. Kiriakou,” but noted “There is nothing to report at this time.” He added that, “They may send him to a halfway house,” five months before his sentence expires. It will presumably be near Washington so that he can at least be able to see his family.

On January 25, 2013, he 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… In more than six decades of fraught interaction between the agency and the news media, John 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 that the covert officer had retired.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at the same time that “safeguarding classified information, including the identities of CIA officers involved in sensitive operations, is critical to keeping our intelligence officers safe and protecting our national security.”

Kiriakou is paying the price. He will be in prison until May, 2015.

There was more fallout. The Times reported that his wife, “though accused of no wrongdoing, resigned under pressure from her CIA job as a top Iran specialist. The family had to go on food stamps for several months before she got a new job outside the government. To make ends meet, they rented out their spacious house in Arlington, VA, and moved to a rented bungalow a third the size with their three young children (he has two older children from his first marriage).”
Numerous groups and individuals have come to his defense, providing both financial relief for Kiriakou’s crushing legal bills and vital moral support.

Among the groups supporting Kiriakou are the Government Accountability Project and American’s Who Tell the Truth, a unique organization that produces and presents portraits and narratives of “citizens who courageously engage issues of social, environmental, and economic fairness.”

The Times also reported that Cacheris’ firm “without explanation…cut his outstanding bill from more than $700,000 to $492,264.16.”

There has also been sympathy and support from his former CIA colleagues and high officials, but David H. Petraeus, then the C.I.A. director, slammed Kiriakou after he pleaded guilty on Oct. 23, 2012.

Just a few weeks before he resigned disgrace, Petraeus said the prosecution was “an important victory for our agency, for our intelligence community, and for our country…Oaths do matter…and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.”
That is not how Kiriakou’s supporters see it. On the website created by “Friends of John Kyriakou,” www.defendjohnk.com, they declare:

“This is not a case about leaks…It is a case about whistleblowing. John spent most of his career protecting American security. He served honorably in the CIA and helped achieve major counterterrorism successes that made the world safer. John received 10 Exceptional Performance Awards, a Sustained Superior Performance Award, and the Counterterrorism Service Medal, as well as the State Department’s Meritorious Honor Award.”

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero weighed in by saying the case will have a “chilling effect on defense counsel, government whistle-blowers, and journalists.”

Kiriakou led the team that captured Abu Zubayda and others in Pakistan in 2002. It was hailed as a “notable victory after the Sept. 11 attacks.”

He wrote about the mission in his memoir, The Reluctant Spy – My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror.

The New York Times’ reporting in January 2013 reads like a screenplay:

“Looking back, John C. Kiriakou admits he should have known better. But when the FBI called him a year ago and invited him to stop by and “help us with a case,” he did not hesitate…’Anything for the FBI,’ Mr. Kiriakou replied. Only an hour into what began as a relaxed chat with the two agents…did he begin to realize just who was the target of their investigation…Finally, the older agent leaned in close and said, by Mr. Kiriakou’s recollection, ‘In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that right now we’re executing a search warrant at your house and seizing your electronic devices.’”
Some observers who acknowledge that the punishment does not fit the crime say that the only way to stop serious leaks was to make an example of someone, and Kiriakou was unlucky enough to have committed an offense that could not be ignored at the wrong time.

Others see payback.

Kiriakou walked into the spotlight when he spoke out about the practice of waterboarding, which the public considers torture, on television in 2007, with ABC’s Brian Ross.

Ironically, when he first appeared on ABC News, Kiriakou “defended the agency’s resort to desperate measures but also said that he had come to believe that waterboarding was torture and should no longer be used in American interrogations,” the Times noted.

The Times spoke with Bruce Riedel, “a retired veteran C.I.A. officer who led an Afghan war review for Mr. Obama and turned down an offer to be considered for C.I.A. director in 2009. Kiriakou worked for him in the 1990s and Riedel called him, “an exceptionally good intelligence officer” and said he did not deserve prison.
It’s a muddy issue, which makes the prosecution of Kiriakou look arbitrary, if not a convenient excuse for punishing him his views on waterboarding.


Kiriakou was raised in small town Pennsylvania. In The Reluctant Spy he, wrote: “I grew up in a Greek-American household, with first generation parents who were teachers and who pressed me to excel in school and extracurricular activities.

Joining the CIA two years after finishing graduate school, he “signed up as analyst in the Directorate of Intelligence, figuring that I would use my education, build on my fascination for international affairs… and eventually make a real contribution to the nation’s understanding of the forces beyond our shores.”

After Kiriakou left the CIA in 2004 he did consulting work for Deloitte, worked with Hollywood filmmakers and was an investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Prior to his imprisonment, he taught at Liberty University, which has been supportive.

Father Costas Pavlakos, who has been the pastor of the Church of St. Katherine’s in Northern Virginia for the past 11 years, expressed concern for Kiriakou when he spoke to TNH. Fr. Pavlakos said Kyriakou has been a member and active parishioner, and he knows him as “an extremely warm person and a great dad…His brothers in AHEPA chapter 438 are very supportive,” he said.


Among the people nationwide who have come to his defense is Robert Shetterly, the founder of the organization whose website is www.americanswhotellthetruth.org.

Shetterly is a self-taught painter who lives in Maine. He began his project to raise national consciousness about injustice and heroism 12 years ago because he was “extremely upset about the way the country was being manipulated into the Iraq War.”

He has supported his family through his painting or 35 year but until 2002 he had not painted portraits. “I suddenly felt that I need to have a voice… and to take my anger and grief and use it in a positive way,” he said. After thinking about it for several months he realized “I’ll feel better if I surround myself with people I admire rather than obsess about Dick Cheney another day.”

He began painting 19th century figures in the most direct way possible, “without interference from any style,” he said, but he hit upon the idea of scratching a representative quote onto the paintings, which soon included contemporaries.

He was shocked at the positive response, including invitations to local schools to talk about the people he painted.

“It has now become a national education project.” He and the big 31” by 37” heavy panels are on the road constantly to libraries, schools and museums.

Shetterly and Kiriakou first met in Washington in the offices of the Government Accountability Project, which he said supported and helped guide the latter.

They write each other about once a week. “He is keeping up his sprits and is writing a new book about his experience…I think he has undergone a considerable change, as you’d expect,” Shetterly said.

Kiriakou’s situation is sometimes compared with that of Jonathan Jay Pollard, an American convicted of passing classified information to Israel while working as a civilian intelligence analyst. While the Pollard case is not really similar, it is notable for the strong support he has received from Jewish Americans, who have continually lobbied the government for his release.



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