For the first time in my life, I fear for the country. The two major parties are represented by a lunatic and a criminal. What I fear most is that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will continue the Obama Administration’s war against transparency and whistleblowers. Government secrets will remain secret, even when they violate the law. That won’t change, at least in the next four years.
My guest today is John Kiriakou, former CIA analyst and case officer, and member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
Joan Brunwasser: Welcome to OpEdNews, John. You are the recipient of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. Congratulations! Many of us do not know about this award. Fill us in please.
John Kiriakou: Thanks for having me. I’ve been a big fan of OpEdNews for a long time.
JB: i’m so glad to hear that!
JK: The Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence is given to current or former intelligence officers or federal law enforcement officers who have exhibited “courage” and demonstrated “integrity” in their actions or their analysis. It was founded by former senior CIA officer Ray McGovern and was named not after the revolutionary hero, but after a CIA analyst who was the first to say, despite being detrimental to his career, that the U.S. was actually losing the war in Vietnam and that CIA analysis was not honest.
JB: I assumed the award was named after the other Sam Adams but this has more relevance. I’m curious about how Sam Adams, the CIA analyst, fared after he profferred his critique about the Vietnam War.
JK: As you might imagine, the CIA’s Sam Adams was marginalized and pushed out of his job. “Why can’t you be a team player?” became a refrain from those around him. He believed–rightly–that there was a conspiracy among military and intelligence leaders in South Vietnam to underestimate the numbers of Vietcong. Nobody would listen to him, his career appeared to be at an end, and he resigned from the CIA while still in his early 40s. He died of cancer about 10 years later.
JB: Not a pretty picture for those who buck the party line, then or now. What did you do that got you in hot water, John?
JK: Well, it depends who you ask. The Justice Department will tell you that I confirmed the name of a former CIA colleague to a reporter. I did. I’m sorry I did that. But that happens in Washington every single day. Just look at the Washington Post or the New York Times in the morning. And those cases are never, ever prosecuted. But in my case, in December 2007, I went on ABC News and confirmed that the CIA was torturing its prisoners. I said three things in that interview that completely changed the course of the rest of my life. I said the CIA was torturing its prisoners, that torture was official U.S. Government policy, and that the policy had been personally approved by the president. The FBI began investigating me within 24 hours. That investigation lasted four years, and in January 2012, I was charged with five felonies.
JB: The timing of the FBI investigation certainly flunks the sniff test. What happened with the charges?
JK: I was charged with three counts of espionage (two for speaking to the New York Times and one for speaking with ABC News), one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1981 (IIPA) and one count of making a false statement. Four of the charges were dismissed–all of the espionage counts and the false statement count. I took a plea to violating the IIPA. This was really an economic decision. The government offered me a sentence of 30 months. I could have risked it and gone to trial. But if I had been convicted, I was facing 45 years in prison. I knew that if I took the deal, I’d be out in under two years. I was. Now I am home and can support my family.
Of course, at the same time, the CIA torturers are free, the officials who came up with the torture program are free, the attorneys who justified the torture are free, the officials who approved of the torture are free, and the CIA officer who destroyed evidence of the torture is free. That’s Washington. I bucked the system. I aired the dirty laundry. So they moved to crush me.
JB: Did you anticipate that the government would come down on you like a pile of bricks? Were you hoping that you would slip under the radar like most of the media leakers that you referred to before?
JK: I didn’t think that I had done anything wrong. I had only confirmed what Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Committee of the Red Cross had already said publicly. But I had decided in advance of the interview that I was going to tell the truth. As crazy as it may sound, I’m glad I did. And I would do it again.
Interestingly, too, it wasn’t the Bush Administration that really targeted me. The FBI investigated me from December, 2007 to December, 2008 and closed the case, saying that I hadn’t committed any crime. A month later, when Obama was inaugurated, the CIA asked him to reopen the case. The FBI then investigated me for another three years and finally charged me.
JB:Sadly, the Obama Administration does have a reputation for going after whistleblowers and journalists to an unprecedented degree. It’s not that surprising that you got caught in their crosshairs. That brings us to the present. Have you anything to say about the current political environment and the upcoming election?
JK: For the first time in my life, I fear for the country. The two major parties are represented by a lunatic and a criminal. Third parties are kept out of the debates and minimized to keep them from gaining any political traction. What I fear most is that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will continue the Obama Administration’s war against transparency and whistleblowers. Government secrets will remain secret, even when they violate the law. That won’t change, at least in the next four years.
JB: I hear you. Which one’s the criminal? And why? Can you be a bit more specific here? I don’t want to make assumptions.
JK: I’ve been very, very disappointed in Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. I always thought that Benghazi was a Republican red herring. But this email scandal had legs. If there was any sense of fairness, any sense of justice, Hillary would have been charged with espionage. You see, the Obama Administration, and especially the Holder Justice Department, made a policy decision in early 2009 to use the espionage act against people speaking to the press.
The espionage act is very, very broadly written. It defines espionage as the act of “providing national defense information to any person not entitled to receive it.” I personally believe that it’s unconstitutionally vague. But it has been used against whistleblowers a record eight times by this administration. The issue is, though, that that is what Hillary Clinton did. We know that from documents released through the Freedom of Information Act. Hillary Clinton committed a crime that eight of us have been prosecuted for. In the interest of justice, in the interest of fairness, she should either be charged with a crime or the rest of us should be pardoned.
JB: You make some good points. How much hope do you have that justice will be carried out in that regard?
JK: I like to think I’m a realist. Nobody in Washington does things because they’re the “right thing to do.” They do things because there’s something in it for them. With that said, I have submitted a pardon application to the president. I enclosed with it a letter of support signed by 81 former CIA, NSA, State Department, and military officers and FBI agents, a letter from the author of the law I was convicted of violating, saying that I should never have been prosecuted in the first place, and a copy of a 1982 op-ed by then-Senator Joe Biden, saying that the Intelligence Identities Protection Act was unconstitutional and should never have been enacted. I would certainly appreciate a presidential pardon. But I’m not expecting one.
JB: This reminds me a bit of the [former Alabama Governor Don] Siegelman case. In an unprecedented bipartisan display, over 100 former state attorneys general of both parties decried his sentence, asking for a prompt presidential pardon. Yet he still sits in federal prison, convicted of something that isn’t even a crime…. Back to you. How does a former CIA analyst/convicted felon support his family these days?
JK: That’s a good question. And a difficult one. Washington is sometimes called the “city of second chances.” Are you a congressman who buggers a page? No problem. You get a second chance. You out Valerie Plame? No worries. You can make half a million dollars at a consulting firm. But for me, Washington isn’t the city of second chances. I’ll never work here again. Since I got home from prison almost two years ago, I’ve written a weekly column for California-based Reader Supported News. I also contribute to California-based Truthdig. I’ve also had the good fortune to have consulted on a number of movies and television series. So I think my future is in Los Angeles.
JB: Washington’s loss is LA’s gain: how trite yet true. What was the award ceremony like last night? Did it at all mitigate your feelings about the way you’ve been treated by our government?
JK: I have been truly blessed and fortunate since this entire nightmare began. I can count on one hand the number of friends who walked away from me after my arrest, and every single one of them had something to do with the torture program. No loss. But more importantly, this experience has allowed me to meet some absolutely amazing people and to make many, many new friends. My life is better now that it has ever been. On the day of my arrest, my brother told me, “I know you can’t see it. But this will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you.” He was right. It has.
The Sam Adams award ceremony was, in my mind, less a formal ceremony than it was a gathering of friends. I was so honored to be on the stage with giants, people for whom I have had only the greatest respect for as long as I can remember.
JB: Well, I think it’s safe to say that you fit right in with that illustrious crowd. With the current environment less and less friendly to whistleblowers, do you have any words of advice to those who might be contemplating risking career and reputation, not to mention their liberty, in order to share the truth with the public?
JK: Thanks for that. I do have one important piece of advice. It’s not romantic or sexy sounding. It’s to simply engage an attorney skilled in whistleblowing issues BEFORE blowing the whistle. I waited to hire an attorney and I found myself reacting and responding to the government, rather than acting proactively. If you are in national security, hire the best national security litigators money can buy.
JB: Do you think things could have gone differently if you had followed this piece of advice?
JK: Yes, I do. The one critical mistake I made was to speak to the FBI. Never, ever speak to the FBI under any circumstances. But I had worked side-by-side with the FBI for decades. I had no idea I was under investigation. And the FBI twisted everything I said. When I came out of the meeting, I had five felonies hanging over my head. If I had my attorney with me, he would have ended the meeting in five seconds. I would never have been convicted of anything.
JB: An expensive life lesson. Let’s turn back to the presidential election for a moment. You clearly are no fan of either of the major candidates. Did you have a horse in this race? Do you like the third party candidates any better? Or is the system so broken that the particular candidate doesn’t matter much anymore?
JK: I think our bipolar political system is broken and I do like the third party candidates. My own personal ideology is pretty close to the Green, Jill Stein’s. She’s been kind to me, and she said recently that if she were elected President, she would pardon me and bring me into her administration. I like the Libertarian Gary Johnson very much, too. Gary wrote to me in prison, he asked the Attorney General to release me early, and he, too, said that he would pardon me and ask me to join his administration.
Our problem is that the two major parties have a stranglehold on politics. Just look at the debates. Whatever happened to the League of Women Voters? Now we have this “bipartisan” Commission on Presidential Debates, the job of which is to keep everybody else out. If this Commission had been in charge in the past, there would not have been a Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, or John Anderson. It’s anti-democratic and it should go.
JB: Agreed. Have you decided yet: will you watch the debates or boycott them?
JK: I so dislike both Trump and Clinton that I don’t think I can force myself through a debate.
JB: Any final thoughts before we wrap this up?
JK: I want potential whistleblowers to know that you will not be alone. So many Americans will support what you do. You may feel isolated, unappreciated, even targeted. But you are not alone. Hire an attorney and fight.
JB: Thanks so much for talking with me, John. It was an honor. Best of luck to you!
Wikipedia: The CIA awarded Kiriakou with 10 Exceptional Performance Awards, a Sustained Superior performance Award, the Counterterrorism Service Medal, and the State Department’s Meritorious Honor Award. Kiriakou won the 2012 Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage, which is awarded to “national security whistleblowers who stood up for constitutional rights and American values, at great risk to their personal and professional lives”. In November 2013, Kiriakou was awarded the “Peacemaker of the Year” by the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County. In December 2013, he received a 2013 Giraffe Hero Commendation, awarded to people who stick their necks out for the common good.
Submitters Website: http://www.opednews.com/author/author79.html
Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of transparency and the ability to accurately check and authenticate the vote cast, these systems can alter election results and therefore are simply antithetical to democratic principles and functioning. Since the pivotal 2004 Presidential election, Joan has come to see the connection between a broken election system, a dysfunctional, corporate media and a total lack of campaign finance reform. This has led her to enlarge the parameters of her writing to include interviews with whistle-blowers and articulate others who give a view quite different from that presented by the mainstream media. She also turns the spotlight on activists and ordinary folks who are striving to make a difference, to clean up and improve their corner of the world. By focusing on these intrepid individuals, she gives hope and inspiration to those who might otherwise be turned off and alienated. She also interviews people in the arts in all their variations – authors, journalists, filmmakers, actors, playwrights, and artists. Why? The bottom line: without art and inspiration, we lose one of the best parts of ourselves. And we’re all in this together. If Joan can keep even one of her fellow citizens going another day, she considers her job well done. When Joan hit one million page views, OEN Managing Editor, Meryl Ann Butler interviewed her, turning interviewer briefly into interviewee. Read the interview here.
While the news is often quite depressing, Joan nevertheless strives to maintain her mantra: “Grab life now in an exuberant embrace!” Joan has been Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December, 2005. Her articles also appear at Huffington Post, RepublicMedia.TV and Scoop.co.nz.