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Imprisoned CIA Whistle-Blower: “Everyone Is Corrupt, I’ve Come to Learn”

Imprisoned CIA whistle-blower John Kiriakou has advice for Edward Snowden -- and a warning for the rest of us.


John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who blew the whistle on Bush’s torture program and is now in prison, sent an open letter to Edward Snowden last week warning him not to trust the FBI.

“DO NOT,” Kiriakou wrote, “under any circumstances, cooperate with the FBI. FBI agents will lie, trick, and deceive you. They will twist your words and play on your patriotism to entrap you. They will pretend to be people they are not – supporters, well-wishers, and friends – all the while wearing wires to record your out-of-context statements to use against you. The FBI is the enemy; it’s part of the problem, not the solution.”

These are the words of a registered Republican who voted for Gary Johnson, whom the Rosenberg Fund for Children denied a grant, informing him that he wasn’t “liberal enough,” Kiriakou says, for the award — and who last year received a birthday card from Jerry Falwell Jr.

Kiriakou is the first CIA veteran to be imprisoned. It was after he blew the whistle on Bush’s torture program that the CIA, FBI and Justice Department came down on him, at first charging him with aiding the enemy and later convicting him of disclosing the identities of undercover colleagues at the CIA.

The FBI raided his house in the process. They took his computers. They also took his family photos because, they said, he could have embedded secret messages in them.

“I did not start this thing with the idea that I was going to be a whistle-blower,” Kiriakou told Salon in December, two months before being sent off to a low-security prison in Loretto, Pa., with a 30-month sentence.

I interviewed Kiriakou for about an hour and half at that time, a couple of months before he went to prison, waiting to publish it until he was well into serving his sentence. The idea was to outline the slope of his descent – his journey from the powerful to the powerless.

“In this weird, roundabout way,” he told me then, “the Justice Department, the FBI and the CIA made me the anti-torture guy, which I never set out to be … But over the years,” despite the initial intentions, “my feelings have grown stronger and stronger” against torture, “that torture is not right under any circumstances.”

Recruited by the CIA while in graduate school, Kiriakou spent most of his life on the side of the establishment, leading raids against top al-Qaida officials in Pakistan as the chief of counterterrorism operations, including the one in which Abu Zubaydah was captured.

He had said in an ABC interview with Brian Ross that al-Qaida members “hate us more than they love life,” that they wanted to kill every American and every Jew because, he said, it’s just who they are.

That was also the interview in which Kiriakou pissed off the power establishment, becoming the whistle-blower he had never set out to be. He was on Ross’ show defending himself against allegations that he, personally, had tortured Zubaydah. But what he didn’t know was that torture as a state policy had never been confirmed in any official capacity, even though everyone in Washington knew about it.

Five years before, in 2002, Kiriakou had never heard of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” He’d just left Greece where he was doing counterterrorism work when the CIA decided to move him to a different office in Pakistan. In the interim, a fellow CIA officer approached Kiriakou and said that they were going to use some of these interrogation techniques on Zubaydah.

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