New Castle News

October 14, 2013

Interview, Part 2: Kiriakou continues to defend civil liberties

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — New Castle native John Kiriakou will spend the next two years at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto.

He is prepared to make the best of it.

“The CIA actually prepared me for this,” he said. “I’ve lived in worse places in Pakistan and Somalia.”

“Overcrowding is of epic proportions here,” Kiriakou said in an interview at the prison with the New Castle News.

He was sentenced in January to a 30-month term for violating the Espionage Act and the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

Surrounded by dangerous inmates, Kiriakou has earned their respect. If asked, he helps many write letters for appeals. Word inside is that he was an assassin for the CIA, and Kiriakou does little to alter that perception.

Kiriakou’s daily routine is waking at 5:45 a.m., dressing and going to the chow hall. After breakfast, he returns to his cell and sleeps until 10 a.m. “because there’s nothing much to do.”

He spends countless hours reading books and writing letters. When he finishes with books, Kiriakou donates them to the prison library, which is expanding, thanks to the that practice.

Kiriakou purchased a small AM radio that allows him to stay in touch with happenings on the outside. He seldom watches television as the programs he favors are not generally preferred by the other inmates. And there’s no use making that an issue.

“At first, 30 months seemed more like 30 years,” he said. “But now it’s not so bad.”

He grew up attending St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church, and said his Christian faith “is getting me through.”


Kiriakou said he gets 300 minutes of telephone calls each month and is allowed four visits during that time span. His system is having 15-minute conversations with family members every other day.

All of those phone conversations are recorded. In addition, all incoming and outgoing mail is opened and read before being passed on. Kiriakou said any e-mails he might send are often delayed by several days.

He works two nights as a janitor in the chapel.

Exercising keeps him fit, he has dropped 10 pounds. He said it also helps in losing weight that the “food here in awful.”

Kiriakou said not much respect is given to prisoners by authorities inside the prison. One morning after oversleeping, he claims to have dressed quickly and hurried to breakfast. While he was carrying his tray to a table, a guard began berated him for not having part of his shirt tucked in, screaming obscenities. “Those kind of senseless things happen a lot,” he said.

Kiriakou’s father, Chris, who died in 2003, was a principal in the New Castle school district. His mother, Stella, retired as a teacher. She died in 2010. Thus, Kiriakou said, trips back to New Castle will be less frequent in the future. But visiting Tanner’s Restaurant and Hazel’s will top of his list when he returns.


Kiriakou, who as a youth served as New Castle’s mayor for a day during Angelo Sands’ administration, first made national news in 2007. He was on virtually every channel, doing interviews with ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, “Nightline” and the New York Times.

Kiriakou had participated in interrogations of terror suspects and said that while “waterboarding” saved lives, he considered the method torture and now opposes its use.

“Waterboarding was a terrible thing in 2002, but it was needed then. It’s not now,” he said at the time.

Those who have known Kiriakou for decades continue to stand behind him.

Gary Senko, a boyhood friend, writes him regularly as do Michael and Angela Ferraro of Bessemer. When Kiriakou was in seventh grade band, Mr. Ferraro was the director.

“I just can’t believe this is happening to John,” said Theo McCracken, 86, whose late son David was a close friend of Kiriakou. “I am so disappointed in the government.”

The combat veteran of World War II and Korea said Kiriakou “has a high degree of integrity and is one of the finest men I have ever known.”

“I can imagine somebody wants to keep him quiet, but to quiet somebody that way says something sad about our country. What are we becoming?”