New Castle News

October 12, 2013

Interview, Part 1: Behind bars, Kiriakou continues to defend civil liberties

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Friends and supporters of New Castle’s John Kiriakou call him a political prisoner.

The former CIA agent and 1982 graduate of New Castle High School doesn’t disagree.

After being sentenced in January for violating the Espionage Act and the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Kiriakou believed he would serve time where there were no fences or dangerous inmates in a minimum security satellite prison camp located in southwest Pennsylvania between Altoona and Johnstown. But he was instead housed at the adjacent Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto.

He said the government tagged him a threat to public safety and wanted him locked away. “They’ve made me a martyr,” he said last week in an interview with the New Castle News at the prison.

And unless his sentence is commuted, Kiriakou will serve the remaining 22 months amid career criminals, including rapists, child molesters, thieves and gang members. Congressman Jim Moran,  in his 12 term as U.S. Representative from Virginia’s 8th District, has written letters on Kiriakou’s behalf, seeking his transfer to the nearby camp.

Kiriakou, 48, remains unrepentant and defiant in his defense of America’s civil liberties and his condemnation of a government that he believes is out of control.

When he worked for the CIA, Kiriakou said agents were barred from collecting data on American citizens, but that disappeared following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Few people realize the systemic changes that have taken place since then,” said Kiriakou, looking fit and relaxed in one of his three dark green prison uniforms.

“You can’t do anything without the government knowing about it,” said Kiriakou, who was among the first to speak out against the official U.S. torture (waterboarding) policy in 2007.

He has since taken up the cause of shining a spotlight on the “eroding rights” of Americans


Kiriakou said 10 Americans have been charged with espionage in U.S. history, seven of those during the Obama Administration.

“We’re called the Obama Seven,” he said.

Kiriakou has been audited by the IRS every year since 2007. He said it’s all part of a plan to discredit him.

Kiriakou, author of the 2010 book “The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror,” was accused of providing classified information concerning the identity or activities of intelligence officers to journalists.

But then he cites circumstances that would be seem to be extenuating. Kiriakou said he was asked by an interviewer, who claimed he was preparing to write a book, if he could identify any of the names on a list. As the interviewer read the names, Kiriakou confirmed one as an agent he knew, but one he believed was no longer in the field. That man, identified only as “Officer B,” worked with Kiriakou on the capture of suspected al-Qaida financier Abu Zubaydah in the months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

However, the agent in question was still active. It turned out that the man asking the questions of Kiriakou worked for the ACLU and was gathering information on behalf of terrorists being detained at Guantanamo Bay.

Kiriakou said the name of the active agent was never published.

He added that he was also involved in a bizarre incident involving the FBI.

He said a foreign diplomat offered him cash for information, he reported it to the FBI. He claims the FBI asked him to continue meeting with the person to find out what type of information the man was seeking.

There were more meetings and Kiriakou reported after each. It was later he learned the “diplomat” worked for the FBI.

In June, Kiriakou wrote an open “Letter From Loretto” to Edward Snowden expressing his support and giving advice, including “Do not, under any circumstances, cooperate with the FBI.”


Kiriakou calls himself a moderate, but his views on civil liberties and defending the Constitution appeal to people on both sides of the great American divide. His long list of supporters includes committed liberals Oliver Stone and Ralph Nader and dedicated conservatives Mark Levin and Jerry Fallwell Jr.

He has received more than a thousand letters, all of them offering encouragement and support. He has answered every one.

“Safeguarding classified information, including identities of CIA officers involved in sensitive operations, is critical to keeping our intelligence officers safe and protecting our national security,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

“(The) charges reinforce the Justice Department’s commitment to hold accountable anyone who would violate the solemn duty not to disclose such sensitive information.”

Kiriakou is planning to write another book. “I’m about a fourth of the way into it,” he said. “There’ll be no punches pulled,” he said.

“My world view is completely different now,. Government is the problem, not the solution.”

In a letter Kiriakou wrote after being sentenced, he noted, “I am a patriotic American, I love our great country. I love the CIA. I always will. I believe the CIA is largely made up of dedicated men and women who want nothing more than to protect the country. But a true patriot, as Thomas Paine wrote, saves his country from the government.”

After leaving the CIA, Kiriakou worked as a consultant and on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He had powerful friends in Washington, but says he has been abandoned by most of them.

Disappointed, but not surprised, he calls them “professional politicians” and said “I was no longer useful to them so they don’t need me.”

COMING MONDAY: His life in prison.