The former CIA analyst who spoke out against the agency’s use of torture says he’s been deemed a “threat to public safety” and is serving his prison sentence in a crowded jail cell despite being promised admission to a federal work camp.
John Kiriakou, 48, has been at Loretto Federal Correctional Institution near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since February after he took a plea deal offered by the federal government. He was facing decades in prison if convicted under the charge initially lobbed by the US Department of Justice, violating the Espionage Act, but the government allowed him last year to plead guilty to a single count of disclosing information that identified a covert agent in exchange for a lesser sentence.
Kiriakou made headlines in 2007 when he spoke at length to reporters at ABC News about the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of waterboarding as an interrogation tool against suspected terrorists. Prior to the interview he spent several years working for the agency abroad following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, serving as head of counterterrorism operations in Pakistan before leaving the CIA and condemning his country’s use of torture. Now three months into his prison sentence, the website Firedoglake has published the first of Kiriakou’s “Letters from Loretto.”
“I arrived here on February 28, 2013 to serve a 30-month sentence for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection act of 1982. At least that’s what the government wants people to believe. In truth, this is my punishment for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s illegal torture program and for telling the public that torture was official US government policy,” Kiriakou writes. “But that’s a different story. The purpose of this letter is to tell you about prison life.”
Despite being told by prosecutors and the presiding judge that he’d serve his sentence in Loretto’s Federal Work Camp, Kiriakou says he has been held at the main facility because the Bureau of Prisons deemed him a “threat to the public safety.”
“My cell is more like a cubicle made out of concrete block. Built to hold four men, mine holds six. Most others hold eight,” he writes.
Kiriakou says he volunteered to teach fellow prisoners as part of Loretto’s GED program, but his counselor dismissed his request. He now works as a janitor in the prison’s chapel and makes just over five dollars a month. In regards to the other inmates, Kiriakou says he’s been largely accepted into the prison.
“My reputation preceded me, and a rumor got started that I was a CIA hitman. The Aryans whispered that I was a ‘Muslim hunter,’ but the Muslims, on the strength of my Arabic language skills and a well-timed statement of support from Louis Farrakhan have lauded me as a champion of Muslim human rights. Meanwhile, the Italians have taken a liking to me because I’m patriotic, as they are, and I have a visceral dislike of the FBI, which they do as well. I have good relations with the blacks because I’ve helped several of them write communication appeals or letters to judges and I don’t charge anything for it. And the Hispanics respect me because my cellmates, who represent a myriad of Latin drug gangs, have told them to. So far, so good,” he writes.
Elsewhere, Kiriakou says that Loretto’s Special Investigative Service, “the prison version of every police department’s detective bureau,” tried to convince him that a fellow inmate, allegedly the uncle of an accused terrorist, was told to kill him.
“But the more I thought about it, the more this made no sense. Why would the uncle of the Times Square bomber be in a low-security prison?” he writes.
“In the meantime, SIS told him that I had made a call to Washington after we met, and that I had been instructed to kill him! We both laughed at the ham-handedness by which SIS tried to get us to attack each other. If we had, we could have spent the rest of our sentences in the SHU – solitary. Instead, we’re friendly, we exchange greetings in Arabic and English, and we chat,” he says.
He also says that his cell was ransacked by prison officials in a shake-down after correcting a guard who mispronounced his name.
“Lesson learned: [Corrections officers] can treat us like subhumans but we have to show them faux respect even when it’s not earned,” he says.
Kiriakou is expected to finish his sentence in August 2015. Before going to Loretto, he said at an event in Washington, “I never tortured anybody, but I’m heading to prison while the torturers and the lawyers
who papered over it and the people who deceived it and the men who destroyed the proof of it–the tapes– will never face justice.”
In 2012, Kiriakou was indicted on one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, three counts of violating the Espionage Act, and one count of making false statements. He pleaded to the IIPA violation last October, prompting then-CIA director David Petraeus to hail the conviction.
“This case yielded the first IIPA successful prosecution in 27 years, and it marks an important victory for our Agency, for our Intelligence Community, and for our country,” Petraeus said. “Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws.” Petraeus resigned two months later after it was revealed that he had an extramarital affair with his biographer.