Torture. It stands as one of the pillars of American exceptionalism. While it was a major part of the war on terror—one worth hundreds of millions of dollars—a selective amnesia allows it to slip through the pages of history. Former CIA analyst and case officer John Kiriakou suffered for attempting to solidify the record on a torture program that the U.S. has excused itself from countless times through Hollywood propaganda, innumerable redactions to official documents and silencing of dissidents.
Kiriakou joins host Robert Scheer on this episode of the Scheer Intelligence podcast to run back his story as the whistleblower who made one of the most insidious chapters of modern American history widely known. Scheer mentions how the First and Fourth Amendments are treated as indulgences and allowed only if you say the right things in such a setting as the war on terror. If you don’t and “you oppose the torture program, you end up in prison like John Kiriakou. You lose everything, you lose your pension and what have you.”
Kiriakou explains that regardless of what treatment was forthcoming, he felt a necessity to expose the horrific crimes his country was committing. He details how a psychologist once explained to him how whistleblowers have a highly defined sense of what is right and wrong and this sense urges them to act. “That’s how I felt. I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that this was happening in our name. That the government was carrying out these crimes in our name. So I had to say something,” Kiriakou said.
The crimes in question Kiriakou also details:
They threatened to use pages of the Koran as toilet paper. The prisoners, of course, were all Muslim. They made them stand naked in front of female soldiers. Anything they could think of to insult them and to belittle them; they trimmed their beards…
This transcript was produced by an automated transcription service. Please refer to the audio interview to ensure accuracy.
Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence and I’m bringing back an old guest. One of the people I’ve had a number of times… It’s just somebody I have such an enormous admiration for. And he’s gone through… John Kiriakou, let me just cut to the chase. John, when did you… You were recruited out of what, George Washington University to go right in the CIA. What year was that?
John Kiriakou: I was recruited in 1989. I started working for the CIA in the first week of January of 1990.
Robert Scheer: And you stayed there until when.
John Kiriakou: I left in the spring of 2004.
Robert Scheer: 2004. So that’s what 15 years. 14 years?
John Kiriakou: Yeah, about 14 and a half years.
Robert Scheer: And you had… And you learned Arabic?
John Kiriakou: I did. They taught me Arabic, right.
Robert Scheer: And amazingly enough, and the reason I wanted to talk to you, I teach at USC here in Southern California, and I showed the film, “The Report,” which I think is excellent, and it’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture.
Scheer: Dianne Feinstein, who was the chair of that committee, over with Republican objection, but she was the head of the committee and the Democrats controlled it. And they did this study of where did the torture come from? What was that all about? And they actually theoretically had the cooperation of the CIA. And they came up with a view, I put it in contrast to the Hollywood movie “Zero Dark 30,” which said that torture somehow worked and got to help us capture Bin Laden and then kill him and so forth. And none of that turned out to be true. But the fact of the matter is, I can’t refer listeners to the torture report that they paid for. How many pages was it?
Kiriakou: The report itself was about 5500 pages long.
Scheer: Yeah. And when did it come out?
Kiriakou: Came out in December 2014.
Scheer: Okay, so it’s almost a decade ago. And the only part that was released was the introduction, heavily redacted. The report itself may not even exist anymore. I don’t know. There were a couple of copies. Right. And what happened to it?
Kiriakou: Yeah, that’s that’s really a very important issue that I think most Americans either don’t know or have forgotten about. The CIA only produced six or seven issues or copies, I should say, of the of the full report. What we saw was a heavily redacted version of the executive summary of the report, which was about 500 pages. But the report itself was owned by the CIA. The CIA maintained ownership and control, final word, over the actual report itself. So there there was a report in The New York Times about three years after the report was was finally written saying that the CIA was going to begin taking back the copies that had gone to places like the executive office of the president, the office of the vice president, the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, etc., and they were going to begin destroying them. Well, we don’t know if that ever happened. So it may exist. It may not exist. We just don’t know. What we do know is that it probably will never be declassified.
Scheer: So the reason this is so critical is, without getting into any conspiracy theories, although conspiracy theory is kind of a way of just alluding to hypotheses that either have been explored or have not or can be documented or not. But the fact of the matter is, the main evidence that would be available about what happened on 9/11, and how we got into a war on terror, what al-Qaeda was all about, what was this relation to Saudi Arabia? After all, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi troops or whatever they were. They’re young men from Saudi Arabia. And just this week, as we’re recording this, the president of the United States, who spoke at the UN about ‘We represent democracy in just about every other country in the world who’s not in Western Europe or not a former major colonial power, represents authoritarian governments,’ whatever they are. And ironically, it’s the same week in which he said he’s going to develop an alliance with Saudi Arabia to protect them militarily. So here is this self-proclaimed, you know, great democracy. And we so really don’t know the details of what happened at 9/11 as far as Saudi Arabia’s relationship to certainly, you know, citizens of Saudi Arabia were living there. Actually, 15 of the 19 were from there, none from Iraq and none from Afghanistan, so the countries are we invaded. So you know, you would expect that when you capture people, you would learn something about what they are and then you would have a trial, hopefully a public trial of these people. That didn’t happen. And you figure into this historic story, you know, certainly one of the most the major one of the three or four most important events in American history, changed our whole nature of our government, just national security state solidified it. You were then in the CIA. You were an Arabic speaker. And let’s just begin with that. You were involved in the first major capture of somebody who was said at the time to be the number three person in al-Qaeda. And in the movie, “The Report,” deals with the interrogation of that person. And the reason I felt some urgency in doing this is in my class that I was teaching and I showed “The Report.” I was shocked.. that’s a class of about 68 students, all very sharp, great S.A.T. scores, and none of them knew about this report, and none of them were really familiar through their high school or years of college education about what had happened. The torture, the torture program.
Kiriakou: That is shocking to me.
Scheer: Yeah. And here’s the president of the United States talks, ‘we are the great democracy, but we are the great democracy that did the torture program.’ You were there. Let’s set this historically. Just because people don’t know that story. Now, John, tell us what happened. How did you get the call? Why were you the person that received this prisoner and what happened to him?
Kiriakou: Right. Well, I really like so many of these stories. It begins on 9/11. Like everybody else in the CIA, I volunteered that very day to go to Afghanistan and fight or do whatever was required of me. I volunteered repeatedly, stressing that I was I was fluent in the Arabic language. And certainly they would need people to carry out these interrogations and interviews and debriefings. And they just ignored me. Every time I would I would volunteer, they’d say, thank you very much, and they would ignore me. Well, it turned out in those early days, immediately after 9/11, they weren’t they weren’t interviewing people. They weren’t interrogating anybody. They were killing them. And so finally I made what really was an idle threat. I went into the office of the deputy director for counterterrorism, who was a friend of mine. And I said I said, look, if you don’t send me to Afghanistan right now, I am walking straight to Exxon with my Arabic and I am not looking back. And he said, ‘Oh, relax, relax, okay?’ And I had been volunteering to him, you know, for months at that point. And he said, ‘Can you go to Pakistan?’ I said, ‘Yes, when?’ He said, ‘Tomorrow?’ I said, ‘yes, what do you want me to do?’ He said, ‘I want you to be chief of counterterrorism operations.’ I said, ‘okay, done.’ And I walked right over to the travel office and made a reservation called my then girlfriend.
Scheer: And Langley. This is at the C.I.A..
Kiriakou: At the CIA’s headquarters. Yeah. I called my girlfriend, who was also a CIA officer. Told her I was going to Pakistan the next day. She said, ‘How long?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Six months, 12 months? I don’t know.’ She said, ‘okay, I’ll meet you at your place and help you pack.’ And the next day I flew to Pakistan. So we began doing counterterrorism raids very slowly. I had been there about a week. I’d come up with the standard operating procedure for taking down a suspected safe house. And in the first raid that we did, of course, we partnered with the FBI because 9/11 was still an open criminal investigation. We partnered with Pakistani intelligence because, after all, it’s their country. And so we broke down the door of this house at 2:00 in the morning and grabbed two 18 year olds. Both of them began crying. One asked if he could call his mother. It was pathetic and it was easy. And so about a week later, a friendly Arab intelligence officer passed me a slip of paper with an address on it. And he said, I think this is an Egyptian Islamic Jihad safe house. I said, Great, thank you. That night we broke down the door and grabbed two members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. So I said, you know, this is going pretty well, but we’re going to be here for 50 years if we’re going to be breaking down doors and grabbing one guy or two guys. So I came up with this idea. We had CIA officers all the way up and down the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in every little border village just sort of standing there with with binoculars to see if there were al-Qaeda people trying to cross the border. So I said I had this idea. Let’s pull all of our guys off the border. We’ll let al-Qaeda come into the country, because, you know, they’re going to all go to the same handful of safe houses. You know, they’re going to make a mistake, probably an electronic mistake. And then we can read the House and catch 20, 30, 40 of them at a time. So we did that and then started having success. Well, on the night of March 22nd, 2002. We did. We carried out 13 simultaneous raids at 2 a.m., and in the course of those raids, we captured Abu Zubaydah, who we believed at the time was the number three in al-Qaeda. We captured the commanders of both of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in southern Afghanistan. And we caught dozens upon dozens of of low level al-Qaeda fighters. Now, you said something that’s important. You talked about Guantanamo for a moment. And I want to tell you about the first time I heard anything about Guantanamo. I mean, I knew since I was a kid that Guantanamo was this American base that we maintained in Cuba that the Cubans hated. And that was pretty much all I knew about it. So after the Abu Zubaydah raids, we had captured so many people that my Pakistani intelligence counterpart called me one day and said, listen, the jail is full. We just can’t squeeze one more person into the jail. You’re going to have to do something with all these prisoners. So I called CIA headquarters, the Counterterrorism center, and I said, ‘Rawalpindi jail is full. And the Pakistanis want us to get these guys out. What should I do with them?’ And the response was, ‘Put them on a C 12 transport plane and send them to Guantanamo.’ And I said, ‘Guantanamo, Cuba.’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Why in the world would we send them to Cuba?’ And he said, ‘Oh, we came up with this idea. We’re going to send everybody to Cuba for a couple of weeks until we can decide which federal district court to try them in.’ Right.
Scheer: You don’t mean actually the country of Cuba. You mean a portion of Cuba that the U.S. had seized through its colonial connection?
Kiriakou: Yeah. Yeah, but it’s in. It’s in Cuba.
Scheer: Yeah. Yeah. But it was obviously controlled by the U.S..
Kiriakou: Right. It’s a U.S. base in Cuba. So the idea was to was to divide them up and try them in either Boston, the southern or eastern districts of New York, the Eastern District of Virginia, or the federal district of Washington, D.C.. I said, ‘that’s a great idea.’ And so we started loading people on onto plane after plane after plane and sent them to Guantanamo. In the end, we sent something like 770 people to Guantanamo. It turned out that the vice president at the time, Dick Cheney, didn’t have any intention of ever allowing any of those people to go on trial in the United States. And then later on, of course, Congress acted and and formally banned the transfer of any prisoner from Guantanamo to the United States, even to face trial or to be transferred into a U.S. prison. So that just never happened.
Scheer: And so one of the prisoners who is still there is the man you captured.
Kiriakou: Yes. Abu Zubaydah. Abu Zubaydah.
Scheer: For people who haven’t watched it, I’m trying to encourage people to watch “The Report.” Annette Bening is in it. Help me.
Kiriakou: Here. It’s a dramatic movie. It. Adam Driver is the star. Annette Bening is terrific as as Dianne Feinstein. I have to tell you, I didn’t watch this film when it first came out because I was afraid that, you know, it would upset me. It would make my heart race. It would give me, you know, PTSD or something. I ended up watching it on a plane and I couldn’t tear myself away from it. It was so wonderfully done.
Scheer: And the point they made, though, in this film, which I’ve heard you make, is that when you were in charge at that time and then they brought in the FBI. A curious person who knew how to do interrogation. You actually got the only useful information that was ever obtained in that process. And when the torture guys from the CIA took over and they excluded the FBI or the FBI pulled out because they wouldn’t do torture. They didn’t get any more information. And that prisoner without trial and who turns out not to have actually been officially a member of al-Qaeda is still in Guantanamo.
Kiriakou: Yeah. This is this is a big problem for a lot of different reasons. Abu Zubaydah was first taken to a secret prison where he was he was interrogated by an FBI officer named Ali Soufan. Ali was a terrific translator, an experienced interrogator, and over the course of many weeks, something like six weeks, he established a rapport with Abu Zubaydah, a relationship that allowed them to carry on a normal human to human conversation. And in the course of that conversation, Abu Zubaydah gave us. Information that we had never been able to collect before at the CIA or at the FBI. He gave us, for example, the al-Qaeda wiring diagram. Now, that may not sound like a big deal, but I assure you it’s a very big deal because we knew about Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and we really didn’t know anything else. So one of the examples that I like to give of of what I mean by the wiring diagram is Ali asked Abu Zubaydah, ‘If you were going to do an operation in Dusseldorf, how would you do that?’ And Abu Zubaydah responded that, ‘well, there’s this guy, Mohammed, and he’s at this address. And Mohammed is good at organization and he has a friend, Ahmed. And here’s Ahmed’s phone number. And Ahmed has access to weapons. And there’s another guy, Abdul Rahman. He’s Ahmed’s cousin. He has access to explosives.’ So then we could call the Germans and say, ‘listen, you have a problem in Dusseldorf and here’s the information,’ and they could wrap up that cell. Well, we didn’t know that these cells existed. We suspected that they did, but we didn’t have definitive information and especially lead information as to how to locate and capture them. Abu Zubaydah gave us that. Abu Zubaydah also identified to us, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. We didn’t know that name until Abu Zubaydah gave it to us. We knew that there was a very bad man out there somewhere who went by the nom de guerre. Mukhtar. Mukhtar was the mastermind of what was called the Bojinka operation. It was a plan to hijack six, 747 from Manila and fly them into buildings up and down the west coast of the United States. The operation ever took place because a housekeeper stumbled on the plans while cleaning the apartment of one of the one of the would be hijackers. And she called the police and the police raided the apartment and then it just never happened. So we knew this Mukhtar was out there planning terrible things. We didn’t know who he was. Abu Zubaydah was amazed that we didn’t know that Mukhtar was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. And so once he told us who that was, we could target Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. And we ended up capturing him in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in August of 2002.
Scheer: And an interesting thing you said you didn’t know—they didn’t know Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but he had been a student, I believe, in North Carolina.
Kiriakou: That’s right.
Scheer: A student and actually kind of a normal person.
Kiriakou: Yes, lived with an American family when he was a student in North Carolina.
Scheer: And somehow I’d gotten radicalized after that, but was actually knowledgeable about American culture and so forth.
Kiriakou: Oh yes, very much so.
Scheer: So you came up with this information and and then you discovered that he wasn’t actually Abu Zubaydah was not actually a member of al-Qaeda.
Kiriakou: Right. That was one of this one of several surprises for us. He had never formally joined al-Qaeda. He had never pledged fealty to Osama bin Laden. He had never sworn an oath. So he was not the number three in al-Qaeda. He was a bad man. And he did a lot of work on behalf of al-Qaeda, but he was never a member. Now, getting back to to Ali Soufan, the CIA was jealous, frankly, at the progress that Ali was making. And every day, at the end of the day, he would write a cable back to FBI headquarters, recounting the conversation that he had had that day with Abu Zubaydah. Well, even post 9/11, the CIA and the FBI hated each other so intensely that even their computer systems were not compatible. And so Ali is writing these cables back to headquarters, back to FBI headquarters every day. And the CIA is not seeing them. Once in a while the FBI would write a memo and send it over to the CIA saying, ‘Yeah, we’re talking to him. So here’s a memo.’ Well, the CIA was upset. This is a very serious bureaucratic kerfuffle between the two organizations. And so in late July of 2002, George Tenet, who was the CIA’s director at the time, went to President Bush and asked President Bush to turn primacy of the case over to the CIA, to take it away from the FBI and give it to the CIA. Why George W Bush agreed to do that is something that I don’t think we’ll ever understand. He’s never talked about it. It wasn’t in the torture report, and George Tenet has never talked about it. But that’s what happened. And so the FBI knew that the CIA was going to begin torturing him. And so to protest that, the FBI withdrew all of its personnel, not just from the secret site, but from the country that the secret site was in. On August the second, 2002, the CIA began torturing Abu Zubaydah, and he immediately clammed up. He was so upset, so angry and disgusted when they started torturing him that he just went silent. But the two contract psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, to whom the CIA had paid $108 million to come up with the torture program, had to prove that it was working, even if it wasn’t. And so what they did is they took all of the reporting cables that Ali Soufan had written, retyped them in the CIA’s database, sent them back to CIA headquarters and said, ‘oh, my God, look, we only waterboarded him one time. And look what he told us. He gave us the kitchen sink. He gave us Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He gave us the wiring diagram. Somebody should call the Germans and tell them they have a problem in Dusseldorf.’ Well, after a while they had reported it..
Scheer: Which you had already done.
Kiriakou: No, I was. I was out of it by then.
Scheer: No I mean the but the Germans had already been called.
Kiriakou: By by the FBI.
Scheer: Yeah. What I don’t understand. By the way, it was a movie because the CIA was very involved in the making of the Zero Dark Thirty.
Kiriakou: Very up to their necks.
Scheer: And there was even a report, a special prosecutor report about what they did wrong. But they revealed the identity of Navy SEALs who had captured bin Laden, jeopardized their security. Two, the people working on the movie… Right… These screenwriters…
Kiriakou: Yeah. What happened was Kathryn Bigelow, who was the director and executive producer of Zero Dark Thirty, and Mark Boal, who was the lead writer for Zero Dark Thirty, were able to go to the CIA to receive classified briefings in violation of the Espionage Act, over a classified mockup of the bin Laden compound. They based the the movie on what they had been told in those classified briefings. And then when it was all over, they were invited to an attaboy session in the CIA’s auditorium called The Bubble. The speaker was the CIA director, Leon Panetta. And in his speech, Panetta outed the Navy SEAL, who had killed bin Laden, as well as several other Navy SEALs. Panetta later said he didn’t realize there were uncleared people in the audience. That was nonsense. It was Panetta, his office, that had invited them to the event. And so the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs went back and not just redacted the names of the SEALs, but they redacted 27 lines of otherwise classified information. Again, that was in violation of the Espionage Act, but there was never any price to pay. And to make matters worse. To thank the CIA analysts for giving them classified information for their movie. Boal and Bigelow sent tickets to the two, the movie’s premiere in West Hollywood. And for the people who couldn’t make it to the premiere, bought them watches. If you can imagine anything so corrupt taking place at the CIA. It’s it’s just even in retrospect it’s crazy to me.
Scheer: I didn’t the inspector general’s report they pointed out there was even chats about who would play other people. And and I have to point out, because I didn’t do it in the introduction. You refuse to participate in the torture program or be trained for it and to do it. And you became a critic of the program after leaving the CIA? You are the only person who has served time for being having any connection with the CIA and torture program that that you tortured it. But because you were accused of having revealed some and then you. Just about two years…
Scheer: In prison.
Kiriakou: That’s right. And, you know, it’s funny, when I got out of prison, the first interview that I gave was to the BBC, Hardtalk, I think. It’s a kind of a hard hitting, mean spirited talk show. And the host kept trying to provoke me. And he said, finally, Well, you’re not showing any remorse for the crime that you committed. And I said, No, because I have no remorse. It’s not a crime to reveal a crime. The crime was committed by the CIA. The crime was committed by the torturers. I’ll never apologize for what I did. I said John McCain got up on the floor of the United States Senate to thank me for providing a public service to the American people. I’m glad that I did what I did and talked.
Scheer: Who been tortured.
Kiriakou: Who had been tortured. That’s right. And talking to The New York Times and and the and ABC News is is not espionage. Sorry. It’s just not.
Scheer: Well it’s good to know that despite prison and being the only person who, and the irony of it, the only person who served time for the torture program is the person who was accused of having exposed it. So much for respect for the truth. I just want to bring up one little footnote in this connection. Before 9/11, there was a good Hollywood movie made about terrorism called “The Siege” with Denzel Washington.
Kiriakou: Oh, right.
Scheer: Right, I happened to have a big part because it was a show that actually was done for KCRW—that we’re doing this for- for Left, Right and Center. Arianna Huffington was on that show. So the the principal people on the show, we did a reenactment for that movie. This is before 9/11, you know year… two years before. And but the hero in that movie is an FBI agent who speaks Arabic. And he tries to say, you can’t round up every Arab in Brooklyn to to solve this problem. It’s not done. But it’s interesting. And then the real life hero, here, in your story and in the movie, “The Report” was another FBI person who at least knew the language. These doctors that were paid… What did you say, 100…
Kiriakou $108 million.
Scheer: Psychologists, they didn’t know Arabic.
Kiriakou: No, not a word.
Scheer: They didn’t know anything about the countries or culture or anything. Right.
Kiriakou: Not a thing.
Scheer: Yeah. And yet going to what mass media does. Amazingly, this movie gave them and their torture… It justified torture.
Kiriakou: Yes, it did. Yes, it did. And to make matters worse, when the torture report came out, a big group of retired senior CIA leaders, George Tenet, Jim Pavitt, big, important people, Jose Rodriguez and Cofer Black, they all attach their names to a rebuttal book that was published saying, ‘Torture worked, torture saved lives. We would do it again if we could. We didn’t make any mistakes.’ It was this outrageous.
Scheer: Did they admit… but they didn’t admit it was torture.
Kiriakou: No, they only enhanced interrogation techniques. That’s right.
Scheer: Yeah. I want to know, how did you survive? You lost your pension, you… Your marriage broke up when your wife then was in the CIA, you had all sorts of family problems. And actually, frankly, you haven’t looked better than you do right now. You’ve lost 100lbs—I don’t know if I’m at liberty to discuss this—You looked like a sad, old bureaucratic veteran the last couple of times I talked to you. And now vigorous young men. And you even have your humor back. Some of it
Kiriakou: Thank you.
Scheer: Humor. How the hell do you survive?
Kiriakou: You know what, Bob? It’s it’s been a process and it’s taken me years. But I have to be honest with you. I like myself. I’m pleased with the way I turned out. I’m never going to be wealthy. I’m never going to live in a giant house. But my children respect me. I’ll tell you, my my third son just started college two weeks ago, and he’s going to Miami University of Ohio. And he called me…
Scheer: I dont think we should get too specific here.
Kiriakou: Okay. No, that’s okay. I mean.
Scheer: You are a controversial figure.
Kiriakou: Well, he called me the other day to tell me he had just walked out of his very first philosophy course, or philosophy class. And he said, ‘Dad, I just walked out of my first ever philosophy class.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I hated philosophy. It was so boring.’ And he said, ‘No, no, no, listen.’ He said, ‘there are like 300 kids in the class. And the professor starts talking about about ethical dilemmas.’ And he said, ‘there’s this guy, John Kiriakou. He was a loyal CIA officer, and he saw that the CIA was committing the crime of torture and he knew what would happen if he went public. But he also knew it was wrong. And so he went public anyway.’ And he said, ‘how many of you would have gone public?’ And he said, my son said, ‘I wanted to jump up and say, that’s my dad.’ And I said, Well, I said, ‘you know what? Tell them. Tell him that. Tell him privately that next time I’m in town to visit you, I’m happy to talk to his class.’ But that makes me proud. That makes me happy. My children respect me. I can sleep at night with a clean conscience. And you know I’m fine. I don’t need a new car every couple of years. I don’t need the big, fancy house. I like the way my life turned out.
Scheer: Well, except, you know, it has not been easy.
Kiriakou: No, at all.
Scheer: I mean, the fact of the matter is, you’re in a small group of whistleblowers. I mean, so small. It’s a pathetic comment on on American culture and society. Because after all, if we’re the democratic society that President Biden celebrated this week in his U.N. speech, if we have the special sauce and all these other people, if they weren’t European colonialists. England and France or Germany or whatever, you know that are also in the democratic mix. But that doesn’t include India now, because Modi, their leader, has nationalist feelings and it doesn’t include South Africa because they get along with Russia, clearly doesn’t control, influence or connect with Russia or China know. So most, Brazil, sort of excludes a majority of the world. But this special sauce, if nothing else… I just happened to reread Justice Roberts opinion on why surveillance is bad. Believe it or not, a Republican appointee, chief Justice, who wrote a brilliant opinion about why the police can’t crack into your cell phone and get information. And he quotes from the trial of James Otis and written about by our second president Adams. And he says the American Revolution was fought over protecting the right of the individual to inform themselves, to speak out, to have the sanctity of their homes. But we’ve seen what whistleblowers, you know, really respected people who were at the NSA sort, FBI breaks into their home, pulls them out of the shower and everything. And you have to really ask yourself a question. How could a culture that prides itself on this individualism and free, you know, the heroes of the free people, speak truth to power and act? We have a handful. You know, Daniel Ellsberg just died recently, gave us the Pentagon Papers. He said he had to wait 50 years for other whistleblowers. A document we had every right to read we had paid for was a academic study on the basis of inside information on how we got into trouble. You got, you know, help me out here.
Kiriakou: Yeah. Bill Binney Wiebe, Tom Drake at NSA. We’ve got Daniel Hale at the Air Force and Lisa Ling at the Air Force, both in the drone program. We have Ed Snowden from NSA and CIA there. The shame is, as you just said, even after 50 years or 50 years after Dan Ellsberg, you can count us on two hands. That’s it.
Scheer: So does that mean and what you guys knew? Thousands of people knew who were in the program?
Kiriakou: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
Scheer: Right. How many people really? I mean, even Dianne Feinstein, we give her a lot of credit for the report and doing it. But she knew.
Kiriakou: Sure she did.
Scheer: And didn’t go public.
Kiriakou: Sure she did. You know, people ask me all the time, Well, why didn’t you go through the chain of command? Well, my chain of command created the torture program and implemented the torture program. Well, why didn’t you go to the oversight committees? Because the oversight committees approved the torture program and then financed it, appropriated funds for it. So there were no good guys in this scenario. The only place to go was the media.
Scheer: You know, we should explain. The reason we believe in freedom is not that it’s a luxury. The whole basis of the American Constitution, for whatever its flaws, its limitations, those wigged white guys and everything else, we know all of the problems. But there was a brilliance to the insights, which is that you have to beware of power. That power corrupts and that we have a constitution that is designed to prevent the very people who authored the Constitution, when they become the government, from exploiting their power over the individual, even the humblest individual in his abode. That’s where we have a Fourth Amendment. It’s why we have the First Amendment. The idea is that’s not a gift to the people. It’s the protection of freedom that there is a necessity, it’s not an indulgence, this freedom. But it is treated as an indulgence, we’ll let you have privacy, we’ll let you have free speech when we’re not at war, when there is no great risk, when there’s no danger, when everything is tranquil. Maybe we’ll let you have it then. If you say the right thing, if you do the right thing. If you favor the torture program, you’ll go on MSNBC. You’ll become a star. If you oppose the torture program, you end up in prison like John Kiriakou. You lose everything, you lose your pension and what have you. And in your case, they then can turn around and smear you because the only place you could get a job and be able to do what you do well, you’re so well informed, so knowledgeable, you know more about this area of the world. You speak the language that’s supposed to be terrorizing us, but you have to end up on Sputnik, a Russian radio station that has very few listeners, because in our supposedly free society, we cut back their access.
Kiriakou: That’s right. You know…
Scheer: Now its just like what Edward Snowden, no bad guy, you know Snowden tried to take refuge in I think 30 different countries. He ends up in Russia. So he’s now a bad guy. Right.
Kiriakou: Right. Oh, you know, that’s a pet peeve of mine. People say that all the time while Snowden defected to Russia. No, he didn’t. Snowden was in the transit lounge of Moscow Airport on his way to Ecuador when John Kerry canceled his U.S. passport and stranded him at Moscow.
Scheer: A hero of opposition at one point to the Vietnam War.
Kiriakou: That’s right.
Scheer: Secretary of state. And he canceled it. Yeah.
Kiriakou: Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Scheer: So that’s how he ended up in Russia. And that’s so important because we talk about what’s real news and fake news and everything. And, you know, it’s so easy to blame Donald Trump for every bit of distortion, but we’ve been very good at lying. We lied about, of course, the Vietnam War. We lied about why the comic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We lied about lots of things end very effectively. So actually, Trump is probably one of our worst liars and is so blatant and boorish about it. You know, Harry Truman was a very effective liar. He said he never wanted to see Oppenheimer again because Oppenheimer dared question the wisdom of destroying mostly innocent civilians with these bombs and so forth and worried about it, even though he helped create it. And so we have this weird sense of our own history, and it’s important to make Edward Snowden a villain. What Edward Snowden revealed to us is that private companies, which do have a right to gather information and so forth…. doesn’t to a challenge to our constitutionally guaranteed freedom. But they weren’t doing it privately. The U.S. government was invading the machinery of Google and Facebook and Apple and everybody else and grabbing the information, actually jeopardizing their position as companies that have to have the trust of people around the world. Breaking into their cables, breaking into general cables and spying on the American people in clear violation of CIA’s operating rules and.
Kiriakou: Its right.
Scheer: Mandate. And yet he’s is now the bad guy, right? Because he takes refuge in the one country where he was trapped. And because we wouldn’t let him go to Ecuador, we probably would have been like Julian Assange. Probably, you know what?
Kiriakou: Oh, yeah. He would be in a he would be in a prison in the United States. Now, had he actually made it to Ecuador, because there’s been a change in government there and that pro-U.S. government turned Julian Assange over to British authorities and that’s why he’s at Belmarsh Prison.
Scheer: And Julian Assange, who of course, was not an American citizen, was not working for an American agency like Edward Snowden or John Kiriakou. He—I just can’t—the the five major newspapers that published the information—I don’t want to get agitated here—but, you know, the five major organizations, including The New York Times, have issued a statement saying that what Julian Assange revealed, and then they printed, was legitimate news that we had to have, democracy requires it. However, they made that statement, but generally shut up about the fact that the guy who did their journalism, was a publisher like them, has been almost driven out of his mind in a prison. And now we want to get him and put him in a maximum security prison in the United States, even though the Australian government is objecting to that and says, well, wait a minute, he’s a citizen of our country. So to put you in historical context, John, I have to say I began this by saying—I admire you as much as any anyone I’ve ever read.
Kiriakou: Thank you so much. That means a lot to me. But thank you so much for that.
Scheer: But I get to meet a lot of people. I interviewed, you know, Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Carter and, you know, people all over the world, you know, people you might not like, you know, Fidel Castro’s or, you know, all sorts of people. You know, that’s what I done for a living. But I’ve interviewed you a bunch of times. I followed every aspect of your story and you are the great American hero. You are, you are the Boy Scout. You know, who stuck to the idea, which was not America over all this, but quite the opposite. You know, America has to stand for values. Even if the last man standing or last woman standing believes in those values. And you know how they can… That’s what really got me to want to do this interview now, because I was so shocked that my students, that through their education and they’ve gotten, you know, some of the best access, you know, were top, top 25.
Kiriakou: Oh, yes.
Scheer … school or something at USC, They’re very smart students. They want to learn. And we had a movie, an important movie, made “The Report.” And I was shocked that not one single person in my class even knew of its existence. You know not one.
Kiriakou: Amazing to me.
Scheer: And, you know, and their whole life has been shaped by what you were doing, right? You know, they were born then! That, that’s what their age is. Now, you know, this where they’re 23 if they were born or 22 if they were born that time. And so their whole world, our world, but their life world has been post-9/11.
Kiriakou: You know, and it’s funny in my mind, 911 was practically, you know, last Tuesday. That’s how fresh it still is in my mind. It’s just crazy. When you just said at the beginning of the of the podcast that we’re coming up on a decade ago that the torture report was was released, I thought, Oh my God, how is that even possible? A decade. But you’re exactly right. All of these all of these students are post-9/11 Americans.
Scheer: They’re the post, they’re the 9/11 babies. That’s what they are. They’re 9/11 little babies, so I’m their Tuesday was Monday, actually. I’m sorry. It’s Wednesday. Let me be very clear about my facts here. Monday. Yes. And I show this movie. You would have thought that I had just acquired some document. You know, it’s available. You can get it on, I think I got it on Amazon Prime. You know, I was showing you straight there. I didn’t break into any safes or anything, but you can’t read a report, you know, you can read a part of it. Why don’t you… Let’s pay tribute to the movie. What does it get right? You go. I don’t want to send you to jail again now.
Kiriakou: Oh, no, that’s okay. Well, you know, I’m going to make a recommendation first and say that the reports out there, the executive summary is out there. Again, it’s heavily redacted. But if you really want to understand what it is the investigators were trying to convey, read the footnotes. The footnotes are so critical to our understanding of of what it is that the CIA was was doing. I think the most important thing to take from the report, I think the thing that Americans should be most appalled by or most shocked by is the fact that CIA officers went far beyond what they were permitted to do under the Justice Department’s terms. You know, the Justice Department said you can do these ten things and this is how you have to do each one of them. And the CIA just tossed that off to the side and did literally anything they wanted. We only learned in the report that Abu Zubaydah, for example, was, to use the CIA’s terminology, rectally hydrated with hummus. Now, doctors came out immediately and said there is no medical benefit whatsoever to forcing hummus into somebody’s body rectally through a tube. They did that to humiliate him and to torture him. There are a couple of…
Scheer: And to humiliate his culture.
Kiriakou: Yes. Oh, yes. They threatened. They threatened to use pages of the Qur’an as toilet paper. They made prisoners—the prisoners, of course, were all Muslim—they made them stand naked in front of female soldiers. Anything they could think of to insult them and to belittle them… Trimmed their beards. That’s right. That’s right.
Scheer: So it’s deliberate humiliation. But, yes, you get back to the critical point about the functioning of the democracy, which is that the truth will set you free.
Kiriakou: Yes, indeed.
Scheer: After all, it’s not. ‘Okay, let’s have a little democracy with our steak. It’s nice to have…’ No! The reason we have this constitution with its amendments is that the founders, again, whatever their failings, the founders said… We have the potential to be the bad guys. And if I’m not the bad guy to be my colleague over there. And what we want to do is protect the society against us, not the foreign enemy.
Kiriakou: Yes, precisely.
Kiriakou: Precisely. We’re either going to be a country that respects the rule of law or we’re not. It’s as simple as that.
Scheer: And there isn’t anything in between, because you have the in between it’ll always be corrupted. And they knew this because, after all, they were making a revolution against England, which they had admired more than any other country in the world. Most of them. Right. And yet now and the English, who they admired, would be hanging them from the nearest tree if they’d lost this revolution. And actually, quite a few people in this country—wasn’t a country yet—but in the colonies had doubts about it or didn’t want to do it. But these were the group that wanted to do it, Washington. And Washington warned us in his farewell address after being president for two terms about the imposters of pretended patriotism.
Kiriakou: That’s right.
Scheer: That’s what George Washington, the general, just like General Eisenhower, warned us about, the military industrial complex. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the military industrial complex the imposters of pretended patriotism. And what they do with their torture, with their censorship, with their classification, is prevent the average American citizen or in fact, the vast, vast, vast majority of American citizens from knowing what happened, knowing who are the enemy. Where? How do they work? What do they think? That’s what a trial would do. That’s what giving journalists access would do and having lawyers be able to publish it. What was this terrorism about? Why this ally of ours, Saudi Arabia, which now President Biden, out of nowhere…. As we’re preparing for a war with China, which kept us alive during the pandemic, and we don’t like China because they’re maybe a more successful capitalist country and whoever is running it is really cleaning our clock on on making stuff, including, you know, electric cars now crashing through the old market. Okay. So we’re going to have a war and in Orwellian terms we have to find the enemy, you know, and Putin’s a great enemy, even though Putin is the anti-communists that our own government backed when he was against Gorbachev and when he was, you know, Yeltsin’s guy. So history has just turned. Now we want communist Vietnam, which we once fought this bloody, decades long war. We want now iPhones made in Vietnam comm… because China is communist and that they’re too nationalistic. So we’ll guess Vietnam. I mean, they just play with history. And what people have to remember is this idea of freedom and limits on power is not an indulgence of a sane, democratic society. It’s the essential oil. Okay. And that’s what everybody forgets, you know, And so really, without spawning conspiracy theories, we really don’t know what this whole thing was about this war on terror and so forth. You know, after all, if it was really about Muslim fanaticism, we wouldn’ have gone to war with Iraq. Everybody forgets this. I always ask people, what did Iraq have to do with 9/11? Why, you know, not one single one of the hijackers was from Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a sworn enemy of al-Qaeda.
Kiriakou: Yes, he was.
Scheer: One country in the Middle East where al-Qaeda couldn’t function. Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator, would kill them at any time. So what we’re really talking about is information we not only have a right to have, but a need to have. And this great adventure that happened right now, maybe we’ll end up in a nuclear war with Russia and China then, but we’ll never know. How does this happen? How does… why did we all suddenly have big fights about Russia with its borders and Ukraine? I mean, everything. We don’t get the information. We don’t get the information. And in your case, let’s just maybe wrap this up with the fact. The matter is you don’t get on MSNBC the so-called enlightened… more Democratic Party influence station, I mean. Right. You know, so where do you get on Sputnik and then you’re condemned for it?
Kiriakou: Yes, in fact, The Washington Post listened to my show and said that I was weakening our democracy.
Scheer: Oh, and what’s the reason?
Kiriakou: Because I was criticizing a crooked judge in Pennsylvania who took bribes to send children to a for profit prison. He was convicted and sentenced to 22 years. I was I was saying it’s terrible to have crooked judges.
Scheer: And The Washington Post said you are weakening democracy.
Kiriakou: I was weakening our democracy.
Scheer: I see. And and The Washington Post, which has been a conduit for both information obtained by whistleblowers and yet for the government that then wants to persecute them, I mean the same Washington Post that printed the Pentagon Papers. But, you know, the current Washington Post wouldn’t defend Julian Assange. You know, who was, as Daniel Ellsberg pointed out, directly in line, as he pointed out about you as whistleblowers who are directly in line with what he was trying to do. You know, I could go on a long time with you, John. I it is so encouraging that, you know, that they didn’t get you down.
Kiriakou: Not a chance. You know, if they thought that they would. They didn’t know me at all.
Scheer: Well, you know, maybe we should conclude on that. You know… How you know, you kind of even though you have a Greek background. But then again, most of us in this supposedly melting pot have some of the background. But really, you kind of are as American as apple pie.
Kiriakou: I like to think so.
Scheer: No, but I mean, just take us back. I mean, who was John Kiriakou and how did you end up being a truly major, major figure in American history?
Kiriakou: Thank you. You know, I’m just I’m just a normal, average guy. I grew up in western Pennsylvania nuclear family. My parents were public school teachers and, you know, grew up with baseball and football and church on Sunday. And my dad, when I was eight years old, my dad bought me a shortwave radio at an auction for $0.50. I still remember it. And that radio that beat up old radio opened the entire world to me. As soon as the sun went down, I could listen to the BBC or Radio Moscow or stations in China and Cuba and Europe and all over the world. And I decided then that I wanted to see the world. I wanted to go to school in Washington, DC, and I wanted to see the world. And that’s what I ended up doing.
Scheer: And you saw the world and then you felt that your fellow Americans had a right to see…
Kiriakou: They had a right to know. You know, after my whistleblowing, a journalist who also happens to be a psychologist told me that in his own studies he found that whistleblowers have an unusually highly defined sense of right and wrong. It’s far more highly defined than it is in the general populace. And he said it’s almost like whistleblowers can’t stop themselves. And I said, That’s how I felt. I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that this was happening in our name. That the government was carrying out these crimes in our name. So I had to say something.
Scheer And even though they don’t call it torture and even though it is clearly defined, even in the introduction to the report, you still have your top people, including a former liberal congressman.
Kiriakou: Yes. Yes.
Scheer You know when I knew him he was kind of, you know, left liberal, Congressman, California, you know, but defending this thing and lying about what it supposedly accomplished, even though the report destroys… Even the part that we can read the redacted part. I want to mention something about Daniel Ellsberg and his partner. The RAND Corporation was paid for by the Air Force. Daniel Ellsberg had been in the Marines and been in the military and now was working, you know, for the government. And Tony Russo, his partner, Tony Russo, People don’t know this, I happened to… Was this expert witness. I’d been to Vietnam I knew a lot about it. So I was an expert witness for Tony Russo. If it had gone to trial, Why? But because the judge had been offered the job of being head of FBI, it went into a mistrial at that point. But Tony Russo turned against the Vietnam War while he was working for the Air Force on the Air Force contract, evaluating the interrogation of Vietnamese prisoners in Vietnam. And he saw and recognized that they were being tortured. And he saw also that day they were giving bad information that it was not in any way even justified. So torture was done in Vietnam. And Tony Russo, who worked with Daniel Ellsberg to get the papers printed and give it to The New York Times, then The Washington Post. That’s what he was moved by. That torture, aside from being totally heinous, also was counterproductive. It was telling the Americans what they wanted to hear about pursuing the war that ended up in our most ignominious defeat. And and so from Daniel Ellsberg and… To you, John Kiriakou, straight line. And we have like—I said I keep this a half hour, I’m gonna keep it to an hour—we got two minutes, I want to talk just for the last 2 minutes about Julian Assange.
Scheer Because I mean, here is a guy who did what a journalist is supposed to do, what a publisher’s supposed to do. And he wasn’t in the CIA, he hadn’t taken oath, he’s not an American. And he he found, ‘hey, you’re shooting up and killing a Reuters correspondent. You’re killing innocent civilians. You know, you’re laughing about it in your helicopter. We have information, I’m going to reveal it.’ And that guy has… and we can use the word torture. The U.N. has said…
Kiriakou: Oh yes.
Scheer Saying that Julian Assange is—the U.N. rapporteur on torture.. big report—is being tortured. And he’s now the most visible victim of this Orwellian nightmare where torture becomes enhanced interrogation, you know.
Kiriakou: Yes, you’re absolutely right. And, you know. I know on on podcasts and things like this, we try not to be specific to a certain day, but I’m going to be specific to a certain date. Today. Six Australian parliamentarians, including four senators, two members of the lower the lower body of the House, including a former deputy prime minister, came to Washington. They held a rally this afternoon at the Justice Department and and a vigil, and they brought with them a letter signed by 60 members of the Australian Parliament asking President Biden to drop the charges against Julian Assange and let him go home. And I’ll tell you another thing. Forgive me if I go over our 2 minutes. I don’t know if you remember the name David Hicks. David Hicks was an Australian national who was a troubled teenager. At the age of 18 he converted to Islam and then made his way to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. He ended up being recruited into al-Qaeda and because he didn’t speak Arabic, they just gave him a gun and told him to stand guard at the Kandahar al-Qaeda training base. He happened to be in Pakistan on 9/11. And as soon as he saw the news, he ran back to Afghanistan to help al-Qaeda fight the Americans. He was almost immediately captured by the United States, and we sent him to Guantanamo, where he was tortured mercilessly. Now, the Australian government came to us and said, ‘well, wait a minute, you can’t torture an Australian citizen. This is a Five Eyes citizen. You have to let him go.’ So we put him on trial at Guantanamo. We found him guilty. We sentenced him to time served and we turned him over to the Australians where he was a genuine bad guy. What about Julian Assange? Why aren’t the Australians in the streets over Julian Assange as such? Now it’s getting better than it was six months ago even. But more needs to be done to… In part to the White House that this is a this is an issue worth falling on the sword for. We have to release Julian Assange.
Scheer But the government that wants to bring him back. Certainly the Trump administration wanted to. But yes, that’s Joe Biden.
Scheer Who, by the way, voted for wars that were based on lies.
Kiriakou: That’s right.
Scheer And so forth. You know, but now we’re all going to be encouraged to shut up and go along with the program that we need because there’s no other old white person we can… male… We can find. We have to go with the one we got. Otherwise, all hell will break loose. And the source of all evil, Donald Trump will come in and so forth. I want you to talk finally about good guys, about Barack Obama you went to prison, right? Yeah, When Barack Obama…
Kiriakou: It was Barack Obama, it was Barack Obama. The Barack Obama administration that sent me to prison.
Scheer No no no, when you’re president.
Kiriakou: Yeah, you’re right.
Scheer The buck stops with you.
Kiriakou: I’m trying to be nice, but you’re absolutely right.
Scheer You probably voted for the guy, I certainly did. I got a T-shirt!
Kiriakou: I did.
Scheer I contributed to his campaign…
Kiriakou: I took I took my kids to the inauguration with my youngest on my shoulders to see this great this great new president who was going to fix all of our problems. And instead he makes John Brennan, CIA Director, John Brennan, who was the executive director of the CIA during the torture program, was one of the founders, the fathers of the torture program. And, you know, Barack Obama is the one that just allowed the drone war to explode. In George W Bush’s last month as president, he killed 24 people with drones. In Barack Obama’s last month as president, he killed 440 people with drones. Like, is that really the country we want to be?
Scheer It was trial by drone.
Kiriakou: That’s right.
Scheer Yeah. And but I wanted to make it a little personal at the end here. You know, we’re talking about okay, maybe we could have an argument whether Biden is a good guy, but I never doubted that Barack Obama was a good guy—civil libertarian, law professor, concerned about all these issues, talked about limits on power, promised us he would not lie and respect the Constitution- and here is John Kiriakou. And you… What is your crime anyway? They claimed you gave the name of a member of the CIA to a newspaper, to ABC.
Kiriakou: Yeah, they tried that at first. They said, Oh, you gave the name of the CIA officer to to ABC. And I said, he’s he’s never been undercover. He’s on LinkedIn as Central Intelligence Agency. So it’s no secret. So then they charged me with violating the intelligence.
Scheer Let me just stop there, because I did follow that case. And every time you tell me something, I then go and spend hours on, wait a minute now, I love John, but, you know, okay, what is he pushing here? So it’s actually was a case where you were asked by this reporter, as I recall, would there be someone in the CIA who knows about all this, who disagrees with you about the torture program? Do I have that right?
Kiriakou: Close. Close. He asked me. He sent me a list of 12 names.
Scheer And who is the he… are we allowed to know?
Kiriakou: This is Matthew Cole. He gave me a list of 12 names, and he said, ‘I’m writing this book about the rendition program. Can you introduce me to any of these 12 people?’ I said ‘I don’t have any idea who these people are.’ Then he sent me another list of 12 names, and I said, ‘Look, I don’t know any of these people. You clearly know this issue better than I do.’ I said, ‘kidnaping wasn’t my thing at the CIA. I was always the good cop. I don’t know anything about the rendition program.’ And then he said, ‘Well, what about the guy that you mentioned in your book? I think his name is John.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s John Doe.’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Whatever happened to him. He’s probably retired and living somewhere in Virginia.’ Well, I had confirmed the last name in the email. Now, that name was never made public. That’s why I said John Doe just now. The name was never made public. And after the fact, the CIA director, David Petraeus, revealed the names of ten CIA covert operatives to his adulterous girlfriend. He was never charged with that, but they charged me with a felony, and that’s what I ended up going to prison for.
Scheer So what we have to understand that you are already a controversial figure because you had spokem as you had a right to, about what was wrong with the program of torture.
Scheer So you were contributing to the public dialog. Your crime, for which you end up in the prison with I think some mafia figures…
Kiriakou: Oh, yeah. Very senior mafia figures.
Scheer Yeah. In there. Oh, yeah. David Petraeus, by the way, who is somebody who has been a professor at different universities, including USC, and they very distinguished. The New York Times loves them. They seem to have a profile about him. Every couple of months there must be a schedule of how great David Petraeus, the greatest general and all that. And he had these black books. Just be clear about that, which were four presidential briefings that were the most important secrets. Right. This is not…
Kiriakou: Right. Literally the most highly classified information in the U.S. government.
Scheer Were these black books. Yes. And he let his mistress you know, I don’t want to be puritanical here about his adulterous girlfriend or something, that’s just you know… I’m not interested in condemning his personal behavior. But but his mistress, right, did not have the clearance?
Scheer Yes. So he gave the most prized secret current information that he was responsible for giving to the Presitdent of the United States. And he let his mistress, who was going to write about this. Right? Right.
Kiriakou: She was writing a biography about him.
Scheer Yeah. And so she could read this to see how great he was and how knowledgeable he was. And he gets a slap on the wrist.
Kiriakou: Yes. He got he ended up getting a misdemeanor. He took a plea to a misdemeanor count of improper… Improperly securing classified information. He got 18 months of unsupervised probation. And at his sentencing, the judge came down from the bench to shake his hand and thank him for his service to the country.
Scheer Same thing the jddge did with you. Right?
Kiriakou: Right. The judge said to me, if I could give you ten years, I would.
Scheer And you would actually risk your life out there and, you know, in the center of the war on terror. And so that double standard is what should alarm people.
Scheer That that, you know, if they were really stern test measures and you reveal classified… This is what bothers me about the Trump thing. I am absolutely convinced that every president who left office, left with all the documents he might need to write his book or anything like that. I mean, I’ve been… I’ve interviewed a lot of these people. I interviewed Richard Nixon after his presidency. You know, I’ve seen Jimmy Carter before and after his Presidency, Ronald Reagan I talked to very extensively as a journalist. Ronald Reagan had no trouble at all bringing up all sorts of things that were classified and so forth. He had been president, he got to talk about what he wanted to talk about. I’m not going to sit here defending Donald Trump, but my God, you know, oh… He’s got papers he’s not supposed to have. I mean, you know, so there’s something so annoying about the double standard. That it’s okay for Petraeus to give his mistress these books, which she was fully intending to use. It wasn’t just say, ‘hey, honey, read this while I go take a shower.’ No, it’s you know, ‘you’re writing a book. You can read this top secret. You’re like the president.’ John Kiriakou gives the name of a known CIA person mentioned on LinkedIn and so forth. And you serve hard time.
Scheer The only one! Now, that is what the history books have got to record. None of the other people involved with the torture program, none, served any time.
Kiriakou: No, none of them. In fact, they all went on to great riches. They all got it. Got seven figure book advances and positions on corporate boards.
Scheer Who? Who?
Kiriakou: Oh, sure. George Tenet got 6 million for his book. Jose Rodriguez got 4 million for his book. And this just goes on and on and on. They’re on the boards of of American defense contractors and they’re talking heads. John Brennan’s a talking head on MSNBC, you know, getting at least 100,000 just to be on call for that. They’ve done very well for themselves financially.
Scheer That’s and lets end a bit by talking about John Brennan. He’s the guy who threw you under the bus.
Kiriakou: Yeah. You know, I’ve known John Brennan for 30. 32, 33 years, and I never really liked him. I thought he was over in over his head intellectually at the CIA. But he was a political player. He rose through the ranks. And, you know, I thought, well, you know, John Brennan, I don’t really have anything to do with him. He doesn’t have anything to do with me. But then when I was arrested and we received discovery from the Justice Department, 15,000 pages of classified documents, there was a memo from Brennan to Attorney General Eric Holder about me. And it said, ‘charge him with espionage.’ And then Holder wrote back and said, ‘My people don’t think he committed espionage.’ And then Brennan wrote back and said, ‘charge him anyway and make him defend himself.’ And so they did. And then they waited until I went bankrupt and then they dropped the espionage charges.
Scheer Here’s Eric Holder, who I’ve had dinner with on occasion presents as a very progressive… Open. Well, let’s let’s cut to the chase in the liberal community of Hollywood. Eric Holder was much admired. I’m not going to drop other names, but I was at dinner with some very well-known liberal people. And here’s Eric Holder, who even though he did not believe, and the people working for him, did not believe you a committed espionage, was willing at the head of our secret police agency, the CIA, to charge you in the hopes of breaking you, breaking you.
Scheer People have got to understand this language. We know it when the Chinese do it, When the Saudis do it, When the Russians do it, we say, Yeah, yeah, that’s totalitarian. They break them. They destroy them. You know, what are we trying to do with Julian Assange? Drive him crazy?
Kiriakou: Sure. Make him kill himself.
Kiriakou: So that we don’t have to worry about it anymore.
Scheer That’s what they try to do. What you hear from is John Brennan, the darling of MSNBC, which, you know, we have one monopoly corporation own thing. That’s bad, guys. It’s Fox. And then there’s this, the liberal one. And this guy is telling the Justice Department to charge you. Right, right. There’s supposed to be separation of these agencies. Just as there’s probably supposed to be interest in justice, the CIA is supposed to be, you know, a spy agency that we’re watching very carefully so they don’t overstep and they’re not supposed to be spying on Americans.
Kiriakou: Yeah. And then, you know, in the end and I mean the very end, the Justice Department made their final, final offer, best and final offer. They said, no, I was facing 45 years. They offered ten, then eight, then five, then three and a half, then two and a half. And my lead attorney said, ‘you know, I’ve been a lawyer here for 52 years and I’ve never seen them come down in time. Usually if they offer you ten and you say no, then they offer you 12, then 15, then 18.’ And I said, ‘Well, why are they going down in time? He said, Because they have a shit case and they know it’s shit. He said, We’re going to go to trial.’ Well, I believed we were going to go to trial because I believed I hadn’t done anything wrong. And so they make their best and final offer of two and a half years in prison. And my wife and I stayed up all night to talk about it, and we decided I’m going to turn it down. And so I emailed the attorneys at like six in the morning. I said, ‘I’ve decided I’m going to turn it down. Let’s go to trial. Once I get in front of a jury, they’re going to see how ridiculous this is and I’m going to win.’ The attorneys drove to my house and got there At seven in the morning, I put on a pot of coffee. The lead attorney was very blunt, he said. He said, ‘You stupid son of a bitch. Take the deal.’ And the attorney who I liked and respected the most. Got right in my face and he said, ‘You know what your problem is? Your problem is you think this is about justice and it’s not about justice. It’s about mitigating damage. Take the deal.’ And then the third attorney, who was really very much a Southern gentleman, said, ‘if you were my own brother, I would beg you to take this deal.’ And I said, ‘Well, listen, realistically. Let’s say I don’t take the deal. I go to trial and I’m convicted. Realistically, what am I looking at?’ And he said, ’12 to 18 years. Take the deal.’ And so I took the deal.
Scheer So just for people who have not followed your case, and for that, I blame the mass media and I blame politicians of the right and left and Republican and Democrat, and I blame Barack Obama. Let’s lay it out there.
Kiriakou: Out. I do, too.
Scheer Barack Obama put you through this ordeal and a lot of other people that someone like myself probably met at different receptions and interviews and so forth, as I did with Eric Holder. But I just want people to understand the power. The power of the state, the power of government. And I saw it with Daniel Ellsberg. And Tony Russo as I say, always been involved in that trial. And Daniel Ellsberg, literally a Boy Scout Marine, gung ho, literally pro Vietnam War at the beginning, you know, bubba and everything suddenly up against, hey, this guy, Nixon, President Nixon, he can put me away for 140 years or so. I forget the exact number.
Kiriakou: Yeah, that’s what it was.
Scheer Right. And he never did get that trial. He probably would have lost it. You know, and and so you’re in this position where you’re you still believe that this is a…. you are still naive enough to believe. That you could turn down…
Kiriakou: I did. And in October of 2012. Yeah, I believed it. But no, I. I’m a realist now. Now… That the whole system is rigged.
Scheer This would be a good way to end. Who is John Kiriakou? I don’t have the skill set to write a great movie about you, but you really are. I just put it right out there. I think unquestionably one of the great American stories. Thank you. And I would like to get inside your mind. We have a few, and we could take as much time with one hell, they’re not going to send us to jail I don’t think so. But seriously, what’s going through your mind? You know what? You know six when they say 14 years in jail. 16…
Kiriakou: Yeah. 12 to 18. He told me to expect.
Scheer If they stuck to their word. You’ve got for more, I’m sure. Look, a Julian Assange, I mean how many is he facing.
Kiriakou: Oh, like 100 and something.
Scheer Yeah, yeah, yeah. What did he do? He revealed an embarrassing, deeply embarrassing story, casting our military in a bad light. In your case, just take the Boy Scout, you know, and it’s Mr. Smith goes to Washington. This is. You still believed.
Kiriakou: I did. I did. I believed in the system. I don’t at all anymore. Not at all. And to tell you the truth, and it got even worse under Trump. You know, this is this is not a partizan issue. Both parties are equally culpable in this this assault on our civil liberties. You know, pardons were for sale, for example, under Trump. Trump is celebrating WikiLeaks during the campaign and then and then actually files charges against Julian Assange. And then Joe Biden has the opportunity to drop the case against Julian Assange and he picks up the Trump case and keeps it going. It’s just not fair.
Scheer Yeah, it’s it’s startling. Okay, Well, I don’t know where to. I guess we’ll just end it, but I wouldn’t have your courage.
Kiriakou: Oh, I find that hard to believe.
Scheer No, no, Come on. Look, I’m not a veteran or a prisoner. I’ve been in a few jails a couple of nights here and there—it actually wasn’t jail even—in Lithuania, Russia, and Soviet Union. And I was in China during the Cultural Revolution being lectured to, that was pretty scary. I mean, I’ve been around Algeria a few things with those rule a few days here, a few days, scary. But you know, really for you… You’re still relatively young. You’ve got young kids and everything and you could take your deal. I probably would have taken the first deal. Okay. What was that? 20 years.
Kiriakou: Ten, ten.
Scheer You know, and maybe they’ll give me a break, maybe I’ll get parole or something. You know, really to have that naivete that you actually thought. I think it’s absurd to think you would have won your trial.
Kiriakou: Yeah, it is absurd. Yeah, it is absurd.
Scheer Just because you happen to be telling the truth. Yeah.
Kiriakou: It doesn’t make any difference.
Kiriakou: Yeah. I didn’t have a chance. I didn’t have a prayer to win that trial.
Scheer Right. And then so and.
Kiriakou: The lawyers knew it.
Scheer I want people to understand this. First of all, the great thing is we have you know, we can search every day… I tell my students. You don’t have to believe a word I said. Go out there after class in a half hour. You can find out if I’m full of it. That’s right. That’s the great thing about the Internet. You can find a lot of bad information, but you certainly want to see whether this is a lot of crap, whether you’re professors lying to you, go. It takes you half an hour. So we’ll take you an hour. You know, 2 hours. You got time. Okay. Anybody can check out John Kiriakou. They can begin by listening to some of our podcasts that I have that are here on KCRW, still up there. But, you know, they could check it out. You’ve written a couple of books that are available and so forth, and they will encounter smears. Oh, the guy’s a Putin agent, or he’s on Sputnik, right?
Scheer Yeah. Okay. But but people are learning to cut through the bull. I can tell you that. Like my students, they’re suspicious as they should be of me from day one. Yes, this guy did this, but I also read a critical article. I also saw that. So that’s the positive thing about the Internet… People are developing their own bullshit.
Kiriakou: That’s right. That’s right. That’s what we need.
Scheer And you can get to the bottom of it. So I invite anybody listening to this. Let’s just assume Scheer’s you know, being paid off by this guy or something, you know, by Putin or whatever. Let’s go check it out. Let’s go check it out. You know, and there’s a lot to check out here. Yeah, let’s check out, you know, what did they learn about the war on terror? What about Zero Dark Thirty? And go watch this. You know, first of all, what’s the other thing that you said they should read? I want to put that up there. The introduction.
Kiriakou: You know, the the executive. The executive summary. Yeah. Yeah. To the torture.
Scheer Going to try to post that. And that’s that’s readily available even in heavily redacted form.
Kiriakou: You can still get a sense for what they were trying to impart.
Scheer Right. And then and watch the movie, “The Report” is one of the best things that’s come out of Hollywood. And unfortunately, as I learned, that’s why we’re doing this today. I was shocked that a very smart, large group of students had never even heard of it. It’s not part of the culture. There’s no accountability. Yeah. And these these zealots from the CIA and others who lied to us and everything, they’re honored by being on what is supposed to be the more progressive mass media outlet of MSNBC. You know, how many times have you been invited to be on an MSNBC?
Kiriakou: It’s been a very long time. The last time I was on MSNBC was with Dan Ellsberg, and I’m going to say it was probably. Six years ago. It’s been a long time.
Scheer Oh, there it is. People get to have their own, you know, editorial page and their own guidance and so forth. But I just really believe, in fact, the most chilling thing I learned from today, because you reminded me. When you say explain what your crime is this on this and on that. What would you say? What was your crime? Why? How could they? And the Justice Department was right. What is the crime? Where’s the espionage? Yeah. What? What? Yeah. Why did Barack Obama. He must have spent 20 minutes looking at your record. Did anybody ever say what was Barack Obama thinking?
Scheer You were well known.
Kiriakou: We were we were told by an attorney at the National Security Council that Obama had a Nixonian obsession with national security leaks. And he was perfectly happy to come down on me like a ton of bricks. Not because it was me, not because of what I had done, but because he wanted to scare anybody else who might be thinking about going to the press with classified information.
Scheer Okay. That may be the most important revelation of this right now, hour and 24 minute interview that I promised when we would keep the 30 minutes. But I still have my Obama T-shirts. I believe I paid $200 apiece for them famous artists. Not originals, but a copy. I remember I bought it from a bundler. I went to a dinner in San Diego. I was speaking to the ACLU and they sat me next to a woman who was a bundler for Obama. And I said, It’s in the bag. And she said, ‘No, we really need money.’ And I wrote a check for $500 or $600… I think for two or three T-shirts, they didn’t have had to go write a check to do that the next day. But anyway, you know, you’re telling me something about Obama, but I really didn’t know until this moment. And tell me what you learned and how you learned it. And I mean, to think I mean, here is the constitutional law professor. And, you know, as I say I interviewed Nixon after he was president some length and he wrote some good books. And Nixon was pretty complex, person, I’ll give you that. But Nixonian is about as bad as it gets if someone its vindictive.
Kiriakou: Well remember from this, from the.
Scheer Tell us the story.
Kiriakou: From the enactment of the Espionage Act in 1917 until Barack Obama was elected president. Three Americans were charged with espionage for speaking to the press. Just in the eight years of the Obama presidency. Eight people, eight whistleblowers were charged with espionage for speaking to the press. It’s almost three times the number of all previous presidents combined. That really encapsulates it for me. This wasn’t an accident or a one off. This was a policy.
Scheer Who are the eight?
Kiriakou: Let’s see. Tom Drake, Chelsea Manning.
Scheer Let’s go slow.
Kiriakou: Well, I’m going to have to Google it now because I can’t remember them all off the top of my head.
Scheer The ones you can remember. Tom Drake was a highly respected employee of the National Security Agency, right?
Scheer And he did go to congressional committees with this information.
Kiriakou: Well, he did go to the congressional committees with with his information. And and they arrested the congressional staff member. On top of arresting Tom Drake. So let’s see. There’s Tom Drake. There is Charmaine Liebowitz from the FBI. Bradley, Chelsea manning. Stephen Kim from the State Department. Jeffrey Sterling from the CIA. John Kiriakou from the CIA. See who else is here. That’s six. Did I say Ed Snowden?
Kiriakou: Okay. Ed Snowden. Oh, and here’s the other one. Don Shackle- Shackleben from the Navy. Yeah. Drake, Leibowitz, Kim, Manning, Shacklebin, Sterling, Kiriakou and Snowden.
Scheer And their crime was.
Kiriakou: Speaking to the press.
Scheer And that’s called espionage.
Scheer And what are they telling the press? This is worth noting.
Scheer This is worth the. This should be on the midterm. Right. This is worth noting. What is the crime of these eight people that Barack Obama, an enlightened constitutional law professor, who for many Americans and certainly for me for for quite a long time we thought was really the most principled guy we had run for president and win.
Kiriakou: yeah, we all believed that.
Scheer Well, at least a lot of us. So what was the crime of the eight people that he brought? Espionage charges compared to the three by all the presidents before him? Ever since the act was.
Kiriakou: Yeah, well, it was revealing things like warrantless wiretapping. That was a lot of it. Torture. War crimes in Iraq. Politicized analysis on North Korea. The FBI wiretapping Americans without court approval. You know all about the Snowden revelations, of course, which confirmed everything that Tom Drake had told us. Yeah. And then and then later on, I mean, under Trump, you have to add Daniel Hale, the drone whistleblower who ended up with 46 months in a federal prison for for telling the press that we more often than not we kill civilians, women, children, elderly people instead of the intended target of these drone attacks. So it continues.
Scheer Information, we have not only a right, but a need to know if we’re going to be citizens, if we’re going to be a democratic society. All right. John Kiriakou. I love it when you take us to school and you do it.
Kiriakou: Oh, I love doing this.
Scheer Yeah, but I mean, the idea that you are being not being crushed, that you know, that the bastards couldn’t get to you. No way. Bastards a bad name. But, I mean, you know, I have the same kind of origin myself, technically, but, you know, I’ve always defended it using that word. But that slogan, don’t let the bastards get you down.
Scheer Really, really applies to you. Thank you. It is really quite. You know, I would be gushing here or anything, but, you know, I interview a lot of people. And frankly, I go back to, like, the first time I interviewed you and I thought, man, this guy’s going to be a head case in no time, really. I just couldn’t imagine it. I couldn’t imagine what you’re up against.
Kiriakou: I could have gone that way. I could have gone that way. Yeah.
Scheer And then you had some really bad encounters. Car crashes, things happen yeah.
Kiriakou: Oh, yeah.
Scheer Yeah. And, you know, they really try to destroy your life, and, you know, Hey, you haven’t looked better in all the time that I’ve talked to you.
Kiriakou: Thank you very much.
Scheer Let’s leave it at that.
Kiriakou: Good to see you.
Scheer Yeah. And I want to thank Laura Kondourajian and Christopher Ho at KCRW for posting these shows. We’ve been doing it for, I guess, about six years now. Joshua Scheer has been our executive producer all that time. Diego Ramos, who writes the introduction to Max Jones, who puts up the video and the Jay K.W. Foundation in memory of the late Jean Stein, a terrific and fiercely independent writer who puts up some funding for this show. So till next week with another edition of Sheer Intelligence. That’s it. And thank you, John, so much.
Kiriakou: Thank you.