PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay on The Real News Network.
We’re continuing our series of interviews with John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer. And in the last episode, we left on a cliffhanger. So if you didn’t watch the last episode, you’d better go back and watch. In fact, you probably should watch all the preceding episodes, ’cause we’re just going to pick it up.
Thanks for joining us again.
JOHN C. KIRIAKOU, FMR. CIA OFFICER: Thanks for having me.
JAY: Alright. So what happened next?
KIRIAKOU: Well, as part of my job with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, like everybody else on the committee staff, I had lunch on a regular basis with foreign diplomats. And during those lunches, we would talk about whatever happened to be in the news–Israeli elections, developments in Turkey, Yemen is collapsing, whatever happened to be interesting. And we would just give each other our views on these news events.
So I was having lunch with a Japanese diplomat at his invitation at a restaurant on Capitol Hill. And toward the end of the conversation, he said to me, so what’s next for you? And I said, well, I’m actually thinking of resigning. I promised Senator Kerry I’d give him two years. It’s been two and a half. I miss working for myself. I think I’m going to move on.
JAY: To do what?
KIRIAKOU: I wanted to go back into consulting again. And he got very excited and he said, no, don’t do that; I can give you money if you give me information. And I said, do you have any idea how may times I’ve made that pitch? Shame on you for even saying something like that. I’m going to have to report this.
Well, I went directly from the lunch to the office of the Senate security officer, and I said, I was just pitched by a foreign intelligence officer. So he asked me to write him a memo, and he would send the memo to the FBI. So I wrote a very detailed memo about the lunch, and it went to the FBI.
And then, two days later, two FBI agents came up to the Senate security office to interview me. And they said, what we want you to do is to call him back, invite him to lunch, and try to get him to tell you exactly what information he’s looking for and how much money he’s willing to pay for it. And we’re going to have two agents at the next table to listen in on the conversation. I said, terrific.
So I called him, I invited him to lunch, and we went to the lunch, and we had another great conversation, and he told me what he was interested in. I should add the FBI didn’t show up to sit at the next table. Right before that lunch, they called and said, just go ahead and do it and write us at the memo.
JAY: So who’s setting you up? The FBI or the CIA?
KIRIAKOU: Well, I thought that I was helping out the FBI by helping them identify a foreign intelligence officer.
So I did this a second time, and a third time, and a fourth time. And I might have even had a fifth lunch with him.
Finally, he told me that–.
JAY: But are you thinking this is a setup?
KIRIAKOU: No. No. I thought this was a counterintelligence investigation.
So, finally he tells me, I’m being transferred to Cairo. I said, okay, good luck, nice to meet you, nice to know you, and I never saw him again.
It wasn’t until a year later that we learned that there was no Japanese intelligence officer, there was no Japanese diplomat. He was an FBI agent. And what they were trying to do was to set me up on a real espionage charge–not one of the bullshit espionage charges that they ended up putting on me–all of which were dropped, I should add. They knew that their espionage case against me was weak to nonexistent. I hadn’t committed espionage.
In fact, one of the espionage charges–I’m going to interrupt myself here–one of the espionage charges was based on the fact that I had leaked top-secret, compartmented information about a CIA program to The New York Times. Do you know what that information was? That the CIA had a program to capture or kill al-Qaeda members.
JAY: Come on!
KIRIAKOU: I got an espionage charge for that.
The other two espionage charges were based on the fact that I had given a former CIA colleague’s business card–and he’s no longer in the CIA, and he was never undercover–I had given this business card to two reporters, one at ABC and one at The New York Times. So I got three espionage charges.
JAY: Wait a sec. If you’re not undercover, there’s lots CIA agents–
JAY: –that are officers that are known and that get talked about.
KIRIAKOU: In fact, when we raised this in court, my attorney told the judge, your honor, this man was never undercover, and all my client did was to pass his business card, which he’s handing out to everybody, to these two reporters. And the judge said, I find that very hard to believe. So she turns to the prosecutors and she says, is that true? And the prosecutor says, well, Your Honor, Mr. Kiriakou really should have been more careful. And she turns to my attorneys and says, I’ll entertain him a motion to dismiss those charges. So they were all eventually dropped. But they knew, the FBI knew that these charges and the espionage case against me was very weak. So what they wanted to do was to catch me actually committing espionage. And so they sent in this pretend Japanese diplomat.
JAY: Okay. You didn’t fall for it, but they continued to target you anyway.
KIRIAKOU: Right. But, see, all this time, I didn’t know that I was being targeted. When I had lunch with the Japanese diplomat, this was 2011. This was the spring of 2011. I wasn’t arrested until 2012.
And what really did me in was in January 2012, I got a call from the FBI. Hi, this is so-and-so with the FBI field office in Washington. Do you remember that case you helped us out with about a year ago? I said, sure; about the foreign diplomat? And he said, yeah. I said, yeah, sure, I remember. He said, well, we’ve got a similar case and we really need your help. Can you come down here? I said, sure. In fact, I said, anything for the FBI. Well, come on down on Thursday. I said, terrific.
So I go down on Thursday and meet with these two FBI agents in a secure vault, a vaulted conference room. And we’re an hour into this meeting before I realize, wait a minute, this case is against me. I had no idea.
But I should have known, because another thing happened that same week. The previous week, my mother’s sister died in Western Pennsylvania. And so I rented a car and I went to the funeral. Well, it turned out I also had a hearing in Ohio, at family court in Ohio, on child support. So I rented this car, I went to my aunt’s funeral. And then from the funeral in Pennsylvania I drove to Warren, Ohio, and I checked into a hotel to wait for the hearing on Monday afternoon.
So, Monday morning I didn’t have anything to do. I got up and I thought, I’m going to go look at my grandparents’ old house. I haven’t seen it in 15 years. I’m going to drive through the neighborhood and see what it looks like. So I drive up to the house, and I’m going, like, 2 miles an hour. And I notice there’s a Toyota behind me. So I waved an apology and I sort of pulled over to the side of the road.
JAY: And they don’t want to pass.
KIRIAKOU: They didn’t want to pass. And I thought, well, that’s odd. So I drive up to the intersection and I make this great big U-turn in the intersection. Well, this guy makes great big U-turn as well. And I thought, alright, it’s either he’s a carjacker or he’s a private eye that my ex-wife hired to follow me.
So I know the neighborhood well. I cut through the neighborhood, using what I would have called a surveillance detection route (I already knew that I was being followed). And I drive to the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. So I stop the car near their graves. I get out. This guy passes me and parks about 100 feet away and turns around, and he’s just watching me.
JAY: Yeah, they want you to know.
KIRIAKOU: Right. It was pretty clear.
So I called my wife and I said, this is going to sound crazy, but I’m under surveillance. And she agreed with me that it was probably my ex-wife having hired a private eye–to catch me doing what, I had no idea.
But then from there–.
JAY: [incompr.] wouldn’t be so obvious.
From there I drove to the Packard Museum. Remember the car, the Packard, from the ’40s and ’50s? Well, it was made in that town, Warren, Ohio. And there’s a Packard Music Hall, and next to it is the Packard Museum.
So I drove into the parking lot of the Packard Museum and I made a U-turn there. He did the same. I waited until the light was red, and then I sped through the red light, and he got caught up in traffic. And then I just sort of wended my way back to the motel.
So I thought, well, some local yokel private eye just got too close and didn’t know what to do ’cause I was driving erratically, and I didn’t think about it. Well, it was after this meeting with the FBI four days later that I realized it was the FBI. They had followed me all the way from Virginia. They probably thought I was running to Canada or something, because their call had tipped me off. I didn’t know.
But I realized that next Thursday, in that meeting, that I’m in deep trouble. In fact, at the end of the meeting, they said, well, you should know that as we speak, we’re executing a search warrant on your home. And I said, am I under arrest? And he said, not yet. And I said, well, I want to talk to my attorney.
JAY: Triggered by what, according to them? This meeting with this Japanese–phony Japanese diplomat?
KIRIAKOU: They decided they couldn’t charge me with that, which they couldn’t, ’cause I hadn’t done anything wrong. And they went ahead and charged me with three counts of espionage related to the–saying that the CIA was capturing al-Qaeda leaders, and the two business cards. So I got three espionage charges there. They added a charge of making a false statement to the CIA’s Publications Review Board, which was absurd. That was in the process of writing my book. They said that I made a false statement.
I don’t even recall what the false statement was supposed to have been. But I remember sitting in the conference room with my lawyers, and they said, so what exactly was the false statement? And I said, I don’t know, I don’t know what this is supposed to be. I was supposed to have lied to them somehow. Anyway, they also charged me with one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982.
JAY: The business card.
KIRIAKOU: No, it was different, because that guy was never undercover. I had gotten a call in 2008–so this is four years earlier–I had gotten a call from a reporter who was writing a book on the rendition program, and he wanted to know if I knew anybody that I can introduce him to that he could interview for the book. I said, I don’t know anybody. I didn’t have anything to do with rendition. I really never met any of those guys. So he said, well, what about the guy in your book that you mention running into at the airport in Pakistan? And I said, yeah, I can’t remember his name. And he said, I think his first name’s John. And I said, oh, right, that’s John Doe or John Smith. I said, I don’t know where he is. He’s probably retired and living somewhere in Northern Virginia. That was a felony, and I served two years in prison for that conversation.
JAY: That’s the one you actually had to plead to.
So they tried hard to get me. And when I say hard, I mean they tried to get me 45 years.
JAY: So that’s the short of the–to jump to the chase, you were facing all these espionage charges,–
JAY: –and so you plead to this one.
KIRIAKOU: My investigator developed information indicating that the reporter did not get that name from me. He got it from a disgruntled former CIA officer in Bethesda, Maryland.
JAY: So why didn’t you fight it?
KIRIAKOU: Well, we went to the prosecutors to fight it, and the prosecutors said, first of all, you can’t prove that we withheld the information, you can’t prove that we ever had the information. Secondly, we’ll drop that charge, we’ll drop that IIPA charge. But we’re going to go after you on the three espionage charges.
JAY: But why–they’re so ridiculous, the three espionage charges. Why didn’t you fight them?
KIRIAKOU: Because this is the Eastern District of Virginia. It’s called the “Espionage Court”. And nobody ever wins in the Eastern District of Virginia. This is why I told Ed Snowden when he first went public, don’t come home, because you won’t get a fair trial. Your jury’s going to be made up of FBI agents, military officers, CIA officers. You’re never going to get a fair hearing here. Never.
So for me it ended up being an economic question: can my family live without me for two years, basically on the kindness of strangers and family members? And the answer was yes. But could they live without me for 20, which is what I realistically could have expected if I had been convicted of the espionage charges? No, they couldn’t have made it for 20. So I cut my losses and I took a plea.
JAY: It’s extortion.
KIRIAKOU: Mhm. But this is what the Justice Department does. What they do is they heap charges on you, knowing that they’re going to drop all of them but one if you take a plea, because what you’re eventually going to do is you’re going to be so beaten down and you’re going to spend every cent you have and every cent you’ve been able to borrow from friends or family members, you’re going to spend your pension–unless they take it away from you like they did in my case–and you’re going to still have these charges.
JAY: They took your pension away from you.
KIRIAKOU: Yeah. I lost my federal pension. Mhm. I’ve got nothing. I’m going to have to work till the day I die. There’s nothing I can do about it.
So what they do is they heap on these charges, knowing that eventually you’re going to give up and you’re going to take a plea. That’s why, according to ProPublica, that actually studied this, the feds have a 98.2 percent conviction rate. I said in a speech right before I went to prison, Saddam Hussein won 98 percent of his last presidential election and we said the fix was in. The Justice Department wins 98.2 percent of their cases and we say they’re geniuses. I say there’s something wrong with the system.
JAY: Now, this was all designed to send a message in the CIA: do not–if you’re one of us, you don’t even poke around at all. And it sounds–the more you tell the story, it’s–almost sounds like it’s less about that you went public on torture, which I’m sure pisses them off at the time, but the fact that you keep poking.
JAY: And number two, to shut you up. This has not shut you up.
KIRIAKOU: Oh, no.
JAY: In fact, quite the opposite.
KIRIAKOU: No, quite the opposite. In fact, I said, again, in a speech before I went to prison, if they thought this would shut me up, they don’t know me at all, because now I’ve devoted my life to fighting them.
JAY: Thanks for joining us.
KIRIAKOU: Happy to be here.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. And I’m sure John’s going to be back on The Real News, not too distant future.