A torture-denouncing CIA agent shares his tales following two years in jail

John Kiriakou claims to have achieved an exceedingly rare double-distinction for a federal inmate upon his incarceration: being greeting warmly by black nationalists from the Nation of Islam, and invited to dinner by white supremacists.

ARLINGTON, Va. — John Kiriakou claims to have achieved an exceedingly rare double-distinction for a federal inmate upon his incarceration: being greeting warmly by black nationalists from the Nation of Islam, and invited to dinner by white supremacists.

He was never a normal inmate.

Kiriakou arrived in prison with countless state secrets, had participated in the manhunt for Osama bin Laden, led post-9-11 counterterrorism arrests in Pakistan, and had learned Arabic for his old job.

His old job was being a spy.

He was jailed for telling journalists a bit too much about his former employer: the CIA. He insists he was punished for blowing the whistle on the use of torture in 2007, not because he tipped off journalists to the identity of a couple of former spy colleagues, which is why he was charged.

“I’m 100 per cent positive,” Kiriakou says in an interview at home, where he’s completing his sentence under house arrest after two years in jail.

He’s adamant that he’s being singled out. Lots of names leak out of the agency without consequences, he says. Also, he accuses the FBI of trying to entrap him several times and failing.

To avoid a return trip to prison, there are limits to what he’ll say in interviews.

He will describe how former CIA colleagues protested the arrest, transfer, and torture in Syria of Canadian Maher Arar — but he absolutely won’t reveal the name of a woman in CIA middle-management who he says insisted on Arar’s arrest.

He’ll gladly discuss his latest book. He’d already published one about his CIA career. This forthcoming one was written by hand, in prison.

It’s titled, “Doing Time Like A Spy — How the CIA Taught Me To Survive And Thrive In Prison.” It offers 20 life-lessons learned in the CIA, and used in the slammer.

He describes tricking two particularly repellent inmates. One had raped numerous prostitutes. Another ordered a hit on his business partner, then ratted out the hitman.

Kiriakou told one that the other had called him a rat, one of the worst prison insults. A fight ensued. One was moved to another prison, the other to solitary: “I thought, this is a way to get rid of both of them,” Kiriakou said.

Fights were actually rare. Most were about TV. A near-scuffle also broke out at the Mafia Christmas dinner — a guy from one Mob family didn’t save a seat for a guy from a rival clan.

“Words were exchanged… It was more of a shoving match.”

He spent plenty of time with the Italians, eating with them during his second year in jail. He’d dined with white supremacists in Year One.

The cafeteria sections were segregated, mostly by race: African-American, Latino, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Mafia, and the least coveted tables were reserved for the those on the lowest rung of the prison hierarchy — child molesters and informants.

In the ecosystem of the minimum-security prison cafeteria there was, alas, no obvious spot for the former CIA head of Pakistan counterterrorism operations.

So he first wound up with white supremacists.

He says burly Aryans wandered into his bunk area asking if he was a homosexual, a child molester, or a rat. He answered, “No,” to all three — and was invited to join their table. He says he was greeted warmly by Black Muslims because their leader, Louis Farrakhan, had said nice things about him.

He made a cafeteria switch a year later. He says a captain in the Bonanno Mafia family came up to him and said: “Why are you sitting with those hillbilly retards? You sit with us.’

“I said, ’OK, thanks.’ So I sat with the Italians the rest of the time… I was much, much more comfortable with the Italians.”

In fact, he made friends — including drug dealers from Philadelphia and Detroit. He describes men who’d made mistakes — in some cases fleeting ones — that ruined their lives.

He says people with mental illness went to prison, and wound up worse.

He expresses much less sympathy for prison guards. He describes the prison system as a make-work program for the unemployable, and plans to incorporate justice reform into his future work.

“I’ll tell you what motivated me: The sick bastards who run the place.”

Kiriakou describes how guards made fun of inmates’ names; instigated fights; and punished with cruelty. He says the only required qualification seemed to be a high-school diploma. He recalls them struggling to read simple names, like “Jones,” when distributing mail.

“Now all of a sudden they can control people — and more than that, they can control people who can’t talk back.”

Prisoners obeyed, to avoid solitary confinement. Kiriakou never got solitary. He says it helped that journalists and actor John Cusack were tweeting about his case.

“What are you (guards) going to do — put me in solitary? It’s gonna be a lot harder on you than it is on me, because you’re gonna have to deal with CNN in the parking lot.”

To his detractors, Kiriakou’s a self-promoting storyteller who imperilled former colleagues by blabbing to the media. They note that some of his stories have shifted, over time.

To supporters, he’s a whistle-blowing martyr for a noble cause. In their view, he’s the only person ever punished for torture within the CIA — just for speaking out. He lost a lucrative post-CIA consulting career, his agency pension, and is now renting a smaller, more affordable house with his family while renting out their own.

He hopes for a presidential pardon.

It would help him retrieve the $800,000 CIA pension he says he lost. He expects a long pardon list in President Barack Obama’s last months in office: “I really hope I’m on it.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Email editor@auburn-reporter.com
Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read