FOI Daily Dose: Controversial CIA whistle-blower speaks about prison life

Former CIA operative John Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in a low security Pennsylvania prison in January for revealing a covert officer’s identity.

But he’s sticking by his story that he’s really behind bars for blowing the whistle on the U.S. government’s use of torture techniques to obtain information from terror suspects.

“In truth, this is my punishment for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s illegal torture program and for telling the public that torture was official U.S. government policy. But that’s a different story,” Kiriakou wrote in a letter from prison first published by The Dissenter blog on May 29.

Kiriakou’s attorney, Jesselyn Radack, told ABC News she published the six-page letter to draw attention to “the way he’s being treated” in prison. But other than a security official allegedly trying to stage a fight between Kiriakou and an Arab prisoner, the ex-operative reports that “violence isn’t a problem.” Most of his letter details day-to-day observations around the prison and doesn’t divulge much more about the provocative predicament that landed him there in the first place.

Kiriakou was a CIA intelligence officer from 1990-2004, and in December 2007 became the first insider to publicly acknowledge the CIA’s use of waterboarding (a torture tactic that simulates drowning) when he told ABC News how interrogators got information from al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah.

Kiriakou told reporters Zubaydah broke after one session of waterboarding, but U.S. government documents released in April 2009 showed that the CIA used waterboarding “at least 83 times during August 2002 in the interrogation of Zubaydah,” ABC News reports.

Even so, according to the CIA, Kiriakou didn’t become the subject of  investigation until a separate incident in the spring of 2009 when he allegedly revealed information and photographs about CIA and U.S. government contractors to Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Attorney General Eric Holder appointed U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in 2010 to oversee the investigation of Kiriakou, and in 2012, Kiriakou was indicted for telling a reporter the name of a covert CIA operative along with classified information about that operative and another employee.

Kiriakou pled guilty to disclosing the name,  but four other charges, including three counts of violating the Espionage Act, were dropped.

Since then, more than 2,500 people have signed a petition on calling Kiriakou a “hero” whistle-blower and asking President Obama to pardon him.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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