Kiriakou was jailed for revealing details of government use of waterboarding and disclosing identity of an undercover agent
John Kiriakou, the former CIA agent who revealed details of the US government’s use of waterboarding against senior al-Qaida suspects, has written an open letter describing his time in federal prison surrounded by drug dealers, fraudsters and child molesters.
Kiriakou is three months into a 30-month sentence having pleaded guilty to disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA officer to an ABC reporter. He is one of six current or former public officials to be prosecuted by theObama administration under the Espionage Act – twice the number of cases instigated by all previous presidents combined.
Kiriakou’s letter underlines in graphic form the personal consequences of the Obama administration’s aggressive assault on leakers. It comes as the attorney general, Eric Holder, is under mounting pressure following revelations that the Department of Justice secretly investigated the activities of reporters working for Associated Press and Fox News in unrelated leak investigations.
In his letter, sent to Jesselyn Radack, who represents whistleblowers at the Government Accountability Project, Kiriakou describes his conditions at the Federal Correctional Institution at Loretto, Pennsylvania, where he has been incarcerated since 28 February. He says an agreement reached between the court, prosecutors and his defence lawyers that he should serve his sentence in a work camp outside the prison has been ignored by his keepers who are holding him inside the institution on grounds that he is a “threat to the public safety”.
He alleges that the Special Investigate Service within Loretto – the prison’s internal police – attempted to provoke conflict between him and a Muslim prisoner by feeding each of them false information about the other. He also describes a “shakedown” in which his cell belongings were trashed by guards after he audibly criticised a corrections officer who had called him “Fuckface”.
Kiriakou came to public prominence in 2007, three years after he left the CIA, when he told ABC News about the waterboarding of the al-Qaida suspect Abu Zubaydah. He categorised the technique, in which water is poured over a cloth draped on top of the subject’s face to simulate drowning, as a form of torture, though he added that it was effective after just one use in getting Zubaydah to talk.
It was later revealed that the terror suspect was waterboarded at least 83 times and had given away little valuable intelligence.
Kiriakou opens his letter, which was first published by the website Firedoglake, by insisting that contrary to the government’s claim that he is in prison for having revealed the identity of a covert agent, his punishment is in fact for “blowing the whistle on the CIA’s illegal torture program and for telling the public that torture was official US government policy”.
He writes wryly about life in federal detention. He is held in a concrete cubicle designed to hold four prisoners but with six present: four on drugs offences and one for corruption.
Meals are taken in the chow hall at tables that are strictly divided among types of prisoner: there is a table for whites with “good paper” – that is, those who can prove they are not pedophiles – another for Native Americans, “a section for people belonging to a certain Italian-American stereotypical ‘subculture’, two tables for Muslims, four tables for the pedophiles, and all the remaining tables for the blacks and Hispanics.”
The only fighting he has observed has been over what TV channel to watch, while he has escaped relatively unscathed partly because fellow prisoners were under the misguided impression that he was a CIA hit man.
He spends his time working as a janitor in the chapel, for which he is paid $5.25 a month.
Radack said the letter, part of a series hosted by Firedoglake, was “a way to keep him connected to outside world, but also for the world to see how the government’s whistleblower retaliation continues in jail.”