John Kiriakou, the former CIA agent and convicted leaker, has made mistakes. Last October, he pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection act of 1982 after he confirmed a CIA officer’s identity to a reporter. What John did was wrong and a crime for which he is now doing the time, even if prosecutors allegedly withheld evidence that the reporter to whom John leaked had received more information of a more sensitive nature from a currently-serving CIA officer but that the CIA had declined to prosecute in that case, reinforcing the notion that John’s prosecution was rooted more in politics than justice. I do roll my eyes at John’s rhetoric about “illegal torture,” as John, I suspect, is simply catering to the mythologies of his leftist supporters, as the right has pretty much abandoned him.
Full disclosure: John and I have been casual friends for almost two decades, dating back to a time when he worked and I interned at the U.S. embassy in Bahrain. We may disagree politically, but neither of us bases friendships on politics. We kept in touch both before and after his arrest. Through mutual friends, I have followed his day-to-day travails in prison and so was aware of some of what was in his letter, but this part shocked me and is, if true, absolutely unacceptable:
I was ushered into the office of SIS, the Special Investigative Service. This is the prison version of every police department’s detective bureau… The CO [Corrections Officer] showed me a picture of an Arab. “Do you know this guy,” he asked me. I responded that I had met him a day earlier, but our conversation was limited to “nice to meet you.” Well, the CO said, this was the uncle of the Times Square bomber, and after we had met, he called a number in Pakistan, reported the meeting, and was told to kill me…. The CO said they were looking to ship him out, so I should stay away from him. But the more I thought about it, the more this made no sense. Why would the uncle of the Times Square bomber be in a low-security prison? He should be in a maximum. So I asked my Muslim friends to check him out. It turns out that he’s an Iraqi Kurd from Buffalo, NY. He was the imam of a mosque there, which also happened to be the mosque where the “Lackawana 7″ worshipped… The FBI pressured him to testify against his parishioners. He refused and got five years for obstruction of justice…. In the meantime, SIS told him that I had made a call to Washington after we met, and that I had been instructed to kill him! We both laughed at the ham-handedness by which SIS tried to get us to attack each other.
John has made mistakes, but the fact that he has been on the front lines of the war on terror, both before and after 9/11, is without doubt. It is also true that John had previously assisted the FBI on a counter-espionage investigation in which an Asian country was targeting congressional staffers. While John cooperated with the FBI; then-Senator John Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director refused to do so. Whatever one thinks of John and his mistakes, it is reprehensible if true and also racist to seek to trick a former CIA officer and a Muslim to target each other. The war on terror isn’t a parlor game, nor is it the job of any corrections officer to have someone target a man who has spent his career fighting terrorists or, indeed, anyone. Left, right, or center, this is unacceptable. Let us hope there will be an investigation and that the corrections officer in question, if found guilty, finds himself on the other side of the bars.