Profile: John Kiriakou
John Kiriakou was a participant or observer in the following events:
CIA officer John Kiriakou, who will later make a crucial intervention in the US debate on the ethics of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007), serves as the agency’s Counterterrorism Center chief in Pakistan. The date he is posted to this position is unknown, but he is involved in the capture of militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida in March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), and is transferred to Iraqi issues at headquarters in the summer of 2002 (see Summer 2002). [Mother Jones, 12/21/2007]
Not long after alleged al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Pakistan (see March 28, 2002), he is interrogated by the CIA.
Zubaida Allegedly Building a Bomb - Zubaida was shot three times while being captured. When he awakes in a Lahore hospital, he is confronted by CIA agent John Kiriakou (a member of the capture team), who will later recall: “I asked him in Arabic what his name was. And he shook his head. And I asked him again in Arabic. And then he answered me in English. And he said that he would not speak to me in God’s language. And then I said: ‘That’s okay. We know who you are.’ And then he asked me to smother him with a pillow. And I said: ‘No, no. We have plans for you.’” Kiriakou will later call Zubaida “the biggest fish that we had caught,” and will say, “We knew he was full of information… and we wanted to get it.” Kiriakou will allege that Zubaida’s captors found evidence that he “and two other men were building a bomb. The soldering [iron] was still hot. And they had plans for a school on the table,” apparently the British school in Lahore.
Zubaida Has Current Threat Information - Zubaida, Kiriakou will say, is “very current. On top of the current threat information.” Kiriakou will report that while in the hospital, Zubaida “wanted to talk about current events. He told us a couple of times that he had nothing personal against the United States.… He said that 9/11 was necessary. That although he didn’t think that there would be such a massive loss of life, his view was that 9/11 was supposed to be a wake-up call to the United States.” But, Kiriakou will claim, Zubaida is “willing to talk about philosophy, [but] he was unwilling to give us any actionable intelligence.” Later CIA reports also indicate that CIA officials, presumably Kiriakou and others, believe that Zubaida has information pertaining to planned al-Qaeda attacks against US targets. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ] Apparently, Kiriakou is only with Zubaida a short time. Zubaida is quickly sent to a secret CIA prison in Thailand to be interrogated and eventually tortured, while Kiriakou stays in Pakistan (see Mid-May 2002 and After).
FBI senior interrogator and al-Qaeda expert Ali Soufan, in conjunction with FBI agent Steve Gaudin, interrogate suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while Zubaida is under guard in a secret CIA prison in Thailand. A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived, so Soufan and Gaudin who have been nursing his wounds are initially leading his questioning using its typical rapport-building techniques. “We kept him alive,” Soufan will later recall. “It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.” At the beginning, Zubaida denies even his identity, calling himself “Daoud;” Soufan, who has pored over the FBI’s files on Zubaida, stuns him by calling him “Hani,” the nickname his mother called him. Soufan and Gaudin, with CIA officials present, elicit what he will later call “important actionable intelligence” from Zubaida. To help get him to talk, the agents bring in a box of audiotapes and claim they contain recordings of his phone conversations. He begins to confess.
Zubaida Reveals KSM Is 9/11 Mastermind - Zubaida tells Soufan that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and confirms that Mohammed’s alias is “Mukhtar,” a vital fact US intelligence discovered shortly before 9/11 (see August 28, 2001). Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of terror suspects; Zubaida points at Mohammed’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11” (see April 2002). Zubaida also tells Soufan about American al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see March 2002 and Mid-April 2002). In 2009, Soufan will write of his interrogations of Zubaida (see April 22, 2009): “This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.” When the CIA begins subjecting Zubaida to “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see Mid-April 2002), Soufan will note that they learn nothing from using those tactics “that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions… The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007; Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Standing Up to the CIA - The CIA interrogation team members, which includes several private contractors, want to begin using “harsh interrogation tactics” on Zubaida almost as soon as they arrive. The techniques they have in mind include nakedness, exposure to freezing temperatures, and loud music. Soufan objects. He yells at one contractor (whom other sources will later identify as psychologist James Mitchell—see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), telling him that what he is doing is wrong, ineffective, and an offense to American values. “I asked [the contractor] if he’d ever interrogated anyone, and he said no,” Soufan will later say. But, Mitchell retorts that his inexperience does not matter. “Science is science,” he says. “This is a behavioral issue.” Instead, Mitchell says, Soufan is the inexperienced one. As Soufan will later recall, “He told me he’s a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works.” During the interrogation process, Soufan finds a dark wooden “confinement box” that the contractor has built for Zubaida. Soufan will later recall that it looked “like a coffin.” (Other sources later say that Mitchell had the box constructed for a “mock burial.”) An enraged Soufan calls Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism. “I swear to God,” he shouts, “I’m going to arrest these guys!” Soufan challenges one CIA official over the agency’s legal authority to torture Zubaida, saying, “We’re the United States of America, and we don’t do that kind of thing.” But the official counters with the assertion that the agency has received approval from the “highest levels” in Washington to use such techniques. The official even shows Soufan a document that the official claims was approved by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. It is unclear what document the official is referring to.
Ordered Home - In Washington, D’Amuro is disturbed by Soufan’s reports, and tells FBI director Robert Mueller, “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all of this.” Mueller orders Soufan and then Gaudin to return to the US, and later forbids the FBI from taking part in CIA interrogations (see May 13, 2004). [New York Times, 9/10/2006; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Disputed Claims of Effectiveness - The New York Times will later note that officials aligned with the FBI tend to think the FBI’s techniques were effective while officials aligned with the CIA tend to think the CIA’s techniques were more effective. [New York Times, 9/10/2006] In 2007, former CIA officer John Kiriakou will make the opposite claim, that FBI techniques were slow and ineffective and CIA techniques were immediately effective. However, Kiriakou led the team that captured Zubaida in Pakistan and does not appear to have traveled with him to Thailand (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/10/2007; ABC News, 12/10/2007 ]
Press Investigation Finds that FBI Interrogations Effective - In 2007, Vanity Fair will conclude a 10 month investigation comprising 70 interviews, and conclude that the FBI techniques were effective. The writers will later note, “America learned the truth of how 9/11 was organized because a detainee had come to trust his captors after they treated him humanely.” CIA Director George Tenet reportedly is infuriated that the FBI and not the CIA obtained the information and he demands that the CIA team get there immediately. But once the CIA team arrives, they immediately put a stop to the rapport building techniques and instead begin implementing a controversial “psychic demolition” using legally questionable interrogation techniques. Zubaida immediately stops cooperating (see Mid-April 2002). [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]
Entity Tags: Steve Gaudin, Vanity Fair, Robert S. Mueller III, James Elmer Mitchell, Jose Padilla, Abu Zubaida, Ali Soufan, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, John Kiriakou, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pasquale D’Amuro
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Captured al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), after recovering somewhat from three gunshot wounds inflicted during his capture, is transferred to a secret CIA prison in Thailand, presumably the revamped Vietnam War-era base in Udorn. [Weiner, 2007, pp. 297; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] In late 2006, after being transferred to Guantanamo, Zubaida will tell representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross the story of his interrogation in Thailand (see October 6 - December 14, 2006). Zubaida becomes what CIA interrogator John Kiriakou will later call “a test case for an evolving new role… in which the agency was to act as jailer and interrogator of terrorism suspects” (see September 17, 2001).
New Tactics To Be Used - Officials from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program are involved in Zubaida’s interrogations. SERE officials have prepared a program of so-called “harsh interrogation methods,” many of which are classified as torture under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture (see December 2001 and July 2002). A 2009 Senate report (see April 21, 2009) will find: “At some point in the first six months of 2002, JPRA [the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency] assisted with the preparation of a [redacted name], sent to interrogate a high-level al-Qaeda operative.” Further investigation will prove that the person whose name will be redacted is, indeed, Zubaida. According to a June 20, 2002 memo, the SERE officials’ participation in the Zubaida interrogation is “training.” JPRA psychologist Bruce Jessen, one of the authors of the JPRA torture methodology (see January 2002 and After), suggests that “exploitation strategies” be used against Zubaida. Jessen’s collaborator on the torture proposal, James Mitchell, is present for Zubaida’s torture; Mitchell plays a central role in the decision to use what the CIA calls an “increased pressure phase” against Zubaida. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
First Weeks Shackled and Sleep-Deprived - Zubaida will begin his narrative after his initial, and successful, interrogation by FBI agents (see Late March through Early June, 2002). He spends the first weeks of his captivity shackled to a chair, denied solid food, and kept awake. In Zubaida’s words: “I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by [the] hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket. Water for cleaning myself was provided in a plastic bottle. I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time. The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise. The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks. During this first two to three week period I was questioned for about one to two hours each day. American interrogators would come to the room and speak to me through the bars of the cell. During the questioning the music was switched off, but was then put back on again afterwards. I could not sleep at all for the first two to three weeks. If I started to fall asleep one of the guards would come and spray water in my face.” In 2009, author Mark Danner will write: “One can translate these procedures into terms of art: ‘Change of Scenery Down.’ ‘Removal of Clothing.’ ‘Use of Stress Positions.’ ‘Dietary Manipulation.’ ‘Environmental Manipulation.’ ‘Sleep Adjustment.’ ‘Isolation.’ ‘Sleep Deprivation.’ ‘Use of Noise to Induce Stress.’ All these terms and many others can be found, for example, in documents associated with the debate about interrogation and ‘counter-resistance’ carried on by Pentagon and Justice Department officials beginning in 2002. Here, however, we find a different standard: the [proposed regulations say], for example, that ‘Sleep Deprivation’ is ‘not to exceed four days in succession,’ that ‘Dietary Manipulation’ should include ‘no intended deprivation of food or water,’ that ‘removal of clothing,” while ‘creating a feeling of helplessness and dependence,’ must be ‘monitored to ensure the environmental conditions are such that this technique does not injure the detainee.’ Here we are in a different place.”
CIA Team Moves In - The first weeks of Zubaida’s captivity are maintained by a small team of FBI agents and interrogators, but soon a team from the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center takes over. As Kiriakou will later recall: “We had these trained interrogators who were sent to his location to use the enhanced techniques as necessary to get him to open up, and to report some threat information.… These enhanced techniques included everything from what was called an attention shake, where you grab the person by their lapels and shake them, all the way up to the other end, which is waterboarding.” After the initial period of captivity, Zubaida is allowed to sleep with less interruption, stretched out naked and shackled on the bare floor. He is also given solid food for the first time in weeks—rice. A female doctor examines him and asks why he is still naked; he is, he will recall, “provided with orange clothes to wear.” The clothes only last a day, though: “[G]uards came into my cell,” Zubaida will recall. “They told me to stand up and raise my arms above my head. They then cut the clothes off of me so that I was again naked and put me back on the chair for several days. I tried to sleep on the chair, but was again kept awake by the guards spraying water in my face.”
Alternating Harsh and Lenient Treatments - For the next few weeks, Zubaida’s treatment veers from abusive to almost lenient. Mostly he is kept naked and confined to his cell, often suffering from intense cold in the frigid air-conditioned environment. One official later tells the ICRC that often he “seemed to turn blue.” Clothing is provided, then taken away. Zubaida will tell ICRC officials: “When my interrogators had the impression that I was cooperating and providing the information they required, the clothes were given back to me. When they felt I was being less cooperative the clothes were again removed and I was again put back on the chair.” For a time he is given a mattress to sleep on; sometimes he is “allowed some tissue paper to use when going to toilet on the bucket.” A month goes by with no interrogations. He will recall: “My cell was still very cold and the loud music no longer played but there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played 24 hours a day. I tried to block out the noise by putting tissue in my ears.” Then, “about two and half or three months after I arrived in this place, the interrogation began again, but with more intensity than before.” Danner will write that he isn’t sure if the wild swings in procedures are intentional, meant to keep Zubaida off-guard, or, as he will write, “resulted from disputes about strategy among the interrogators, who were relying on a hastily assembled ‘alternative set of procedures’ that had been improvised from various sources, including scientists and psychiatrists within the intelligence community, experts from other, ‘friendly’ governments, and consultants who had worked with the US military and now ‘reverse-engineered’ the resistance training taught to American elite forces to help them withstand interrogation after capture.” Danner notes that some CIA documents going back to the 1960s advocate subjecting the captive to sensory deprivation and disorientation, and instilling feelings of guilt, shame, and helplessness. The old CIA documents say that captives should be kept in a state of “debility-dependence-dread.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Justice Department's 'Ticking Bomb' Scenario - The August 2002 “golden shield” memo from the Justice Department (see August 1, 2002) will use what is often called the “ticking bomg scenario”—the supposition that a terror attack is imminent and only torture can extract time-critical information from a terrorist detainee to give US officials a chance to stop the attack—to justify Zubaida’s torture. According to CIA reports, Zubaida has information regarding “terrorist networks in the United States” and “plans to conduct attacks within the United States or against our interests overseas.” But Brent Mickum, who later becomes one of Zubaida’s attorneys, will say that he believes the Justice Department memo retroactively approved coercive tactics that had already been used. “If torture occurred before the memo was written, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, and the writing of the memo is potentially criminal,” Mickum will note. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Interrogations Continue in June - Sometime in June, Zubaida will once again be interrogated (see June 2002).
Entity Tags: Mark Danner, John Kiriakou, James Elmer Mitchell, Bruce Jessen, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Convention Against Torture, George Brent Mickum, Geneva Conventions, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, International Committee of the Red Cross
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
In 2007, former CIA official John Kiriakou will claim to have details about the interrogation of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. Kiriakou was involved in the capture and early detention of Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), but claims he was transferred to another task before harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding were used on him (see Mid-May 2002 and After). [ABC News, 12/10/2007 ] Kiriakou will claim that the activities of the interrogators were closely directly by superiors at CIA Headquarters back in the US. “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m gonna slap him.’ Or, ‘I’m going to shake him.’ Or, ‘I’m gonna make him stay up for 48 hours.’ Each one of these steps, even though they’re minor steps, like the intention shake, or the open-handed belly slap, each one of these had to have the approval of the deputy director for operations.… The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific. And the bottom line was these were very unusual authorities that the [CIA] got after 9/11. No one wanted to mess them up. No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard. So it was extremely deliberate.” [ABC News, 12/10/2007] Kiriakou also will say, “This isn’t something done willy-nilly. This isn’t something where an agency officer just wakes up in the morning and decides he’s going to carry out an enhanced technique on a prisoner. This was a policy made at the White House, with concurrence from the National Security Council and the Justice Department” (see Mid-March 2002). [London Times, 12/12/2007] In 2005, ABC News reported, “When properly used, the [CIA interrogation] techniques appear to be closely monitored and are signed off on in writing on a case-by-case, technique-by-technique basis, according to highly placed current and former intelligence officers involved in the program.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005] CIA Director George Tenet will similarly claim in a 2007 book that the interrogation of high-ranking prisoners like Zubaida “was conducted in a precisely monitored, measured way…” He will also say that “CIA officers came up with a series of interrogation techniques that would be carefully monitored at all times to ensure the safety of the prisoner. The [Bush] administration and the Department of Justice were fully briefed and approved the use of these tactics.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 242] Zubaida’s interrogations are videotaped at the time (see Spring-Late 2002), and CIA Director Michael Hayden will later claim this was done “meant chiefly as an additional, internal check on the [interrogation] program in its early stages.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] The videotapes will later be destroyed under controversial circumstances (see November 2005).
John Kiriakou, a CIA officer who will later make a crucial intervention in the US debate on the ethics of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007), is transferred to Iraqi issues at the agency’s headquarters. He had previously been chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center in Pakistan (see Spring-Summer 2002 and Possibly Before). Kiriakou’s job is to act as an executive assistant to Robert Grenier, the CIA’s Iraq mission manager. In this position he will play a part in the Plame affair (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). [Mother Jones, 12/21/2007]
Accused al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida, having been tortured for months in a secret CIA prison in Thailand (see April - June 2002), has had a respite from the intensive interrogations he was initially subjected to. Now, though, the interrogations begin again, being what Zubaida will later recall as “more intens[e] than before.”
Intensified Interrogations - Zubaida will later tell officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): “Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area [3 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet high]. The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 1/2 feet] in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face.… I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.… They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”
In the Box - Zubaida will give detailed recollections of his time in the box: “After the beating I was then placed in the small box. They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box, I think I may have slept or maybe fainted. I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited. The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine. Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress. I was then placed again in the tall box. While I was inside the box loud music was played again and somebody kept banging repeatedly on the box from the outside. I tried to sit down on the floor, but because of the small space the bucket with urine tipped over and spilt over me.… I was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before. I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold. This went on for approximately one week. During this time the whole procedure was repeated five times. On each occasion, apart from one, I was suffocated once or twice and was put in the vertical position on the bed in between. On one occasion the suffocation was repeated three times. I vomited each time I was put in the vertical position between the suffocation. During that week I was not given any solid food. I was only given Ensure to drink. My head and beard were shaved everyday. I collapsed and lost consciousness on several occasions. Eventually the torture was stopped by the intervention of the doctor. I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.” Author Mark Danner will note that, according to the ICRC report, Zubaida’s impression of being a “guinea pig” is accurate. Some of the techniques used on him will not be reported again—the weeks of sitting in shackles, the coffin-sized boxes. Other techniques, such as the waterboarding, the permanent shackling, the “cold cell,” the incessant loud music and noise, will be used frequently on later captives, as will the constant light and the repeated beatings and physical abuse.
Everything Authorized by Senior CIA, White House Officials - Danner will remind readers that the CIA interrogators never acted alone or with any degree of independence. Everything that is done and said to Zubaida is monitored by other officials on-site—guards, interrogators, doctors—and by senior CIA officials in Washington. CIA interrogator John Kiriakou will later tell a reporter: “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m gonna slap him. Or I’m going to shake him. Or I’m gonna make him stay up for 48 hours.’ Each one of these steps… had to have the approval of the deputy director for operations. So before you laid a hand on him, you had to send in the cable saying, ‘He’s uncooperative. Request permission to do X.’ And that permission would come.… The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific. And the bottom line was these were very unusual authorities that the agency got after 9/11. No one wanted to mess them up. No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard.… No one wanted to be the guy who accidentally did lasting damage to a prisoner.” Danner also notes that shortly after Zubaida’s capture, the CIA briefed top White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who, ABC News will later report, “then signed off on the [interrogation] plan” (see April 2002 and After and July 2002). During this time the White House is working with Justice Department officials to produce the so-called “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) that will, supposedly, protect the White House and CIA from criminal charges. Even after the memo’s adoption, CIA Director George Tenet continues to tell top White House officials about the specific procedures being used on Zubaida and other prisoners, including techniques such as waterboarding, to ensure that the White House considered them legal. As ABC will later report, the briefings of principals were so detailed and frequent that “some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
John Kiriakou, an executive assistant to the CIA’s Iraq mission manager Robert Grenier, sends out an email asking other CIA officers for information about Ambassador Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger concerning allegations Iraq purchased yellowcake uranium there. The e-mail is sent out in response to a request from Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin for information Vice President Dick Cheney will want at a meeting scheduled for tomorrow, and is sent “on behalf of the vice president.” The questions concern Wilson’s trip, what the CIA knew of it, and President Bush’s State of the Union address that mentioned the allegations. According to journalist Laura Rozen, “The email makes clear that senior CIA officials, including Kiriakou’s boss [Grenier] and the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence [McLaughlin], did not know who Valerie Wilson was at the time.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/10/2003 ; Mother Jones, 12/21/2007] After resigning from the agency, Kiriakou will come to national attention when he makes a crucial intervention in the US debate on the ethics of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007).
John Kiriakou. [Source: ABC News]Former CIA officer John Kiriakou gives the first of several media interviews around this time about the agency’s use of waterboarding and torture, to ABC. In this interview and others Kiriakou, who led the team that captured militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), makes several points:
Zubaida was waterboarded. This is the first official on-the-record acknowledgment by any CIA official that the controversial technique that simulates drowning was used.
Zubaida was only waterboarded once, for about 30 to 35 seconds. (This is untrue. Zubaida was actually waterboarded at least 83 times—see April 18, 2009.)
After the waterboarding, Zubaida became co-operative; he had previously been uncooperative. (This is also allegedly untrue—see June 2002.) Kiriakou says, “The threat information that he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.” Kiriakou thinks the attacks were not to be on US soil, but overseas, although he is not sure. Waterboarding and the other techniques were used because of a sense of urgency. “Those tricks of the trade require a great deal of time—much of the time—and we didn’t have that luxury. We were afraid that there was another major attack coming.”
Use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques is tightly controlled in the agency. Each application of a technique had to be specifically approved by the deputy director for operations.
Kiriakou implies that waterboarding is torture and should remain banned now, but the circumstances of the time warranted its use. He believes that waterboarding both compromised American principles and saved lives. “Like a lot of Americans, I’m involved in this internal, intellectual battle with myself weighing the idea that waterboarding may be torture versus the quality of information that we often get after using the waterboarding technique,” he says. “And I struggle with it.”
Although he was personally involved in Zubaida’s capture, Kiriakou was not present at the interrogations and only learned about them at CIA headquarters. [ABC News, 12/10/2007; ABC News, 12/10/2007 ; ABC News, 12/10/2009 ] Over the next few days, Kiriakou gives a number interviews to other media outlets with basically the same information. The New York Times will call the series of interviews a “media blitz.” [New York Times, 12/11/2007; New York Times, 4/28/2009] The media he speaks to include the Washington Post, the New York Times, National Public Radio, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC (see December 11, 2007). A CNN anchor even calls him “the man of the hour.” [New York Times, 4/28/2009] Kiriakou garners praise for his poise in front of the camera. For example, Harper’s journalist Scott Horton will call him “telegenic,” whereas Foreign Policy magazine commentator Annie Lowery will opt for “telegenic and well spoken.” [Harpers, 12/21/2007; Foreign Policy, 4/28/2009]
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who has recently admitted that the agency waterboarded militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see December 10, 2007), gives another interview about the issue, this time to MSNBC “Today Show” host Matt Lauer. Kiriakou again repeats his talking points: the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaida, the use of this and other enhanced techniques was controlled by bureaucratic procedure, it led to intelligence, but it is torture. However, when Lauer asks whether the White House was involved in the decision, Kiriakou answers: “Absolutely.… This was a policy decision that was made at the White House with concurrence from the National Security Council and Justice Department.” Lauer plays a clip of an interview he did with President Bush over a year ago in which Bush said, “I told our people get information without torture and was assured by our Justice Department that we were not torturing.” Kiriakou responds to it, saying: “I disagree. I know that there was a high level policy debate on whether or not this was torture and that the Department of Justice and the White House counsel and the National Security Council decided that it was not, at the time.” [MSNBC, 12/11/2007] The CIA decides not to refer Kiriakou to the Justice Department for a leak investigation over his original interview at this time (see December 11, 2007). However, according to Harper’s magazine columnist Scott Horton, officials at the Justice Department and the National Security Council are “furious” that Kiriakou has mentioned their role in the waterboarding, and insist that he be investigated (see December 20, 2007). [Harpers, 12/21/2007]
The CIA decides it will not prosecute former officer John Kiriakou, who recently admitted that the agency had waterboarded militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/11/2007] One report, in the New York Times, suggests that “Kiriakou sought and received approval from the CIA” for the interviews. [New York Times, 12/11/2007] However, Kiriakou denies this and it appears not to be the case. [ABC News, 12/11/2007] Some accounts say a section of CIA officials are furious at him over the interviews. [ABC News, 12/11/2007; Harpers, 12/21/2007] However, according to Harper’s journalist Scott Horton, “Many high-level figures were elated to see the telegenic Kiriakou vigorously defend the agency on a subject on which it is already taking a lot of flak.” This is because efforts by CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to fend off criticism from Congress and the public have “fallen flat.” One source will tell Horton: “Falling flat is putting it pretty generously. The public seems to have decided that they don’t really believe Hayden or McConnell on this issue. That’s bad news for us.” Horton adds: “Since the leaders of the intelligence community are under constant attack these days both from Democrats and Republicans, this can’t really be surprising. Kiriakou was, simply put, far more credible and appealing as a media figure.” [Harpers, 12/21/2007] Whatever the case, the CIA decides not to ask the Justice Department to investigate Kiriakou to determine whether he leaked classified information. Instead, CIA Director Michael Hayden issues a memo warning all employees “of the importance of protecting classified information,” although the memo does not mention Kiriakou by name. A spokesman adds, “Disclosing classified information is a violation of the law,” and “intelligence officers have a lifelong, moral and legal responsibility to safeguard classified information. This continues even after someone leaves the agency.” [ABC News, 12/11/2007] However, on this day Kiriakou reveals that the White House and Justice Department were involved in the waterboarding (see December 11, 2007), causing the CIA to change its mind and initiate an investigation of him (see December 20, 2007).
The CIA videotapes destruction scandal reopens a debate about the usefulness of torturing al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. The FBI briefly used rapport-building techniques on Zubaida before the CIA took over and tortured him. On December 10, 2007, several days after the public disclosure that the videotapes of the CIA’s interrogation of Zubaida were destroyed, former CIA officer John Kiriakou admitted that Zubaida was tortured by the use of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007). Kiriakou claimed that waterboarding was so effective that Zubaida completely broke after just one session of waterboarding lasting 35 seconds. [ABC News, 12/10/2007] This claim became a frequently used media talking point. However, on December 18, the Washington Post presents a contrary account, stating, “There is little dispute, according to officials from both agencies, that Abu Zubaida provided some valuable intelligence before CIA interrogators began to rough him up, including information that helped identify Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla” (see Late March through Early June, 2002). The Post notes that Kiriakou helped capture Zubaida but was not present at any of his interrogations. Furthermore, “other former and current officials” disagree with Kiriakou’s claim “that Abu Zubaida’s cooperation came quickly under harsh interrogation or that it was the result of a single waterboarding session. Instead, these officials said, harsh tactics used on him at a secret detention facility in Thailand went on for weeks or, depending on the account, even months.” [Washington Post, 12/18/2007] The most in-depth previous media accounts suggesed that the FBI interrogation of Zubaida was getting good intelligence while the CIA torture of him resulted in very dubious intelligence (see Mid-April-May 2002 and June 2002).
The CIA refers the case of John Kiriakou, a former officer who has recently admitted the agency waterboarded militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see December 10, 2007), to the Justice Department for investigation. The department is to investigate whether Kiriakou committed a criminal offence by illegally disclosing classified information in the interviews he gave about Zubaida’s treatment. [McClatchy, 12/20/2007] The CIA originally decided not to refer the case (see December 11, 2007), but pressure was applied by the Justice Department and National Security Council after Kiriakou revealed its involvement in a later interview (see December 11, 2007).
ABC hires John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who gave the network an exclusive interview about waterboarding in late 2007 (see December 10, 2007), as a paid consultant. ABC journalist Brian Ross will say that network officials were concerned about the appearance of a tie between the interview and the job. For that reason, “I felt that we should sort of wait,” he will say. “I didn’t want anyone to think that he was promised something for the interview. He was not.” Kiriakou remains with ABC for eight months, before leaving for the Council on Foreign Relations. Shortly after his departure, the press learns that one of the key claims he made in the interview was false (see April 28, 2009). [New York Times, 4/28/2009]
Following the release of a set of Bush administration memos about torture (see April 16, 2009) and the discovery that militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida was waterboarded 83 times in one month (see April 18, 2009), some commentators recall comments made by former CIA officer John Kiriakou.
Kiriakou's Media Blitz - In late 2007, shortly after the CIA admitted destroying videos of Zubaida (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), Kiriakou toured media outlets, saying that Zubaida had only been waterboarded once (see December 10, 2007 and December 11, 2007). New York Times reporter Brian Stelter writes the most comprehensive treatment of Kiriakou’s “media blitz,” in an article entitled “How ‘07 ABC Interview Tilted a Torture Debate.” He points out that Kiriakou’s claim of only one waterboarding was “repeated by dozens of broadcasts, blogs, and newspapers” and “quickly ricocheted around the media.” This despite the fact that Kiriakou was not present at the black site where Zubaida was interrogated, and only learned of his treatment from reading accounts from the field. This injected the claim of one waterboarding into the public debate without the CIA having to make it itself. When asked about the false claim, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano replies: “This agency did not publicly disclose the frequency with which the waterboard was used, noting only that it was employed with three detainees. If reporters got that wrong, they weren’t misled from here.”
Waterboarding Was Necessary - In addition, Kiriakou said that at the time it did produce results and he had thought it was necessary then, statements that were repeated and amplified around the media. The net effect of his interjection in the debate was to make the torture seem much less harsh than it really was, diverting criticism away from the CIA. [New York Times, 4/28/2009]
CIA Media Plant? - Numerous other commentators will make similar points. For example, in a piece entitled “John Kiriakou: CIA Media Plant?” Foreign Policy magazine commentator Annie Lowery says: “It all seems a bit strange to me, and leads to one obvious possibility: John Kiriakou—telegenic and well-spoken John Kiriakou, who never went to jail for blasting state secrets on television—was told the story to tell and released onto an unsuspecting public. It’s an impression the CIA will have difficulty dulling now.” [Foreign Policy, 4/28/2009]
Kiriakou Admits He Was Wrong - In 2010, Kiriakou will publish a book and in it he will mention in passing that his earlier claims were wrong. He did not take part in Zubaida’s interrogation and he was wrong about Zubaida being only waterboarded one time, and about him freely confessing afterwards. He will claim that he was a dupe used by the CIA to promote disinformation, writing, “In retrospect, it was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the fine arts of deception even among its own.” [Foreign Policy, 1/26/2010]
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