Former CIA officer John Kiriakoa visited campus Wednesday night to talk to students about the ramifications of his decision to expose the CIA for torturing terrorists. The lecture was held at the main auditorium of Swope Music Hall and was put on by SRU’s Criminology and Security Studies Department.
Kiriakoa, a native of Newcastle, Pa., told his harrowing story to an overflowing audience of students, university staff and community members.
“The best way for all of you to make a difference is to keep your ethical priorities at the forefront,” Kiriakoa said. “I’m 53. It’s the people sitting in this audience who can make positive change.”
Kiriakoa was a senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee responsible for the 2002 capture of Abu Zubaydah. Zubaydah was a ranking member of Al Qaeda and helped plan the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Soon after his successful capture of Zubaydah, Kiriakoa was asked to participate in an ‘advanced interrogation initiative’ to help gain information from captured terrorists. When he was told of some of the advanced interrogation techniques that would be used, including waterboarding, Kiriakoa refused to be trained to torture prisoners.
“I said to them, that’s torture, that’s a crime. Torture has been illegal for decades and still is now. Of course we all wanted to bring an end to Al Qaeda, but we couldn’t lose sight of our humanity in the process.”
After seeing then-President George W. Bush say on national television that no torture was taking place in the United States, Kiriakoa felt as though he had to make the public aware of some of the tactics that were being used to gain information from captured terrorists. In 2007, Kiriakoa told ABC News that not only were terrorists subject to waterboarding and other gruesome forms of torture, but that these methods were official policy that had been signed off on by the President himself.
“I told myself before the interview that no matter what was asked of me I would tell the truth. The American people had the right to know that their president had lied to them. They had the right to know what crimes were being committed by our government.”
Almost immediately, a year investigation was launched by the FBI into Kiriakoa and his statements. Shortly after its termination, a second investigation was launched buy the CIA in January of 2008. The three year investigation concluded with Kiriakoa being charged with two counts of espionage. This made him the first American to be charged as a whistleblower under the Espionage Act.
After a long legal battle, Kiriakoa was able to have his sentence reduced to 23 months in a low security prison beginning in 2013. He has received numerous awards and honors for shedding light on the vindictive practices of the CIA when attempting to gather information from terrorists. Kiriakoa still holds that he did nothing wrong and continues to be critical of his former employer.
“The CIA hires people with sociopathic tendencies. They want people who are easy to manipulate and who will adhere to their moral code of ethics. When you get into working for an organization like that, you must maintain your personal integrity because no one is going to teach you right from wrong.”
A reception was held before the event starting at 6 p.m. in which the SRU Department of Dance performed dances to reflect the tone of the discussion. Kiriakoa also promoted his new book entitled The Convenient Terrorist: Two Whistleblowers’ Stories of Torture, Secret Wars, and CIA Lies. The book was published in 2017 and was available for signing by Kiriakoa himself at Wednesday’s lecture.