CIA whistleblower Kiriakou gets posh send-off to prison

February 21, 2013

John Kiriakou stood in the ninth-floor banquet hall of the Hay-Adams hotel Thursday night and took in the spectacular view of the White House and the Washington Monument. He recalled briefing two presidents during his career with the CIA. “It’s ironic,” he said, spreading his arms as if to embrace the tableau. “This really is the reason I came to Washington 30 years ago in the first place.”

But next Thursday he will check into the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pa., to begin a 30-month sentence for divulging information that prosecutors said could harm his country.

Kiriakou, 48, seemed unbowed and almost content at the prospect of prison as he basked in the well wishes of about 100 supporters, who gathered for a posh send-off at the luxury hotel. The guests wore orange jumpsuits and other mock prison garb and serenaded Kiriakou with a reworked version of the protest anthem “Have You Been to Jail for Justice?”

“I’m proud of my career,” said Kiriakou, who lives in Arlington County. “I still love the CIA — crazy as that may sound. . . . I wear my conviction as a badge of honor.”

Kiriakou, who left the CIA in 2004, stepped into the limelight a few years later to confirm and describe in detail the harsh interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, that he said agency operatives employed. He was charged with several counts related to sharing sensitive information with reporters and pleaded guilty to a single count of disclosing a covert operative’s name. He was sentenced last month.


Whistleblower John Kiriakou at his farewell party with Code Pink activists, including Medea Benjamin (right,) who wish him well and sent him off to prison in style at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C. Feb. 21, 2013. The former CIA agent is going to prison February 28th for leaking information on torture. (David Montgomery/The Washington Post)

“My case was about torture,” he said. “The CIA never forgave me for exposing the torture program and saying it was U.S. government policy.”

The $20,000 farewell bash — open bar for two hours — was underwritten by Oakland, Calif.-based activist and heiress Naomi Pitcairn and co-hosted by Code Pink, the theatrical peace group.

“I don’t think any of my Republican ancestors would have stood for torture,” said Pitcairn, whose great-grandfather co-founded Pittsburgh Plate Glass in 1883. “Civilized people do not behave that way, and so we are honoring him for his civilized behavior in a very civilized location.”

The guests included left-wing luminaries, whistleblowers and protesters — from Dennis Roberts, one of the attorneys for the Chicago Eight, to retired Air Force Col. Morris “Moe” Davis, the former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, who resigned in 2007 because, as he said at the party, “I objected to the use of evidence obtained by torture.”

Kiriakou’s wife, Heather, resigned her own position as a senior CIA analyst last year under pressure from superiors, The Washington Post reported.

The couple have five children, ranging from 16 months to 19 years old. Kiriakou said that his children are worried about his looming absence but that the older ones understand and support him. He said he expects to be released with good behavior to a halfway house in less than 20 months. He said the prison will allow him to stay in regular e-mail and phone contact with his family.

“Even though it’s prison and we’ll be separated, it’s doable,” he said. “After 15 years in the CIA” — including as a case officer in the Middle East and South Asia — “I’ve lived in worse places than Loretto.”

Before the duo Emma’s Revolution took the stage Thursday to sing its danceable political folk music, Kiriakou clapped along to the Code Pink version of “Have You Been to Jail for Justice?”

Do you know John Kiriakou?

Well, he’s a friend of mine.

Blew the whistle on the CIA

And now he’s doin’ time.

David Montgomery joined The Washington Post in 1993. He currently writes general features and profiles for the Sunday Magazine, Sunday Style and Sunday Arts, with a focus on the Latino community and Latino arts.
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