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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/12/15

AUDIO: Robert Scheer Hosts John Kiriakou -- A Whistleblower on Torture

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Reprinted from Truthdig

John Kiriakou, left, and Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer.
John Kiriakou, left, and Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer.
(Image by (Joshua Scheer))
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Read the unedited transcript of the full interview below.

On "Scheer Intelligence," KCRW's new podcast with Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer, John Kiriakou, author of "The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror," details his 15 years as a CIA analyst and counterterrorism operations officer specializing in the Middle East.

Kiriakou served two years in prison for exposing President Bush's "lie" about the U.S. torture program. He tells Scheer how the CIA -- an organization created to recruit spies to steal secrets -- evolved into a "paramilitary force," how the U.S. drone program "creates terrorists" by killing innocent civilians, and how the Obama administration uses the Espionage Act as a political tool to threaten whistleblowers.

Additionally, Kiriakou challenges the government's claim that Americans have to surrender their civil liberties to fight terrorist groups around the world. "That's unnecessary, it's anti-constitutional," he says. "And I think [...] all Americans, should stand up and oppose it."

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of "Scheer Intelligence," the podcast I've been doing for KCRW. And I have a wonderful guest tonight, John Kiriakou. He was an intelligence operative for the CIA for 14 years, from 1990 to 2004. After the World Trade Center attack, he was involved in Pakistan in the capture of the third-highest-ranking leader of al-Qaida. And he blew the whistle on torture in 2007, in an interview with ABC; and after that, while he was working for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he ran into some trouble because of an interview he gave to a reporter for The New York Times in which he was said to have revealed the name of another agent to that reporter. It's ironic, because that's the sort of thing that Gen. Petraeus, who was head of the CIA, did 10 times in books that he turned over to his mistress, who was writing a book about him. And he got no such penalty. My guest today, John Kiriakou, served over two years in prison. The reason I particularly wanted to interview you today is because we're speaking a matter of days after the Paris bombing.

John Kiriakou: Right.

RS: And what I want to ask you about, because you know a lot about the so-called war on terrorism; and you know about what works and what doesn't work. And one of the first things that came up here is that a number of high-ranking officials, the head of the FBI, the head of the CIA and the former head of national security, all jumped up before the TV cameras and say, "See? This is why Apple and Google are wrong to have encryption, this is why we can't have a restraint, this is why Edward Snowden is weakening us with his revelations," and so forth. What was your immediate response to that?

JK: Oh, it was first a feeling of disgust. And second I wanted to shout, to the nearest person in proximity to me, what nonsense this was. This is exactly what our senior government officials do every time they're embarrassed by a revelation, is that they try to pass the blame on to somebody else. Ed Snowden is a very easy scapegoat; Google and Apple aren't going to defend themselves publicly. The truth of the matter is, we can certainly fight against terrorism and fight terrorist groups around the world without having to give up our own civil liberties. They're not mutually exclusive. And the government, whether it's a Republican president or a Democratic one, makes no difference -- they both want us to give up our civil liberties. That's unnecessary, it's anti-constitutional, and I think Americans, all Americans, should stand up and oppose it.

RS: Yeah, the irony, of course, is because it could be Barack Obama, it could be George W. Bush; they all claim they don't really want us to give up our civil liberties, they say it's a necessity. And one of the things that happened right away, and within a matter of hours of the Paris tragedy, it was revealed that in fact the terrorists in this case had used unencrypted messaging.

JK: Exactly right.

RS: That they were known to the authorities, that there was no mystery to it. They had telegraphed what they were going to do. Now, you had worked as a key -- why don't you give some of your background, but you had worked as a key -- can you take us to that, showing that you, too, have expertise? Because it's always the experts that get up and say, "No, Snowden is making us weak," and so forth. Well, you've been there on the front line of this war on terrorism.

JK: I have. Yeah, I served multiple tours overseas for the CIA in Bahrain, in Athens, in Pakistan, throughout the Persian Gulf; I have a degree in Middle Eastern studies, I speak Arabic; I spent virtually my entire adult life living in or working on the Middle East. Even after I left the CIA I joined the senior staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; I was the senior investigator for the committee, and I was the intelligence adviser to its then-chairman, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who of course is now the secretary of state. So I like to think that I know what I'm talking about as well. I was assigned at the CIA to the Counterterrorism Center, working specifically on terrorism issues and more specifically on al-Qaida and Sunni extremist groups. So, again, I like to think I know what I'm talking about. One of the things that really drives me crazy when I hear some of the things that our senior officials say -- the president, the vice president even, the director of the CIA, the director of the FBI -- is that an attack against us is imminent; we have to give up our own liberties or freedoms or rights in order to either forestall or disrupt this attack -- that's nonsense. It's not up to Google, it's not up to Apple to turn over our personal communications in order to save the country. It's up to the CIA and it's up to the FBI to recruit foreign -- I mean to recruit human sources, rather, to penetrate these groups. The CIA was created in 1947 very specifically to recruit spies to steal secrets and then to analyze those secrets and send the analysis to policymakers.

RS: And to do it abroad.

JK: And to do it abroad.

RS: Not to spy on the American public --

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Robert Scheer is editor in chief of the progressive Internet site Truthdig. He has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. He conducted the famous Playboy magazine interview in which Jimmy (more...)

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