JOHN KIRIAKOU: Know Your Rights. Don’t Talk to Cops at the Airport

When an ICE officer stopped me after I got off the plane I knew the harassment was about to begin.  But I was ready for it.

(Teagasc, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

I confess to a dislike of the police; any police at any level.  I dislike equally local cops, state troopers, federal law enforcement from a myriad of agencies and prison guards.  I’ve always said, “Give a man a badge and a gun and you’ve created a monster.”  I also believe that my opinion about law enforcement in the United States is in the minority. 

Most Americans like and trust the police.  We’re bombarded on social media by exhortations to “Back the Blue!”  We say “thank you for your service” along with the military at sporting events.  I’m something of a “progressive constitutionalist.”  I believe in freedom, equality, and individual rights.  I’m not going to back the blue.

I had the pleasure of flying back to the United States this week from an overseas trip.  The airline socially distanced passengers, so I had an entire row all to myself.  It was one of the easiest flights I’ve had in recent memory.  I arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport after 10 hours in the air and was happy to be home.  I have an app on my phone called “Mobile Pass” that allows me to put my passport, flight information and photograph in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement system so that I can just breeze through Immigration and go on to baggage claim.  It saves a lot of time.

‘Come with Me Sir’

Inside security checkpoint of Terminal 8 at New York’s JFK International Airport. (Martin St-Amant, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

I got off the plane at JFK having already completed the Mobile Pass and I went directly to the very short line for Mobile Pass holders.  The ICE officer was very nice, but after he scanned my passport, he said, “Please come with me, sir.  We’re going to have you talk to one of my colleagues.”  I’m not stupid.  I know what that means.  It means “let the harassment begin.”  But I was ready for it.

I was placed in secondary inspection, where I sat for about 25 minutes.  Finally, an ICE agent named Officer Oh called my name.  He was assisted by Officers Hippolyte and Castellano.  Apparently, it takes three armed people to deal with me.

“Have you ever been arrested for a crime?”  I wasn’t surprised that was the first question.  I’ve said consistently over the past eight years that I wear my conviction for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program like a badge of honor.  I said so on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and NBC’s Today Show.  It’s no secret. 

My response was, “You know I have been.  You otherwise wouldn’t ask me a stupid question like that, which has literally nothing whatsoever to do with my travel today.”  The ICE agents looked at each other.  “What was the nature of your crime?” Oh responded.  I think he also didn’t expect my own response.

“I’m going to tell you guys exactly the same thing that I tell your friends at Dulles Airport when they harass me.  I’m represented by counsel.  I don’t talk to cops.  You have no right to detain me.  I’m a journalist and I’m going to write about this incident using your true names.  And you have no legal right to keep me from entering my own country.” 

‘Free to Go’

Again they looked at each other.  Finally, Oh said, “you’re free to go.”

You’re damn right I am.

I called my attorney as soon as I got out of baggage claim.  He told me that I did the right thing and that he wouldn’t have given answers any different from the answers I gave.  It occurred to me, though, that most Americans have no idea what their rights are. 

The American Civil Liberties Union has a great article on its website telling people what to do when they are confronted by tin horn authority at airports around America.  The bottom line is that if you are an American citizen or a permanent resident (green card holder) you don’t have to answer any questions. 

ICE can delay you, but they cannot stop you from entering your own country.  Tell them that.  Repeat it as a mantra if you have to.  And remember my personal mantra.  It works: 

“I’m represented by counsel.  I don’t talk to cops.  You have no right to detain me.”

Cops are tough when they can hide behind each other, behind their guns, behind their badges, or behind qualified immunity.  But they’re powerless when faced with the power of the Constitution. Know your rights.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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30 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: Know Your Rights. Don’t Talk to Cops at the Airport

  1. Elena
    August 29, 2020 at 23:44

    In my mid 70’s I was detained at SeaTac reportedly for having explosive residue on my carryon.After being ushered into a back room for an intimate pat down by two women employees, the head of Homeland Security was called. I asked the head of Homeland Security who had been called, did he honestly believe a 75 year old woman with 2 hip replacements and 1 knee replacement is carrying explosives into the airport. He looked down at me and in full cold authoritativeness and replied, if you want to talk about this we can keep you here all day. Shocked! When another employee had in slow motion removed and replaced all the contents of my carryon in slow motion, and zipped it up, I asked – Did you find any explosives? No, it’s clean she said. That experience awakened me to the reality of policing. A teaching in how fascism controls through fear. Mr. Kiriakou, you have my deep admiration and gratitude.

  2. John
    August 29, 2020 at 23:04

    Problem is, ICE can delay you before your flight to the US and cause unknown problems with your reservation. In Amsterdam, I was pulled aside for having rebooked my flights in Istanbul and advanced my reservation by a couple days. They wanted to know why. I told them about my wife’s medical diagnosis, which she told me about while I was in Iran as a tourist. (I never mentioned being in Iran.)

    I remember their asking when I heard about the diagnosis and why I didn’t return immediately. I told them that my wife initially felt that my return was not urgent, which was true, although it was also the case that it would have been complicated to rebook the Shiraz-Istanbul leg.

    In any case they were satisfied with my answers, and let me catch my flight.

    I suspect that they knew all along that I had been in Iran, which was perfectly legal. And they talked only about my rebooking in Istanbul.

    But it could have been much worse, if they had chosen to get obnoxious about Iran.

    Does your advice of not talking to ICE apply when ICE is conducting interviews abroad? How would I get an attorney? And if they delayed me, would I have been able to rebook the return without penalty? Probably not, which means that ICE can penalize people and cause significant monetary damage simply by detaining you a little too long to catch your scheduled flight.

  3. robert e williamson jr
    August 29, 2020 at 20:25

    A couple of months ago I had a conversation with a local city police chief who told me of his own personal saga dealing with the FBI. From his own mouth he told me never talk to the FBI or any other law enforcement officer when they app-roach you, because, you don’t have to.

    I found his statement much like his demeanor, very refreshing, very rare and encouraging.

    The guy is totally against jailing non-violent offenders, something that around here is never heard of.

  4. Robert Sepi
    August 29, 2020 at 14:16

    “I believe in freedom, equality, and individual rights. I’m not going to back the blue.” It’s a statement of principle that guards against that very American sickness, the Stockholm Syndrome, that supports the very institution of oppression. No man needs harassment from other men with guns whether they claim legal authority or not – legal does not make it right. The U.S.A.’s loud claim to support “Liberty and Justice for all” is very often hollow with its heavily armed police, its worship of the military, and other authoritarian tendencies. Thanks, John Kiriakou.

  5. Lou Cassivi
    August 29, 2020 at 14:04

    Tx, John,
    Your dislike of cops is not one iota different than mine. You remain an inspiration!

  6. gsbeliever
    August 29, 2020 at 12:01

    Mr Kiriakou is an inspiration….to himself. To his supporters against the police, get ready to embrace a Republican president, House and Senate after election day. You actually had a decent chance to win this fall, till BLM and Antifat took violence to the street, now the Law and Order vote will win the election for us.

  7. Lawrence
    August 29, 2020 at 11:20

    Looks like you have a chip on your shoulder. A government has a right to question those who cross our borders, even citizens, because some citizens are criminals and have proven that they are not to be trusted to act against the nation’s interests.

    • Carolyn Zaremba
      August 30, 2020 at 08:43

      You are ready made for fascism.

  8. John T
    August 29, 2020 at 10:01

    Great Read John. There are videos on you tube that school the cops on the Constitution especially the 1st Amendment. Any one that doubts the ignorance of cops and security forces in this country should watch some of these just to reassure him/her self that there are no good cops because if there were there would not be any bad cops.
    The above comment by Philip Reed is a prime example of someone that has been brainwashed into thinking that to “protect and serve” really means something. The thin blue line is a gang sign and its appearance on the flag is the classic definition of desecration.

  9. AnneR
    August 29, 2020 at 09:13

    Thank you so much, Mr Kiriakou. Don’t feel quite so alone (neither my late husband liked, nor my brother, back in the UK, likes ’em)!

    And my sentiment derives from my own personal experience as a female “victim” (hate that word, therefore the quotes). On the three separate occasions when I called the cops (Filth) or they were called on my behalf, might just as well not have bothered. The first call in was in England back in the mid 1970s…they, the male cops, denied my memories of what happened, said I was lying. The other two took place in Denver, CO in 1982…the first didn’t involve a break as such but most definitely what felt like a close call (I’d no clue about the neighborhood) and it took the cops c. 50 minutes to respond to my call from a booth outside the apartment building (their having guns on them terrified me, never having been close to a gun before). The last cop “encounter” was based on a quite serious attack from which I was saved (at least from the potential results) by a bloke and his pre-teen son who yelled out at the man attacking me (from behind) and dragging me into an easement or alley. The perp ran down the hill, the man and child ran up the hill and I tottered down…a woman guided me into a poodle parlor got the young man there to call the cops….Next day a detective came carted me to the cop shop had me photographed – just like a criminal – because of the injury to my right eyelid/black eye (don’t think the goose egg bump was recorded). Then for what seemed like hours kept showing me books of photos of suspects, despite my telling them repeatedly I’d not seen the man’s face, just the back of him as he ran away ….The Det. took me back home, parked and then began making a pass at me….For F***’s Sake…So I told him that I was English. (My standard response to stupidity back then.)

    I wouldn’t trust the cops/the Filth/the Busies (as in Busybodies) one millimeter. And that’s based entirely on what aren’t that monstrous experiences. Yes, ignored, laughed at (essentially), shoulders shrugged, treated as if lying…. But nothing like the experiences of so many

    The cops were “created” (depends on what century and what their name at the time, but essentially some form of violent control mechanism has been in existence for many centuries) to ensure that “property” as defined by the ruling elites remained in their (elite) hands, preferably their hands only.

  10. Paul Peloquin
    August 29, 2020 at 08:52

    Great advice John.

    YouTube has a law school lecture that covers the same material in a most
    informative and entertaining fashion. “Never Talk to the Police.”


    • Carolyn Zaremba
      August 30, 2020 at 08:45

      I’ve seen that video. It’s excellent and I’m glad you shared it.

  11. Rosemarie Orr
    August 29, 2020 at 07:14

    John Kiriakou is a true universal hero.
    Imagine speaking out the truth only to silenced by incarceration.
    Both parties are the swill that distracted Americans are forced to drink.
    The 2020 Election is unbearable to watch let alone hear.
    Trump is Caligula to Biden’s Nero.
    The Empire of War and corporatism is coming to its foretold end.
    All corrupt empires eventually implode.
    History like the rising sun tends to repeat itself.

  12. Adam Gorelick
    August 29, 2020 at 03:35

    Democracy dies in darkness (are you listening, Washington Post?) making the light that whistle-blowers shed on this benighted world all the more invaluable. It takes more courage than ever in our defacto Security State to accomplish what Mr. Kiriakou – and Snowden, Assange, ect. – has and not rot behind bars forever. Though equally disturbing to me as the dismantling of our democracy from years of corporate/oligarchic infestation in Washington is the maddening passivity and incuriousness of most Americans regarding the myriad injustices and horrors our tax dollars enable – which includes our own surveillance and Police State apparatus.

  13. richard
    August 28, 2020 at 22:18

    why do you think you are in the minority?
    multiple uprisings give a different impression.

  14. David Otness
    August 28, 2020 at 20:40

    Beautiful. Thank you John. As I’ve written before your true, most meaningful phase of your professional life began when you did the right thing regarding our government’s illegal and immoral torture of human beings, and from there have stood strong and steadfastly for the ideals expressed in our founding national documents. It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to attest to your integrity again and again. Cheers, sir!

  15. Rob Roy
    August 28, 2020 at 19:44

    Great little article, Mr. Kiriakou, and fun to read. You did what I would do as well. Everyone who travels should see this. Once I talked back to a security guy at an airport and was surprised to hear cheers and clapping from the people within hearing distance.

  16. DW Bartoo
    August 28, 2020 at 19:22

    A fantastic (and very necessary) public service announcement, John.

    Very much appreciated.

  17. August 28, 2020 at 17:03

    This statement by Kiriakou is wonderfully explicit, true and eloquent. Great thanks to him for his morality, his courage and his journalistic contributions!!!

  18. August 28, 2020 at 16:18

    I am a fervent admirer of Mr. Kiriakou. We should all be staunch supporters of those people who dare to tell the truth, if we were, we wouldn’t have the horrible systems in place that we have throughout this world.

  19. val
    August 28, 2020 at 16:02


  20. Philip Reed
    August 28, 2020 at 15:53

    It’s a shame that Johns’ unjust experience in life has turned him into such a bitter individual who now paints all members of law enforcement with a very broad and unfair brush of contempt and obvious hatred. It’s almost palpable.
    I think if he really toned down what I can only call juvenile rhetoric and took just a minute to rethink his position rationally he might regain some of the credibility he’s clearly lost in my eyes at least.
    I’ve his story for many years and often referred to his name when debating others about the surveillance state and deep state and all it implies. Emphasizing the injustice John has endured.
    Then I read this unjust diatribe regarding all law enforcement.
    Take a deep breath John and really think through your position.
    I say this as a police officer with thirty two years of experience mostly on the streets. Not in administration but at the pointy end of the stick. If anybody should be bitter about life it should be me. But you can’t let those negative life experiences distort your rational mind.

    • Alan Ross
      August 29, 2020 at 11:58

      It isn’t just police officers. “Power corrupts…” In many jurisdictions, every officer must also contend with a toxic police culture. In NYC it is called the “Blue Wall” And if an individual officer has the courage to tell the truth about the bad apples or even the rottenness in the system such as ticket quotas, he takes his life in his hands. Serpico and Schoonmacher were the rare cops who had that courage and one was set up to be killed and the other was railroaded into a mental institution. The first survived and second was freed but a message was sent.

      We all need criticism, but police officers, who greatest priority is to protect the rich and powerful are shielded from it by them and have become more and more defensive the worse the things they are asked to do. Treatment of the poor is not equal. In Brooklyn there was a law enforcement term for a poor person “skell” which meant they could be treated badly. Usually such people were black.

    • Erroll
      August 29, 2020 at 14:21

      Mr. Reed

      You seem to have missed the point of the article and that is, as John Kiriakou informs the reader, that the police are not to be trusted as they will say and do anything in order to put a suspect, [and especially a Black person], behind bars. You may wish to educate yourself on this issue by actually looking at this objectively by reading Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America by Kristian Williams and The End of Policing by Alex Vitale. If you were to do this you would discover why Mr. Kiriakou is right to be so distrustful of the police state since the police have a long history of working protectively with those who are in power when they keep the boot of their heel on the necks of the working class and the poor.

    • Muki Madzura
      August 29, 2020 at 18:28

      Rational mind, huh? Yours or his? I suppose rationality grows out some thin air, and stands apart from the human condition/experiences, in your “rational world”! We cannot continue to accept the engineered privilege, oftentimes sacralized and mythologized under the banner of rationality.

    • blimbax
      August 30, 2020 at 13:38

      You’re right, it is a shame. I admire Kyriakou for speaking out when he revealed what was going on. But for him to say, at the very beginning of his column by stating his dislike of the police, “at any level,” to ascribe to the idea that any man “with a badge and a gun” is a “monster,” shows an irrational prejudice and, given Kyriakou’s past employment, a complete lack of self-awareness.

      One could easily say that if you give a man security clearance and let him work in the shadows, as part of the CIA or some other “intelligence agency,” that he will become a monster. After all, are there not a lot of CIA agents who have engaged in deception, blackmail, rigging elections, “enhanced” interrogations or torture, and extra judicial killings (i.e., assassinations or murder)? Should we assume that anyone who works or ever worked for the CIA is some sort of monster, some sort of psychopath or sociopath or immoral degenerate? With that broad a brush what should we conclude about John Kyriakou?

      I really am very disappointed with him.

  21. Fred Mc
    August 28, 2020 at 15:43

    Thanks, John, and good for you!

  22. mkb29
    August 28, 2020 at 15:35

    Thanks for your article. “Cops” are the defenders of the status quo, or worse, even if not personally abhorrent. A basically repressive force.

  23. Mike Madden
    August 28, 2020 at 15:27

    Mr. Kiriakou is an inspiration.

  24. John Lamenzo
    August 28, 2020 at 15:22


Comments are closed.