JOHN KIRIAKOU: The Whistleblower Crackdown

National Whistleblower Week is a call to action on behalf of Julian Assange, who marks a new extreme in a series of legal reprisals that have gotten more draconian since Kiriakou’s own national-security case in 2012.   

Pro-Assange protester outside the High Court in London on Jan. 22. (Alisdare Hickson, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

By John Kiriakou

Special to Consortium News

This is National Whistleblower Week, with Saturday marking National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. The National Whistleblower Center in Washington has its annual lunch, seminar and associated events scheduled.  Whistleblowers from around the U.S. attend, a couple members of Congress usually show up and we talk about how important it is to speak truth to power. 

I’ve been attending these events for much of the past decade.  But I’m not sanguine about where our efforts stand, especially on behalf of national security whistleblowers.  Since I blew the whistle on the C.I.A.’s torture program in 2007 and was prosecuted for it in 2012, I think the situation for whistleblowers has grown far worse.

In 2012, when I took a plea to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 for confirming the name of a former C.I.A. colleague to a reporter who never made the name public, I was sentenced to 30 months in a federal prison. 

In 2015, former C.I.A. officer Jeffrey Sterling, who blew the whistle on racial discrimination at the agency, was sentenced to what Judge Leonie Brinkema called “Kiriakou plus 12 months,” because I had taken a plea and Jeffrey had had the unmitigated gall to go to trial to prove his innocence.  So, he ended up with 42 months in prison.

Things just got worse from there. 

The prosecutors of drone whistleblower Daniel Hale asked Judge Liam O’Grady to sentence him to 20 years in prison.  O’Grady instead gave Hale 46 months.  But to spite him, and to show prosecutors’ anger with the sentence, the Justice Department ignored the judge’s recommendation that Hale be sent to a low-security hospital facility in Butner, North Carolina, and instead incarcerated him in the supermax facility in Marion, Illinois, with no treatment for his debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder. 

I was in the courtroom during Hale’s sentencing.  When prosecutors asked for the draconian sentence, Hale’s attorneys cited my sentence of 30 months and Sterling’s 42 months.  Prosecutors retorted that they had “made a mistake with Kiriakou.  His sentence was far too short.” 

Light projection plea for Daniel Hale’s pardon on the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., June 26, 2021. (Backbone Campaign, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

It was clear that since my own case, the Justice Department’s ongoing prosecutions of national security whistleblowers wasn’t discouraging people from going public with evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality in the intelligence community.  Perhaps, they thought, tougher sentences would do it.  Don’t count on it, I say.

In the meantime, I ran into another national security whistleblower at an event recently.  He told me that the F.B.I. had recently paid him a visit.  I chuckled and said, “Because you’re so close to them and they’ve been so kind to you?” 

We laughed for a moment, but he was serious.  He is still on probation and the F.B.I. offered to get that probation lifted if he would tell them anything and everything he knows about Julian Assange and Ed Snowden.  He told them that he speaks through his attorney and wanted no further contact with them.  His attorney told the F.B.I. that his client had nothing to say, would tell them nothing about Assange or Snowden even if he knew something and to not contact his client again.  They haven’t.

The Assange Nightmare

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely followed the nightmare that Julian Assange has been experiencing for years now.  He could be extradited to the United States by next year and he faces more than a lifetime in prison.  That’s the Justice Department’s goal — that Assange die in a U.S. prison.  Ed Snowden likely faces the same fate if he were to find his way back to the U.S. 

In order to try to smooth the path for Assange’s extradition, prosecutors have promised British authorities that Assange would not be placed in a Communications Management Unit or a Special Administrative Unit, where his access to the outside world would be practically nil. 

They’ve also promised that he would not be placed in solitary confinement. 

But that’s all nonsense.  It’s a lie.  Prosecutors have literally no say in where a prisoner is placed.  It’s not up to the judge and it’s not up to the prosecutors.  Placement is solely at the discretion of the Bureau of Prisons (on recommendation from the C.I.A., which spied on Assange and his lawyers) and they haven’t made any promises to anybody.  

Belmarsh Prison in London is awful. But Supermax Marion, Supermax Florence, USP Springfield, USP Leavenworth, USP Lewisburg and any of the other American hell-holes where Assange and other whistleblowers are and can be placed would be worse. 

Though it’s National Whistleblower Week, we can’t pause to celebrate.  We can’t bask in minor successes. We have to keep up the fight because that’s what the Justice Department is doing.

John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. 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.

8 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: The Whistleblower Crackdown

  1. Alex Cox
    July 26, 2022 at 13:17

    Not all ‘whistleblowers’ are punished. White House translator Alexander Vindman, who worked so hatd to get us into a war with Russia in Ukraine, is quite the darling of the MSM.

  2. Cal Lash
    July 26, 2022 at 00:47

    Its hard for me to understand what drives the draconian Nazi posture behind prosecuting folks who obliviously should be getting medals of valor?

    July 25, 2022 at 18:53

    Truth and Justice ? America has lost the way. It thinks that it is Christian but I don’t see that which is good, right and true, that is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity and faithfulness.

  4. cjonsson1
    July 25, 2022 at 18:43

    Thank you for this report John, It’s always good to hear from our brave whistleblowers who bring us the truth about what is behind the government’s protective shield of classified information.
    There is no protection for them so it is important that we support them and spread their vital information to others. We never see it in the establishment media.

  5. cjonsson1
    July 25, 2022 at 18:26

    Kristina Borjesson presents a summary of Julian Assange’s long time imprisonment and the injustices and criminal treatment Julian as endured for years. It certainly appears that the 5 eye countries are slowly, cruelly killing this man for preforming true and accurate journalism.
    Whistleblower Newsroom



    July 19th, 2022
    Kristina Borjesson

    In this Whistleblower Newsroom editorial, host Kristina Borjesson discusses the illegal actions to which Assange has, and continues to be, subjected to by three nations—the US, UK and Sweden, working to fulfill the American government’s aim to get him to the US to face espionage charges. The illegal pursuit of Assange was triggered by, most prominently, the Wikileaks release of “Collateral Murder,” a video depicting a war crime in progress: US military gunfire from an Apache helicopter mowing down eleven civilians, including two Reuters journalists. Borjesson points out that this war crime was a crime within the larger crime of the illegal Iraq war, both of which paved the way for the criminal persecution of Assange.

  6. Lois Gagnon
    July 25, 2022 at 16:19

    Let’s just stop calling them super max prisons and refer to them as the gulags they are. This is a totalitarian police state that is chipping away at freedom of the press to silence critics and whistle blowers who threaten the power structure’s absolute control.

    The vast majority in this country have no idea what is really going on.

  7. July 25, 2022 at 16:16

    “The story behind the 1982 law used to jail Kiriakou fills in some of the blanks about how the modern secrecy apparatus was first put together beginning in the Reagan-Bush years. It also reveals the complicity and collaboration of our leading civil libertarians in creating the secrecy-and-censorship leviathan that these same civil libertarians claim to be fighting today on our behalf. Everyone from the ACLU, libertarian hero Ron Paul, even the first executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation was complicit in giving us the anti-whistleblower law that put John Kiriakou in prison.”

    Mark Ames, “How the ACLU, Ron Paul and a Former EFF Director Helped Jail a CIA Whistleblower,” Pando, February 7, 2015

  8. Julia
    July 25, 2022 at 14:36

    Nice one

Comments are closed.