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Interview With CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou On Ukraine Call Whistleblower Complaint And War On Whistleblowers

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Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola welcome CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou to the podcast. He is a writer and the host of the “Loud and Clear” radio show.

Kiriakou briefly recounts how he blew the whistle on President George W. Bush and his administration’s use of waterboarding and became the target of a leak prosecution. He was sentenced to prison and served nearly two years of a 30-month sentence.

In the interview, he addresses some of the whistleblower’s allegations, as well as whether it actually shows that President Donald Trump would not provide military aid to Ukraine if the government did not help him investigate Joe Biden’s son.

Kiriakou talks about the issue of impeachment and what led Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to do an about-face and allow an inquiry to begin. Will she seriously pursue impeachment or bog the public down in hearings until Election Day in 2020?

Later in the episode, Kiriakou responds to the New York Times’ decision to publish information that outed the whistleblower as a CIA employee, who worked in the Trump White House.

The interview raises the issue of the military aid to Ukraine and how it is aimed at potentially provoking Russia, as well as how Democrats like Adam Schiff  have not been supportive of whistleblowers.

In the final part of the interview, Kiriakou discusses the case of Daniel Hale, an alleged drone whistleblower, and how the government uses his case to ensure whistleblowers cannot put on a defense when they face Espionage Act charges.

Listen to the full interview by clicking the above player or go here.

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“It’s usually not the actual act that brings a person down,” Kiriakou argued. “It’s usually the coverup of that act. And I think that may be what we are seeing in its very early stages right now.”

“So, the whistleblower said that Donald Trump had essentially asked for a quid pro quo in a conversation with the president of Ukraine, President [Volodymyr Zelensky]. He asked that Zelinsky help in an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.”

“Hunter Biden was a member of the board of directors of a major Ukrainian energy [company]. He had no experience whatsoever in either energy or Ukraine, and the conventional wisdom, which I believe is correct, is he was given this very lucrative position because he was the son of a vice president and possible future president.

Kiriakou pointed out that Trump allegedly asked President Zelensky to help with this investigation and then the quid pro quo was $250 million in aid to Ukraine” but the details in the readout of the call are “much more cloudier” than Democrats have been willing to accept.

“I think that perhaps the Democrats in the House have gotten a little bit ahead of themselves. I’m not sure that what we have here is an impeachable offense yet. I think it remains to be seen. It certainly warrants an investigation,” Kiriakou said.

The issues the Ukraine call whistleblower had with convincing the Director of National Intelligence to provide his complaint to Congress, as the DNI should under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, is why Kiriakou ultimately went to the press to blow the whistle on CIA torture.

“My chain of command created the torture program. So I couldn’t go through my chain of command and say, hey, I think everyone of you guys is committing a war crime or a crime against humanity and so I want you to report yourselves. That’s not going to work. And I couldn’t go to the oversight committees because they were implicated in the creation of the torture program.”

Kiriakou recalled how Drake, an NSA whistleblower, went through his chain of command and wound up charged with several counts of violating the Espionage Act.

The whistleblower’s identity was “blown thanks to the New York Times and his career is probably over because even if the Justice Department doesn’t go after him for committing a crime—and according to the president he should be charged with maybe treason, which is a death penalty charge—nobody is going to want to work with him again because he didn’t keep the secret. He aired the dirty laundry. And you have not just a president but an entire political party that’s going to be gunning for this guy.”

The New York Times very nearly cost Kiriakou his plea agreement because they published their feature on him days before he was sentenced instead of after, which was the understanding Kiriakou had with Times reporter Scott Shane.

“I have had a very difficult relationship with the New York Times. The New York Times, in my own personal experience, doesn’t care one whit about the whistleblower or the source of a story or anybody else. All they care about is scooping the Washington Post and the news networks and that’s it.”

Kiriakou continued, “Judging from their description, which is at the very top of the New York Times website, if you know anything about the CIA, if you anything about Ukrainian analysis inside the CIA, it’s going to take all of five seconds to figure out who this is. So, if you’re a CIA officer currently working at CIA headquarters in Langley, and you read this New York Times article, you know exactly who this whistleblower is. And I think that leads to the logical next step, which is the end of this guy’s career.

The Times outed the whistleblower as a CIA employee, who once worked in the Trump White House, on September 26.

“He did not go to the media like I did or like Dan Ellsberg or like so many other people, Ed Snowden. He wanted to maintain his privacy and he wanted to do the right thing at the same time,” Kiriakou said. “There is a legal definition of whistleblowing. That is bringing to light any evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, illegality, or threats to the public health and public safety.”

“Anybody with a conscience is gonna want to do that, but at the same time that person deserves anonymity. That person deserves to have his name kept private and not to be splashed across the front pages of all the major papers in the country. If he wanted the fame or the infamy, he would’ve gone public.”

Kiriakou does not believe it matters whether the whistleblower was a witness to the call between Trump and Zelensky. “If he has the information or access to the information or the reasonable belief that the information is true, he’s compelled by law to report it. I don’t think that’s a problem at all.”

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has held himself out as a supporter of whistleblowers, who is concerned about the chilling effect the Trump administration’s actions will have. Yet, there were countless developments when President Barack Obama was in the White House that were not challenged our countered. These developments made the climate much harsher for potential national security whistleblowers.

“Adam Schiff is no friend of whistleblowers, plain and simple,” Kiriakou declared. “He’ll never be a friend of whistleblowers.”

Former United States Attorney Preet Bharara tweeted, “How can it be that there has been just one whistleblower?” And Kiriakou responded, “You’re kidding, right? I said any other potential whistleblower said no thanks after looking at me, after looking at Snowden and Tom Drake and Bill Binney and Jesselyn Radack and Daniel Ellsberg, etc.”

“For most people who blow the whistle, you end up never working in your field again,” Kiriakou added. “You’re not trusted. You’re seen as somebody who wants to air the dirty laundry in public, and you end up fending for yourself.”

One of the most significant parts of the complaint is the allegation that the Trump White House was hiding information on a highly classified system.

“That’s one of the areas where I think Donald Trump et al are going to find themselves in trouble. What you’re talking about is a standalone computer system that sits in the National Security Council’s Directorate of Intelligence Programs. Now, the Director of National Intelligence is an intelligence professional sometimes from the CIA, sometimes from the Senate intelligence committee, and is considered to be a senior officer of the National Security Council. The Director of National Intelligence Programs is the person, who on behalf of the White House, overseas covert action programs.”

“Any time the CIA sends over what would be incredibly highly classified documents on covert action programs, they would go into this standalone computer system at the NSC. That computer system also holds what’s called code word information. So, this is information that originates at NSA that for whatever reason—usually because of the way it was collected—it’s so highly classified that it can’t be disseminated even inside the intelligence community.

Kiriakou concluded, “So you’ve got this computer all by itself sitting in a lonely office in the NSC and it’s got some of the most important, most sensitive secrets that the U.S. government has in it, and then it also has this memorandum of a phone call with Zelinsky. Now, the reason that they put it in there was because they didn’t want anybody else to see it, and to me, that shows mens rea, a guilty mind.”

The week of September 25 was essentially the week that Speaker Nancy Pelosi lost control of rank-and-file Democrats. Yet, most likely that means Pelosi will drag out the impeachment inquiry so that not much happens prior to Election Day in 2020.

“In her announcement of this inquiry, Speaker Pelosi said that she had tasked the six relevant committees with carrying out their investigation, In the investigation of Bill Clinton in 1998 and in the investigation of Richard Nixon in 1973 and ‘74 both houses of Congress created joint committees,” Kiriakou recalled. “There was the joint Watergate committee, there was the joint committee on impeachment. She didn’t do that. She farmed this out to six separate committees, and I’m wondering if she did that on purpose.”

“Because rather than actually carry out an impeachment and impeachment hearings. I wonder if she just wants to just bury us in congressional hearings between now and Election Day knowing that Donald Trump is probably gonna lose and then the whole thing just goes away.”

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet. Photo via nrkbeta on Flickr.
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."