John Kiriakou is a former CIA officer and whistleblower, who has been an advocate for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
On the weekly podcast I co-host, “Unauthorized Disclosure,” I asked him about Assange’s one-week extradition hearing and what he expected. He discussed how he may overcome extradition from the United Kingdom but face extradition from Australia after he is deported from the U.K.
We also discussed what he described as the “willful ignorance” of United States media when it comes to acknowledging how journalists were targeted by an espionage operation conducted against Assange on behalf of the CIA.
Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.
GOSZTOLA: Let me ask you about Julian Assange. You’ve been doing some advocacy. You’ve supported Julian, and specifically, the latest development we know is that we’re learning more information about what is going on with the Spanish security company that engaged in espionage against Julian while he was in the Ecuador embassy. We’ve got the first actual admission in the Spanish high court from David Morales, who is the owner that was involved in carrying out the espionage, planting these microphones, saying that he did it.
We know he made trips to Alexandria, in the D.C. area, where this grand jury is located. So we’re going to have this extradition hearing coming up. I’m interested in your thoughts about what this first hearing is going to be in February, and I’m going to actually be there to report. It will focus on Ecuador’s right-wing government and their attacks on him while he was in the embassy, but then it’s also going to focus on how these Espionage Act charges are “political offenses” not recognized around the world.
KIRIAKOU: Yes, this first round in February is short, but it’s very, very important for the reasons that you’ve cited. We’re going to be able to hear for the very first time what exactly this company, and by extension the CIA and the FBI, were doing to entrap Julian. We really don’t know what the story is other than what we’ve read in outlets like El Pais and frankly at Shadowproof, two outlets that have covered this.
The real hearing, the meat of the hearing, is going to be later on in the spring, and could stretch all the way into the first week of July. That’s the extradition hearing, the extradition request. [Note: As of now, the extradition hearing is scheduled from end of May to mid-June.]
Now, there is a precedent. There are a few precedents actually for U.K. courts denying U.S. requests for extradition based on the United Nations determination that the way the U.S. uses solitary confinement is a form of torture. There are two cases where two different men—one was a terrorism suspect, one was a drug smuggler—they were subject to extradition hearings, and the judges ruled they would likely be placed in solitary confinement. The United Nations says the U.S. practice is a form of torture, and because of European Union law at the time and British law opposing torture, that the extraditions could not go forward.
So Julian’s attorneys think that they have a real shot at this. He’s already been placed in solitary confinement in the U.K., and we saw what happened to his mental state. What’s going to happen if they put him solitary confinement in the U.S., and you know they will because he’s such a high-profile prisoner. And that’s what they do to high-profile prisoners. So I actually think that he has a shot.
Now, with that said, what happens if he’s not extradited to the United States? He’ll be expelled from the U.K. because he’s already done his lousy, measly ten months on the bail jumping. So they’ll expel him from the U.K. He’s an Australian national so he’ll likely be expelled to Australia. And what’s to stop the United States from just asking the Australians to extradite him and we start this process all over?
So I’m worried frankly. I’m worried for the guy.
GOSZTOLA: That’s true. And there’s one realist response, and I feel like throwing out not just as advocacy but for people who have low amounts of information. I’ll say I believe that quite clearly if there was such a thing as a Bernie Sanders administration this would all end—
KIRIAKOU: I agree.
GOSZTOLA: —Because there’s no reason to pursue Julian Assange policy-wise. There’s no way the Justice Department would want to open this can of worms. Even if Bernie Sanders is not going to say a kind word about Julian Assange, it doesn’t matter. He’s not going to want to pursue extradition of this dissident journalist.
But the other thing I want to have you close on is—We spoke about this a while ago. I was blown over by the espionage operation that was conducted against journalists and people who visited Assange at the Ecuador embassy. And I think that what we’re missing in all of this is any sense among our media or our press that this is actually an attack on journalism.
KIRIAKOU: Oh yeah.
GOSZTOLA: If they are self-aware, it’s really hard for me to tell. There is a great clip of Jim Acosta at CNN being asked about the Julian Assange case. It’s hard for us to tell. This is the guy, right, that is constantly complaining about the Trump administration revoking his press pass. Or not letting him into the White House. Or harassing him or being mean to him while he tries to ask a question of Donald Trump, even though he’s trying to put on a show for CNN while interrupting him while he’s speaking.
I can’t tell if they’re not aware or if they just don’t care. It’s hard to tell if they’re just inept and aren’t making connections, or if they really in truly believe this case is never going to impact them. I’m wondering what you’re viewpoint is, but quite clearly when you look at what happened around the embassy, this was a targeted operation against journalists that wanted to cover Julian Assange.
KIRIAKOU: Oh yeah. It’s willful ignorance really.
I agree. This was a well thought-out operation. It was an operation against Julian Assange, but really it was an operation against these journalists, too. Which is funny to me because when I was at the CIA, we had this golden rule that came out of the bad-old days of the 1970s, and that was that you leave journalists alone. Right? The CIA got burned in the Church Committee hearings and the Pike Committee hearings in the 1970s because of the way they used and exploited journalists. And you can’t do that anymore.
Well, either policy has changed, which I think is likely. Or the policy was changed for Julian Assange. Somebody was able to argue successfully that this wasn’t a targeting of a journalist. It was a target of Assange by using journalists. Either way, it’s just rotten. And it’s something that nobody, literally nobody, on the Senate or House intelligence committees has even raised, let alone addressed.