Q & A with a Real Spy

SPY talks with former CIA agent, John Kiriakou, about his experience with the controversy over waterboarding, and the pressures from both inside and outside the agency.

Q: When a former CIA officer goes “public” does the information need to be cleared for its possible sensitivity to national security first?

A: Everything a former CIA officer writes has to be cleared by a panel called the Publications Review Board (PRB).  And I mean everything has to be cleared, from a letter to the editor of House Beautiful magazine to a memoir about a CIA career.  But clearance is not a science and the process can take years, or 18 months, in my case.  An author frequently finds himself in a fight with PRB over language, and there is an appeals process which most authors take advantage of.  In the end, the author and PRB usually can come to an agreement, but with both sides somewhat unhappy.

Q: You have been at times at the center of the debate regarding the effectiveness waterboarding.  Where do you stand on the issue now?

A: I believe now, as I believed in December 2007 when I went public, that waterboarding was morally wrong.  I said then and I maintain now that Abu Zubaydah provided actionable intelligence after being waterboarded.  I was wrong when I said he had been waterboarded once.  That was what I was told.  We know now that he had been waterboarded 83 times.  But there are two separate issues here.  Did waterboarding work (on Abu Zubaydah it did in a limited way, but it did not work on other prisoners, who simply told the interrogators what they wanted to hear), and was it morally right?

Q: It has been suggested your position on waterboarding was part of a deception campaign.  Are you lying to us now?

A: If I said no, would you believe me?  Seriously, I’ve seen a couple of conspiratorial, fringe blogs make that accusation.  It’s ridiculous.  I called it as I saw it.  It made a lot of people angry and started an important national debate.  I stand by my position.

Q: Stephen Colbert has suggested the need to waterboard you to get the “real” truth.  Would this work or have you been trained to resist torture?

A: I feel like I already have been waterboarded!  Repeatedly.  I was never trained to resist torture.  I wish I had had training in press relations, however.

Want to learn more? Read Kiriakou’s book The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror

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