Life in Jail for a CIA Whisteblower, One Attempted Prison Terror Brawl at a Time

One of the six men prosecuted or convicted by the Obama administration for leaking information to the press, a former CIA agent named John Kiriakou, sent a remarkable letter describing life in the prison where he'll be until 2015. This is what happens when the government catches a leaker.

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There have been six men indicted or convicted of leaking classified material during the Obama administration, according to ProPublica. Of those five, one, a former CIA agent named John Kiriakou, is currently serving a prison sentence. In a remarkable letter sent to the blog Firedoglake, Kiriakou describes life at a corrections facility in Loretto, Pennsylvania, where he'll be until 2015. This is what happens when the government catches a leaker.

Last October, Kiriakou pled guilty to revealing the name of a former colleague to a freelance reporter who'd worked at ABC News and was sentenced to 30 months. The leak came during a period in which Kiriakou was transitioning his CIA experience into consulting and media opportunities, as the New Yorker detailed in April. Kiriakou eventually got a contract with ABC, but his interviews drew attention from the CIA and, eventually, the FBI.

Before he left for Loretto in February, Kiriakou didn't seem fazed by his imminent incarceration, as reported by The Washington Post (and The New York Times). In part, this is because Kiriakou represents himself as "an anti-torture whistleblower and activist."

Kiriakou, 48, seemed unbowed and almost content at the prospect of prison as he basked in the well wishes of about 100 supporters, who gathered for a posh send-off at the luxury hotel. The guests wore orange jumpsuits and other mock prison garb and serenaded Kiriakou with a reworked version of the protest anthem “Have You Been to Jail for Justice?”

That contentment has faded. In his letter — which can be read in its entirety below — Kiriakou details life inside. Once he arrived at Loretto, which has both a work camp and a prison, Kiriakou was sent to the prison. As transcribed by Firedoglake:

My cell is more like a cubicle made out of concrete block. Built to hold four men, mine holds six. Most others hold eight. My cellmates include two Dominicans serving 24- and 20-year sentences for drugs, a Mexican serving 15 years for drugs, a Puerto Rican serving 7 ½ years for drug conspiracy, and the former auditor of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, [Ed. - Frank Russo] who’s doing a long sentence for corruption. They’re all decent guys and we actually enjoy each other’s company.

Kiriakou also explains, in flat terms, the differentiations made by race in the prison. (It's worth noting that the New Yorker's report on Kiriakou noted his predilection toward embellishment.)

Loretto has 1,369 prisoners. (I never call myself an “inmate.” I’m a prisoner.) About 50% are black, 30% are Hispanic, and 20% are white. Of the white prisoners, most are pedophiles with personal stories that would make you sick to your stomach. The rest of the whites prisoners are here for drugs, except for a dozen or so who ran Ponzi schemes. Of the 1,369 prisoners, 40 have college degrees and 6 of us have master’s degrees.

Those divisions play out during meals.

The cafeteria is very formally divided. There is a table for the whites with good paper [Ed. - Meaning, non-pedophiles.], a section of a table for the Native Americans, a section of a table for people belonging to a certain Italian-American stereotypical “subculture,” two tables for the Muslims, four tables for the pedophiles, and all the remaining tables for the blacks and Hispanics. We don’t all eat at the same time, but each table is more-or-less reserved as I’ve described.

Most interesting, however, is an incident in which Kiriakou claims prison administrators tried to incite a fight between him and a Muslim prisoner, apparently in an effort to send both to solitary confinement. Kiriakou, whose CIA work included recruiting agents in Athens and Pakistan, speaks Arabic and was able to build relationships with Muslim inmates.

I was ushered into the office of SIS, the Special Investigative Service. This is the prison version of every police department’s detective bureau. I saw on a desk a copy of my book, The Reluctant Spy, as well as DVD copies of all the documentaries I’ve been in. The CO showed me a picture of an Arab. “Do you know this guy,” he asked me. I responded that I had met him a day earlier, but our conversation was limited to “nice to meet you.” Well, the CO said, this was the uncle of the Times Square bomber, and after we had met, he called a number in Pakistan, reporting the meeting, and was told to kill me. I told the CO that I could kill the guy with my thumb. He’s about 5’4” and 125 pounds compared to my 6’1” and 250 pounds. The CO said they were looking to ship him out, so I should stay away from him. …

In the meantime, SIS told [the Muslim man] that I had made a call to Washington after we met, and that I had been instructed to kill him! We both laughed at the ham-handedness by which SIS tried to get us to attack each other. If we had, we would have spent the rest of our sentences in the SHU – solitary. Instead, we’re friendly, we exchange greetings in Arabic and English, and we chat.

It's this story that sets Kiriakou's description of life in prison apart from those that are readily familiar to consumers of reality prison shows or realistic movies. After pleading guilty to revealing state secrets, his life isn't vastly different than that of a local elected official convicted of fraud. And, for what it's worth, his sentence is far shorter.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.