John Kiriakou has recently written The Reluctant Spy. The book recounts his fifteen years as a covert agent and his life in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as an operative and analyst. It details his take down of the infamous terrorist Abu Zubaydah as well as a day in the life as a CIA agent. NewsReal Blog interviewed him about his CIA career and issues he explored in his book.
NRB: You talked about the Taliban/FBI incident. Can you elaborate?
Kiriakou: There was an FBI raid on the Taliban embassy in Pakistan where phone bills were taken as evidence. I saw there was actionable intelligence. There were 168 calls to America in the 2 to 3 weeks before 9/11 that ended on September 10th. The calls started up again after 9/16. The phone calls were never traced. We are talking about potential terrorists or contacts that were never followed up. These boxes are now in storage. What is important is that these phone calls from the Taliban embassy were calls TO THE US.
NRB: Do you believe the Koran calls on all Muslims to be extremists?
Kiriakou: One of my degrees is in Middle Eastern Studies and my focus was on Islamic theology. I worked with Muslim CIA case officers, Muslim CTC officers, and Muslims at the State Department. They have the same problem that we Christians and Jews have. In that you could point to a lot of scripture that advocates violence but we consider these religions peaceful. The Muslims I am friendly with acknowledge that there are elements of the Koran that can be used by extremists. They feel Al Qaeda has hijacked the religion.
NRB: What do you consider the biggest threat today?
Kiriakou: Al Qaeda and the Islamic extremist terrorists. They are committed to the complete destruction of American lives. We have to be relentless in our pursuit of them.
NRB: In your book you describe the different types of terrorist. Can you recount?
Kiriakou: The Saudis are the ideological ones that use the Koran. The Chechnyans are the fiercest fighters that I ever encountered. They will fight to the death and not think about it. Every Libyan I met was a coward, not very bright, and not very brave.
NRB: Recently there were elections in Iraq and a major player was Ahmed Chalabi. He is not someone America would want as a leader of the Iraqis-why?
Kiriakou: He was an Iraqi political figure who in the early 1990’s was determined by the CIA not to be a trustworthy individual and a fabricator. The Agency ended all contact with him. He then went to the Department of Defense and gave them false evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This went in all the intelligence data bases. Jordan convicted him of huge bank fraud. He is now being resurrected in Iraq. We dodged a bullet on him not becoming Prime Minister.
NRB: What do you think of the Department of Justice’s lack of investigation concerning the outing of the CIA?
Kiriakou: The DOJ should do an aggressive investigation and prosecution if the law was broken. This is an issue of life and death for the operatives and their families.
NRB: What do you think of Congress wanting a law that requires the videotaping of CIA interrogations?
Kiriakou: The White House said they would veto this. I would not want it because people will become risk-adverse. You will have people second guessing you for eternity. CIA officers will err on the side of caution which will cause less successful interrogations.
NRB: A great quote in the book was that “no one in the CIA does it for personal gain or money.” Why did you feel the need to write it?
Kiriakou: Because the CIA is getting badly beaten up lately. I want Americans to understand people only do it to serve their country and to keep it safe. We are the tip of the spear. We prevent attacks. I wrote the book to explain that the CIA is chalk full of patriotic people.
NRB: Another quote that made an impression on me was “bad press not withstanding.” Can you explain?
Kiriakou: So much is written about the agency’s failures. I want people to understand the failures are declassified while the successes are not because many of them are still producing intelligence. It’s not fair.