John Kiriakou was a CIA officer for more than 14 years (1990-2004) serving mostly in Europe and the Middle East. He was the chief architect of CIA’s anti-terror operations in Pakistan after 9/11 (2001). When he became a whistleblower to disclose that CIA used torture as a means to get information in interrogations, he paid for this action by serving time in prison.
We discussed with Mr. Kiriakou about his time in CIA, CIA’s interrogation techniques as well as his country’s policy towards the Middle East and Turkey.
CIA and its use of torture in interrogations
Hasan Mesut Önder (HMÖ)- You have been in prison for a time because you have explained that the CIA’s strengthened interrogation techniques are torture. Who was the architect of the CIA and what is the role of the current service director, Gina Haspel?
John Kiriakou (JK)- The architects of the torture program were two contract psychologists named Mitchell and Jessen. But the program was overseen by the Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez and approved by the CIA Director, George Tenet.
HMÖ- In healthy intelligence systems, torture and oppression are not correct. Because if you don’t have enough to ask the right question, you can’t get the appropriate answer. The CIA’s strengthened query program suggests that it could be an improved method of taking revenge on militants. In this context, what about the psychological profiles of the executives in the 7th Floor of the CIA and the names involved in the torture program?
JK- I am not a psychologist, but I have argued for many years that one of the factors behind the torture program was the feeling of revenge. Remember, the September 11 attacks were the greatest intelligence failure in American history. Two thousand Americans were murdered that day. Everybody in the CIA wanted revenge. On the one hand, CIA officers wanted to collect information from prisoners. On the other hand, many CIA officers wanted to hurt those same prisoners.
HMÖ- How occupations, tortures and US regional policies have affected the CIA’s efforts to create qualified human resources within terrorist organizations or organizations you target? I mean, how do you convince people who hate America?
JK- The torture program really had no effect on the ability to recruit sources. Most people allow themselves to be recruited by the CIA for money, not for ideology. We paid huge rewards for people like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah. That has never stopped.
HMÖ- How will the “secular and antidemocratic elites”, supported by the US in the Arab Spring process and against the democratic transformation in the region, serve or will servet o the US’ national interests?
JK- I disagree with your assumption here. The US was very pragmatic in its approach to the Arab Spring. The US supported democratic forces in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya, and then switched sides in Egypt. The US opposed those same forces in Bahrain. Every country, not just the US, acts in its own national interests.
HMÖ- There’s a party coming to power by democratic and transparent elections in Turkey… What would you say about the importance of the present Turkish government and the United States foreign policy towards Turkey? Also in the Turkish public opinion, there’s a strong perception that the United States have infiltrated the government and all the levels, on July 15, 2016 for the attempts to overthrow the government in Turkey through a terrorist organization with Islamic motifs. In fact, it is said that a clique into CIA have played a role in this coup. One of these names is the former agent of the CIA, Graham Fuller. What can you say about these issues?
JK- Forgive me, but I think this is complete nonsense. Graham Fuller left the CIA in the mid-1990s. He’s not a part of a “CIA clique” and he’s as much a coup plotter as I am. There is a strong perception in the US public opinion that the Turkish government is anti-democratic and has a poor record on human rights. The Turkish government certainly did not help its cause when President Erdogan came to Washington and his bodyguards viciously beat demonstrators in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington.
The USA and Turkey
HMÖ- I want to ask a speculative question. If the democratic transformation in the region had been realized as the result of the Arab Spring, how the relations with this new government of Turkey would be? Some analysts have some assessments such as these developments would trigger the conversion of hope in the region because of the experiences of Islamist actors in Turkey and that Turkey is a model country in this region. What would you say about these two issues?
JK- The US and Turkey have had a very, very long and good relationship. It is difficult for Americans to understand why the Turkish people do not like Americans and why Turks always seem to believe that we are trying to overthrow their government. Nothing could be further from the truth. The US and Turkey will always have in common an understanding of the danger of Islamism. We can and should continue to work together to make sure that this radicalism does not spread, especially into Europe.
HMÖ- Taking into consideration Turkey’s geopolitical position, how must be the course of Turkish-American relations? How do you interpret the American deep state’s support to the organizations such as the PKK-PYD, that Turkey considers as enemies? In addition is there any difference between the perceptions of Pentagon and CIA towards Turkey? If there are differences, than which of these institutions’ policies are considered to be applied? What would you say about this?
JK- I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the “deep state” does not support the PKK or PYD and never has. Indeed, when I was stationed in Greece one of my main jobs was to work with the Turkish government against the PKK presence there.
HMÖ- What should be the relationship between the administrator and the resources in human intelligence? THow should be established the relationship by administrator in order to avoid the betrayal by the resource. A source in Al Qaeda used by the CIA in 2010 organized a suicide attack and killed 7 CIA officials in Afghanistan. Can you give brief information about how unreliable resources and processes related to managing double agents work?
JK- All sources and potential sources must be extensively vetted through the use of operational testing, polygraph exams, and other methods. The story you cite, the disaster at Khost that resulted in the deaths of many of my former colleagues, was a result of an inexperienced officer without the appropriate security training being put in charge of the base there. It was a critical error that should never be repeated. It was a hard and valuable lesson for the CIA.
HMÖ- In the Islamic geography, what can you say about the dynamics that cause an individual to turn from an ordinary person to a killer? How do people become radicalized in this geography? What would you say about the psycho-social dimension of radicalization?
JK- I have given this a great deal of thought. It is my experience, but interrogating, more than 40 al-Qaeda prisoners, that almost none of them had any specific problem with the United States. Instead, they were poor, they were illiterate, and they had no job training. I think that much terrorism could be dealt with through education, job training, and public works projects.
HMÖ- What should be done against the ideologicalization of the data of a gathering intelligence officer and the lack of details? In addition, how to create a good news network, measures taken to prevent the news network from being detected by competing services and targets and what are the procedures implemented?
JK- I am afraid that I am not allowed to comment on this.
HMÖ- How should an intelligence service go from field to decision maker in order to be able to produce effective and accurate intelligence for decision makers in a problematic area like the Middle East? What can you say about the determination of needs and the plan of collection, the collection processes and the characteristics of the collector, the analysis process and the characteristics of the analysis team?
JK- There is a tried and true method of doing this that the CIA has practiced for the past 70 years. First, every CIA officer must recruit spies to steal secrets. Second, the CIA must cultivate close liaison relationships with the intelligence services of other countries. Third, the US government must also collect open-source and electronic intelligence. It is only in this way that the CIA’s analysts are able to present a complete picture to our policymakers.