The Gateway Podcast: CIA Whisteblower John Kiriakou, who Outed American Torture Program, Fears its Return

Published May 31st, 2018 - 11:33 GMT
Gina Haspel being confirmed as CIA Director (AFP/FILE)
Gina Haspel being confirmed as CIA Director (AFP/FILE)


  • Gina Haspel is the new director of the CIA
  • Al Bawaba spoke with the CIA agent who blew the whiste on waterboarding, John Kiriakou
  • Kiriakou expresses deep fears of a Haspel-led CIA
  • In addition to potentially re-introducing torture, the CIA may potentially enjoy relative immunity from the law


By Ty Joplin


On May 17, 2018, Gina Haspel was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

To understand what a Haspel-led CIA looks like, Al Bawaba spoke with John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who blew the whistle on the CIA’s use of waterboarding, serving nearly two years in prison for the leak. He calls Haspel the “consummate insider” who may bring back the torture program he helped to out, and Haspel helped to create. The conversation inaugurated Al Bawaba’s new podcast, The Gateway.

“As an American, I can't trust Gina Haspel to follow the law on this issue because she doesn’t support the law in the first place,” Kiriakou stated.

In 2002, Haspel directed a CIA blacksite in Thailand, overseeing the waterboarding of Abdelrahim al-Nashiri, a suspected terrorist who was transferred between black sites all over the world before eventually landing in Guantanamo Bay.

Kiriakou described other torture techniques used under Haspel’s directorship, including the practice of locking detainees in small cages and chaining them in place naked in a cold room and periodically throwing ice water on them.

John Kiriakou blew the whistle on the CIA’s use of waterboarding, and was eventually charged with three counts of espionage among other charges. He served nearly two years in prison for publicly revealing the program.

John Kiriakou (Twitter)

Though Haspel assured skeptical senators that she would not re-introduce the program, she maintained that the torture techniques revealed useful information—a claim disputed by independent investigations into the methods deployed. Kiriakou told Al Bawaba that one of his great fears was that Haspel could order the re-introduction of torture if she or president Trump perceives it to be useful in a time of crisis.

Kiriakou claimed that Haspel initially advocated for torture as a kind of revenge for 9/11: but “revenge is not a policy, you have to be careful not to let emotion guide your policy, and the CIA failed at that.”

In the conversation, Kiriakou also noted the sheer lack of checks and controls the U.S. government has over the CIA. “The oversight committees aren’t really oversight committees, they’re no more than cheerleading committees… for the CIA,” he explained.

Haspel was also cheered on from the intelligence community to become the director of the CIA, with the CIA’s own office of public affairs tweeting complimentary articles of Haspel’s leadership and selectively de-classifying parts of Haspel’s career in the agency that make her seem more qualified, conveniently leaving out her involvement in torture or previous advocacy on destroying evidence that torture ever took place.

“I thought that was scandalous,” Kiriakou said. “It was literally unprecedented in the history of the CIA for the office of public affairs to come out” so staunchly for a candidate. “I had never seen anything like this before” in 15 years of being in the CIA. The CIA’s office of public affairs “aren’t supposed to take a position.”

According to Kiriakou, a Haspel-led CIA will continue to push the envelope of what it can get away with in skirting laws and accountability mechanisms. “The CIA conflates patriotism with nationalism.”

“After 9/11, nationalism replaced patriotism,” where the rules of nationalism is “win at all costs,” Haspel, it appears, is willing to ‘win’ no matter if the techniques she will deploy cause regional instability abroad and predictable blowback to U.S. national security.

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