From 1990 until March 2004, first as an analyst, and later as a counterterrorism operations officer, John served in the Central Intelligence Agency. He spent much of his early career working on Iraq and the Persian Gulf, and he spent more than two years living on the Arabian Peninsula. In 1997 he changed career tracks from analysis to operations and moved to Athens, Greece, where he worked against the notorious terrorist group “Revolutionary Organization 17 November.” He became chief of counterterrorist operations in Pakistan following the September 11 attacks, and his tour culminated in the March 2002 capture of Abu Zubaydah, then believed to be al-Qa’ida’s third-ranking official.
Bruce Reidel in the Forward to John’s book, The Reluctant Spy, said of John’s time as an analyst: “John was a crucial part of my team that was following the crisis (the first Gulf War) around the clock from the CIA’s watch office. I came to respect his judgment and knew I could rely on the analysis and information he gave me.”
Bruce Reidel and John Kiriakou were both at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in June 1996 within hours after Hezbollah terrorists blew up a U.S. Air Force barracks and killed and wounded dozens of people. This event was harbinger of things to come.
In the early 2000s, much of the CIA focus was fighting al-Qaeda, a dangerous and difficult adversary to find and stop. There were opportunities for success as John led one in a series of dramatic takedown that offered the promise of reaching the top of al-Qaeda’s leadership. But that focus was diverted to an unnecessary war in Iraq. Instead of going after al-Qaeda, Sadam Hussein became the target and the intelligence resources was misused by the powers in charge at the time.
John joined the CIA less than two years after completing graduate school. Although hired as an analyst, John wound up spending much of his career in the Directorate of Operations—the clandestine spy service—running foreign agents, tracking down bad guys, risking his life in the service of CIA. His commitment to the CIA was simply based on his belief that his service made the country a safer place.
John to this day feels proud of his service to the country. He chose not to participate in the agency’s program to use what was called “enhanced interrogation techniques” on high-profile al-Qaeda detainees, including the man captured by the counterterrorism team he headed in Pakistan. In the spring of 2009, Americans would learn from four declassified Justice Department memos what that CIA interrogation really involved–Torture. That debate continues today.
John has given us an honest account of the CIA through the eyes of a former analyst and operative whose experiences suggest that America’s spy service often does a better job than the critics think. At the same time, his portrayal of the CIA’s torture policy is also juxtaposed with the consequences of his going public with these actions.