A Portrait of the CIA in Prison

John Kiriakou’s Doing Time Like a Spy: How the CIA Taught Me to Survive and Thrive in Prison paints a disturbing portrait of a U.S. prison in which Kiriakou spent time as retribution for having admitted that the CIA used torture. His ongoing whistleblowing on the state of U.S. prisons, as well as on the ways in which the U.S. government has gone after him, is as valuable as his opposition to CIA torture.

The prison as described in the book is largely unaccountable to the rule of law. Prisoners in need of medical attention are simply allowed to die, or hastened along toward death by sadistic or incompetent malpractice. Education for prisoners is nonexistent. Rehabilitation efforts are nonexistent. Slave labor is universal. Those who leave, leave having acquired additional skills and attitudes of criminals. This prison system serves not to protect, not to rehabilitate, not to compensate or make restitution, and not to reduce crime.

Kiriakou also paints what I find a disturbing portrait of himself. In his view, prison requires vicious and manipulative behavior to survive. Perhaps it does. And perhaps it is an act of significantly brave honesty for Kiriakou to show himself to us degraded by such behavior. Perhaps it is all the more so to the extent that he depicts himself enjoying it. Yet he describes his prison-survival techniques as having come straight out of his CIA work, which he engaged in for years and about which he claims unmitigated pride. In addition, Kiriakou describes his approach to writing and publishing as self-serving and manipulative, and repeatedly urges us to never trust anyone, all of which leaves one wondering.

Kiriakou is proud of having volunteered to fight in the War on Terror. His view of foreign policy, as his view of prison conduct, seems to condone killing, but not torturing. His prison skills include threatening various people with murder, but never torture. That neither murder nor torture is legal or moral, and that neither “works” on its own terms, is a blind spot in U.S. culture, not something unique to John Kiriakou.

Kiriakou claims that threatening to kill one fellow prisoner scared him into ceasing to slander Kiriakou, except for on one occasion when Kiriakou was present and the other prisoner unaware of it. But it could be the man was scared into slandering Kiriakou only when he wasn’t around, which was exactly what he’d been doing to begin with.

Anyway, it’s hard to find morality in the killing / torturing distinction. Maybe that’s the point. All is gray. Kiriakou writes that in his CIA work he didn’t mind “bending some rules,” just not the one on torture. And his prison conduct continually echoes the behavior of the government he is trying to reform.

When Kiriakou asked Senator John Kerry, for whom he had worked, to ask President Obama to commute his sentence, Kerry’s reply was “Do not ever attempt to contact me again.” When a fellow prisoner revealed to Kiriakou that he was a pedophile, Kiriakou’s reply was “Don’t ever try to speak to me again. Never. Understand?”

When the CIA proposed to in-source and escalate the use of torture, Cofer Black described what happened as “the gloves came off.” When Kiriakou wanted to escalate his attacks on a fellow prisoner, he says “it was time to take the gloves off.”

Kiriakou describes Middle Eastern countries he “served” in as “dumps.” He describes prisoners as “the scum of society,” “filthy pig,” “white trash,” “filthy midget rat,” and similar dehumanizing terms. But when Kiriakou explains why his CIA background came in so handy in prison, he refers to conflict among CIA employees, not between the CIA and foreign “enemies”:

“The CIA is full of aggressive alpha personalities. So is prison. The CIA is full of people constantly plotting against each other. So is prison. The CIA is full of people who are always jockeying for some better situation than the one they are currently in. So is prison. I’m the first to admit that in prison I was a serious jerk. I was arrogant, manipulative, and opinionated. But I was also adaptable to changing situations. I could think quickly, and I possessed a certain degree of ruthlessness necessary for self-preservation.”

That may very well be true. But was it always true in each of the examples related in the book? When Kiriakou frames a fellow prisoner for a charge of attempted escape, it’s because the prisoner is seriously annoying. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Kiriakou writes, but desperation is an emotion, not an analysis of the seriousness of a threat. The punishment Kiriakou earns the man he frames is solitary confinement for months — something that much of the world considers torture. Likewise, when Kiriakou writes that he loathed all child molesters in prison, that’s an emotion, not a survival technique.

One of the survival rules that Kiriakou borrows straight from U.S. foreign policy is: “If stability is not to your benefit, chaos is your friend.” This is working out oh so well in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, et cetera. Kiriakou seems to model the same approach in prison. He confronts a prisoner named Schaeffer over his having lied about not being a child molester. When Schaeffer responds by spreading lies about Kiriakou, Kiriakou acts as if this were the first sign of trouble, as if he’d previously been uninvolved. This is the same worldview that must dominate CIA thinking in which presumably blowback does not exist. “Afghanistan? Where’s that? Saddam, who? Never met the man!” Later, as things escalate between Kiriakou and Schaeffer, the “time to take the gloves off” arrives, framed as defense against irrational and inexplicable aggression. “Why do they hate us?”

Maybe it was inexplicable. One could hardly get through a prison sentence without encountering irrational aggression — short of doing time in a civilized prison in Norway or someplace. But is it always unavoidable? It seems in Kiriakou’s account to often be enjoyable. Kiriakou writes: “Sometimes there is real satisfaction in passive-aggression.” “Sweet revenge.” “I just wanted to see the guy lying in a pool of his own blood.” Etc.

Torture is different: “At the CIA, employees are trained to believe that nearly every moral issue is a shade of gray. But this is simply not true. Some issues are black and white — and torture is one of them,” writes Kiriakou. Under great pressure in prison, of a sort I’ve never faced, Kiriakou never writes that he had to repress any urge to torture anyone, only to murder them.

What are we to make of an account of the brutality of prison by someone who claims to have survived it by mastering its brutality, yet seems to have taken pride in that and to have learned his brutality working on secret operations we aren’t supposed to know about for a government that is supposed to somehow represent us? It’s very hard to say.

One technique Kiriakou recommends for eliciting information is stating something false in order to be corrected. Yet he notes that in prison this often fails, because you can say the craziest things and people will simply nod. Kiriakou’s next paragraph includes this:

“Near the end of my sentence, Russia sent troops into Ukraine and captured the Crimean Peninsula.”

Is the author trying his techniques on us in print? I don’t know, but I do know that most readers in the United States will simply nod.

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  • Rich

    Superb. My reluctance to sympathize with Kirakou’s plight was well-placed.

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  • Zartan

    Smart man.

    Unfortunately, this planet is planet of the apes. You will either master violence or it will master you. Mankind is a slave of those who threaten them with violence, for any infraction, of the 100,000 criminal laws, 75,000 pages of tax law, and endless Statute, Code and Ordinance. Nobody can be Trusted. Nobody is a True Friend. There is more loyalty in Prison than in Society, because those who depend on one another will -for mutual benefit- cooperate as a group, take gangs for example.

    I grew up in a tough neighborhood, fights were a daily hazard, and if you wanted to survive than you had better lean how to fight and manipulate others. People never mature out of a 6-yr old psychology. Nations ( like America and UK) are akin to school yard or Jail house Bullies. You have to learn how to evade, fight or manipulate them. Families are the same: Every Family. Simply, I have seen a-lot, and mankind`s limited knowledge and Intellect, only points a finger towards another BULLY: GOD.

    In every case, Violence and Fireworks can be a tool to achieve a goal. However, it must be used wisely. I have found that people are cowards, all, and when confronted with danger they will always obey. Governments are no different, and that is why I have been advocating people to fight back and checkmate wall street. If you control the BULLY, the world is YOURS, and I am sick of living like a Peasant because everyone is so GD Afraid. America has only to punch the BULL Y ( on Wall Street) in the NOSE and they will get all of their lunch money back.

    • awb22

      Zartan, I agree with your analysis, but not the conclusion. God is NOT a bully. He is righteous and his laws are righteous, therefore he will not break his own laws. The archenemy of God, the Devil, on the other hand, is the lawless one. He is the bully of this world, as he has dominion. Jesus Christ won the victory for us on the cross. We are saved from this world, which still belongs to the Devil until such time as the events prophesied in the Book of Revelations come to pass. Then there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

      It isn’t possible to beat the Devil on his terms, but only by the truth of God’s Word. The Devil was a liar from the beginning. There is no victory in being the biggest bully, because there is always someone else coming along who wants and will take what you have. I prefer the love of God, and in him will I place my trust.

      • Zartan

        You have your belief and style of Practice and I have mine. I am confrontational with God. I love Him too much to tell Him what He wants to Hear. Therefore, I hold Him accountable for His Creation: No different than He would hold me accountable for things I do or do not do. The Devil is Gods Dog. If God lets Him off the Leash … Well, Will He answer my Prayers or “Give me Immense Power” to War Against the Devil? NO. He wants the devil to operate “unknown” so people are molested worse than children. I rebuke that evil.

        The Devil can be beaten, easily, but mankind lacks the discipline. God refuses to answer prayers, because He has some sort of “SICK” ( GOD Created Evil) self-fulfilling prophecy addiction. I keep trying to tell HIM ( in prayer) that HE is “GOD” not a Prophet! Talk about having problems? God Has them too.

        People are generally afraid of the BULLY, but I always stood up to the BULLY, ( no matter what the cost) and you know, I always earned the Bullies Respect. The Devil is a Light-weight who was affirmative actioned, by GOD, to have “sick and perverse powers” over mankind. I want a REFUND. I never asked GOD for “anything.” I never agreed to this MESS. And, I am not going to be Cannon Fodder for HIS BEAST that HE let off the LEASH!

        See, Comrade, IF you read the Whole Bible, than You will know ” we are not Angels, but Rank Above them.” The Book of Enoch Clearly Shows this Reality. “WE have Authority to Question and Challenge God.” I intend to be the BEST, Hopefully? God cannot PEE on me and Tell me its Raining … I evolved. I do not fear Death or Hell, and I never had anything “GOOD” so Heaven ( the Bribe) does not Entice me. I cannot be Bought or Sold. And, I will fight to the end and into All Eternity if Necessary.

        • awb22

          I base my belief and practice on the canonized scripture, old and new testament.

          Anything else is subject to error. On what do you base your belief, your imagination? You personal experience? Neither of these are guarantors of the truth.

          I read the bible, and I know that we were made a little below God. I also have a standard for truth, which is his word. You sound like an angel who lost it’s first place, i.e. a devil spirit. They, too, know the truth, and it makes them tremble.

          • Zartan

            I follow God, not Man. Roman Emperors had their hands all over the scripture and cast them to the four winds. Paul the Murderer was an Agent of Rome. If you want to find God, you need to search, because HE is not contained ( of confined) to a Book.

            And, if you look at the soul of mankind (hideous) you had better think “real hard” about that first place contest. God cannot trust the Heavens to a Bunch of Child Molesters! Mankind is too Proud and Sure of itself, Stubborn, Rebellious, Idolatrous and Spoiled Rotten! Why even the Angels were in RAPE Danger in Sodom! I could imagine America, today, the Angels would be sold into the Porn Industry! Can God trust Mankind … NO.

            I do not side with the Fallen, but I would defend them, ( they do have a case, God was too harsh) before that stink of a manifestation that calls itself mankind. And, before you get hysterical ( I forgave my enemies, but I will not lie for them) think about all the SINS and CRIMES committed in the time it took to write this simple construct. Mankind may be limited to this earth. Jesus most likely repented to His Father over man. WE do not see the hand of Judgement, and most likely, we never will. Sad.

          • awb22

            The bible was canonized by the end of the 1st Century, and likely had zero influence from Rome, and Christians were persecuted by Rome through the 3rd century. It was the 3rd century that brought pagan practices into the church.

            I adhere to the doctrine of the 1st century church, as given in the book of acts and the epistles.

            Do you confess Jesus as Lord and Christ? You know a lot about scripture, but again, so does the Devil.

          • Zartan

            Roman Emperors ( and its continuation: EL POPE/Vatican) Edited and Approved of “everything,” and that is how you get a Murderer of Christians ( Paul) telling Christians to Serve Rome! They Made Jesus into a Tax Collector! Paul “should” have been Stoned and the Book of Romans “should” have been Burned. They are still meddling with scripture, today!

            The Book of Enoch “predates” Jesus and the Bible, and Enoch is the first to mention Jesus ( Son of Man) . Without Enoch Biblical Scripture makes NO Sense. EL PEPE knew what books and verses to throw away! Enoch gives the details of why Lucifer Rebelled — because of mankind — and He never wanted to be over God; which was total nonsense taught by a deceived Church.

            Satan wants to be Forgiven and “begged” Enoch to ask God for forgiveness for Him. God Declined. This is why they ( the fallen) HATE MANKIND. Only when the whole truth is known do you have understanding. Now, if GOD does not want to FORGIVE … We ( naturally, we suffer, not HIM) will get Nuclear War and Total Destruction of Planet Earth. The Fallen are in Control Here. The Old Testament ( Genesis) Verifies and Validates Enoch.

            The Pope was working for Demons when he decided that He was holier than Enoch; So, today, many are deceived and do not know the Truth. They love and follow governments owned by Satan.

            Yes, I believe in Jesus.

            However, that is not the Golden Magic Key to the Kingdom. Satan knows Jesus is Lord too. However, Accordingly, “Satan wanted JESUS to bow down to Him,” and if He (JESUS) did so, All the Earthly Kingdoms would have been given to HIM.

            Jesus Declined.

            Only Enoch explains why this would happen. I do not have all the answers, but we ” mankind” are not fit to govern and command angels. Why would God do such? I have many questions and the Bible has no answers!

          • awb22

            I’m not familiar with the book of enoch, so I’m relying completely on what you’ve stated about it. I didn’t ask if you believe in Jesus, do you confess him as Lord and Christ, the son of God? God put all things under him, however, confessing Jesus as Lord is not the same as believing he is Lord. Of course, he is, but is he YOUR Lord?

            I’m somewhat familiar with Satan’s rebellion against God. It may well have been when God revealed his plan for creation to Lucifer, who was second in command in heaven. Whatever the reason, it rendered the cosmos without form and void, and there begins verse 2 of the book of genesis.

            Man, in his redeemed state, most certainly is fit to govern and command angels, and bible has ALL of the answers, whether you agree or like them. The catch is we live in a fallen world, which will only be set straight by the return of Lord in glory, and the events prophesied in the book of revelations. Anything else or less is speculation. While the book of enoch may be informative, it’s not authoritative.

          • Zartan

            No Book is an Authority: Too many books have been fooled with and the truth scattered to the four winds. They are trying to modify text, today, and it is becoming harder to translate meaning. How many versions of the Bible? Simply, mankind has been editing religious text from the beginning. God Allowed His Son to be Crucified and His Prophets to be Sawed In Half. I love God, but I am not a FOOL. Trusting God is not Wise. Having faith is different, because while I may know better than to Trust ( too many examples) I retain the faith to be angry with God. Before you chastise me, remember, this is all a Test and God knows He is being Harsh, akin to a King testing his subjects. Will he choose the ones “who say pleasing things to get something” or will He choose those who Curse at Him but tell the Truth “regardless” of their personal safety? Who asks God for Death?

            Mankind is totally useless, unless God transforms them and takes away His curse. Jesus being Lord is a Voluntary Statement: We do not know, until we meet Him, truthfully, so who Knows? I have seen nothing but evil in mankind, so I cannot trust “Jesus” until I meet Him, Get Answers, and have Understanding. Mankind has made blaspheme of His name, why, they even made Him a Tax Collector!

            I would go with GOD, ( I accept Gods Authority) but who is to say, GOD wants ME? We all think too much of ourselves and I truthfully do not feel comfortable presuming “anything.” I see how I am treated on Earth, and I thank GOD, because it has taught me well. I will expect nothing in Heaven. Fear has been Totally cast out of me. Sure, there is a GOD and HE is Lord. However, Only at Judgement will said items be secured. People may pay lip service, but when they learn the truth, simply, they will not want to be with JESUS.

            I cannot speak for “anyone” except myself, however, we know next to nothing about GOD, except lies peddled to us for profit. We need to learn from Him.

          • awb22

            We have as close to the original texts as we’re ever going to have, barring some new discovery. Why concern yourself with versions? Pick one and learn it. I prefer the English Standard Version.

            Mankind is NOT totally useless, but rather are useful to the extend they do God’s will. We only know God through his Son, who was made known by his Word.

            If you know God, then you know his Son. You can’t know one without knowing the other. You may accept God’s authority, but if you don’t accept the authority of Christ, whom God made head of all things, excepting himself, then you don’t know God, even though you say you do.

            We don’t have to wait for the resurrection to know God’s will. We know it because he sent his Son, and we know his Word. You can’t ignore either, and say you know him. You can wait, but it will be to your detriment.

            I’m not trying to convince you of anything, however, neither will let false statements go unanswered.

          • Zartan

            Mankind has Destroyed Gods Creation. Mankind is actually, opposed, to Gods Creation. You only need to look to wall street and you will find “Even the souls of men, in her vaults.” -Revelation 19.

            I have not made “any” false statements. Those who think they know God could be very disappointed to find “in the end” that the god they knew was Satan. He plays God rather well. I would rather hold my opinions on the matter for God to Judge. I do not use God for Vanity and I will never be accused of such. I prefer it to be so. I stand “alone” and hopefully, in a class of my own, because I will not stand with mankind of the fallen, nor will I be tricked into serving either.

          • Zartan

            Oh, and In closing … I would recommend that you read the Book of Enoch, it is very difficult reading, however, it is written in metaphors and symbolism which can yield answers if studied correctly. Some of the Other Books: “edited/censored” by the POPE are worth reading too, because the truth is out there “hidden” and one must search to find it. I would never allow a religion to guide me when I know JESUS is hated by this world. -John 2:15. We are supposed to be at War with TPTB.

          • awb22

            “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12 ESV)

            I don’t need to read the book of enoch, it’s hard enough keeping up with the cannon. I don’t see how that book can be any less edited or censored, although I reject the notion that any censoring has taken place, except in a few places, which are known to be forgeries, and these forgeries are notably in support of the false doctrine of the trinity, which I reject.

            It’s been a pleasure communicating with you, and I wish you God’s best.

          • Zartan

            We cannot do a damn thing about the Powers, but we can Halt and Control the Flesh they use. Proper understanding is necessary ( research and self-educating) or JESUS ends up being a Tax Collector ,and, Paul tells you to OBEY and Serve Rome ( Satan`s Governments). The Church serves the US government. US government is identified in Revelation 18. Those who want to kill the bible as a dead work, well, they are of Satan.

            However , If you believe the book is “uncensored” than you will be in the ranks of those who were deceived. Jesus spoke in metaphor for a reason, and books were “coded and encrypted” like Revelation for a reason. God cannot even protect Children down here, ( yes, I said it and it is true) much less a book.I am a realist, and not many tricks get past me. Enoch was censored along with other books so the Satanic Pope could turn Jesus into a Tax Collector and Enslave the Masses. If you trust in the Church ( earthly church) you might as well trust Satan.

            Yes, it has been good communicating with you too, take care, and God Bless.

          • awb22

            Mankind, left to himself, would probably be OK. However, that isn’t reality given the existence of the Devil. Neither is that God’s plan for mankind. What did the world look like prior to the first sin? We don’t know. We only know it became without form and void, Gen 1:2. The universe as we know it came into being after Lucifer rebelled against God. God’s plan for man was to have dominion over all that God created. Man committed treason against God, and lived in an unredeemed state until Christ won the victory for us on Calvary. Then God raised him from the dead and set him at his own right hand.

            We are commanded to confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and as such, be saved, made whole, from the world of sin. If you don’t acknowledge Jesus as YOUR Lord, then you are living outside the will of God, which is for every man to be saved AND come to a complete knowledge of him.

            If you don’t confess Jesus as Lord, then you’re missing the point, and that, my friend, is a falsehood.

  • “He confronts a prisoner named Schaeffer over his having lied about not being a child molester. When Schaeffer responds by spreading lies about Kiriakou, Kiriakou acts as if this were the first sign of trouble, as if he’d previously been uninvolved. This is the same worldview that must dominate CIA thinking in which presumably blowback does not exist. ‘Afghanistan? Where’s that? Saddam, who? Never met the man!’ Later, as things escalate between Kiriakou and Schaeffer, the ‘time to take the gloves off’ arrives, framed as defense against irrational and inexplicable aggression. ‘Why do they hate us?’”

    It seems like the intelligence community has some sort of weird delusional disorder…and a lot of other people in the US seem to have it, as well.

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  • awb22

    Anyone who has ever hunted knows the distinction between killing and torture. The CIA and the State Department have operated outside the bounds for so long, they’ve lost their legitimacy.

    The intelligence community is exhibiting exactly the type of behavior one would expect from an out of control federal bureacracy. All the more reason to support Trump’s fight to the death with the deep state.