Exclusive Interview With John Kiriakou – CIA Whistleblower: Prelude

Exclusive Interview With John Kiriakou – CIA Whistleblower:

Prelude: Here we set the stage for our conversation with John Kiriakou, former CIA anti-terror agent turned whistleblower who served almost two years in prison for confirming the CIA tortured prisoners in the “War On Terror.”

Kiriakou will visit North Carolina October 27-29, and make several public appearances. (Full schedule below.) This excerpt is from his 2010 book,  The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War On Terror.  (More on his book here.)



(In the next post, our exclusive conversation begins.)

John Kiriakou

IN EARLY 2000, Stephen Saunders arrived in Athens as the new defense attaché at the British Embassy.

Stephen was an engaging guy, popular within the diplomatic community and among Western military and intelligence figures. One night at a party, we got to talking about security precautions; Saunders was gently needling me about my car, the BMW 540, which was fully armored, and about the two handguns I always carried. And the body armor the Brits’ American cousins sometimes wore. “You Americans, you’re so obsessed with security,” Saunders said. “Nothing’s going to happen to you here. This is Greece! This is an EU country. This is a NATO country.” 

Saunders was a fifty-three-year-old brigadier, the equivalent of an American one-star general, a worldly man who should have had a keen appreciation of the risks to Brits and Americans in Greece. Maybe he was joking, but I didn’t think so at the time. “You guys, you live in a dream world,” I told him. “If you think just because it’s EU and NATO and pretty here that they’re not going to kill you, you’re crazier than I am.” We laughed and turned to another subject. 

A few weeks later, having returned to Athens from an assignment elsewhere in the region, I was driving down Kifissias Avenue, a straight, ten-mile shot down the hillside from my house to my office. Traffic was always heavy, but on this day, it seemed as bad as anything I’d seen.  The radio station was reporting a traffic incident of some sort and urging drivers to take alternative routes. But any alternative would have required a huge detour, so I kept moving forward as best I could. The next radio report described the scene ahead as a “criminal incident” that had closed two of the three lanes on my side of the road. . . .

As I drew closer, I could see the plate was YBH. For a moment, though, I forgot that the letters designated a British car; instead, I assumed a terrorist saw the transposed letters, mistakenly thought it was an American, and popped some innocent Greek instead of his imagined target. A second later, it dawned on me that it was a British car, a white Rover, and that it belonged to Stephen Saunders. 

Saunders had been driving to work alone on Kifissias Avenue at eight in the morning when two masked gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire after Stephen stopped in heavy traffic. One of the weapons of choice was a .45 pistol, the Welch .45, and the gunmen got away by snaking their motorcycle through traffic. Saunders died at a nearby hospital later that morning. . . .

Stephen Saunders, inset. He was shot dead while driving to work on on June 8, 2000. His widow, Heather, awaits the arrival of his coffin in London.

After the Saunders assassination, everyone waited for the inevitable communiqué from 17 November [the major Greek terror group]. . . . The group stayed true to form and took its grievances public in early August 2000. It was the usual stuff, except for a passage that snapped my head back and caught the attention of my bosses. . . . “We saw the big spy [Kiriakou], but he was in an armored car and we knew that he was armed. So we elected to carry out the sentence on the war criminal Saunders.” 

I had always been so careful. I never took the same route two days in a row. I always left the office at a different time, always reported suspicious vehicles. How the hell did they find me? 

Burt [my boss] made it plain that I had no choice: He expected me to clear out of Dodge as quickly as I could. The bad guys knew who I was. They knew where I lived, which was only two blocks from Saunders. They knew the particulars of my automobile. They knew I carried guns at all times. 

. . . Burt complimented me on my work during this assignment. . . . “But it’s over for you here,” my boss told me. “They know too much about you. You’ve got to go.” I was on a flight to New York the next day.

Next: Part One of An Exclusive Interview With John Kiriakou. Read it here.

John Kiriakou’s NC Schedule:

Tues., Oct. 27, 2015

  • Noon:  The State of Things, WUNC Radio
  • 2:00 pm talk, Great Hall, North Carolina Central University Law School, Turner Law Bldg, 640 Nelson Street, Durham. Free and open to the public; more info at 919-599-1963.
  • 7:15 pm talk- “Keeping Government Honest: Whistleblowers, Torture, and America’s War on Terror.” Freedom Forum Room, 2nd floor of Carroll Hall, School of Media & Journalism, UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Wed., Oct. 28, 2015

• 11:00 AM- Guilford College, Greensboro. Luncheon (buy your own) with informal discussion, gather at 11:00 a.m. in the Atrium of Founders Hall; followed at

• 1:30 pm by a talk in the Moon Room of Dana Auditorium. Free and open to the public. Sponsor: Guilford College Friends Center.

  • 7:00 pm talk, “Blowing the Whistle on CIA Torture,” at Quaker House, 223 Hillside Ave., Fayetteville.  Sponsor: Quaker House.

Thurs., Oct. 29, 2015

  • 1:10-2:10 pm talk- NCSU Peace & Justice Forum, Talley Student Union, Room 3285, NCSU. Sponsor: Presbyterian Campus Ministry of Raleigh. All welcome.
  • 7:00 pm talk, “The American Legacy of Torture,” NCSU, Park Shops 210 (2310 Stinson Drive, Raleigh). 
  • More schedule details here.

3 thoughts on “Exclusive Interview With John Kiriakou – CIA Whistleblower: Prelude”

    1. Linda– Yes, it IS open to the public. I’m not sure what the college charges for lunch; I think it’s about $10; there is NO CHARGE for admission to either the luncheon session, or his talk after the luncheon, which will be in the same building (Founders Hall), but in a different room. Come on over!

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