Robert Scheer SI Podcast

John Kiriakou: A Former CIA Mideast Expert’s View of the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis

The CIA torture whistleblower offers expert insight into Israel’s most recent attacks on the Palestinian territories on this week’s “Scheer Intelligence.”
John Kiriakou.
John Kiriakou. [Photo by Troy Page]

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Editor’s Note: A ceasefire was declared on May 21 between Israel and Gaza. While this episode, recorded on May 13, details a crisis that has currently come to a halt, the conversation touches on far-reaching ongoing issues in the region.

John Kiriakou’s story as an Arabic-speaking former CIA agent and CIA torture whistleblower has taken a number of turns throughout his life, including a prison sentence that sent a wrecking ball through his career and personal life. During his time with the intelligence agency, however, he spent significant periods of time in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other parts of the Middle East on a quest to round up Al-Qaeda militants during the “War on Terror.” Kiriakou’s experience gives him a unique insight into the current crisis in the Palestinian territories and Israel with violence continuing to escalate as Israel fires more than 100 bombs on Gaza. So far the most recent attacks on Gaza have killed at least 230 people, including more than 100 women and children, while in Israel, 12 people, including two children, have been killed. 

On this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” Kiriakou joins host Robert Scheer to discuss the latest escalation of the decades-long conflict rooted in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. At the heart of the problem, according to Kiriakou, is also the fact that the general framework for conversations about Israel is often skewed due to the misconception that Palestinians and other Arabs pose a “threat to Israel” currently. 

“From the very beginning of my career at the CIA, I realized that the [threat-against-Israel narrative] was nonsense,” says Kiriakou. “Even as early as 1990 on my first trip to Saudi Arabia, no one ever mentioned Israel to me. They were obsessed with Iran [because] their existential threat was Iran. And then when you get further afield, like Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Oman–none of those countries have any problems with Israel.

“The reason why the Israelis are always at war is because they run what comes down to an apartheid state,” he concludes. “They oppress the Palestinian people. Whether they like it or not, they’re going to have to share that land. […] The fact of the matter is, they’re going to have to give something to the Palestinians. You cannot have a South Africa-style apartheid regime–which is what they have right now–[and] expect that everything is just going to be milk and honey.” 

Scheer, who reported from Israel during the the Six-Day War, offers his perspective on how the legacy of the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories is not only devastating Palestinians, but corroding Israeli society. 

“One of the great ironies of history, really, [is that] in fact the Palestinians are in the position that, historically, the Jews were in,” says Scheer. “They’re in a hostile diaspora, they are oppressed in this diaspora. Then, ironically, the greatest crime of modern history–the extermination of Jewish people–which happens in the Christian nation of Germany and throughout Eastern Europe, somehow gets visited upon the Palestinians, as if they’re responsible for it all. Then it gets extended into this ‘War on Terror’ [as if] they’re somehow responsible for terrorism financed by Saudi Arabia…”

The former CIA agent explores how the “War on Terror” bled into the Palestinian territories and also reveals that within the CIA , he witnessed a “great deal of respect” for Palestinians while receiving many warnings regarding covert Israeli intelligence maneuverings within the U.S. Listen to the full conversation between Kiriakou and Scheer as the two discuss the ongoing violence in the region, as well as the fallout from Kiriakou’s whistleblowing. 


Robert Scheer

Joshua Scheer

Natasha Hakimi Zapata 

Lucy Berbeo 


  1. Since time began this kind of shit has been happening everywhere to people with less money than the ruling classes. When will wake up to the fact this is psychopathic behavior, NOT HUMAN BEHAVIOR? To hurt and kill others for power or profit is psychopathic behavior. Ruling class psychopaths (usually armed & rich) have convinced us humans their behavior is part of human behavior. They hide the truth of their nasty social violence as human actions, to give psychopaths the excuse they are humans protected by human rights
    Antisocial, antihuman, predatory psychopathic behavior is not human behavior. No one really knows what human behavior is because it has always been swamped over by psychopathic behavior, as a result humans accept psychopathic behavior as part of their own.
    We must raise up, emancipate human behavior and denigrate psychopaths as NOT HUMAN behavior As long as we accept psychopathic behavior as OK the world will end soon Psychopaths like war, power over others and want what they win at anyone’s expense You can see their terrifying work in the destruction of Palestine, the disallowing of healthcare in the US, the fucked up US lobbying system, the supreme court, fascism, climate destruction equality and millions of lives and the denial of regular people’s rights and advantages. The psychopaths rule . You doubt it? see where all the money goes– the people get nothing and those who hurt others/psychopaths fget everything. A change in our human moral perspective must happen soon or we will all be killed to make way for the coming of psychopath’s trillionaires.

    1. Christoper Judges,

      I completely agree with your assessment.

      At this point (for the first time in human history), EIGHT MEN control as much wealth as half of the planet’s population. If things were actually improving for those 3 .5+ billion people, reasonable people might be able to consider such inequity as somehow acceptable. Clearly it is not, and things are only getting worse.

  2. Well-read people no longer buy one-sided stories like yours moreover (“ironically”…) comparing the “position” ? of the Palestinians to that of the Jews is a blatant insult to the nazis’ “unique savoir-faire” , the one of industrially exterminating a people called “The Jews” enduring uninterrupted world-wide archaic hatred. A propos, the Palestinian question should not be mixed up with “The Jews” . There is a growing number of people – including many Palestinians, who cannot openly speak-up, as well as many European Muslim citizens, condemned to shut up, if not, would they dare, forced to live under state protection ! Gaza was given to the Palestinians, who voted (or were forced to ?) for toxic “leaders” making the promising annoucement to wipe Israel off the map ! Terrorizing their own people, used as human shields to weaken Israel’s image. We should be given comparative stories to read such as the hell Muslim people are going through in so many different Arab countries. An endless list of unreported tragedies compared to the Palestinian focus fed on the “unbearable” existence of the only one ennemy, Israël ? A legitimate state, built into a democracy, was declared war from the first day of its existence. Pushed into having to build walls in the nineties after a peace treaty seemed to stand a good chance to succeed and Palestinian terrorists started to blow up the country. There is no other country in the world treated that way. A growing number are no longer blindly siding the Palestinian propaganda, whom’s unglorious leaders have done nothing grand to write home about other than leaving behind memorable chaos locally and elsewhere, transforming Lebanon into Iran’s Hezbollah outpost “to defend” itself against the ennemy, Israël, who’s doing nothing else than defending itself.

    1. When the Israeli Air Force drops bombs or fires missiles in unprovoked military attacks against Syria and Iran, it is in no way “defending itself.” Please feel free to rationalize your support for such acts of aggression in any way you choose, but please don’t expect agreement from those capable of critical thought.

      During the past two weeks, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) used American military hardware (paid for by American taxpayers) to intentionally target known civilian homes, businesses, and refugee camps within Gaza, and then had the temerity to state at a press conference, that providing advance warnings to innocent people prior to dropping ordinance on their location… was not “feasible.” I call BS on that!

      Feasibility is not a condition based upon choice. Especially when Israel is actually REQUIRED to protect the lives and property of all those living within the occupied territories, under provisions clearly stated within the Geneva Conventions. (Although, this is not to say that the U.S. ever lived up to such conditions during its occupations of South Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria.)

      Instead of valuing innocent Palestinian life, the IDF chose another path. Afterward, it denied the clear fact that there WAS an option to prevent the unnecessary death and suffering it imposed upon innocent civilians using American military hardware. Who knows, perhaps such venal and self-serving military rationalizations are the very reason some would choose to draw comparisons with the Nazis?


    2. You’ve done an excellent job of pushing Israeli propaganda. Are you paid of a volunteer?

    3. “We should be given comparative stories to read such as the hell Muslim people are going through in so many different Arab countries.”

      If you were as well-read as you claim to be, you wouldn’t attempt to deflect the crimes of the Israeli government by claiming there isn’t enough coverage of Muslim countries perpetrating human rights abuses. Jamal Khashoggi was tortured and dismembered for speaking out against Saudi Arabia- a close ally of Israel. This was one of the biggest stories of 2018, and you didn’t have to look hard to find it. These “what about other countries/religions who abuse people” deflection tactics don’t work on anyone with their eyes open.

      “Pushed into having to build walls…There is no other country in the world treated that way.”

      Like the border walls that separate Mexico from what was formerly Mexico? Go renew your library card and read some history books because your well-read status has been revoked.

      Palestine has no army, no navy, and no air force. So let’s also revoke the victim status of a state that receives 38 billion dollars a year in military aid from the U.S, enabling F35’s to bomb densely populated cities from the sky while it’s Iron Dome intercepts thousands of unguided rockets. This is to say nothing of the atrocities of Israeli ground-troops who are currently being investigated for war crimes by the UN.

  3. Robert Scheer : “One of the great ironies…”. I’ve been making this historical observation nearly verbatim lately. No self congratulation, ; just nice to here this from such an impressive figure as Mr. Scheer. The parallels between Israel’s oppression of and atrocities against the Palestinian people and the genocidal madness of The Third Reich are the most lethal of ironies.

  4. Thank you for providing an inside look at the systemic discrimination against the Palestinian people inside the U.S. government, which continues to dominate foreign policy even to this day.

    It appears that I am the first person to comment on this post as I listen to the interview. I am hopeful that this is not be the case… but sadly, it would not come as a great surprise, if in fact that is true.

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