Consortium News John Kiriakou Whistleblowers

JOHN KIRIAKOU: A Whistleblower’s Agony

Denying Joshua Schulte bail because of a fear that he might reveal classified information is one thing. Subjecting him to torture is another.
(Vectorportal, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By John Kiriakou / Consortium News

A C.I.A. whistleblower languishes awaiting trial in a federal prison under inhumane conditions and almost nobody is paying attention. 

Joshua Schulte is a former C.I.A. hacker, one of those computer geniuses whose job it is to work his way into the computer systems of our country’s enemies in support of some of the most highly-classified operations the C.I.A. carries out. 

The government believes that Schulte was a malcontent who released to WikiLeaks in 2017 the equivalent of 2 billion pages of top secret C.I.A. data with code names like Brutal Kangaroo, AngerQuake and McNugget. 

These programs, collectively known as Vault 7, were custom-made techniques used to compromise Wifi networks, hack into Skype, defeat anti-virus software and even hack into smart TVs and the guidance systems in cars.  They were the C.I.A.’s modern-day crown jewels.  One senior C.I.A. officer likened the revelations to “a modern-day Pearl Harbor.”

The C.I.A. accused Schulte of stealing the data in 2016 and of sending it to WikiLeaks in 2017.  He was eventually charged with 13 felonies, mostly related to the Espionage Act.  He was later charged with a number of additional felonies related to child pornography, accusations that he has adamantly denied. 

Schulte went to trial in New York in early 2020 with the Justice Department accusing him of “the single biggest leak of classified national defense information in the history of the C.I.A.” 

After four weeks of testimony and six days of jury deliberation, he was found guilty of contempt of court and making a false statement, both minor charges for which federal sentencing guidelines call for imprisonment of zero-to-six months.  The jury deadlocked on all other counts, and the judge declared a mistrial.  Schulte remains in prison awaiting retrial.  He has been incarcerated since October 2018.

Treated Differently 

Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City. (Jim Henderson, CC0, Wikimedia Commons)

Schulte is not treated like other prisoners in the facility where he is being held, New York City’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).  When he goes to court, for example, he is required to wear shackles around his ankles and chains around his waist to which his handcuffed hands are attached. His hands are then enclosed in a steel box that is itself locked separately. 

In the Justice Department’s classified conference room, where he is required to meet his attorneys, he is chained to an eye bolt in the floor, just as the C.I.A. restrains Al-Qaeda prisoners during their interrogations.  He is not permitted to use the restroom during these visits.  His guards give him a plastic bag at the start of the meetings, and if he has to go to the bathroom, he must urinate and defecate in the bag.

Schulte’s day-to-day existence is far more difficult.  First, he has been subject to “Special Administrative Measures” (SAMs) since his arrest.  He is in solitary confinement in a cage in a small concrete box the size of a standard parking space 24 hours a day.  He is allowed two showers a week and is not permitted to use the phone or email.  He is not permitted to watch television or to listen to the radio.  He is not permitted to have visitors other than his attorneys.  He is not permitted to make purchases from the commissary.

How to Complain

There is a mechanism within the federal Bureau of Prisons by which to complain about these conditions.  A prisoner must first fill out a form BP-8 ½, which goes to the person you are accusing of violating your rights, saying, “Hey, you violated my rights.”  The response, of course, will be “No I didn’t.” 

Main office of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C. (AgnosticPreachersKid, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

You then have 14 days to file a Form BP-9, which goes to the warden.  The warden, not surprisingly, almost always supports his staff member.  You then have 60 days to file a Form BP-10, which goes to the Bureau of Prisons regional office.  Once the prisoner loses there, which is almost guaranteed, he can file a Form BP-11, which goes to the Bureau of Prisons headquarters in Washington.  No prisoner ever wins at BOP headquarters.

There are also ways in which the prisoner is routinely stymied in an attempt to file a complaint.  The filing of every form is time-sensitive, so the warden and others will withhold their responses, backdate them and then send the responses at a point when the prisoner only has a day or two to respond.  Since it’s not possible to get it done in time, it’s dismissed as “not responsive in a timely fashion.” 

The prisoner has no recourse because the federal courts have ruled that a prisoner must exhaust the “administrative complaint process” before going to the courts.  But if the complaint is dismissed by the BOP as “not responsive” because of time, he’s out of luck.

Schulte isn’t complaining just about the heavy-handed circumstances of his incarceration.  He’s complaining about what his attorneys argue amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, perhaps torture.  They noted in a recent lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons that Schulte is:

“locked in a cage in a concrete box the size of a parking space with purposefully obstructed views of outside, the cages are filthy and infested with rodents, rodent droppings, cockroaches and mold; there is no heating or air conditioning in the cages, there is no functioning plumbing, the lights burn brightly 24 hours per day, and the inmates are denied normal visitation, access to books and legal material, medical care, and dental care.  All attorney-client privilege is also void as the prison confiscates, opens, and reads all legal mail.  The process imposed is arbitrary and not tailored to any legitimate government interest.” 

The attorneys add that,

“No matter what crime an individual is alleged to have committed, the United States Constitution grants all a presumption of innocence.  Indeed, no American wants to be treated like a caged animal if accused of a crime — dependent, deserted, dehumanized, demoralized, and detained.”

That is exactly what Joshua Schulte is.  He’s dependent, deserted, dehumanized, demoralized, and detained.  He hasn’t seen an open window in more than two years.  He hasn’t seen a doctor for his congenital heart defect in that period, either.  He hasn’t seen a dentist.  Denying him bail because of a fear that he might reveal classified information is one thing.  Torture is another. 

How does it protect the national security to not allow him to see the sky for years at a time?  How does it protect the national security to not allow him to see a doctor or dentist?  How does forbidding him to read protect the national security?  It doesn’t.  It just proves that the United States has no respect for human rights or for the rule of law.  As the meme goes, “Prove me wrong.”

John Kiriakou

John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. analyst and case officer, former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former counterterrorism consultant. While employed by the C.I.A., he was involved in critical counterterrorism missions following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but refused to be trained in so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” After leaving the C.I.A., Kiriakou appeared on ABC News in an interview with Brian Ross, during which he became the first former C.I.A. officer to confirm that the agency waterboarded detainees and label waterboarding as torture. Kiriakou’s interview revealed that this practice was not just the result of a few rogue agents, but was official U.S. policy approved at the highest levels of the government.


  1. Would that we had more whistleblowers, but the price seems too high to pay.

    Just go along to get along. A cog in the collective.

  2. This is an international violation. He is a political prisoner, and should be recognised as such by every human rights organisation.

    1. This is a viable course of action IMO. The pathway to getting the international community involved in bringing pressure to bear thru a number of venues is a GREAT IDEA. The US State Dept. starting to get questions from Doctors wothout Borders?

  3. Horrific and unacceptable. I’ve forwarded this newsletter to Amnesty International Canada, and very much they and other human rights organizations will take up his case and demand humane treatment for Joshua Schulte

  4. Like all crimes of EMPIRE the truth-tellers and exposers of EMPIRE, whether young college students, visionaries, philosophical revolutionaries, or the growing cohorts of social democrats and democratic socialist (like Albert Einstein in his 1949 letter to the weak-minded and manipulateable un-Truman) — who was inserted into that position by the ‘National Security State’, “Double Government” [Michael Glennon] via EMPIRE — will ultimately be regurgitated from the bowels of our insane Empire of greed, destruction, and death.

    As was said of Philadelphia by W. C. Fields — “there’s no there there” only a dead EMPIRE.

    1. Gertrude Stein said it about Oakland, where she grew up. There are now big metal signs on one road into the city that say “Here” and “There.”

  5. There is no comment that comes even close to this horror. This is also what awaits Julian Assange if he is extradited to the US. The US no longer has any respect for legality, the minimum expected of any government. Power is everything. Moral conscience, if it ever was truly present, went down the drain long ago. No wonder there is so much violence outside, when there is such excrutiating pain inflicted in secrecy.

    Thank you for continuing to speak out.

  6. There is no comment that comes even close to this horror. This is also what awaits Julian Assange if he is extradited to the US. Power is everything. Moral conscience went down the drain long ago. No wonder there is so much violence in plain site, when there is such excrutiating pain inflicted in secrecy.

    Thank you, John, for continuing to speak out.

  7. There is no comment that comes even close to this horror. This is also what awaits Julian Assange if he is extradited to the US. No wonder there is so much violence outside, when there is such excrutiating pain inflicted in secrecy.

    Thank you, thank you for continuing to speak out.

  8. Yet another tragic story and a symptom of our broken society.
    And we dare to judge others for their human rights abuses!

  9. A microcosm of American exceptionalism. How can such cruelty be justified? It can’t. Torture. Absolutely.

    Hue and cry over the imprisonment of January 6 insurrectionists as ‘political prisoners’. Video evidence. Where’s the evidence here?

    Sent to Wikileaks? Well we’ve taken care of that with Julian Assage enjoying similar treatment.

    Thank you John Kiriakou for bringing this to the thin crack where light is still able to pass through. And no one better qualified to write knowledgeably about the subject from personal experience. and thorough research.

  10. I guess this guy is not as charismatic as Assange. I have written some stuff on this topic for those who like good stories and for those who like good reasoning.

    I have also formulated a rule for whistleblowers. Unless the party you are giving the information to has the power to , one, stop the abuse you are reporting, and two, protect you, do not do it.

  11. Torture? You bet. America’s prison system with its solitary confinement is sadistic to the extreme. It needs to be fully eliminated at the State, Federal and International levels. State and Federal laws must be changed. The United Nations lacks enforceable world law and hence is severely limited in what it can do. To empower the UN, its flawed Charter will need to be replaced by a constitution. The Earth Constitution is designed for enforceable world law which could better help victims of sadistic practices such as solitary confinement.

  12. Mr. Kiriakou, you show great courage in whistleblowing on torture — again. You ask what purpose the torture of Schulte by the Bureau of Prisons on behalf of the CIA serves? Clearly, to intimidate and discourage anyone else who might be inclined to screw their courage to the sticking point and blow the whistle on abuse of power by the U.S. government. Ditto the case of Assange.

    Should we write to the Bureau of Prisons on Schulte’s behalf, or would his jailers just become even more cruel?

  13. Thank you John Kiriakou . I agree with all the above comments,

  14. Thank you for continuing to speak truth to power. As you know the US only leads globally in mass incarceration and military expenditures, however, the cruelty of SAMS and the torture program goes against what those in leading positions continually propagandize publicly about… the Freedoms, Rights and Liberties including the phrase of being innocent UNTIL proven guilty.
    I am thoroughly disenfranchised learning the truths about this and am terrified of what might happen to his life… and Julian Assange’s life.
    What a sick world…

  15. Disgusting! Once again the United States sets the gold standard as the most vile, vicious, egregious Empire the world has ever seen. Fortunately, it is in rapid decline and nothing will save it and its unfettered support for the corrupt and vicious regime in Kyiv will only hasten its decline and that of NATO as it has backed a sure loser and by fall will reap the world wind of a wrecked economy and renewed despair at home. Hopefully, this will not lead it to more military adventurism which will be our doom as a species but these tired old fools one can never know what insanity they will seek and continue next. God help us all!

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