Robert Scheer SI Podcast

CIA Vet John Kiriakou Returns to Saudi Arabia to Witness Biden’s Groveling Performance

Former Mideast CIA operative John Kiriakou discusses his recent trip covering Biden in Saudi Arabia and what he’s learned about America’s “special relationship” with the country.
In this photo released by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Biden bump fists as they begin meetings in Jeddah.
In this photo released by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Biden bump fists as they begin meetings in Jeddah. [Saudi Press Agency/AP]

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“You are the hired help […] We are not friends,” a Saudi man told John Kiriakou on his first trip to Saudi Arabia in response to his polite Arabic greeting. To the CIA whistleblower, who is fluent in Arabic, the moment still encapsulates the “special relationship” between the U.S. and its alleged ally. A CIA analyst for 15 years, his maiden voyage to the Middle Eastern kingdom was part of a CIA operation relating to oil. Decades later, Kiriakou returned in July under vastly different circumstances, this time as a member of the press reporting on President Joe Biden’s controversial visit, including a ScheerPost column titled, “Biden the Warmonger Gets Played by the Saudis.”

On this week’s “Scheer Intelligence,” the journalist and whistleblower joins Robert Scheer to discuss his recent trip, where he examined the encounter between Biden and Mohammed Bin Salman—or MBS as some media outlets call him. After the gruesome murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as a presidential candidate Biden openly condemned MBS and his family’s violent regime. And yet now, as global oil prices skyrocket due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, President Biden seems to have forgotten all about his previous declarations. 

To Kiriakou, the entire episode demonstrates how the U.S. selectively applies its stances on human rights and democracy. The meeting also reminded him of his experiences as a CIA analyst in charge of human rights briefings where his work relating to Saudi Arabia was undermined by his superiors due to the grotesque relationship the two countries have. Biden seems to have picked up where Trump and his predecessors left off. But while Americans may think it’s the U.S. that has the upperhand in these dealings—as it does with most of the rest of the world—according to Scheer and Kiriakou, it’s more likely that Saudi Arabia enjoys that position.

Listen to the full conversation between Kiriakou and Scheer as they discuss what it means to be the Saudis’ “hired help,” and how this “special relationship” has affected the Middle East and beyond. 

Credits

Host:

Robert Scheer

Producer:

Joshua Scheer

Transcript

Robert Scheer:

Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another addition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. And my goodness, no one could fit that bill better than John Kiriakou, who first of all, in terms of languages knows Arabic, knows Greek and a few others, was a CIA agent for quite a long time. I guess, about 12… How many years was it, John?

John Kiriakou: 

15 years.

Robert Scheer: 

15 years, was one of those people out in the field. He was involved in the capture of what was alleged then to be the third most important operative in Al-Qaeda. And he refused to go along with the torture program, turned down the training and then, is actually the only person connected with the torture program who served any penalty, criminal penalty. Served two years for, they said, revealing the name of a CIA agent. It’s a whole nother story. We’ve covered it before, but it was not even a closet agent.

The reason I wanted to talk to John this week is that he accompanied, as a journalist, President Biden on his historic trip to Saudi Arabia. The question I really want to begin with is, your whole life you were recruited right out of graduate school by the CIA, by one of your professors.

John Kiriakou:

Right.

Robert Scheer:

Your whole life was built around stopping terrorism in the form of Arab extremism. It was all triggered by the attack of 9/11, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. You were involved in defending the country.

Now, of course, we’ve got our old enemy of Russia back. And here was the president going over to make nice with the crown prince and apparent heir to power in Saudi Arabia. How did it feel? How did it feel, first of all, being there as a member of the press and what was your return like? Then tell us about this really frightening political moment and what the president accomplished or didn’t accomplish.

John Kiriakou: 

Wow, all very good questions. There’s a dramatic difference between going to some place like Saudi Arabia as a CIA officer, undercover, and going to Saudi Arabia as a journalist. When you go as a CIA officer, you have an enormous invisible network of support. You have weapons if you need them, you have surveillance teams and counter-surveillance teams if you need them to keep you safe. You’ve got armored vehicles.

You’re never alone. You’re never alone when you’re overseas with the CIA. You always have a team behind you, even if no one else can see that team. When you go as a journalist, that’s the definition of being alone. My job was to go and cover the president’s trip. I had to make all of the arrangements on my own. I had to get my press credentials on my own. I was shocked, frankly, to even get press credentials. The only conclusion I could draw was that the person in the White House press office was so young that he or she probably didn’t know what Sputnik was. And so I got my press credentials-

Robert Scheer: 

We should mention that you have been doing a radio program on Sputnik.

John Kiriakou: 

Correct.

Robert Scheer: 

Both before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and after. We’ve discussed that, but you are on the air, at not a very big station.

John Kiriakou: 

No.

Robert Scheer: 

Full disclosure, you also were writing a couple of columns for me at ScheerPost, so I was very worried. Did I send you to your death? You wrote some pretty tough, critical columns-

John Kiriakou: 

I did.

Robert Scheer: 

… which you did filed from Saudi Arabia.

John Kiriakou: 

I did.

Robert Scheer: 

You talked about the crown prince as a murderer.

John Kiriakou: 

He’s a murderer.

Robert Scheer: 

And held him responsible for murder.

John Kiriakou: 

Without any doubt. Without any doubt.

Robert Scheer:

And the president didn’t say anything. Publicly he claims he raised it privately, but the fact is, he was there to forgive the crown prince.

John Kiriakou: 

That’s right.

Robert Scheer: 

And once again, forgive Saudi Arabia for anything, nobody even brings up 9/11.

John Kiriakou: 

No.

Robert Scheer: 

You were in this odd position, and tell us about it.

John Kiriakou: 

I’m glad that you brought that up too, because I decided many years ago that I can only tell the truth. I’m viewed as a whistleblower because of the CIA’s torture program. I did that because I made a decision in 2007 to tell the truth to a journalist who asked me tough questions. I want to be able to sleep at night. I’m proud of what I write and what I write about. And it’s got to be based on truth.

So, I know you and I joked before I left for Saudi Arabia about, well, maybe it was a half a joke about-

Robert Scheer: 

It was a gallows-humor.

John Kiriakou: 

Gallows-humor. That’s right.

Robert Scheer:

I was worried about, I mean, they killed a Washington Post columnist, right?

John Kiriakou: 

Yeah.

Robert Scheer: 

Why wouldn’t they kill a ScheerPost columnist?

John Kiriakou: 

Yeah, right. So, I was careful about my own security. I was cognizant of the possibility of being followed. Then, when I’m sitting there in the hotel room with my computer, when I sat down to start writing the piece, I thought, I know I’m in Saudi Arabia. I know I’m at their mercy, but I’ve got to tell the truth. And just before I had arrived in Jeddah, the British newspaper, The Independent, had published an article saying that a Saudi intelligence source had told them that in 2014 Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had broached the idea of assassinating King Abdullah, so that his own father, the current King Salman, could become king sooner.

Well that’s, you can’t get any more inflammatory than that this. So, this accusation was perfectly in keeping with Mohammed bin Salman’s personality. I believe him to be a sociopath. We know what he did to the Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, not just had him murdered, but had him dismembered, chopped up. There are recordings of him screaming as they’re cutting his arms off and then disposed of his body. We don’t know where. We’ve heard reports that it’s in a well somewhere in greater Istanbul.

There’s no sense in trying to sugarcoat this. President Biden, actually, before he was president, when he was running for president, in the 2020 primaries said that Mohammad bin Salman was a murderer, and that the Saudi regime had no socially redeeming qualities. Those are very, very tough words. I’ll tell you, I enjoyed hearing an important person in American political life say such a thing, because we are all taught that the United States and Saudi Arabia have had, what’s called a special relationship since the 1930s, since the Franklin Roosevelt administration, and Roosevelt’s trip to Saudi Arabia in 1936, where he met with Ibn Saud, the first king of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz, the current king’s father.

And that special relationship is just simply not true. The truth is, we need each other, even if we don’t like each other. We buy Saudi oil, and the Saudis buy American weaponry. That’s really the extent of the relationship. It doesn’t go much beyond that. Let me add to that too.

Robert Scheer: 

We keep them in power, though.

John Kiriakou: 

We do. We do, because we have military installations there and we need that constant flow of oil. And they buy so much in the way of weapons and weapons systems that it keeps the American economy going. When I arrived in Saudi Arabia for the very first time in 1990, it was just after Iraq had invaded Kuwait in August of 1990, I was so excited to be there because it was my first overseas trip as a CIA officer.

I had a small apartment in the diplomatic quarter, not far from the American Embassy. So I would walk from my apartment to the Embassy every morning and I’d go into the back gate, which was the employee gate. There was a Saudi policeman standing guard there every day. My very first day, I smiled at him and I said, “As-Salaam-Alaikum.” May peace be upon you. And the traditional response of course is, wa-alaikum-salaam, and upon you peace. So I said to him, “As-Salaam-Alaikum.” And he looked at me and just ignored me. I thought, wow, that was odd and rude, but, okay. The next day I went to work again, eight o’clock, and I said, “As-Salaam-Alaikum.” And again he ignored me. Then the third day, I said, for the third time, “As-Salaam-Alaikum.” and he ignored me. And I said, “What’s your problem?”

Robert Scheer: 

How would you say it in Arabic?

John Kiriakou: 

[foreign language]?

Robert Scheer: 

Yeah, what’s your problem?

John Kiriakou: 

And he says to me, in English, he said, you are hired help. We paid for you to come here to protect the oil fields. We are not friends.

Robert Scheer: 

Wow.

John Kiriakou:

That was like a slap in my face, but I came to realize, in the intervening months, that that’s the attitude of most Saudis. They look down on us. We don’t have their kind of money. We don’t all drive Lamborghinis and Ferrari and Bugattis. We don’t own giant houses in Beverly Hills, like they do, or in Knightsbridge, London. We’re hired help for them. We go over there to work in the oil companies, we run the oil companies. We sell them weapons and that’s it. We’re not friends.

Robert Scheer: 

They help us rearrange the Mideast, so that we keep power there.

John Kiriakou:

That’s right. That’s right. That they will do.

Robert Scheer:

But are they shifting? What I got from your columns is that actually Biden came back empty handed.

John Kiriakou:

He did.

Robert Scheer: 

First of all, did he lie to us? He said he did raise the question of the murder of the Washington Post columnist, but one of the top aids said, no, it was not brought up. Even if it had been brought up, it was brought up privately.

John Kiriakou: 

Yes.

Robert Scheer: 

Why are you bringing up privately? You’re perfectly willing to condemn, well, now Putin or anybody else, Xi in China or anybody-

John Kiriakou: 

Yes.

Robert Scheer: 

… for all kinds of crimes. Why would you not do it publicly? Because you need the oil.

John Kiriakou: 

You need the oil. I want to believe my president. I want to believe that he did bring this up in the meeting with Mohammad bin Salman. Now, the aid that denied that the president brought that up was Adel al-Jubeir. And Adel al-Jubeir is a, you can’t be any closer to the United States and still be a Saudi than Adel al-Jubeir. Adel al-Jubeir, right now, is the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. He was a long time Saudi ambassador to the United States, and he is a keen observer and analyst of the American political scene. He’s a believable guy. At the same time, he works for Mohammad bin Salman. So, like I say, the only people in that room at the time on the American side were the president’s note taker and the National Security Advisor and the Ambassador, the US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

So, it was a classified meeting. The notes taken were classified. There was no press presence there, so it’s not going to appear in the media, the minutes of what happened in this meeting. So, we have to either believe the president, or we believe Mohammad bin Salman. I’d like to believe the president, but I also wonder, Bob, if the president went in there and said, “Look, before we get to oil, there’s something I need to get out of the way. We’re really angry that you murdered Jamal Khashoggi. Don’t do that again. You put us in a very bad position.”

Robert Scheer: 

I bet even, whatever he said, if you don’t say it publicly, it has no force.

John Kiriakou: 

It has no force.

Robert Scheer: 

And for the articles that you wrote for ScheerPost, let me get a plug in here, you made it very clear that he came back empty handed.

John Kiriakou: 

Yeah, he did.

Robert Scheer: 

I forget the phrase you used, that he was taken, right?

John Kiriakou:

I thought he was taken. And two weeks before the president went to Saudi Arabia, French president, Emmanuel Macron, called Mohammad bin Salman and said, “Look, we need oil and we need natural gas, because we’re screwed here in Western Europe.” Which is true. They’re paying $8, $9, $10 a gallon for gas. And Mohammad bin Salman told Macron, and we know this because Macron briefed the media afterwards, he told Macron that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are operating at full production capacity and that they cannot increase production.

Now, Mohammed bin Salman said, the day after Biden left Saudi Arabia, that there’s a little bit of wiggle room and they might be able to increase production just a little bit, but they won’t make that decision until the OPEC plus meeting, which is a month from now. So, Joe Biden went there, with hat in hand, to ask the Saudis, the same Saudis he’s criticized very harshly, to increase oil production, and so far we have nothing to show for it.

So, I would call this visit a failure. I think that the visit was a big risk in the first place. I mean, what were the chances of success in the first place? It’s going to look like you’re pandering, like you’re begging. After these things that you said, you’ve accused the crown prince of murder, I believe properly, then at the same time, you’re going to ask him to do you a favor? It’s just very [inaudible 00:15:34].

Robert Scheer: 

… Is the reality that we talk about freedom and our respect for it and defending it, and if you really look at the whole, just certainly, since world war II, or you go back earlier, our allies have not lined up on the side of freedom very often-

John Kiriakou: 

No, you’re right.

Robert Scheer: 

… and their pretense. Now, you were involved in, let’s hunt down Al-Qaeda and everything. Now a different song is being sung to the people who are going to go have to fight Ukraine, or the Ukrainians who are dying, that we care about freedom. And There’s absolutely no evidence that has ever driven our foreign policy. There’s absolutely no correspondence to it. A perfect example, another country we know a lot about, Egypt.

John Kiriakou: 

Yes.

Robert Scheer: 

Where, here is a situation where there was the Arab Spring, just as there was in Eastern Europe, great moments. What happened? We said this a victory for Google and our Intelligence Apparatus. All of that data got turned over to the military, and there are thousands of people now in prison, in Egypt, for having dared to speak up.

We cared, we said about the people involved in Ukraine who spoke up, but suddenly we don’t care about the ones who spoke up in Egypt. In fact, the president going over there was an embrace of the most hard line authoritarian power in the Arab world. By the way, he slighted the Palestinians.

John Kiriakou: 

Oh, yes.

Robert Scheer: 

Well, let’s talk a little bit about this, because you were a student of foreign policy. You were recruited into the CIA when you were a graduate student. You’re a very smart fellow. You’ve been all over. What is really driving all this, is the need that we have for an enemy we seize one that we think is as attractive as possible as a target, or what’s going on?

John Kiriakou:

I believe that.

Robert Scheer: 

You’re a veteran. Give us the perspective of a veteran.

John Kiriakou: 

Yes, I do believe that. I believe that, as a country, we’re always looking for an enemy to rally against, whether it’s socialism or communism or anarchism or Islamism, whatever it is, we need an enemy. Especially post 9/11, fighting those enemies, even indirectly, is what keeps our economy going. There are more millionaires now per capita in the Washington DC area than anywhere else in America, including Silicon Valley. That’s not an accident. That’s because of the military industrial complex. But you’ve made a couple of very important points here I’d like to comment on and to reiterate, in some cases. Egypt, number one. Egypt is one of our closest allies in the world. The fact of the matter is that it’s a fascist dictatorship. That’s just the way it is.

While we talk a great game about human rights and democracy and the rule of law, we don’t really believe it for other countries. I say all the time, too, when I give talks about human rights, when I was serving in Bahrain, which is a small country in the Persian Gulf. It’s just a little island. It’s connected to Saudi Arabia by a long bridge. It’s about the same size and same population as greater Pittsburgh. I was the human rights officer there. As the human rights officer, part of my job was to investigate human rights abuses in the country and prepare an annual report for Congress. We do this with every country in the world with which we have diplomatic relations. I would occasionally go to see the minister of interior, who was the prime minister’s son-in-law and a member of the Royal family, and I would say, “Your Highness, you cannot beat to death a 15 year old boy, because he participated in a pro-democracy demonstration. You can’t do that. I have to report this to Congress. I have to put it in the human rights report.”

Well, what do you think happens when I leave the office? Then the CIA station chief goes in and says, “Don’t listen to the human rights guy. We want you to put a secret prison here, where we can bring Al-Qaeda prisoners, and we can torture them, or you can torture them. Then you just give us a report on what it is that they say.” Well, he’s not going to pay any attention to the human rights guy when the CIA station chief is telling him to do exactly the opposite.

And this is something that Adel al-Jubeir brought up in an interview with the Saudi press after Biden left. He said, “Biden says that he wanted to talk about human rights.” We said, “Okay, let’s talk about human rights at Abu Ghraib. Let’s talk about human rights at Guantanamo.” I hate to say it, Bob, but they have a point. The point is that we are hypocrites when it comes to these issues of human rights. Again, I hope the president raised the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, an innocent man, a member of the media who had done nothing to hurt or harm anybody. At the same time, we need to look at ourselves and the way we treat people.

Robert Scheer: 

We also have to look at the way we’re manipulated. We’re in yet another period, where anybody who disagrees in the most nuanced way, with the dominant view of what’s going on in the Ukraine-

John Kiriakou: 

Oh, yes.

Robert Scheer: 

Or someone like you, who actually is on a radio station, Sputnik, which is Russian owned.

John Kiriakou: 

Right.

Robert Scheer:

They’re made a non person.

John Kiriakou: 

Oh, yeah.

Robert Scheer: 

You were made a non person because you revealed the reality of torture. Only, you were a premature revealer of that. We’ve had the Senate Intelligence Committee, not that we can read it in this great free society, it’s still a heavily redacted intro that we got to read parts of. We have not been able to see the whole report or any of the report-

John Kiriakou: 

That’s right.

Robert Scheer: 

… on torture. And so here was the Saudi leader saying, “What about what you do in Guantanamo? What about what you did in Abu Ghraib?” And what is the answer? The answer is, we believe when you tear people apart and destroy them physically and mentally, it’s not torture if we do it.

John Kiriakou: 

That’s right.

Robert Scheer: 

That means that every war we get involved with is virtuous. I mean, we’re doing it now. The Ukrainians have never done anything wrong who are post-Putin. The ones who support a Russian presence or support the Russian language and so forth, they can’t do anything right. The only civilian casualties that bother us are people who are in the area are controlled by the anti Russian side. If it’s done in the Donbas, we don’t even have reports about it.

John Kiriakou: 

You’re absolutely right.

Robert Scheer: 

That has been the norm. In all of our wars, we define virtue. There is not an independent standard of virtue, which is after all our constitution, was an effort to establish some independent standard of virtue in governance. That has been mocked at every turn. It has absolutely no significance.

John Kiriakou: 

You’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right. It’s always been like this. I mean, just in our recent history, let’s go back to the Vietnam war and look at what we did there. Everything from the Mỹ Lai massacre to the bombing of Laos in Cambodia, and everything that came afterwards. I mean, we’ve never really answered for any of that. But you’re absolutely right. I take a lot of heat too, because I work for a Russian outlet and-

Robert Scheer: 

No, that’s not your choice, by the way. When’s the last time MSNBC offered you a job as a consultant? I mean, you have been frozen out-

John Kiriakou: 

Yes, I have.

Robert Scheer: 

… with the media and you are genuinely an expert, but the experts that they want on are people who look the other way when torture was being done. You became none person by revealing torture.

John Kiriakou: 

That’s right. I did become a non person. I was for, let’s see, 2008, 2009 and 2011, ’12, for four years, I was a counter-terrorism consultant and commentator for ABC News. I’ll tell you, the first time I-

Robert Scheer: 

You had worked for John Kerry’s committee, right?

John Kiriakou: 

After I left ABC, I went to John Kerry’s committee. I was the chief investigator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Then I was deemed to be too controversial. It was just too much controversy. I was the human rights guy. It was too much. I’ve never been able to make a professional recovery. Then, at the same time, with that said, I can sleep at night. I’ll tell you, I got into a Twitter fight with the former deputy director of the CIA for operations, a notorious torture, by the name of Jose Rodriguez. He was the head of the counter-terrorism center and he came up with the torture program. It was all his idea. When I got in trouble, actually, it was the night before I left for prison.

The New York times did an article about me saying that I’m headed to prison. He tweeted at me saying, “Don’t drop the soap.” Oldest stupid joke in the world. I wasn’t going to respond. I thought, oh, it’s better just to ignore him. He’s an ignoramus and it’s just not worth it. I thought about it and I said, no, I am going to respond. What I said was, “I’m proud of what I did.” I said, “Jose, I’m on the right side of history and you are not.” Now he has to live in a semi secret location in Florida with private security and whatnot because of what he did. I’m proud of what I did. I hope he’s proud of what he did too.

Robert Scheer:

Most of them don’t live that way. They have no regrets. I’ve interviewed a whole bunch of these people over the years, and the culture reaffirms their torture, reaffirms their violence.

John Kiriakou: 

Yes, indeed.

Robert Scheer: 

It was Martin Luther King who said, “How do I preach nonviolence to young kids in a ghetto when my government is the major purveyor of violence in the world today?” Well-

John Kiriakou: 

He’s right.

Robert Scheer: 

They never had recognized that. When they do it, it’s not violence.

John Kiriakou: 

That’s right.

Robert Scheer: 

It’s interesting. You mentioned, I happened to go to both south and north Vietnam and so forth. I saw the effects of American bombing and attack. The anti personnel weapons came into their own in that war. The pineapple, the guava bombs, the things that sprayed out metal pellets, wounding and killing people and so forth.

Now, when they used, Russia in invasion of Ukraine, oh, it’s a particularly heinous thing to do. We are the ones who made that a respectable battlefield weapon.

John Kiriakou: 

Right. We did that.

Robert Scheer: 

Yes. I mean, it’s funny though, the hypocrisy. And then there are plenty of your former colleagues who are now recycled as experts, particularly on MSNBC and CNN. There’s no accounting for their lives. I mean, look, the whole lies that got us into the Iraq war, no accounting.

So, I just think you’re being a bit charitable, frankly, in your description of them. Clearly, you’d rather be on ABC than on Sputnik, because Sputnik is a radio station that hardly reaches anyone.

John Kiriakou: 

You know what? As part of our punishment for being owned by the Russian government, the Justice Department tried to, essentially, to take us off the air. And there really wasn’t a legal way to do it. So, what they did is, they approached all of the platforms that carried our show. I’m talking about iTunes, iHeartRadio, Speaker, Spotify, TuneIn, YouTube, between all of those platforms, we had between 35,000 and 38,000 listeners a day. We were dropped by all of them. All we have left now is just the Terrestrial signal and Rumble, which is a relatively new platform.

We have, if we’re lucky, on a good day, we’ll have 500 downloads. We’ve gone from 38,000 to 500. Nobody listens to our station. That’s because that’s the way the Justice Department wants it.

Robert Scheer: 

Yeah, but they still keep the illusion-

John Kiriakou: 

Exactly.

Robert Scheer: 

Of diversity and freedom…

John Kiriakou: 

Exactly.

Because they can say, “Well, look, the Russians still have a radio station, a propaganda station in Washington.” I’ll tell you another thing, the Washington Post took a real swipe at me the other day. Every Thursday, I have a segment called Criminal Injustice, where I’ve got another journalist, Kevin Guastella, who I like and respect very, very much, and Paul Wright, who runs an organization called the Human Rights Defense Center.

He’s also the publisher of Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News magazines, outstanding magazines for the industry. We have this show, 30 minutes every Thursday, and we talk about prison conditions and prison reform and sentencing reform and crooked prosecutors and judges on the take and things like that, that the mainstream media mostly ignore. The Washington Post had a reporter listen to the show the other day, and she said that by highlighting these problems in the American justice system, that I am weakening our democracy. She actually said that. I’m weakening our democracy. And if I was a loyal American, I wouldn’t discuss these issues on a Russian station.

Robert Scheer: 

This is a journalist?

John Kiriakou: 

Yeah, for the Washington Post.

Robert Scheer: 

Was this an opinion piece or this was supposed to be-

John Kiriakou: 

No, no, no. This was-

Robert Scheer: 

A Reporter?

John Kiriakou: 

… an actual reporter for the Washington post. I’m weakening our democracy.

Robert Scheer: 

Well, this is the argument Putin would make in Russia if anybody, including some outstanding athletes and so forth, who’ve dared to criticize is going and invading the Ukraine. You’re weakening Russia.

[Inaudible 00:30:59] was the argument. You’re weakening Germany. We have to conquer Eastern Europe. I mean, come on. But the Washington Post?

John Kiriakou: 

Outrageous.

Robert Scheer: 

Does Jeff Bezos know that?

Do want to, I want to wrap this up, but I want to, we’re making light of some things that are, really, we’re talking here about the possibility of a war that could end life on the planet. I’m not talking now just about the issue of the moment of climate change. We’re certainly helping with that. Nothing that brings that on faster than the wastefulness of military and the destruction of military wars and so forth. Now we need fossil fuel and coal is coming back, and nuclear power plants.

John Kiriakou: 

Nuclear power.

Robert Scheer: 

I actually visited Chernobyl a year after the explosion, when it was a very tight security area. And the idea that now throughout Western Europe, where you had the green movement and everything, it was so powerful. That now, France is thrilled with its nuclear power plants there, modernizing them.

They’re bringing back more nuclear power and so forth, but yes, I don’t mean to minimize, obviously, in weeks like this, climate change, but the irony is that, where previously, and I’m an old guy. I’ve been around a long time, so I can go back. I can remember world war II, frankly, as a kid and so forth. I’ve never been in a time, such a myopic time, towards the possibility of nuclear war as now. I don’t get it. And you’re a guy who studied all this stuff in graduate school, then for the CIA.

And you know the enemy, you were there to fight different enemies, including-

John Kiriakou: 

Yes.

Robert Scheer: 

… the old remnants of the old Soviet Union and so forth.

John Kiriakou: 

Yes.

Robert Scheer: 

And, well, the old Soviet Union. How do you see that? There’s almost a giddiness. Even, I would go further, an insanity, but giddiness in the sense of, we just don’t take it seriously. That the possibility of nuclear weapons being used, [inaudible 00:33:09].

John Kiriakou: 

Yes, you’re absolutely right. I heard something today, that at first excited me. And when I heard the rest of it, depressed me. I heard today that the Russians are preparing a diplomatic offer to the Ukrainians to end the war. And it’s going to be what we always thought it would be when it finally came, that the Russians would cease hostilities if they can keep what they took in Crimea, and the two regions of the Donbas, Luhansk and Donetsk, are treated as independent republics under Russian control.

So, they want to keep what they’ve taken, the Donbas and the Crimea. I heard that the Americans have told the Ukrainians, absolutely not, not under any circumstances. So, when you hear these jokes that the United States is prepared to fight to the last Ukrainian, it’s actually true. We want the Ukrainians to bog the Russians down forever, even if it results in the deaths of every last Ukrainian in that country. We don’t have an interest in peace.

Robert Scheer: 

Well, that’s certainly, you’re an expert on the Afghan war, and you remember Zbigniew Brzezinski-

John Kiriakou: 

Oh sure.

Robert Scheer: 

Is the one who bragged about tricking the Russians into going into Afghanistan-

John Kiriakou: 

Absolutely.

Robert Scheer: 

… to give them their Vietnam. Now they have their Vietnam and Ukraine, but I’m raising an even more concerning question. And not that the loss of life isn’t concerning, but there doesn’t seem to be an awareness of the power of nuclear war fighting. [inaudible 00:35:08].

I remember interviewing Ronald Reagan about the possibility of nuclear war fighting and first president Bush before he was president. But there’s that old mentality. And what do we think? Let’s say, you can push them back against the wall, what we really are at a moment, where people are talking about these as usable weapons.

John Kiriakou: 

Oh yes.

Robert Scheer: 

Smaller weapons, and we’re modernizing our force and the restraint. And it’s interesting to have Henry Kissinger be a voice of restraint now.

John Kiriakou: 

How crazy?

Robert Scheer: 

And Kissinger, after all, he was with Nixon. When Nixon went to negotiate with what was supposed to be the most brutal fearsome communist leader ever, Mao Zedong.

And they did it. And they did it because they thought it would enhance stability and peace. Now, the idea of even negotiating with Putin seems like heresy.

John Kiriakou:

Yes, can’t even negotiate.

Robert Scheer: 

There’s no peace movement. There’s not one single member of the US Congress, liberal, progressive, not one single member, who was opposed to the total re augment of the Ukrainians and said, spend whatever money you got. And no one’s talking about, give peace a chance.

John Kiriakou: 

No, you’re right.

Robert Scheer: 

No one’s talking about negotiation. I want to end this by, because we started out talking about Saudi Arabia. It seems to me, and I’m not the first person to talk about it, that there’s really a realignment of power in the world. And it’s not obviously communist or democratic for that reason, or the president wouldn’t be going to Saudi Arabia to get their endorsement. There is a recognition that there are people who favor a multipolar world.

John Kiriakou: 

Yes.

Robert Scheer: 

And people who believe in US leadership. Because after all, for the Europeans now, that’s what they’ve lined up behind.

John Kiriakou: 

Yes.

Robert Scheer: 

This is not the old days of, [inaudible 00:37:13] German, social Democrats and so forth. On the other hand, you got some very powerful countries like China and India and Brazil maybe, and others, that are arguing, no, this is overreach by the US. I wonder what the message is from Saudi Arabia, because part of this multipolar world idea is, you have the UAE and so they do business with these other folks.

John Kiriakou: 

You bet they do.

Robert Scheer: 

In OPEC, they’re actually on the same side.

John Kiriakou:

They are on the same side. I’ve detected that same shift, especially in Saudi Arabia. It’s easy for us to rely on history that, well, it’s always been this one certain way. There’s no reason why it should change now. On the contrary, I think it’s actually already changed.

Just a few weeks ago, the Chinese announced that they had made an oil deal with the Saudis, not unusual at all. What was unusual is that the Saudis agreed to accept payment in Chinese yuan. That is the first time, the first time, that a country ever bought oil from Saudi Arabia that wasn’t in dollars. This is exactly what the United States has worried would happen since the 1970s, is that the dollar would be replaced by a basket of currencies, is what we used to be worried about. Now, by the Chinese currency in oil transactions.

So, I think the Saudis, while they may not be walking away from us, they’re exploring other options, that the relationship with the US just isn’t as critical as it used to be.

Robert Scheer: 

Well, also right now we have a deal between India and Russia-

John Kiriakou: 

That’s right.

Robert Scheer: 

… to buy Russian oil that’s going to use the currency of the UAE-

John Kiriakou: 

That’s right.

Robert Scheer: 

… as the standard. That just happened in the last few days.

John Kiriakou: 

It’s shocking, isn’t it?

Robert Scheer: 

Well, I mean, I don’t know about shocking, in the sense that it’s certainly a startling difference, but it does threaten the dominance of the dollar. Maybe that’s where we should end it. It seems to me that if we survive this, the plates have shifted.

John Kiriakou: 

Yes.

Robert Scheer:

We’re not really, I don’t know, I’ll get the last word from you, but I think that’s what happened on this Saudi trip. An American president went there to beg and he came back empty handed.

John Kiriakou: 

I want to add one other thing before we end, Bob. It’s easy to consider Mohammad bin Salman as some a cartoon character villain, like from Rocky and Bullwinkle or something, and it should be so easy. He’s actually very complicated. Yes, I believe he’s evil. I think that’s important. Then at the same time, he’s actually reforming Saudi Arabia and implementing changes that just 10 years ago, people wouldn’t have even dreamt of.

Things like women driving, for example. Women are now allowed to enter movie theaters. Women have always been banned from movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women are allowed to bowl. Believe it or not, bowling’s very popular in Saudi Arabia. Now women are allowed to participate. I saw, at least 50% of the women that I saw on this trip were unveiled. Absolutely unheard of before Mohammad bin Salman became crown prince. You would be beaten a cane, with a wooden cane, by a member of the religious police if you’d been caught without a veil, the last time I was in Saudi Arabia. Things are changing.

Robert Scheer: 

Do you think that was because the Americans were there, the American president?

John Kiriakou: 

No, not at all. You can see there’s been a societal change. This wasn’t temporary and people just experimenting. This is a real change.

Robert Scheer:

Well you make a very important… I’ll extend this a little bit. You make a very important point, that any serious observer of international politics comes up against, it ain’t simple.

John Kiriakou: 

No.

Robert Scheer:

And we always want to have a simple view of the enemy and a simplistic view of the problem. And what was acknowledged, Nixon going to China. First of all, Nixon and Kissinger were not saints. They were killing people in the millions in Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia, I witnessed a lot of that, but they also could be rational. They could have an idea of self interest that wasn’t destructive. Mao, obviously, was not saintly. He was capable of encouraging great destruction and fighting and tension, whether it was making a revolution or it was with the cultural revolution.

Now we’ve got this, again, the simple thing, Putin, is nothing more than a menace, or the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. The whole idea of realistic diplomacy used to be, you still can’t have a nuclear war and that all wars are ultimately costly to everyone. And that if you can do it through diplomacy and negotiation, and in the face of nuclear war you better do it through diplomacy and negotiation, you got to give it a try.

John Kiriakou: 

Yes.

Robert Scheer: 

That’s what’s missing now. That’s why I used the word, giddiness.

John Kiriakou: 

Yes.

Robert Scheer:

It’s a feeling, we’ll show them and we can do with it, and they’re just a third rate power. Well Russia’s shown, once again, they’re not a third rate power when it comes to the military. They got their deadly toys they can play with, just like we do. And they’re not going to be winners. And that the losers are ordinary people, get their lives smashed.

I’ll give you the last word on this, but I just wonder, talking to people in the press, talking to some people, do they understand the seriousness of the moment?

John Kiriakou:

I think they do. I don’t fully understand why the word isn’t getting out there. I do want to add one more thing before we leave. I remember, when I was at the CIA, I had just started at the CIA, and the Gulf War, the first Gulf War was just beginning. I remember just being shocked every time I would hear someone on the news say that Saddam Hussein was crazy, crazy. He’s not at all crazy. He may have miscalculated, but I would compare him to a mob boss, to an organized crime boss, rather than to a crazy person. There’s no evidence that he’s crazy. We’ve said that, besides Saddam being crazy, that Gaddafi was crazy. Osama bin Laden was crazy. Arafat was crazy. Everybody that we don’t like is crazy. They’re not crazy.

Robert Scheer: 

Well, even Donald Trump, right? [inaudible 00:44:48].

John Kiriakou: 

Yeah. Not crazy.

Robert Scheer: 

Or crazy as a fox.

John Kiriakou: 

That’s right.

Robert Scheer: 

All right. Let’s leave it on that note. I want to say, John Kiriakou, I’m really proud to have you writing columns.

John Kiriakou: 

Thank you so much. I’m proud to be associated with you. I’ve had a lot of fun.

Robert Scheer: 

I think the work holds up. And we’ll talk at another time. I’m sure these issues are going to get scarier, rather than saner, but okay.

I want to thank Christopher Ho and Laura Kondourajian, the producers at KCRW who put these podcasts on. Joshua Scheer, our executive producer, Natasha Hakimi, Zapata, who edits and writes the introduction, and the JKW Foundation, the memory of a very independent, terrific writer, Jean Stein, who helps fund some of these broadcasts.

See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence. 

11 comments

  1. Greedy, simple-minded oligarchic Capitalism – the unilateral, monopolistic ownership of total global assets and resources, by the very fewest; human beings themselves, not excluded – is the taproot of the tree of nepotism, and Saudi Arabia is a most notorious of infamous examples.

    … “And yet now, as global oil prices skyrocket due to Russia’s war in Ukraine” states John Kiriakou (J.K.)!

    Then, surely the same must be said for all of the U.S.’ incursions into all the sovereign countries that it has overrun throughout the years; and thereby brought catastrophe to, on a massive global scale.
    For a good total count of the actual countries, one need only examine the late William ‘Bill’ Blum’s Rogue State.

    Even the straight arrow whistleblower, J.K., affords no extenuating circumstances in his judgement of Putin’s actions – having “been played” by the US for all those fruitless years – taking Russia into the Ukraine for a “special military operation” in a preemptive incursion, in defense of Russia, as he – an astute political analyst himself saw Russia’s long-running, irresolvable diplomatic predicament, with NATO/US, just prior to February 24th 2022.

    Fundamentally then, how does Putin’s ‘special military operation’ differ from Biden’s “special relationship” with the country of Saudi Arabia?
    First off, one has to decide what the interpretation of the one word – ‘special’ means, contextually.
    Putin’s usage, as defined, is of an overt, preemptive military nature, unlike America’s claim for its illegal incursion into Iraq, as a preemptive all-out defensive attack on a sovereign country for a future peace, which intent, in truth, was to destroy Iraq and capture its oil fields, thereby ensuring the U.S.’ long-term hegemonic national security. Or so its irrational, short-sighted foreign policy analysts believed.

    In Russia’s case, the driving distance from Moscow to the NATO/Polish border is 1262 km while one cannot even drive from Moscow to Washington DC. The total straight-line distance between Moscow and Washington DC is 7824 KM.
    The quickest means of transport, benign or otherwise, between the two capitals is by ICBM.
    Poland has NATO ICBMs on its territory! Which capital is more directly, and immediately, threatened???

    America’s interpretations of foreign policy is Orwellian, in that only when it is openly conducting the wars, it actually sees war as peace.
    Only problem with this reasoning lies in the spelling of the word ‘peace’. Why America in reality conducts perpetual war is because it wants a ‘piece’ of the natural resources of all the countries it purports to be bringing democracy and human rights to.

    Biden’s mendacity is now so infamous that he has lost the ability to coherently utter the truth, without stumbling over his own lying tongue.
    “Taking care of” may even be regarded as a simile for “special relationship” in Biden’s confused rhetorical lexicon, but in their actual context, they are Orwellian doublespeak, where human rights and democracy are mere lexicon terms for acting tyrannically.

  2. the American empire is near collapse—even pretend allies deny they are friends

    1. But, giligan, not quite yet as immigration will keep the Empire afloat till at least to the end of the century. Have you noticed that Latinos and even Blacks are slowly voting more for GOP, thusly prolonging this empire?
      Democrats are no better/ no worst.
      Besides immorality and constant war, the most worrisome threat for American collapse is mega droughts ( not a fanciful China) and wildfires resulting from droughts.
      Through out history, climate change was the greatest impact for ending/starting empires. Climate change, plus diseases & pandemics, huge debt levels, debasement of money, and unabated militarism always provides for incompetent, immoral, and inappropriate leadership.
      Just look at the rivers around the globe, Rhine, Po, Colorado, Mekong, Ganges, Himalaya rivers, others. These river systems are under serious stress, like never before.
      But, not to worry!
      We can easily buy, take, annex and or conquer our northern neighbor that has the world’s most fresh water.
      Russia retaking of Crimean peninsula is a mere 10,000 Sq miles and without water, but Canada is almost 4 million Sq miles… Sparingly populated— but delightfully blessed with abundance of rivers and lakes. And it’s unbelievable coldness is warming up with this climate change.

    2. The “collapse” is a controlled demolition. Maybe we might cheer that, but we are not directing the outcome. So, who is? Those that are setting us up for technofeudalism.
      Heh, they thought we’d think this is utopia:
      https://mobile.twitter.com/FedorovMykhailo/status/1547482455694839808

      And if you haven’t seen this:
      https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/11/8-predictions-for-the-world-in-2030/

      Here’s the infamous video the WEF has pulled:
      https://www.bitchute.com/video/Eig7HxUD91PV/

      Now, are you prepared for a future that denies you Enlightenment ideals like freedom of speech, individual rights (including privacy), democracy, etc.?

  3. Great, insightful, interesting interview. I did notice right at the first when they were discussing Khashoggi’s murder, Bob mentioned him as a Washington Post reporter. Not to disparage the dead nor to excuse a brutal murder, I have learned that he was no innocent, liberal journalist. In fact, he was just on the wrong side of a factional struggle for power in Saudi Arabia. His side lost, but otherwise he was similar in every way to all the Saudi Sunni Wahabist royals.

  4. John and Robert, thanks for this fine interview / session. I know that you’ll keep the faith, for you both long ago recognized that honesty is the best policy- even if it gets you imprisoned or otherwise abused. You are models for very many others.

  5. Almost nobody is saying this. The uberclass of the emerging technofeudal world need for western nations to die, along with Enlightenment ideals. The sanctions against Russia were no mistake. Putin is a player in this intentional takedown of western power as well. Read the WEF 2030 4IR agenda and tell me that things aren’t playing out exactly as the uberclass has explicitly outlined. I’m not excusing capitalism, colonization, the MICIMATT, etc. Our very real guilt about our nations’ sordid history is being exploited so that we won’t recognize that the possibility for a future that includes the best ideals of liberalism, such as individual rights, freedom of speech, democracy, etc. no longer exists. This is a war against US. It is a war against life. This is no joke. If we don’t fight like our lives depend on it, because they do, we might as well all be vaporized.

  6. Great conversation. I know that you have had my brother, Ray McGovern on, Bob, fellow CIA officer of John’s – in fact, on with John, I believe. What I think would be helpful in getting the real word out, would be to add Ray’s writings to your posts.

    Larry McGovern

  7. I second that suggestion, Larry M. Your brother is a fine, principled and knowledgeable human being.

  8. You said that Kashogghi (sp) was just a happy little journalist.
    If you listen to Ben Norton’s Multipolarista podcast I think you will see that what surfaces is hardly a ‘journalist.’ I love Ben he is a hardcore researcher and a tireless advocate for the worker and the Truth. Propaganda Free! I can’t believe that you two put forth this narrative that Kashoggi was an innocent.

    Peace to you both.

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