This is an episode of Reality Asserts Itself, produced on April 28, 2015. On Reality Asserts Itself, Mr. Kiriakou and Paul Jay continue their discussion about 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network, Reality Asserts Itself. And I’m with John Kiriakou. And he and I started arguing. As we were waiting for the cameras to go back on, I said, wait a sec, let’s turn them on and let’s argue for real in front of the cameras. And what we’re arguing about is I’m saying I think there’s evidence–I can’t say it’s proven or definitive, but I think in a normal court of law you could get somebody charged with the amount of evidence there is, at least; you can get an indictment (whether you can get a conviction or not I don’t know) that someone very senior in the White House–and from what we know, this someone is likely to be Vice President Richard Cheney–. And please, Mr. Cheney, please sue me for liable. I would love to have this in the court. So, please, if by any chance you’re watching. There is evidence that the intelligence agencies in the United States were more or less told to stand down when it comes to fighting terrorism. Richard Clarke is demoted. George Tenet tells the White House and the presidential–Bush’s first presidential briefing: bin Laden and al-Qaeda is the number-one threat to national security. And in fact what happens is terrorism and that security threat is demoted. FBI is told not to prioritize terrorism. John told us in the summer that the head of the counterterrorism unit of the CIA told him that they were expecting something massive coming. They cannot get Susan Rice to listen. So I’m saying this [crosstalk]
JOHN C. KIRIAKOU, FMR. CIA OFFICIAL: Condi.
JAY: –just not listening, and it isn’t just an intelligence failure. And John says–. Hi, John. Go ahead.
KIRIAKOU: I’m no fan of Dick Cheney. I never was. I think he’s a malignant force in the history of our country. But I just can’t believe that someone who is charged with running our country would be so psychopathic as to encourage a massive attack. I mean, it just doesn’t make any kind of logical sense to me. I can tell you that at the CIA we were never told to stand down. While we certainly needed a greater counterterrorism budget, we were doing everything humanly possible to try to infiltrate al-Qaeda in 2001 and to try to disrupt this attack that we knew was coming.
JAY: But you had good information.
KIRIAKOU: We had some information. We’re getting it in bits and pieces, and the analysts put it together and decided that bin Laden was determined to attack the United States.
JAY: Don’t you think you had enough to tell immigration to be extra strict? Don’t you think you had enough to maybe take a closer look at Saudi immigration? Don’t you think you the Federal Aviation Administration should have–
KIRIAKOU: Sure, but you’re talking about–
JAY: [crosstalk] the security threat level at the airports?
KIRIAKOU: –but you’re talking about policy changes. And, you know, it’s a fact of life in the United States: we’re a big, lumbering bureaucracy, and policy changes can take months or years.
JAY: But this goes back to this belief of yours that you cannot believe that a leader of the United States would allow something like this to happen.
KIRIAKOU: But I also don’t think that he had the power to do something like that. The bureaucracy is just simply too vast.
JAY: It [crosstalk]
KIRIAKOU: And Cheney was powerful, but he wasn’t powerful enough to single-handedly stopped the wheels of the intelligence community and allow al-Qaeda into the country to launch an attack.
JAY: Can you give me another explanation how Susan Rice doesn’t listen–
KIRIAKOU: Condoleezza Rice.
JAY: Condoleezza Rice–I’m very sorry–Condoleezza Rice doesn’t listen when the CIA says something massive is coming?
KIRIAKOU: Maybe Condoleezza Rice was an incompetent boob. I mean, there’s that school of thought, too.
JAY: Because you can’t believe–it all goes to the question of faith underlying it.
KIRIAKOU: Sure. I admit that.
JAY: If you were a cop looking at a murderer and you just had this as straightforward evidence, or a CIA analyst, if it wasn’t a leader of the United States, I can’t believe [crosstalk]
KIRIAKOU: Look, the most likely–.
JAY: Let’s go back a step. Let’s go back a step. You know the story of how Richard Nixon sabotaged Lyndon Johnson’s peace talks with the North Vietnamese.
KIRIAKOU: Sure. Sure.
JAY: Because of Nixon, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians died, because he sabotaged those talks. Now, maybe they would have fallen apart anyway. Maybe. But we do know, and we have it from the Johnson Library, the actual audiotape where Lyndon Johnson says, Nixon is acting like a traitor. Now, there’s the President of the United States–I mean, about to be president of the United States–acting like a traitor, sabotaging what might have been a peace agreement for his own agenda. So how’s that any different than what I’m suggesting? So here’s a leader of the United States that was willing to do that.
KIRIAKOU: But I’m not sure he was willing to that. Again, I’m not defending Dick Cheney. I’m just not ascribing to him these supernatural powers to allow a terrorist group into the United States.
JAY: Nothing supernatural. Just demote Richard Clarke, tell Rice [crosstalk]
KIRIAKOU: That was a political decision, to demote Richard Clarke.
JAY: Maybe. Then, as we said, then get rid of Richard Clarke; if you don’t like Richard Clarke, fire him and replace him with someone you like. Don’t demote the office.
KIRIAKOU: But it was my understanding that Richard Clarke asked to stay on the National Security Council, and they created the cyber security czar position for him.
KIRIAKOU: Immediately. He moved directly from one job into the other. He moved directly from counterterrorism into cyber security.
JAY: But when his hair is on fire and Condoleezza Rice won’t listen to the CIA when they say something massive is coming, their counterterrorism czar, something massive is coming, this can’t just be incompetence. At least it should be investigated. You know, I know [crosstalk]
KIRIAKOU: That I agree with. I agree it should be investigated.
JAY: But this is your underlying faith, that a leader of the United States would never do such a thing.
KIRIAKOU: Not to Americans, no. I don’t think so. I just–I can’t believe it. It’s too much.
JAY: Okay. Alright. Let’s move on.
JAY: Where are you on 9/11?
KIRIAKOU: I was in CIA headquarters on 9/11. I was supposed to go downtown with Cofer Black to see Condoleezza Rice on an issue related to Greek terrorism. And I had gotten a call that our car was ready to take us downtown. So I walked over to Cofer’s office. And just outside his office, his secretary was sitting and she was watching TV, and one of the towers of the World Trade Center was burning. And I said, what happened to the World Trade Center? And she said, a plane flew into it. And I, not giving it much thought, said, you know, that happened in the 1930s–a plane flew into the Empire State Building. But it was really foggy then, and it’s so clear today. How can you not see that you’re flying into the World Trade Center? And as I said that, the second plane flew into Tower One. And neither one of us reacted. And, finally, she turned to me–she was sitting down; I was standing behind her–and she said, did you see that? It was as though our brains couldn’t even register what we had just seen. So I ran back to my office and I told my colleagues, guys, I think we’re under attack; two planes just hit both towers of the World Trade Center. We turned on the TV. And then the Pentagon was hit. So everybody gathered in this huge office that is the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. There were TVs mounted from the ceiling, hanging down on poles.
JAY: This is like in 24, the TV show–
KIRIAKOU: Yeah, kind of.
JAY: [crosstalk] room like that?
KIRIAKOU: Kind of, yeah. Great big open–we called it a cubicle farm. It must’ve had 300 cubicles in it. So we’re all gathered around, watching the towers burn, watching the Pentagon burn. And then, finally, somebody in the back of the crowd shouts, will somebody please lead? And that was like–it was as though somebody had shaken Cofer. And he snapped out of it and started barking orders. You, go to the director’s office; you, go to security; you, go here; you, go there. And then he says, everybody else, evacuate. And we just stood there. And I heard a couple of people say, I’m not going anywhere; this is what we’ve been working for all this time. And so it wasn’t until individual CIA policeman came to the office and said, everybody evacuate, evacuate or we’re going to cuff you and walk you to your cars–we all evacuated. So I drove to–I was driving back to my apartment. And the way I got there was on the George Washington Parkway from the CIA parking lot, just straight down toward Washington. And traffic was so bad I just abandoned my car. I walked the rest of the way. I actually saw a couple of people that I knew–one was a former CIA officer–who were working at the White House at the National Security Council, and they had even abandoned the White House. And they were walking back to their own houses and apartments. So I met my then-girlfriend, now wife, at my apartment. We went up to the roof and watched the Pentagon burn for little while. And then we went out and tried to donate blood. But the lines were so long that it was just impossible to donate blood. And I said to her, this is ridiculous; we need to go back to work. She was a CIA officer, too. So we walked back to my car on the GW Parkway, got in the car, went back to headquarters. And then I didn’t leave for four days. Just slept under my desk. I would ball up my jacket and use that as a pillow. A couple of officers took some bolt cutters and cut the chain off the doors to the cafeteria. We went in and stole all the food. We cooked it ourselves and just put it on folding tables out in the hallway so people who were working 24 hours would have something to eat. I think we ended up writing a check to the Marriott for, like, $10,000 or $15,000 to replace all the food that we took. But nobody left. Everybody stayed.
JAY: What I’m suggesting there’s evidence of is not a massive conspiracy. I agree with you. I think a massive conspiracy is impossible to keep covered. I’m suggesting that someone very senior like Vice President Cheney understands the way the American bureaucracy works. And he knows if you de-prioritize, if you don’t take any extra measures to make sure the agencies are talking to each other–. Like, let’s go another way, which it could’ve done. Osama bin Laden plans to attack the United States. Oh-oh. Let’s get all the heads of agencies that don’t have anything to do with this in a meeting and say, Jesus, are we prepared just in case something is coming? Oh-oh. CIA’s saying something massive’s coming. And put that together with what the CIA just told us, that it might be in the United States. Condi, don’t you think you’d better get Clarke and get Tenet in here and get the FBI, and maybe–who else you need? And make sure you guys are actually talking to each other about stuff. I mean, if you were running a hamburger stand–
KIRIAKOU: That’s what you would do.
JAY: –that’s what you would do.
KIRIAKOU: Yes, I agree.
JAY: And Cheney ain’t stupid. You know, George ain’t stupid, but he’s not as bright as Cheney is. Not to do that suggests perhaps it’s a decision not to do that.
KIRIAKOU: I’ll agree with you that it’s certainly worth investigating. And there wasn’t an adequate and appropriate investigation.
JAY: See, when you say the CIA was working as hard as it could just to prevent it, I’m also sure the CIA was working as hard as it could to find, capture, kill bin Laden. I see no reason to think they weren’t trying.
KIRIAKOU: Mhm. They were.
JAY: But there was a great debate at the time–not in mainstream news, ’cause you couldn’t get heard on mainstream news, but amongst people who were from the region, as well as people here that were critics of going to massive war in Afghanistan to start with–that this could have been more of a black ops operation, there could’ve been a real laser focus on finding and dealing with al-Qaeda and bin Laden, there didn’t need to be regime change and all-out war in Afghanistan. Were you aware of that debate or argument? And in retrospect, why wasn’t the strategy that?
KIRIAKOU: In retrospect, it’s my understanding that–for example, the Navy SEALs of 2015 are absolutely nothing like the Navy SEALs of 2001. It’s my understanding that we just didn’t have the wherewithal in 2001 to be able to not just locate bin Laden–I mean, we essentially knew he was somewhere in the Tora Bora area. He was probably in that camp, but we weren’t certain. Not just that, but then to physically go in and get him, I’m just not sure that we could have done something like that in 2001. I’m not a military analyst, so I’m just offering my opinion.
JAY: What were you focused on in those two, three weeks after 9/11? What was your assignment?
KIRIAKOU: It was mostly name traces. You know, around the world, in every American embassy around the world, people began walking in and saying, I have information on al-Qaeda. And they would give us these names. Well, there were tens of thousands of names, sometimes thousands coming in every day, and we needed an army of clerks is what it amounted to, to search all of our databases looking at information pertaining to these names.
JAY: I was in Kandahar in the spring of 2002 making a film called Return to Kandahar, and told by numerous people–and what I’m about to say, I have no idea what the meaning of it is, I can’t draw any exclusion from it, but numerous people in Kandahar told me that about something in a week and a half, seven, eight, nine days after 9/11, Mullah Omar and bin Laden and everybody knows where they live, which is–this is another thing that makes no sense to me–everybody knew where bin Laden’s compound was [crosstalk] there’s, like, 20, 30 white SUVs coming in and out all day long, that they leave in the middle of daytime, Omar’s big trail of white SUVs, bin Laden’s trail of white SUVs, and they drive to Tora Bora. And nothing happens. I’m not trying to suggest I know what that means.
KIRIAKOU: But we didn’t have armed drones at the time, and we didn’t have–I mean, the intelligence has to be so immediate–which really almost never happens in the intelligence world–it has to be so immediate, and you have to have planes in the sky ready to receive the intelligence to be able to act that quickly.
JAY: Seven days later you don’t have somebody on the ground in Kandahar?
KIRIAKOU: No. How do you get into Kandahar? I mean, you have to have a sponsor. Somebody’s got to be there to protect you and to give you cover. You can’t just go rent a hotel room and start looking for bin Laden. That’s not how it works.
JAY: [crosstalk] watch TV [crosstalk] a woman gets in a burqa and she can walk anywhere she wants.
KIRIAKOU: No. And there’s no such thing as a live satellite feed either. You see that in TV all the time, where people are saying, I need a live satellite feed now, and then they watch the guy walk through the streets of a city. There’s no such thing.
JAY: Then or now?
KIRIAKOU: Even now there’s no such thing.
JAY: But now it’d be drones.
KIRIAKOU: Now it would be drones. Yeah.
JAY: You’re saying there’s no camera on a satellite that watches everything.
KIRIAKOU: Correct. Yes.
JAY: Well, that’s good to know, I suppose. So what do you make of the strategy in Afghanistan? I mean, it was a very strange moment once the all-out attack starts on the Taliban. They’re bombing the hell out of Kabul. They run out of things to bomb, and they keep bombing, ’cause they have to prove they’re doing something. I guess–I don’t–they think American public opinion demands revenge. I don’t know what it is. But the Northern Alliance, all the old warlords that actually made such a mess in Afghanistan that had helped create the conditions for the rise of the Taliban in the first place, they may have killed, some people think, as many as 2 million people–
JAY: –in the civil war between who’s going to be the [crosstalk]
KIRIAKOU: And now one of them is the vice president of Afghanistan.
JAY: Yeah, we’ll get to that. Dostum. And then they decide, you know, okay, they being the White House, the Pentagon, they decide, okay, we’re going to make a deal with the warlords, and they shovel millions and millions of dollars into the pockets of these essentially war criminals. And that’s the strategy for Afghanistan.
KIRIAKOU: Yeah, I think you have some of the timing wrong, though. First, Gary Schroen, who was a very senior CIA officer, legendary officer, wrote a book called First In, and it’s about how he and a small team of CIA special operations officers were the first CIA group in Afghanistan. And they went on something like September 12. So they were in the north with–his name escapes me now, the one that was killed in the bombing the day before September 11.
KIRIAKOU: With Massoud’s people, later on with Dostum’s people. But there was a CIA presence in Afghanistan from the days immediately following the attacks, the September 11 attacks. There’s an old saying about Afghan warlords, that you can’t buy an Afghan warlord but you can certainly rent one. And that’s the CIA way. The CIA way is to throw massive amounts of money at a problem and hope that some of it sticks. And some of it stuck. Now, was it a success? Probably not in the long run, but at least it bought us some time. When I say that it wasn’t a success, what I mean is, instead of these warlords capturing senior al-Qaeda leaders and turning them over to us, we ended up filling Guantanamo and other places with largely innocent nobodies who had been turned in by their neighbors for a bounty or who wanted to settle scores with people they didn’t like. But it did buy us some time. It put the Taliban on the run. Remember, we didn’t start bombing Afghanistan for almost a month. We wanted to give Mullah Omar a chance to turn bin Laden over to us. And I really believe that if he had done that, al-Qaeda would have imploded as an organization and we would never have had any reason to go to war in Afghanistan.
JAY: I interviewed a former member of the Taliban central council at–Hamid Karzai’s brother Wali Karzai, who himself was assassinated just a few years ago, and in his living room [incompr.] carpets in the living room. And he says that there was a meeting of the Taliban central council called by Mullah Omar to debate whether or not to hand over bin Laden, and they vote that they will hand over bin Laden. Another meeting is called three days later, and according to this guy, he says it’s the Pakistani foreign minister (that’s how it was translated, and we have all this on tape) came to the meeting and talked him out of handing over bin Laden. There’s still the grounds–and I go back to my original question–there’s still a place there where the strategy could have been focused on al-Qaeda, bin Laden, even Mullah Omar, if you have evidence he was connected to it, and there’s–I think there seems to be.
KIRIAKOU: There’s some.
JAY: There seems [to be] some. It doesn’t necessarily call for an all-out war in Afghanistan and regime change.
KIRIAKOU: Mhm. Oh, I think you’re probably right. First, I think that the story is probably correct. I can’t imagine what benefit the Taliban central council could possibly have thought there would be to allowing bin Laden to remain in Afghanistan. That just doesn’t make any sense. And from all indications, Mullah Omar, although uneducated, is very, very bright. And certainly he’s a great political strategist–at least he was. So I think the story you heard is probably correct. I’m not sure that we could have disrupted, destroyed al-Qaeda without an all-out war, without the cooperation of the Taliban. I think that we were kind of pushed into it. Now, was there a Pakistani conspiracy? It’s very possible.
JAY: We’re going to get into that quite a bit, the Pakistani side. It’s the only reason I’m holding back on that right now, ’cause your next stop is Pakistan. So I’m going to kind of wait to talk about the Pakistani part. What I’m getting at, what I think is even more important, though, is the strategy of allying with warlords and essentially handing over the poppy crops in Afghanistan as part of the deal, ’cause that’s really what happens in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s poppy production was not nil, but next to [nothing].
KIRIAKOU: For one year.
JAY: Under the Taliban.
KIRIAKOU: Under the Taliban for one year. They produced 90 percent of the world’s heroin poppy under the Taliban. It went down to zero for a year and then back up to 90 percent again. I did a long in-depth study on this when I was with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
JAY: Yeah, and I’m not–I wouldn’t argue with you.
KIRIAKOU: Heroin poppy was the way the Taliban earned its money. That’s how they could afford all of their weaponry.
JAY: I can’t–I don’t know anything to disagree with you and I don’t know why I would. But my point was is this gets handed over to the warlords.
KIRIAKOU: Oh, yeah. Sure.
JAY: Millions and millions of dollars in suitcases, this enormous poppy crop, and then some, ’cause I think it gets far, far bigger once the Northern Alliance warlord types take over.
KIRIAKOU: Yeah. We estimated that Afghanistan now produces 93 percent of the world’s heroin. And all of that heroin is produced by people with ties to the various warlords.
JAY: So, as a strategy, you’re handing the country, essentially, over to war criminals and druglords.
JAY: Over here we’re hearing democracy, we’re invading Afghanistan for women. And I’m the only one that seems to remember this, and I don’t know why, ’cause nobody ever talks about this but me: President Bush went on television and asked every child in America to donate one dollar towards children in Afghanistan. It was going to be this big program, children-to-children program. And I’m still asking: where’s the money? Like, I’m sure some kids sent dollars in,–
KIRIAKOU: What happened to the money?
JAY: –and no one ever heard another word about this send a dollar to save an Afghan kid.
KIRIAKOU: Geez, I hadn’t heard that.
JAY: It was on TV.
KIRIAKOU: I guess I was focused on work.
JAY: This is a strategy which we now know was really all about the leadup to war in Iraq. But they really didn’t have much strategy for Afghanistan other than do something, make a show of it, assuming–I don’t know how they assumed. I guess the warlords will take over Afghanistan and look after it for us, and everything will be fine, the Taliban will run away, and we’re going to go and tiptoe through the daisies in Iraq.
KIRIAKOU: I don’t disagree with that.
JAY: It’s insane.
KIRIAKOU: Mhm. I think that there was always a plan to attack Iraq, always, from before George W. Bush even won the presidency. I think that there was a movement among prominent neoconservatives in this country to come up with a plan so that when and if George W. Bush won the presidency, they could pitch this plan to attack Iraq. And they could disguise it in any way they wanted. Nine/eleven, I think, was the most convenient way to do it and, for them, the easiest way to try.
JAY: It’s so insane, it’s so delusional. Like, I know, like, I’ve interviewed Ray McGovern and some other former CIA guys. I mean, you guys are sitting there trying to do real analysis based on evidence, and foreign policy is being made–I don’t know what else. Mr. Cheney, you’re a sociopath. Like, please, sue me, please. I want a chance to prove it. The foreign policy’s being made by sociopaths connected with what? Military-industrial complex, a vision of a pax Americana. I mean, all of the above.
KIRIAKOU: Right. All of the above. Yes. I think that’s right. And I always believed, too, that the animosity between the Bush White House and Saddam Hussein was very personal and that it was because of Saddam’s attempt to assassinate President George H. W. Bush in Kuwait in 1993. I always believed that was the root.
JAY: And we have another series of interviews we’re going to be releasing soon with a historian named Appy, and about Vietnam, and he has a very interesting quote. I may have quoted it earlier in our interviews here, but that Vietnam, by the last year or two, completely became about proving the strength of America.
KIRIAKOU: Oh, absolutely.
JAY: And no other real objectives other than that. What else was Iraq?
KIRIAKOU: The same thing. It was the same thing. And look at the damage that Iraq has done, too. It’s emboldened the Iranians. We took out the only thing that stood between Iran and the rest of the Arabian Gulf. Saddam Hussein was the only bulwark against Iranian hegemony, and we took him out for personal reasons. It made no geopolitical sense at all. And then, when Dick Cheney went on TV and tied Mohamed Atta to Saddam Hussein, specifically to the Iraqi intelligence service station chief in Prague, that was just a big lie.
JAY: Out-and-out lie.
KIRIAKOU: It was an out-and-out lie. There was absolutely no evidence that Mohamed Atta ever met with any representative of the Iraqi government. It was made up.
JAY: And their rationale of they didn’t care about this buffer of Iraq vis-à-vis Iran, ’cause this was all about Iran anyway. This was all about regime change in Iran. Do they [crosstalk] Iraq, Syria, and Iran.
KIRIAKOU: I always believed it was, yes, yeah, that Iraq was going to be the first, because in Iraq, once we cross the border into Iraq, they’re going to throw flowers at us. I actually heard a senior person on the National Security Council say that in a video teleconference: as soon as we cross the border, they’re going to throw flowers at us. And I remember thinking, are these people insane? But first it was going to be Iraq, and then it was going to be Syria, and then it was going to be Iran, and we were going to kick off this democratic, human rights loving wave across the Middle East, beginning with Iraq.
JAY: All formed in a sea of blood.
KIRIAKOU: All formed in a sea of blood, and hatched in neoconservative think tanks in Washington.
JAY: Crazy stuff. Okay. We’ll pick up in the next segment. Please join us for the continuation of Reality Asserts Itself with John Kiriakou on The Real News Network.
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“John Chris Kiriakou (born August 9, 1964) is an American author, journalist and former intelligence officer. Kiriakou is a columnist with Reader Supported News and co-host of Political Misfits on Sputnik Radio.
He was formerly an analyst and case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, counterterrorism and a consultant for ABC News. He was the first U.S. government official to confirm in December 2007 that waterboarding was used to interrogate al-Qaeda prisoners, which he described as torture.
In 2012, Kiriakou became the first CIA officer to be convicted of passing classified information to a reporter. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.”