DOING TIME LIKE A SPY by John Kiriakou


How the CIA Taught Me to Survive and Thrive in Prison
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A maverick spy’s season in prison.

Kiriakou (The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror, 2010) writes that whistleblowing the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program ended his career and led to his prosecution for inadvertently violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act: “I took a plea to one count,” he writes. “I didn’t fear prison. I was tougher than the CIA thought I was.” Still, he was surprised to find that “the training and experience that I had amassed in my CIA career would prepare me to survive and thrive in prison.” Kiriakou references 20 famous espionage “rules”—e.g., “admit nothing, deny everything, make counteraccusations”—as being particularly suited to incarceration, given that “prison is a combination of seventh grade, Lord of the Flies, and a mental institution.” The author had expected to serve about two years in a federal work camp, but he was placed in a low-security prison. Although Kiriakou’s burly physique and black-ops reputation protected him, he still found prison’s brutal, unwritten social codes to be challenging: “There were many more weirdos, lunatics, and freaks than there were good guys.” He notes that due to persistent segregation, he spent a year dining with the self-proclaimed “Aryans” before being invited to join the “Italians” (organized crime members). While Kiriakou speaks highly of a few helpful friends, he is disparaging of most of the people he encountered behind bars, particularly the high population of pedophiles (scorned by all other inmates) and the guards. “There were certainly some COs I respected,” he writes. “The sad truth, however, is that most COs are assholes.” Kiriakou confidently portrays himself as a larger-than-life survivor type, justifiably proud of his stance against CIA–sanctioned torture, but the book suffers from being overly cranky and exceedingly anecdotal.

An irreverent and unsettling footnote to the war on terror.

Pub Date: June 16th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-945572-41-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Vireo/Rare Bird Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2017


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