John Kiriakou is the first U.S. intelligence officer to reveal information about the CIA’s use of torture in the “war on terror” and as a result was prosecuted and imprisoned under President Barack Obama. After being released last year, he now lives with his family in Arlington. Read more about his post-prison life here.
I recently spoke to Kiriakou about the 2016 election. He had truly interesting insights into why Donald Trump might be even scarier than Hillary Clinton and as disturbed as Saddam Hussein. He also explained why he’s “afraid for my country,” how the U.S. is now in a state of “permanent war,” and why he’s supporting Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in 2016, even though Kiriakou had been a lifelong Democrat. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Q1: I spoke to a former CIA counterintelligence official the other day about Trump being a clinical narcissist but we didn’t really get into what that could mean policy-wise if he’s elected president. Do you think Trump is mentally unhinged and, if so, what are the implications?
A1: That’s a good question and no one in the media is asking it. Journalists make fun of Trump in an easy way but no one has really addressed that question. Look, I worked with a CIA psychiatrist — he actually recruited me — who coined the term “malignant narcissist” to describe Saddam Hussein and the term could also apply to Trump. I believe he’s mentally ill. Hillary Clinton says a lot of things that disgust me but Donald Trump says a lot of things that frighten me. He suffers from extreme narcissism and as a result would not be able to properly and appropriately manage the country. He’s easily baited, he surrounds himself with people who tell him what he wants to hear — for the first time in my life I’m afraid for my country.
Q2: OK, but what’s the real danger here? I mean, he’s like a dog in heat with Vladimir Putin, but in terms of policy, what’s the risk?
A2: Look at what recently happened with the Filipino president. He called Obama a “son of a whore” and Obama cancelled their meeting. That’s reasonable. What would Trump have done in that case? He might have launched a missile strike or sent in ground troops. Who knows? We don’t even know who his top foreign policy advisors would be. It’s not his stated policies that scare me, it’s his stability. There’s something to be said for campaigning as a populist and people like populists, going back to Huey Long. [Note: Click here to see Long’s great “Share the Wealth” speech.] But populism doesn’t always translate well into policy, you can’t just wing it, which is what Trump wants to do.
Q3: What type of other problems could arise under Trump?
A3: Congress won’t allow his stupidest ideas to be approved and that’s good, he won’t have unfettered power. But he can do a lot without congressional approval. The Iranians would challenge him and test him. They’ll challenge U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf and push back on the nuclear issue. They are very smart and very patient and he’s not. He doesn’t have a brain that allows him to be patient. He once said he would “bomb the shit” out of ISIS in Syria. That’s the sort of thing he imagines is a policy and he might decide to do it. Then there’s Putin, who can read Trump from a mile away. He strokes Trump’s ego and it’s paid off. I don’t believe Russia is behind everything, the way the Democrats would have you believe, but we are rivals. We should be engaged but wary. But Trump doesn’t have a personality that allows for wariness. Putin calls him brilliant and that’s all it takes to win Trump over. It’s frightening.
Q4: So you’re no fan of Obama’s or Hillary’s either. What’s your take on the Democrats?
A4: I’m a lifelong, third generation Democratic, my family came from Greece and were Democrats since they arrived at Ellis Island. But I was prosecuted by Obama and he continued George W. Bush’s national security policies. The Justice Department is out of control, waging war on whistleblowers, and the Pentagon has a policy of permanent war. With the exception of a few smaller issues, there is no longer any difference between the two parties and that’s not going to change whether Hillary or Trump wins. Since 9/11, we’ve transitioned into a permanent war economy. What’s scary is that many people don’t even realize that we’re fighting in multiple wars around the world. I saw a poll recently that showed a majority of people under 18 don’t even know Osama bin Laden is dead. How crazy is that? It’s because we’ve been in a state of craziness since 9/11.
Q5: So on national security policy, you don’t see any real difference between the Democrats and Republicans? Which party and candidate is more likely to get us into new wars?
A5: There is no major difference. The solution is not to bomb the shit out of our enemies and to keep sending massive flows of weapons to governments and groups around the world, but that’s what both parties and candidates believe in. Look at Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and so many other places. We often end up fighting adversaries who are armed with American weapons that they capture or buy from our allies. The solution is to cut the flow of arms, not increase it. I believe in righteous wars but at the moment we are not fighting righteous wars. We can help people with medical support and materiel but we cannot and should not be fighting other people’s wars; they need to fight their own wars.
Q6: So where does that leave you in the November election?
A6: Trump is terrifying and Hillary is more hawkish than Obama. She has a 24-year track record and most Americans just don’t like her much. Trump had a chance to win us over but instead he ridiculed the handicapped, reached out to the extreme right and talked about the size of his dick. Both parties and candidates are morally bankrupt. I support Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security but I’ve come to the conclusion that, overall, government is the problem, not the solution. The Justice Department, the Pentagon and other state agencies are out of control. I’m supporting the Libertarian, Gary Johnson. His views come closer to representing mine than any of the other candidates.