Though once optimistic about the potential for change in the CIA and federal government’s policies, his hopes for an overhaul of the system by the Obama Administration were unmet.
“With Bush, all of the tortures went free,” he told The Daily Tar Heel. “With Obama, all of the torturers are going to stay free, and we’re going to clamp down on all these other whistleblowers, too.”
As new presidents and leaders in the legislature have been elected, Kiriakou said he believes national security whistleblowing is a policy issue — not necessarily related to partisan affiliation or politics.
Cathy Packer, a professor and co-director of the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy, said she finds it appalling the Obama administration would revive the Espionage Act — often considered a low point in the history of First Amendment rights.
But she said the desire for those in power to stay in power when responding to whistleblowers is not exclusive to the White House.
“We’ve seen it at the University,” she said. “The way the University reacted to the whistleblowings.”
The lecture clarified the stakes of whistleblowing to Christina Cowger, coordinator for North Carolina Stop Torture Now — one of the sponsors for the event.
“I’m now understanding much more clearly what the obstacle is to being a whistleblower,” she said. “You try to go through the chain of command and you’re punished for that.”
A recent increase in prosecutions under the Espionage Act — used nine times under the Obama administration — has created what Kiriakou refers to as a war on whistleblowers and transparency. Within the period between 1917 and 2009, he said the act was used only three times.
And to Cowger, this is not a trend she holds pride in.
“The American people have to stand up in larger numbers and say we don’t want this country to be a country that secretly tortures people in our name, and then pushes it under the rug,” she said. “That’s not the America I want to live in.”