Careers

Meet John Rizzo, Acting CIA General Counsel


When John Rizzo retires as acting general counsel of the CIA this summer, he will leave amid controversy over his role in approving harsh interrogations for terrorism suspects.

Rizzo will be remembered as the most influential career lawyer in the department’s history, the Los Angeles Times reports in a profile.

“At CIA headquarters, he is known for his eye-watering wardrobe—with ties, cuff links and suspenders colored like scoops of sherbet,” the story says. “His legal approach, however, always accommodated shades of gray, earning him a reputation among spies as an ally who understood the murky morality of what they do.”

Critics said Rizzo sought to justify whatever the agency wanted to do, while supporters told the newspaper he was being scapegoated for furthering the CIA’s difficult mission.

Rizzo attended George Washington University law school and Brown University, where he acquired a taste for designer duds while a member of a fraternity. He joined the CIA in 1976 and three years later became the lawyer for the unit that conducts clandestine missions.

Rizzo’s legal acumen helped protect CIA employees from prosecution over interrogation methods. He later advised officials to stop the interrogation program and helped the Red Cross to access Guantanamo detainees. But he never got the job of general counsel on a permanent basis after refusing to disavow a controversial Justice Department memo defining torture. His name on Justice Department interrogation memos showed he had sought the rulings.

“He probably will be followed by questions over how well the CIA, and the country, were served by his decisions,” the story says. “And he leaves behind an agency battered by criticism, accused of using torture by the nation’s president.”

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