Broadcast 10/28/2014 at 21:15:18 (61 Listens, 48 Downloads, 1698 Itunes)
The Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show Podcast
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James Risen is Pulitzer Prize Winning investigative reporter for the New York Times and winner of the 2006 Goldsmith Prize for investigative reporting. His 2006 book, State of War earned him the wrath of the Obama administration and the justice department and he's been living under the threat of going to jail for refusing to disclose sources ever since then. In addition, his reporting on NSA was , because of collaboration with the Bush White House, kept secret for over a year, until he forced the issue, by publishing his book, State of War.
(mostly my questions, plus brief, incomplete notes I took during the interview)
We're going to get into your superb book-- which is an inspiration for aspiring investigative journalists, and a fascinating read for people who want to get an in-depth big picture understanding of some of the most important developments in the US, but I'd like to start by discussing the threat of prison that's been hanging over your head.
Rob: Can you talk about how it has affected your work, your sources, your doing your job as an investigative journalist?
Rob: I'm also looking for Has it in any way affected your work with your sources and your work with the NY Times?
I'm sure that there are a lot of people who are afraid to talk to me now" On the other hand there are people who have come to me and said I am willing to talk to you because I know you protect sources"
Pulling on threads"
Rob: What do you mean pulling on threads?
You have to be curious and fixated. When I hear about something I just want to find out more.
I really like to get into subcultures-- I wrote a book about the anti-abortion movement, then I covered the CIA and it's it's own subculture. What i really enjoy is digging to these little group.
Rob: are there tips on how to dig into a subculture, what you look for and delve in?
be patient" you have to willing to fight the system and be patient and keep digging into stories and realize that it's going to take time" that's the hardest thing in the news business is the time to do investigative reporting.
Rob: did the NY Times ever threaten you, or did you ever feel that if you told your story your job would be at risk.
Risen: NY Times believed the govt that i t would damage national security.
Rob: It seems to me that (by publishing your book) you forced the NY Times.
It was made clear to me that I might get fired.
Rob: Who told you that?
My editors. I told them that my NSA story was in my book, and they should run my story. It was a very weird and
Rob: If you do the investigative reporting for them and they don't publish it, do you have the right to publish it? Were you threatened by the govt?
Rob: It seems like you've managed to piss a lot of powerful people off. How does that make you feel?
Good. It's kind of my job. That's when I kind of feel I'm doing my best work. I tell young people that journalism is the
A bit more than 25% of the way into the book you make a brief comment that I think represents much of what the book is about: "During the war on terror, greed and ambition have been married to unlimited rivers of cash and the sudden deregulation of American national security to create a climate in which clever men could create seemingly rogue intelligence operations with little or no adult supervision. It is also the story of the potential abuse of power: how federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the FBI may have perverted the American legal system"
Then, a page later, you add, "The years after the 9/11 attacks have been a time when it is often difficult to determine what is real-- and what is concoction."
I want to say that even though I followed the war, followed the disclosures of Snowden and even had Tom Drake and Bill Binney on my show, interviewing them for many hours, your chapter puts their story into a bigger, more comprehensive picture that was very helpful to me.
Rob: You tell, for the first time, the story of Whistleblower Diane Roark. . Now that you've told her compelling story in your book, will you be writing about her in the NY Times? And Were you blocked from writing about her before?
No. " what she did was very courageous. " govt raided her house and persecuted her. People said that Edward Snowden should have gone through channels
Rob: What's your take on Edward Snowden?
He's a whistleblower"
What Snowden has done with the release o f all these documents-- is to show how much that program (NSA) has grown since we (Lichtblau and Risen) since we wrote about it.
Rob: Between Diane Roark and Senator Ron Wyden, What is your conclusion about congress's ability to keep the security agencies-- CIA, NSA, FBI, Secret Service, etc. accountable-- and while we're at it let's throw in the DOJ and the Whitehouse, since they all seem to have been in collusion.
Ron Wyden's story demonstrates the problems with oversight. He was on the senate intelligence committee" he knew" and yet he felt, because it was all classified, he could not talk about it. " It was only after Edward Snowden leaked documents that he said Oh yeah, that was what I was talking about.
congressional oversight is kind of a joke. And that's why we ned whistleblowers.
Rob Obama has gone after more whistleblowers than all past presidents combined
Rob: Have you encountered people who were not w idling to talk because of Obama?
Rob: Let's get back to this jail that's been hanging over your head. How does the DOJ fit in?
I think they're just doing the bidding of the intelligence agencies and the White House. You know that the official leaks from the White House are never going to be investigated thoroughly. They want an authorized pathway.
Rob: That's kind of what they've done with the Whitehouse press secretary too.
It's a very secretive administration. I think he's not as liberal and is more conservative"
Rob: just how conservative, compared to Bush, Bush and Reagan"
Obama has made he war on terror permanent" history will look at as either a great achievement or sin.
Rob: How could somebody interpret this as a great achievement.
the whitehouse doesn't like like leaks. They think I'm a traitor" they hate snowmen, manning.
Rob: They think you're a traitor?
The whitehouse said our work was shameful and a disgrace" and supporters came out and said I was a traitor, a spy. They said I was reckless in my reporting. at t
It's a badge of honor.
Rob: You describe Hayden as being at war with congress.
When the internet first developed NSA was dismissive of it because it was open and they were into secret stuff"
Binny, at the Skunkworks, developed new software that analyzed internet and metadata-- and it was something that the NSA felt raised too many legal questions. They thought that his technology would capture too much o f American communications-- so his programs were shelved, though Binny argued that there were ways to filter the parts the lawyers were concerned with.
They had this monster in the basement chained up, then they unleashed it and turned it into a Frankenstein after 911.
Rob: And actually Binney believed that if it had been used prior to 911, it could have prevented it.
Yes Binney and Tom Drake felt that way. And Diane Roark" was asking about how the NSA was dealing with the growth of the internet"
Rob: Was Roark your source? I wouldn't blame you if you give a Kay Hagan, I'm not going to tell you if I voted for Obama answer.
Risen (listen to the podcast for his reply)
Rob: You told Bill Maher "The reason they're after me on that is they're embarrassed. They've had a whole history of one screw after another and they use secrecy to cover it up." But it's not just the CIA i s it? We have the secret service prostitute and lawn jumper failure episodes, NSA's multi billion dollar bad software adventures that led to ruining the lives of the whistleblowers who called them on it.
Rise: Roark was told by Hayden that
Rob: You've done an excellent job telling about Roark's efforts to reveal the unconstitutionality
We've allowed the intelligence to grow to the point where it's own political constituency. The views of it's leaders have an effect on our national conversation.The CIA is blocking the senate
Rob: You've been covering the homeland security complex over the span of a number of liars and fools. Can you walk us through some of the worst of them?You've talked about Hayden. I'm sure the list will also include Tennet, Alexander and Clapper.
every hustler and conman can go to washington and get millions
Rob: or billions
Risen describes how he met with some FBI people and told them your info, hoping to get confirmation, and received nothing.
Rob: As a journalist, why are you going to the FBI and telling them what you have. What are you trying to get out of it.
They were working on something so secret" I was told that meeting was considered legendary by people in the FBI. They couldn't deny what I was saying, but they couldn't admit that I had it right. Finally, later I got confirmation.
So do you think that your talking to the FBI did anything or affected your work or the case.
Rob: In your chapters on Rosetta and Alarbus, you describe hybrid operations-- where the government, like an ebola virus, infected a private organization or operated as private organizations-- to engage in intelligence gathering or cover ops.
The description reminded me of charts I"ve seen at Personal Democracy Forum, a conference that covers transparency of networks of corporations owned by corporations, set up in multiple countries, all owned, at the top of the pyramid by companies like Facebook, and I'm sure it is common international corporate practice now. It seems like spy agencies are engaging in the same approach.
Rosetta-- created to investigate connection between Saudis and 911. One of the investigators ended up doing work for the govt. It was this weird, very strange interconnections between the pentagon, the FBI, " and a private law firm and it was really an out of control situation where the govt and this private
Rob: We have Iran Contra-- this seems to have begun an common government practice.
Rob: You told Bill Maher that De-regulating national security was like banking crisis-- I guess you meant that deregulation, like Bill Clinton's ending Glass Steagle, led to big problems. What do you foresee in terms of problems for de-regulation of national security-- since we saw such a horrible disaster with banking de-regulation?
it's been very similar except it's been kept secret. That's why nobody notices. Secrecy hides all the mistakes and people get rich-- you come to Washington and it's basically recession proof, largely because of the war on terror.
Rob: How do you see that a disaster could happen by de-regulating the spy agencies.
The disaster is already happening. It affects us in ways we still don't understand completely. If you had a Rip Van Winkle, he wouldn't recognize our country. Militarization of police and law enforcement-- happened after 911
Risen: The war on terror has changed what we expect from law enforcement.
In your Too big to fail chapter-- you suggest it also applies to weapons and security contractors-- and you say, "Every general in the military hoped to cash out by going to work for a major defense contractor as soon as he or she retired from active duty. ". many feared that if they took any actions against these contractors while still in the military their post retirement employment prospects would dim.
That's horrible. That suggest that these people who should be protecting us from corporations are working" for them. Who is going to hold them accountable and protect us?
Risen gives anecdote of a govt employee who said that KBR had failed to justify a billion in charges, so he refuses to pay KBR.
Rob: You've described how the biggest, most expensive parts of government are problematic, and yet conservatives protect them.
Rob: I imagine if you add it up there are hundreds of billions of dollars that have not been accounted for.
The war on terror has cost over $4 trillion"
What do you hope will come out of this book?
Well I just hope to start more of a debate, to get people to talk and think about what we've done to ourselves in the war on terror, why we've allowed ourselves to transform our society with so little debate so far" it's so easy to just have fear mongering-- whenever anybody questions the war on terror they say, "oh but they may hit us. We've got to say safe." People are so willing to go along with that argument. It really bothers me that people are unwilling to suspend their disbelief and skepticism.
What are you working on now?
It'll be coming out soon at the NYTimes-- don't want to give to competitors
Here's my review of Risen's book:
This is a great book. I make my living covering the news, covering government corruption, whistleblowers, the post 911 story, whistleblowers and whistleblowing, the military intelligence complex-- I track what's going on every day. I've interviewed some of the whistleblowers on my radio show that Risen discusses in his book.
I got the book because I respect Risen's courageous, principled stand on protecting sources, even under the threat of jail. But I discovered a gripping collection of stories with character development like you see in the best novels, which add up to detailed, in depth coverage of the power players and influencers who are either profiting from the post 911 intelligence/security state gold rush.
I didn't expect to see so much new material on subjects I've been closely following for years, and even better, Risen puts the details together to provide big picture that is very helpful-- the big picture on the incredible level of incompetence and outright foolery within the spy agencies-- NSA, CIA in particular-- on the huge mega billion dollar fortunes being made, fuelling thousands of lobbyists buying congress, and the dangerous levels of secrecy the White House has been perpetrating-- president after president-- with Obama consolidating and making permanent the worst abuses of executive power that Dick Cheney machinated for Dubya.
I asked him, when I interviewed him, "What do you hope will come out of this book?"
He replied, "Well I just hope to start more of a debate, to get people to talk and think about what we've done to ourselves in the war on terror, why we've allowed ourselves to transform our society with so little debate so far" it's so easy to just have fear mongering-- whenever anybody questions the war on terror they say, "oh but they may hit us. We've got to say safe." People are so willing to go along with that argument. It really bothers me that people are unwilling to suspend their disbelief and skepticism."
Even if you routinely follow the news, Risen Brings Fresh Information and a valuable Big Picture perspective.
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