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Seymour Hersh: Obama "Cherry-Picked" Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attack to Justify U.S. Strike

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SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, that's what he told me in an -- or one of his editors said in an email, after the story, when it had been, I thought, scheduled to run for a few weeks, was -- and, you know, he's -- look, he's the boss. He's a rational, good editor, and he's entitled to say it didn't meet -- the information I got is that it didn't meet the standards of The Washington Post. And I respect that. He's no fool, you know, and I don't know the guy, but everything I heard about him is that he's a very competent editor. I know people that worked with him when he was that the L.A. Times, which he was. And so, I don't begrudge an editor to say what he wants. You know, look, people like me, we really wear out welcomes very quickly. You know, sometimes you get tired of reporters coming in and saying, you know, the sky is always black, and it's not sunny. And that's what we do. So, investigative reporters, we have a very short shelf life. You know, we're the Bad News Bears.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the information that came out of the documents that NSA contractor Edward Snowden released and how they bear on this, Sy.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, that's why I went to the Post. Snowden gave -- you know, Snowden -- by the way, the Post, you've got to admire the Post for publishing Snowden, too, a mainstream press newspaper doing it, obviously getting heat from the White House. One of the documents Snowden gave that ended up being in The Washington Post's hands was sort of an annual budget request by the intelligence community, and it included information about the National Security Agency, a much, very much higher document than top-secret, etc., etc. And there was a section of it -- the Post ran only a dozen or two -- less than that, maybe 17, 18 pages of the document. The rest they withheld at the request of the government, which is their right. And -- but in the story, a summary story, they mentioned two things that made me think -- that really woke me up. They mentioned the sensor system. And I had known about the sensor system from people inside. And as I mentioned earlier, it's difficult, because passive sensors are something that, as a journalist, I'm glad we have. Passive, nobody's hurt. We collect information that we can make judgments on.

AMY GOODMAN: These are run by the National Reconnaissance Office.

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SEYMOUR HERSH: Yes, and the National Security Agency, too, runs a lot of them. And presumably, they're not to be tampered with, the findings. This administration tampered, is one of the points of the article in the London Review of Books, was that they tampered with something they shouldn't tamper with, a system that should be taken very seriously. But that article in The Washington Post  mentioned the sensor system.

And it also mentioned something else, that from the day the opposition, the rebel war, began in Syria years ago -- it's been a couple years now -- we lost the ability to monitor Bashar and his senior persons. The NSA was no longer able to capture them. They changed the way they communicate. And, you know, one of the -- one of the caveats about this whole notion of being able to intercept is an awful lot of stuff in -- we have -- America, we have couriers flying all day all the time, all over the world, with documents for CIA station chiefs, for ambassadors, that aren't put into communication devices, so they can't be intercepted. And we lost Bashar when the rebel war began. And I don't think -- I've talked to people. We still don't have him, and there's no question we would have picked up some clue if Bashar had been actively involved in ordering the nerve gas attack. And one thing the government, to its credit, has not said in this whole thing since August the 21st, this White House has never claimed to know a thing about Bashar. We use his name all the time. We say, "Oh, Bashar did this and that." But we've never claimed to know anything about what he did or did not say, because we don't have it.

And so, that led me, to be honest, to the Post. And, you know, the problem was, it's not the Post's problem; it's my problem. You know, why did I think a mainstream press paper would want to go so hard against -- you know, from a freelancer. It was silly of me. I should have just gone to the London Review very quickly. My mistake.

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AMY GOODMAN: And why this is significant today? In the end, President Obama chose not to strike Syria because the American people just overwhelmingly said no. But what this means for what's happening in Syria today? And also, why then did the Syrian --

SEYMOUR HERSH: Let me interrupt you, Amy.


SEYMOUR HERSH: Amy, let me interrupt you. He didn't -- I'm telling you, he didn't do it because the American people said no. He knew it because he didn't have a case. And there was incredible opposition that will be, one of these days, written about, maybe in history books. There was incredible operation from some very, very strong-minded, constitutionally minded people in the Pentagon. That's the real story. I don't have it; I could just tell you I know it.

And so, it wasn't just a case -- you know, from the military's point of view, this was a president who many respected in many ways. There's many good things about Obama. There's a lot of things -- as I said, I voted for him twice. And he's probably going to be the brightest president we're ever going to have, and maybe the best president we're ever going to have. The system is -- doesn't produce always the very best, our system. But the fact of the matter is that this president was going to go to a war because he felt he had to protect what he said about a red line. That's what it was about, in the military's point of view. And that's not acceptable. You don't go to war, you don't throw missiles at a country, when there's no immediate national security to the United States. And you don't even talk about it in public. That's wrong, and that was a terrible thing to do.

And that's what this story is really about. It's about a president choosing to make political use of a war crime and not do the right thing. And I think that's -- to me, Amy, that's a lot more important than where it was published and who told me no and who told me yes. I know the press likes to focus on that stuff, but that's not the story. The story is what he was going to do, and what it says maybe about him, what it says about that office, what it says about the power, that you can simply -- you can create a narrative, which he did, and you know the mainstream press is going to carry out that narrative.

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I mean, it's almost impossible for some of the mainstream newspapers, who have consistently supported the administration. This is after we had the  WMD  scandal, when everybody wanted to be on the team. It turns out our job, as newspaper people, is not to be on the team. You know, we've got a world run by a lot of yahoos and wackos, and it's our job as reporters to do the kind of work and make it hard for the nincompoops that run the world to get away with some of the stuff we're doing. That's what we should be doing more and more of. And that's just--you know, I don't think there's any virtue in it; it's just the job we have. And there's heroism--you know, there's nothing heroic about what we do. It's heroic for some of the people, reporters in Africa, to do some of that work when they're at personal risk. We're not at personal risk. It's just not so hard to hold the people in office to the highest standard. And the press should be doing it more and more.

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour --

SEYMOUR HERSH: So he didn't do it -- and one thing, last thing. He didn't do it because of public opinion. He was willing to flout it, I think.

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