The clock struck 13 on January 20, Donald Trump is the president of the United States, and episode one of Intercepted is here. Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald and Editor-in-Chief Betsy Reed join Jeremy Scahill for a discussion on the crazy apocalyptic present in which we find ourselves. They break down Trump’s attacks on the media, that insane speech he gave at the CIA, and the state of the Democratic Party. Naomi Klein sends in a dispatch from the Women’s March against the Trump-Pence administration about what’s at stake for people who are not men. Jeremy goes deep into the secretive world of Seymour Hersh’s kitchen and shoots the shit with the legendary, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist about why he calls Trump a “circuit breaker” for the two-party system. And we hear a spoken-word performance from hip-hop artist Immortal Technique.
Chief Justice John Roberts: Please raise your right hand and repeat after me. I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear.
Donald Trump: I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly…
Jeremy Scahill: It was a dreary, cold day in January. And the clocks were striking 13.
DT: The office of president of the United States.
JS: This is Intercepted.
Sean Spicer: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration. Period.
Kellyanne Conway: “Alternative facts to that, but the point remains.”
Chuck Todd: “Wait a minute. Alternative facts?”
DT: There is only America first. America first.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City, and I want to welcome you all to the first episode of our new weekly podcast, Intercepted. Now, when Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and I started The Intercept, our idea was to bring an adversarial news organization that would bring accountability to very important institutions and people.
Barack Obama: We are closing the prison in Guantanamo. We are reforming military commissions and we will pursue a new legal regime to detain terrorists. We are declassifying more information and embracing more oversight of our actions. And we’re narrowing our use of the state’s secret privilege.
JS: And when we started The Intercept, Barack Obama was the president. This was a guy who ran a campaign to be the most transformative president in history, to have the most transparent administration in history. And when this Nobel Peace Prize winner started bombing countries, initiating new covert wars and overt wars, continuing some of Bush’s wars, we held him accountable. We were aggressive. We were nonpartisan and we were fiercely independent in our reporting.
DT: Database is okay and watch list is okay and surveillance is okay. If you don’t mind, I wanna be, I wanna surveil. I want surveillance.
JS: Today we have a billionaire reality TV star who has pledged to operate the United States from a position of power where he believes in America-first policies. Donald Trump pledged to bring back torture. He pledged to fill Guantánamo back up again. Our mission at The Intercept has never been more urgent than it is right now. The reproductive rights of women, the liberty of muslims, the humanity of African-Americans who are facing down against paramilitarized police forces, and police brutality and police killings. All of this. All of these people, all of these communities, all of these issues, are in the crosshairs.
Each week on the show we are going to break down the most urgent developments with the Trump administration. And we’re not just going to hold the Republicans, Trump, and the White House accountable, we’re also going to go after the Democrats. We’re going to go after media organizations and journalists who are not doing their jobs.
JS: So to kick off our first show I’m joined by our editor-in-chief at The Intercept, Betsy Reed, and by my fellow Intercept co-founder, Glenn Greenwald, who is joining us from an undisclosed location in Rio.
Well, there is a tremendous amount to talk about even though Donald Trump’s administration is just days old. I want to start with you Betsy. What’s your take on this moment that we’re in right now, the events of the past week? There’s been a lot of attention paid to Trump’s relationship with the press. You had Sean Spicer and his attacks on the media and also his nonpress conference. It seems to be right now what a lot of media organizations are fixated on.
Betsy Reed: Well I mean on one level I think it’s completely understandable that the media is freaking out because it really is truly shocking what happened in the White House briefing room and Sean Spicer what he said. Just the bald-faced lies. I think the media has a responsibility to call them out and correct them and confront them. There’s no question about that, but at the same time, it’s like I do worry we’re in this sort of cycle of self-obsession in the media. Like the whole news cycle is about the news. When in fact Trump, meanwhile, reinstated the global gag rule which is bringing us back to the Reagan era in terms of you know, blocking funds to any health organizations in other countries that provide abortion services. So I mean …
Glenn Greenwald: Did George Bush have that also? George W. Bush?
BR: Yes. Clinton had rescinded it after Reagan put it in place and then George W. put it back in and then Obama rescinded it. So I mean obviously it’s important for the media to call Trump out when he lies but at the same time we can’t like, lose sight of the very real sort of and rapid policy moves they’re making. Also what they’re doing across the board in terms of climate. Just completely, you know, dismantling all of Obama’s initiatives. It’s incredibly important. And it’s been great actually how that group of hackers has been going in to systematically retrieve and preserve the trove of climate data that could possible be eradicated.
JS: I also think it’s fascinating the way the whole debate at least on the official talk shows this past week was all about the kind of numbers debate. Where Trump was saying there was a million, million and a half people there. Spicer then comes in at his first official presence in front of the press, focuses the whole thing on the number of people who were at Trump’s inauguration, and how historic it was.
But you know, I wanna back up a second regarding this media question. When it became clear that Trump was going to be the president, I started going back and reading some of the primary source material of officials of the National Socialist Party in Germany, of the Nazi party in Germany. Particularly the diaries of Joseph Goebbels who was Hitler’s minister of propaganda. And what’s interesting if you read Goebbels’s writings, they understood the power of the moving image at the time, what was becoming television and of radio. And they really were the first regime in the world to really master this emerging medium. And I think there’s a parallel to what we’re seeing with Trump and Twitter. Trump is basically sending this message everything is fake news that you don’t read on my Twitter feed. And at the same time you have this discussion — are they going to kick the U.S. press corps out of the White House, maybe move them to the old executive office building? What is the Trump’s relationship with the news media going to look like?
Steve Bannon, who ran Breitbart News is a very sophisticated so-called alt-right propagandist. At the same time though I’m not going to hold up Chuck Todd as some beacon of the free press, which he’s trying to make himself out to be. I mean these people were the most bankrupt, soulless, you know, un-independent journalists for so many years. Those journalists that would sit there, those media personalities that would sit there in the White House press room never asking real questions? I mean to me it’s kind of a double whammy. You’ve got terrible, almost worthless, sometimes corporate news organizations with a track record of knowing so little about so much. And then you have this authoritarian vibe that is being unleashed on the news media in this organization. Look at MSNBC. It’s basically — they’re re-litigating the Cold War. They’ll take any bit of unverified or unverifiable bullshit about the Russian hack and slap it up there as breaking news and never correct the record once it’s done.
GG: I mean, this is I think has been the problem for two months now or however long it’s been since the election. Which is everyone has reacted in a very kind of extreme way. Very impulsively, with a lot of emotion, which, as Betsy said earlier, is extremely understandable because there’s a lot of menacing things and seriously scary possibilities on the horizon. At the same time just reacting reflexively is not really a strategy.
I mean whatever else you want to say about the Trump operation, they do have a consistent message. They do have a set of tactics that they use over and over. And so I think to effectively counter that, some thinking has to be done, some breathing, some cogency needs to emerge that I think has really been lacking among Democrats, among the media. Among just the entire political establishment that still has not found their footing in terms of how to respond.
And I’m hoping that this protest, this march over the weekend, will be centering in that way because I think it was the first emboldening and empowering event. It made people feel like they weren’t lost, like they had a kind of voice. And I’m hoping there’s some structured, thoughtful way that these institutions that want to oppose Trump set out about to do it, rather than replicating his insanity and unhinged craziness. And turning everything into a circus, which I think only runs down to his benefit, as understandable as that reaction might be.
BR: I agree with you. But I wonder if both of you are giving Trump too much credit. Do you really think they’re that competent. Is this all part of the plan?
GG: I don’t think Trump is. I mean, If you listen to inaugural address that’s classic Steve Bannon, which was the message that they ultimately won on. The message that they won the Rust Belt on, which was: your jobs have been shipped overseas, the D.C. establishment only cares about billionaires, they’ve forgotten about you, you’re the forgotten people. And we’re going to respond and do things for you. We’re gonna save your jobs, we’re going to make you safe. We’re promising you things that you care about in your life.
That may be a simplistic message, it may be a deceitful one, but it is a message and it’s one they tap into consistently. I don’t think because Trump is some genius Machiavellian but I think there are people who are managing him who have an idea of what they’re doing. And if you want to beat that message there needs to be a counter-message beyond “oh my god, there are red spies under your bed and Putin is Trump’s boyfriend.” And I don’t think there has been that much of a message yet that has been cultivated.
You see Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders sort of trying to urge Democrats to start to focus on one but I don’t think there has been one and I don’t think there’s been a media strategy either for how to deal with this new world beyond just screaming “you’re a liar, you’re a liar” back and forth, over and over, which I think most people are going to end up tuning out. And writing everything off and assuming nothing can be resolved, which I think the Trump White House wants most. Yes, of course Trump is an inept idiot, he’s a clown. He has some talent in entertainment. But no, he’s not some genius. But they do have, his circle has a set of messaging that has proven effective among a certain faction and I don’t think that should be ignored.
JS: I will say first of all they won, and I think that …
BR: Not the popular vote.
JS: They won the election in the United States and they did what they needed to do to achieve their mission which was to take power in this country. I agree with you. I think Trump is a kind of devastating cocktail of incredible arrogance. A very acute sense of how many people in this country are filled with the kind of bigotry, ignorance and hate that makes his message resonate and also an authoritarian. By personality. Everything we’ve heard about this guy both publically and privately indicates that he is a fierce authoritarian. But at the same time who’s winning the battle in the court of public opinion? Trump or the news organizations? He’s forcing them to respond to his news agenda based on whatever the hell he tweets on any given day.
He goes to the CIA with his own ready-made crowd to cheer although some CIA people there did cheer as well. Which you know, there’s a very serious dark part of what happened there at the CIA, which is I think there are elements of the CIA that view the kind of Phoenix Program return as a good thing, the assassination program in Vietnam. Like COINTELPRO, the FBI counterintelligence program that infiltrated dissident groups. But I don’t think we can underestimate Trump’s ability to understand the moment that he’s in in terms of pushing his own agenda forward. I do think it would be a mistake to simply write him off as the Cheeto-in-chief, or this buffoon that somehow … People did that with Bush too. Bush did eight years of pretty substantial damage when everyone thought that he was batting yarn in a backroom while Dick Cheney was running the show.
BR: It’s true but he’s only managed to fill a tiny sliver of the positions that he needs to. I mean he is bumbling along.
JS: I don’t deny a basic level of incompetence. But let’s be clear, they’re outsourcing some of that to lobbyists now that are gonna fill … they’re outsourcing it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got laborers from China to start filling some of the … No but Trump is also, because of Gen. Mike Flynn, his national security adviser, they’re going to shrink the size, intentionally of the National Security Council and they are going to be doing a gutting of the people that they consider not loyal enough within the national security apparatus. And I think that is causing a lot of concern in the intelligence community They’re going to go for the political purge.
BR: I think if anything is consistent it’s that Trump is highly retaliatory. Is that whenever he perceives he’s been attacked, he lashes back. And I think that’s going to define everything about the administration .
JS: And Glenn, Trump now is getting the the states out of the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership, the TPP, which a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters were also against these so called free-trade global arrangements that the United States is in. NAFTA, GATT, now the TPP. What’s your read on this? Because I’ve seen a lot of Democrats now saying this is a win for China, it puts America last.
GG: I think this presents this huge question that Betsy was referring to earlier, which is these issues — these trends — they’re not just American, they’re international. They’re really global. There was an article in the New York Times which was really quite good this weekend about the French elections and how the left is dead in France. It’s a competition between Marine Le Pen who’s the Trump candidate and a kind of more established right wing candidate. In the U.K. the left is dead. Corbyn is you know, 30 points behind Theresa May in all the polls, and throughout Europe you’re seeing working class voters who have traditionally supported the left because of unions and because of social programs abandoning them on social grounds but also economic grounds thinking their jobs have been sent overseas and they are the losers in globalization, returning to this nationalistic message.
And TPP is the perfect example of this which is just another horrible trade deal that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were behind. She said ultimately with the campaign that she would unravel it or at least fix it. But everyone knew she was actually for it. John McCain came out today saying Trump’s making a mistake and Trump’s out there saying “no more of these trade deals that are sending your jobs away.”
And Bernie Sanders is saying if we’re going to be Democrats, we have to side with the people who are worried about their economic future. And if Democrats instead take the other route, which is because Trump’s doing it we’re going to oppose it, we’re going to try and xenophobically worry about how this is strengthening China. Say that these trade deals are actually good when everyone knows they’re just good for Wall Street. I think it’s only going to worsen this trend. It’s going to make Democrats feel like they’re being clever because they’re attacking Trump from the nationalistic or militaristic and xenophobic right. But I think it’s just going to exacerbate this impression that the Democrats are this party that only cares about corporate American coastal elites. That has been the biggest problem this far and I don’t see Democrats doing much to confront that or examine that, or to figure out how to change that. And that’s what I say, I think Bernie Sanders is, Elizabeth Warren is but not much else.
BR: Yeah and I mean, if Democrats, if the mainstream of the Democratic Party takes that line and attacks him on TPP, unlike Bernie Sanders, it’s also going to drive a massive wedge into the progressive coalition that we just kind of saw come together in this incredibly moving way — the Women’s March. Some people sort of sniped about how it was just about women, but actually it was very inclusive, and broad based and brought in any number of constituencies and groups and races and everything and also it was very sort of grassroots in the whole spirit of it. But if you have, you know, this corporate Democratic elite, you know, attach itself to the pro-free-trade agenda, you’re just going to completely gut the potential, the populist, the real authentic populist potential of that movement we just saw.
JS: And I was in the streets for both the day of the inauguration the protests there. And then also for the Women’s March. One thing that I found interesting — contrasting the vibe of that march on Saturday with the first anti-Trump demonstrations big ones, like in New York and elsewhere — there were a lot of people with the “I’m still with her” signs, the “not my president” [signs], focusing on the issue that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. You did see some of that in streets this weekend. But it was in the dramatic minority.
There were a lot of people that were there on women’s reproductive rights, on issues of climate change, racial justice issues, indigenous rights, huge contingent of indigenous women were there. Some of them tribal figures from the communities affected by the Dakota Access Pipeline. I think really the elites in the Democratic Party, it’s the weakest position they’ve been at in a very long time. One thing that I’ve noticed for instance, The Democratic Socialists for America, DSA, they really have stepped up their organizing. A lot of young people are mobilizing.
BR: It’s true, I noticed them too.
JS: Bernie Sanders did the most substantial damage to the campaign to demonize the word socialism in generations, decades in this country. And so I think that people who are fed up with the established Democratic Party have their best shot in years to actually go to town, to actually mobilize and organize, and rather than it feeling like this dark ominous era is upon us. I came away from the events, Trump’s speech aside, of inauguration weekend in Washington, D.C., feeling like many people are fired up and it’s not about let’s get Hillary back into the race in four years, it was “what are we going to do right now?”
BR: I think some of the most exciting movements right now are focused not on Washington but on sanctuary cities, where people can actually step up and protect the people who are going to be victimized most harshly by Trump’s policies.
GG: Yeah, my last thought is, just to follow up on that and say I think this is the silver lining of the Trump debacle, the Trump disaster, which is that it does have the potential to recreate for the first time this kind of culture of protest and activism and empowerment which is really potent when it’s galvanized the right way and that has been missing certainly since 9/11, when you know Washington just gained all this power and the population kind of got cowed into this mix of patriotism and bullying and I think that this was this first step. That although for me wasn’t perfect, the fact that it was organic and just very spontaneous and people driven. I think it’s actually one of the first positive, inspiring things that has happened in many months in U.S. politics, certainly since the election.
BR: I obviously agree and it was impossible not to be moved when you’re a part of those crowds. But I do think the main purpose of those marches was sort of solidarity building and you know, just trying to restore our unbelievably depressed morale at this moment. And I think it really served it’s purpose well there.
I don’t think that the marches were particularly successful in kind of convincing anyone else who doesn’t already agree with everybody who’s in the street, that like there’s something wrong with Trump. And in fact you saw, all over the media, the social media networks, a lot of Trump supporters were kind of complaining: “What are they doing? What are these women complaining about?” The fact that there wasn’t a clear set of demands and clear message actually made it look to those people who were looking at it from the outside like it was really just about being upset that we didn’t get our way and stamping our feet that we didn’t get our way in the election. That’s how it’s perceived. I’m not saying that’s legitimate, but you know, I do think we have to think going forward in a broader strategic way about how we can kind of build something that will grow the ranks of this movement rather than just kind of making ourselves feel better. Which is important, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of that.
JS: And I think there’s a clear contrast, and some of this is generational, and some of it is racial and some of it is class. But there’s a huge divide between the ever-aging leadership of the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill and people that are at the forefront of mobilizing in new ways. Whether it’s young black activists or it’s indigenous activists. And I do think there was education happening in the streets. Because I think the diversity that was present there did internal education for a lot of people about the issues of what others and what they find important.
But I would say contrast that kind of vibe with stale gray Washington and look at who votes to confirm all these horrid people that Trump has put up in his cabinet. Those people should be held accountable for voting for pro torture Mike Pompeo, pro-privatization of schools Betsy DeVos, and the list goes on and on and on from there, climate change deniers, etc. Politicians who play the game of this is just how politics work and we have to give him a chance, they’re not actually part of resisting much of anything, any more than somebody on MSNBC is part of the resistance because they put forward this “Russia is hiding behind every corner in our society.”
Well I want to thank my colleagues Betsy Reed and Glenn Greenwald for joining us.
BR: Thank you Jeremy.
Protesters: We won’t go away. Welcome to your first day. We won’t go away. Welcome to your first day. We won’t go away. Welcome to your first day.
JS: The weekend of the inauguration I was on the streets both on the day of the inauguration as well as on Saturday during the massive Women’s March. And I was joined by my friend Naomi Klein, who is a writer, an author, and a journalist.
Naomi Klein: I think it’s wonderful that the first mass action is a women’s march and you have all these sort of ridiculous debates of “Why isn’t it an everyone march?” And it’s like, I think it’s great this debate is being aired because we have to understand that yes they’re coming for everyone and everyone’s going to impacted, but not everyone’s going to be impacted in the same way. There are specificities here. There are people who are way more vulnerable. And we can’t have the attitude that we’re only going to focus on our issue. Because that would be way too weak, right?
Protesters: We are the popular vote. We are the popular vote.
NK: I’ve been hearing sort of a worrying message of like it’s so outrageous. The hypocrisies are so intense that obviously people are going to see this. That Trump ran as champion of the working man, and he’s going to stand up to the corruption and billionaires in Washington. And then just fills his administration with them. There’s … some people seem to be expecting that there’s going to a spontaneous revolt of Trump’s space. And, you know, what scares me is that as the economic facade falls away, the racism, the weaponizing of race, and the weaponizing of gender becomes all the more important because that’s all they have to offer. The economic stuff was obviously a sham. But they’re going to feed that to their base to make sure they don’t lose them. What we need to understand is how misogyny and racism are used to advance this agenda.
Protesters: This is what a feminist looks like. Tell me what a feminist looks like. This is what a feminist looks like.
NK: Hatred of women is a bright thread running through this administration. It’s not incidental, you know. There are key figures surrounding Trump, and Trump himself, who have been accused of sexual assault, abuse of their partners. It’s an epidemic, right? When you think about the people who are, we forget about, there in the background, like Roger Ailes there in the background, turned his whole workplace into … This is like the White House as frat house. I mean it is so disgusting. That’s a good reason to march.
Protesters: Donald Trump has got to go.
JS: That was Naomi Klein, journalist, author, activist at the Women’s March on Washington. In a minute I’m going to be chatting with the legendary journalist Sy Hersh. And what he has to say about Trump may surprise you.
JS: In trying to dissect what’s happening in the world of Donald Trump’s relation to the CIA, I thought it would be really fascinating to sit down with the legendary investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, who is of course a Pulitzer Prize winner. He broke the story of the My Lai Massacre during the war in Vietnam, he broke the Abu Ghraib torture story. He did several hard hitting investigative pieces when the Bush administration came into power about the way that they were expanding assassination operations.
And for those of you who are not entirely familiar with Sy Hersh’s career, in the 1970s, when Gerald Ford was president, after the impeachment and resignation of Richard Nixon, Sy Hersh, who at the time was a reporter for The New York Times, had revealed the fact that the CIA was operating domestically. and was engaged in illegal spying. And Dick Cheney while he was in the Ford administration in 1970s, tried to get the FBI to go after Sy Hersh. In fact he wanted Sy Hersh to be indicted for espionage.
We are now in a situation where we just had a Democratic president who presided over a war against whistleblowers, which is in many ways is a war against a free press, where a charge of espionage was used to go after people who were whistleblowers.
Well this week, I went over to Sy’s house and we sat down at his kitchen and it wasn’t so much an interview. It was more that I wanted to shoot the shit with this incredible reporter who has faced down with authoritarian administrations before, in what is really a conversation between two journalists. I began by asking Sy to give me his assessment of what Trump’s election and his emerging administration, what we should make of it.
Seymour Hersh: I can, I can play high-end or low-end. Let me give you the, the high-end. He’s a circuit breaker. You know? Here we are, we’ve got, we’ve had I think you can say for the past three or four decades, the oligarchs have been running everything and these guys are simply cutting out the middlemen. Those little greedy congressmen and senators who want their hands out. So they’re just cutting out the middlemen and he’s naming people to the cabinet jobs that have one thing, they’re all very very rich. They’re all multi-millionaires. Their career is over, they’re not using, they’re not gonna use the, the cabinet job they have to run for president for, or run for anything for, so this in a way, there’s no reason for them to disagree with the boss. I mean not to disagree with the boss. They have nothing to lose. You could argue that. And that he might have a new relationship with Putin and that’s the high-end.
I think increasingly as you look at it, I mean that’s not going to be the reality. But the idea of somebody you know, breaking things away, you know, and raising grave doubts about the viability of the party system, particularly the Democratic Party, are not a bad idea. That’s something, we could build on that in the future. But we have to figure out what to do in the next few years.
So there’s a high-end thing where you can say he’s such an outlier, that who knows what’s going to happen? Um, but you know, and then you could do the other side, you know. I don’t tell you what history. You have to go back into the ’30s, the first thing you do is destroy the media, which he can do, he’s going to intimidate ‘em. And then once you do the media and there’s gonna be, I can tell you my friends on the inside have already told me there’s going to be a major increase in surveillance. If you don’t have Signal, you better get Signal. If you don’t have one of those devices that makes it very difficult for people to track you.
JS: You’re talking about the end-to-end encrypted apps, like Signal and …
SH: Yeah, well Signal’s one of the better ones that they really can’t do much with.
JS: Yeah, yeah.
SH: I mean it’s Snowden’s means of communication. And so there’s also, also devices you can get that prevent you from being tracked. There’s also devices that can detect malware. So all that’s … There’s a downside to it. I understand that they’re going to be doing some purging. People on the inside who are suspect. And on more than just suspect left, suspect as being Islamist. I mean, really far out stuff. Really, stuff like that going on. I don’t think the notion of democracy is ever going to be as tested as it’s going to be now.
JS: Well, I mean, and Trump, the day after his inauguration goes to the CIA and gives that speech in front of the wall of the stars of the fallen agents. What did you make of it? And he, and he was mostly obsessed with the size of his crowd but what did you make of that first meeting, official meeting of the CIA?
SH: Ha. I can’t begin to tell you. Well he’s obviously going to remake the CIA. And he’s got some basis for thinking that there was, you know, the case. I don’t want to get too much into what I’m reporting but I can tell you the case about Russia. There’s a much simpler explanation for what happened.
JS: The real thing that I wanted to ask about here is: does Trump have a point when he says that these were leaks intended to undermine his credibility and damage him?
JS: That came from the CIA or other parts of the intelligence?
SH: Of course. There’s no question. I mean you see Brennan is speaking out, even now that he’s out of office, still speaking out. And that’s sort of, we haven’t seen that before.
JS: Well Brennan’s primary, you know primary thing that he claims he’s speaking out about is Trump’s use of the words nazis to describe people in the intelligence community.
SH: But before that he was speaking out. But look, the road is open for alternative journalism in a way that it hasn’t been in a long time. Because I don’t — I don’t think —mMy view of the way major media treated the thing with the Russian thing and the Putin wire tag, the hacking, is they were hectoring. They were just using it to hector. They didn’t do reporting.
And the real story was the extent to which the White House was going and permitting this kind of stuff to go, and permitting the agency to go public with assessments. What does an assessment mean? It’s not a national intelligence estimate. If you had a real estimate you would have five or six dissents, people saying, ‘cause I can tell you right now. One time they said 17 agencies all agreed. Oh really? The Coast Guard and the Air Force, they all agreed on it? And it was outrageous and nobody did that story.
JS: Even in their own summary that they released, the NSA’s level of confidence, as reported in that was a full degree lower than that of Clapper and his crowd. And on what issue?
SH: An assessment is simply an opinion. It’s not — if they had a fact, they’d give you. An assessment is just that. It’s a belief.
JS: I mean what, how, how do you think journalists should be operating right now, given the fact that the first White House press briefing by Sean Spicer — no questions allowed — leaves the room, and the fact that they’re talking about ejecting them from the, from the White House, sticking them in the old executive building. But also just the open “fuck you” to the press that we hear every single day?
SH: You know it’s interesting because the press is an easy target. We always are. Everyone wants to hate us like lawyers you know. All the lawyer jokes. But the truth is, and this is the campaign theme he had about the press and there was a significant percentage of people don’t want to believe the press. But the truth is the First Amendment is an amazing thing and if you start trampling the way they, I hope they don’t do it that way, it would be really counter productive. Um, he’ll be in trouble.
JS: What do you make of what we know about the emerging relationship between Trump and the CIA? Based on who he has around him, the kinds of policies that they’ve advocated and the personality we see, you know, Trump embody. What is Trump’s CIA going to look like?
SH: Oh of course, who knows? The real answer is you know, how the hell do I know? But you know.
JS: But let’s remember too, Trump said I want, I love waterboarding, he wants to stuff Guantánamo back up again.
JS: You know, is that just a reality TV showman saying these things?
SH: I don’t know. He also said he was going to do this, this, this. And his first day in office he didn’t do it. I don’t know. Look, we had a Democratic president for eight years that couldn’t … Every day, he did what? He escalated in Afghanistan? You know, again you say how are we doing there? How’s it going? How’s the war on terror going now? Since we started. How’s it been going for 16 years. Are there fewer opposition guys. How’s it going? He may surprise us and look at it and say woah, but I don’t think so. But I’m willing to look at it. Because as I said, circuit breaker’s the word. We’ve never had anything like this before. But I wish he was a little different.
JS: I always thought there’d come a point where Trump will decide, I’m gonna hand the running of the White House over to my sons, and I’m gonna go to back to doing … I’m not sure the guy understands anything about the constitution.
JS: But I do think, the combination of Pence’s record and Trump, what we see as Trump’s nature, I do think, I think you’re right to say we don’t know what the fuck’s going to happen. But we’ve seen some pretty bad indicators from the telegraph in here that they, you know, Trump does seem to want to bring back some of the worst components of the Bush-Cheney apparatus, combined with the fact that Mr. Transformative Nobel Peace Prize-winning-constitutional-law-scholar-Obama, basically sold liberals on the idea that we can whack people around the world, that drones are good, that we can engage in all of these little twilight wars, covert operations. Obama cleaned up a lot of the Cheney doctrine for his own people.
SH: How dare you attack him? How dare you? You’re right about him. Before, he did not change the basic structure. I think two days in office, his first executive action was to say I’m gonna shut down Guantánamo.
JS: But I do think that it’s possible Trump will try to transfer some of the people that Obama had prosecuted through the civil court system in this country on terrorism charges down to Gitmo. And I’m hearing that concern from the lawyers that represent prisoners at Gitmo.
SH: What are we doing in this country? What the hell, where are we going? I don’t know. I mean it’s — look it’s good for you. You’re, you’re intensely involved in a news service that’s going to get much more attention now. I’m watching it more and more and more and more and I’m not alone. It’s good for you guys, don’t knock it. A little adversity, a little end of democracy, you know. Just communicate with Signal, that’s all.
JS: I mean, I know what you’re saying but I also. I am really concerned about the surveillance stuff, I’m concerned that there’s a …
SH: That’s the word. That’s the word. That’s the word I was hoping you would bring up.
SH: Yes, that’s going to be the real issue.
JS: Oh I mean…
SH: I mean don’t go over the top. It doesn’t mean you don’t do what you do.
JS: No, no, no. What I’m saying though, just to give you an example and I’d like to hear your thoughts on this: We focus a lot on the NSA and the NSA’s collection abilities, the ability to get into people’s data, their phones, their computers, etc. Even now our smart appliances, your refrigerator, what have you. The DEA for instance, Drug Enforcement Agency, is one of the most pathological violators of privacy and flagrant violation of the law and Constitution. These guys don’t care about warrants, etc. They’ll use stuff that’s supposed to be all close-held, no access for use in domestic operations. DEA forever has been tapping into systems that are meant for foreign espionage stuff, have nothing to do with what they’re doing inside the U.S. or even outside of the U.S. in some cases. With someone like Trump though at the helm …
I mean Obama allowed so much of this stuff to go on, maybe permitted or authorized some of it, maybe just looked the other way. But with Trump and some of the people that he has, and his really thin-skinned ability to respond to criticism, or to take criticism, I’m concerned that they’re going to use this stuff as a domestic weapon — the surveillance stuff as a domestic weapon. I mean I know, I mentioned it in the book “Blackwater” about what the FBI and the CIA wanted to do to you. Breaking, going after you, fabricating stuff, breaking in. Our phones, our computers are the digital equivalent of breaking into your files now.
SH: I’ll …
JS: Except not all of your medical records and everything else are on that. And your texts with your girlfriend or whoever.
SH: Well to that I normally would say boohoo, okay. That’s the price of life. Hold on a second. I’ll match you though. I‘ll match you one, I’ll tell you one. I have reason to believe that when Gonzales was Attorney General.
JS: Alberto Gonzales.
SH: Yes. In 2005 maybe for a year or two. There were cases in which there was tough cases of people we didn’t like, people we thought could maybe be having some connection to a money ring, you know, theoretically drugs or terrorism. And they didn’t have the case.
And so NSA has everything. And so there were cases where they went hunting. They got the NSA to pull up some months worth of gmails or phone conversations of a guy that they’re trying to indict. And they found a conversation, they went to the person that had the conversation, pretended they had a confidential informant. This is what the DEA does all the time. They had a confidential informant.
JS: They call it parallel construction.
SH: And turn a witness that they didn’t have until they went to look at it. Now there you’re really talking. Now we can have the Fourth Amendment violation, now we’re talking about the Fifth Amendment — the right of self defense. Zowee! Zowee! So anything’s possible. Anything’s possible. So we’re in a new world. And it’s a new paradigm I guess you know.
JS: Well they use it like a time—what you’re saying, this is something that we’ve seen worn out, not just in the Snowden docs but also from people who’ve worked on these programs. The passive collection of all this data. You know, the vast majority of people, no one’s ever going to look at that. No one’s going to care what phone call you had or email you had when you show up on the radar of the right person or wrong person depending on how you look at it. They can go back and it’s like a time machine.
SH: Well, we know that.
JS: Right, so with Obama we saw how that was used globally. Within the United States, the combination of that platform with what we see of Trump’s personality? I’m just saying I’m concerned that we’re gonna see a sort of modern version of you know, the enemies list that Nixon had running and Hoover type shit.
SH: But maybe it’s, you know, I’m not Little Mary Sunshine — this is not a Little Mary Sunshine conversation — but Trump also feels victimized by leaks and secondhand stuff in the hotels and you know that stuff.
JS: The golden shower stuff.
SH: Whatever, that stuff. He must feel very victimized by that side of security. And you know there’s nothing like somebody who’s been victimized, maybe there’s a chance he won’t want it. Why not?
JS: Him personally, Sy? Okay, maybe. Look, he’s got some gangsters that are going to become very prominent in the corridors of some of these intelligence agencies.
SH: Was anybody more of a gangster than some of the leading people who’ve conducted the wars we’ve had? We’ve had gangsters all of our life in our society. And they, some of them were senators and some of them were, you know, secretaries of defense, were some murderous murderous people. I’m not, I’m not making a case … I hear what you’re saying. I’m just saying I’m worried. I have to be really worried. I was joking. You know i was joking saying that all the marches in the world aren’t going to move him out of office. But let’s just see.
JS: Boredom might though.
SH: Let’s just see. Let’s just see. You never know. You never know about things, and there’s some things …
JS: I would love to be wrong about all of this stuff.
SH: You don’t have to be wrong, just be wrong about a few things that you know, just be wrong that he may see the world in a business sense. And look, God, I was appalled by the appointments in the cabinet. Just appalled. I mean what? What? But you don’t know. You don’t know. There’s not much I don’t think.
JS: But what’s your advice to journalists? What should journalists be doing during this time? I don’t mean me, I just mean in general. What do you think news organizations, you said before, get up and fuck it, leave the room. How should journalists cover this administration?
SH: They’re not going to do that.
JS: I know they won’t but how do you think journalists should cover this administration?
SH: They should not let them bully them. They should not be bullied by a press secretary who behaves so egregiously in a way that’s so contentious as he did. They should not accept it. They should make it plain. And if he wants to send them off to the executive office building or to the State Department or on the street. Just go. And minimize the reporting except be there to nail everything he does that doesn’t live up to his own words. You still have the press. He’s not going to take the press away from you.
JS: Well he just goes on Twitter and says it’s all lies. And you, I mean he could be sitting in the room with us and say we’re actually sitting on a spaceship on Mars right now. And you and I say, “No, we’re sitting in Sy Hersh’s house.” And he would say, “No, you’re not.” And we say “Well we’re videotaping this, everyone’s going to see it.” And he’d say, “Well that’s fake news.”
SH: You know, but they do enough about it — the press. The trouble is you know we’ve got a different press these days. And it’s changed so much.
JS: But don’t you think that we’ve crossed some sort of a … we have crossed some sort of, into some different dimension now with the sort of post-truth.
SH: Yeah. And so I think that we might see better reporting. As I said, it’s gonna be good for opposition. Most people I think there’s gonna be more political activism. I think the Democratic Party, I just hope it doesn’t blow up and, you know, if they stick to the old way, they’re gonna blow it up and then you’re gonna make it easier for Republicans. You don’t want a split right now. Isn’t that terrible?
JS: You don’t smell a whiff of fascism right now?
SH: What do you mean whiff? When you attack the press the way they’re attacking. I just don’t know if there’s the …
JS: Sorry I’m trying to reconcile, you saying I don’t know it may not be that bad. I mean I get it, it’s responsible to say you don’t know what’s going to happen yet.
SH: But I’m saying also this …
JS: He overtly has a pretty authoritarian fascist aura.
SH: But no. The attack on the press is straight out, it’s national socialism. But do I think he knows that? Do I think he knows the history? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think he knows, you know, he’s not dumb. He’s not a dumb man. But I don’t think he’s at all interested in learning anything. It’s not clear he’s learned anything since he’s even been … I mean, the speech he gave at the inauguration was bereft of any sign of — it was lame. It was not … and the words, we’re talking about a seventh, eighth grade level here. I mean, plain words. That’s okay. Lincoln used plain words. Lincoln was very … you didn’t get him into a sophisticated …
JS: But this business of immediately we take off the women’s page, the LGBTQ page, the climate page, we shut down the Interior Department, shut down these Twitter accounts.
SH: You know, Jeremy, let’s let it happen, that’s all I can say.
JS: I’m trying to not let it happen.
SH: But no, but you can’t stop it. Let’s just see, that’s what I’m saying. Let’s just see.
JS: But whose, who do you think has his ear? Steve Bannon, uh, Flynn, Mattis. I mean who?
SH: Well I’ll tell you one person who doesn’t is the chief of staff. I mean he’s not going to know what’s going on. But that’s probably not so unusual. Look, I’m just not ready to say, I’m not ready to say the roof is, you know I’m not crying yet, I do know the big worry would be surveillance for me. Not personally because you know I do what I do.
JS: Surveillance of who?
SH: Surveillance of, general increase, dramatic increase, in domestic surveillance. Dramatic increase and continuing to single out Muslims which is crazy and continuing to talk about a war. I just, I just want to see what happens.
Don’t start letting your worry about tomorrow affect what you write today. That’s all. You know, there’s a lot out there. So I think the alternative medias are gonna have a little bit of a wave and be more important in the next three, four years. ‘Cause I just don’t think the major papers are up to it. I just don’t, I didn’t see it. I didn’t see what they did. The way they behaved on the Russia stuff was outrageous. They all just ran for briefings and they, I’m talking about in the news pages. And Trump absolutely, I’m sorry to tell you, he has a case. They were just so willing to believe stuff. And when the heads of intelligence give them that two-page summary of the stuff that the allegations, instead of attacking the CIA for doing that, which is what I would have done, my story is: are you kidding me? They’re taking it to a guy who’s going to be president in a couple of days, they’re giving him this kind of stuff and they think this is somehow going to make the world better? It’s going to make him go nuts — would make me go nuts. So I look at it that way you know. Maybe it isn’t that hard to make him go nuts. That’s …
JS: But that’s what I was talking about earlier. There’s this, there was this incredible … It’s almost like sea monkeys. You know those things, you put them in this powder and then they turn into these little things. It’s like all of a sudden, CIA it the greatest thing in the world and how dare you question the pronouncements of the … This is coming from the Democrats, from MSNBC. It’s like you know all of a sudden, there was no Iraq War, there’s not lying, there’s no history of the CIA. It’s just these are our brave spies that are keeping us safe from Russia.
SH: And I would have made, me, I would have made Brennan into a buffoon. A yapping buffoon in the last few days. Instead, they … everything is reported seriously. So there’s a lot of you know, it’s not so easy you know. You got a hothead as president who doesn’t think through and so let’s just see.
I agree with you. I’m not disagreeing with you about the need. I just think from your point of view, and I know this is what we’re talking about, this is all manna. It just means you guys have to do more of it and more people will pay attention to you and more people will take it seriously.
Alright listen we’ve been doing this for three days.
JS: Alright, well you know, have fun moving back to Russia. Thanks, Sy.
JS: That was the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sy Hersh. We were in the kitchen of his home in Washington, D.C. Before we end the show today I wanted to share with you some spoken word from my friend, the hip-hop artist Felipe Andres Coronel, also known as Immortal Technique.
So check it, it goes like this:
Imagine the word of God without religious groupies
Imagine the savior born in a Mexican hooptie
Persecuted single mother in a modern manger
You’d crucify him again like a fucking stranger
Tears of the anger are worth more than diamonds or rubies
Imagine being locked up since juvie
Imagine changing your life and still going out like Tookie
Imagine people talking shit when they never knew me
Imagine a movie that depicted the pain in your life
Like them kids in Afghanistan chasing a kite
For most of the world that’s what it’s like
Imagine if the person you suppose to love for the rest of your life
Is set to marry someone else at the end of the night
They say you fight the greatest jihad in your heart and your mind
And fight the hardest when you start from behind
So I dreamed the impossible all the time
Fuck a Masonic design—America’s future is mine
Repeat that to yourself cause if our culture’s a crime
Them numbers tatted on your arm aren’t too far behind
They can only conquer you after they murder your mind
So rise up, motherfucker, like the sign of the times
I feel my body weakening but my spirit is fine
Ready to go to war with devils at the drop of a dime
And fight with my rebel army until the stars are aligned
Cause Nostradamus was a white man’s prophet
Who predicated European supremacist logic
Because the pilgrims and the conquistador columns
Killed more innocent people than Hitler and Stalin
So I guess the fortune-teller skipped an antichrist or two
Brother, give this to the OG’s doing life with you
And pray for the problems with the pope psychology
So the Vatican will offer an apology
For destroying the people’s liberation theology
Snatching the spirit of Jesus from people in poverty
Business decisions like keeping people in prisons
But had the opposite effect: incarcerating religion
That type of crooked politics exposed on a populace
Is obvious if you read the Northwood documents
But forget the compliments for what I recorded
And live for revolution instead of always dying for it
Thank you very much.
JS: The words of Immortal Technique. That does it for episode one of Intercepted. Please tell your friends, your family, your colleagues and well, even your enemies, to subscribe to the show. Visit theintercept.com/podcasts to find out more. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept, and it’s distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Our music was composed by the great DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.