Intercepted Podcast: Donald in Wonderland

As pundits praise Trump’s Capitol Hill performance, don’t believe the hype. This administration is dangerous.

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This week on Intercepted, an ex-CIA analyst and a former FBI counterterrorism agent say they fear that a terror attack against the U.S. could result in a coup for the radical ideologues in the Trump White House. As Trump continues to promote his alternative facts, Nada Bakos and Clint Watts explain how Trump’s administration could use Dick Cheney’s model of “alternative intelligence” to justify dangerous military actions. Immigrant communities across the U.S. are facing a dramatic uptick in raids as part of Trump’s pledge to deport millions while Attorney General Jeff Sessions cancels the Obama-era order to end the use of private prisons. Shane Bauer of Mother Jones worked as a private prison guard and breaks down the connections between the raids and soaring private prison profits. Intercept reporter Ryan Devereaux discusses his investigations into the Department of Homeland Security and the White House plans for mass deportations. Trump’s insane adviser, Sebastian Gorka, hangs out with Alice in Wonderland. And an Intercepted exclusive: the world premiere of the new song “Fake News” by the acclaimed Iraqi-Canadian hip-hop artist, Narcy. We bet you never thought you’d hear Steve Bannon’s name rapped in auto-tune.

Alice in Wonderland: If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrariwise, what it is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?

Sebastian Gorka: Absurdities! It was a fabulous press conference.

AW: In my world, you wouldn’t say —

SG: My gosh, we’ve done more work in one month in the prior administration than in six months.

AW: Oh, but you would! You’d say —

SG: Based upon my experience, there isn’t any disorder, any chaos.

AW: Why, in my world —

SG: Fantasy. This is fake news. It doesn’t matter. Distortions. It’s fabricated. That’s the reality. Your representation is just wishful thinking. It doesn’t work. And we are again in this world.

Jefferson Airplane: Remember what the dormouse said

Feed your head

AW: I keep wishing it could be that way

Because my world would be a wonderland

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.

[Music interlude]

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City, and this is episode six of Intercepted.

Donald J. Trump: Each American generation passes the torch of truth, liberty, and justice in an unbroken chain all the way down to the present. That torch is now in our hands, and we will use it to light up the world.

JS: Well, seeing Donald Trump address a joint session of the United States Congress felt like an awkward yet very disturbing class trip to the Capitol where every kid gets to pretend they’re a senator or a congressman or the president, and they take a picture on the house floor that they can show their parents or their grandparents. Except the kid at the podium? Yeah, he’s the president of the most powerful nation on earth. We certainly are on a trip, a very bad trip, and one that’s already having grave consequences, both in the U.S. and across the globe.

DJT: I am sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester, and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.

JS: Whoever wrote Trump’s speech at the Capitol may be trying to roll out a softer, more responsible Trump operating system, the soft-serve Trump, but this is all Kabuki theater. And I’m gonna leave that to the pundits, the politicians, the news shows to deal with.

Donald Trump likes to portray himself as the great promoter and defender of America, its strongest supporter of law enforcement and the U.S. military. He’s promising a massive — some in his circles say unprecedented — expansion in the U.S. military budget, while at the same time gutting social spending. Trump loves to talk about his generals. But listen to how Trump talks about the death of William “Ryan” Owens, an elite U.S. Navy SEAL who died in the utterly disastrous raid that Trump authorized while having dinner with his son-in-law and Steve Bannon last month in Yemen.

DJT: Well, this was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just — they wanted to do. And they came to see me. They explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected. My generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I would — I believe. And they lost Ryan.

JS: This is so fucked up on so many levels. First of all, upwards of 30 Yemeni civilians, including many women and an infant, were killed in this raid. Success? The U.S. military doesn’t dispute that a large number of civilians were killed. Yet Trump keeps calling it this huge success. But second, did you hear how Trump blamed the U.S. Navy SEAL’s death on the generals? It’s amazing. Trump wants to be commander-in-chief when it’s convenient for his reality show White House, or on the campaign trail. But when an elite soldier dies — “oh, well, the generals lost him.”

DJT: And Ryan is looking down right now. You know that. And he’s very happy because I think he just broke a record. [Laughing] [Applause]

JS: Now, for his part, the father of that Navy SEAL, Bill Owens, refused to meet with Trump. He said, “Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen. Everything was missiles and drones because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden, we had to make this grand display?”

Now, Trump maintains that the raid was a success. And White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says they’re gonna conduct three separate military reviews.

DJT: I just spoke to our great General Mattis, just now, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemy.”

JS: This Yemen horror show raises, what I think is, one of the most urgent questions that we as journalists need to be asking constantly. How will we ever know if anything this White House or this president himself says is true? They lie. They lie constantly. They lie about little things. They lie about big things. They’re addicted to the narcotic of lying, and it’s infectious among their supporters. It’s one thing to call CNN fake news and to chastise the New York Times. That’s all extremely disturbing, of course. But what is to stop Trump and his team from expanding their universe of alternative facts into a world of alternative intelligence? This week, George W. Bush won praise from liberals and conservatives alike for his mild criticisms of Trump and his totally hypocritical defense of the news media’s role in our democracy.

George W. Bush: I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy; that we need an independent media to hold people like me to account. I mean, power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive. And it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.

JS: I’m not gonna join in the chorus of praise for George W. Bush just because he tosses some cotton balls of criticism at Trump. This man was responsible for the deaths of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, and thousands of American troops. He served as the head of what was basically a criminal syndicate of war criminals and torture, while masquerading as a compassionate conservative.

There’s good reason, though, to bring up George W. Bush in the context of Trump. Bush’s wars relied on what we now call alternative facts. That’s how the Iraq War was sold. That was how the Patriot Act was passed. That was how these endless wars were justified over and over and over. Bush and Dick Cheney, yeah, they were a bit more sophisticated than Trump and Bannon and their team appear to be. But we can already see that same machinery that brought us the Iraq War playing out with Trump and his team. It’s one thing to lie in all caps on Twitter. It’s another to manipulate intelligence.

I’m joined now by two people who know a lot about this. They both worked on sensitive operations within the U.S. intelligence community under George W. Bush’s administration. Clint Watts was a U.S. Army infantry officer who was then recruited after 9/11 to become an FBI Special Agent on the Joint Terrorism Taskforce. Watts also served as the executive director of the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point. Nada Bakos was a career CIA analyst. She found herself actually working on the program to find a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. And she was working on that as a result of pressure from the Bush White House, particularly Dick Cheney, on the CIA. That connection, of course, was never substantiated. I want to welcome both you, Clint Watts, and you, Nada Bakos, to Intercepted. Clint Watts, let’s begin with you. What’s your read on Trump’s approach to the CIA, the military, and intelligence operations in general?

Clint Watts: The Trump strategy is to build allegiance by fawning on law enforcement and the military the way he’s done so far to try and bring them in so that they are loyal and adherent to him in ways that the Obama administration failed. And then at the same point, to drive a wedge between the intelligence community and much of the military and law enforcement, which was very typical of General Flynn — you know, the first national security adviser. He butted heads straight on with the CIA and even other parts of the Defense Department, parts of the law enforcement community. So I think the initial strategy was to defang the intel community, then sort of say, “Okay, I’ll listen to you, and I’ll come to you a little bit,” and then to continue to drive that wedge and then pump up the military and law enforcement.

And it’s backfired, I think, to a certain degree. And I think at a higher level, what the public doesn’t see is there are competing strains inside each of these organizations. So, in the Department of Defense, there are those that are very excited about a Trump administration ‘cause they feel they’ve been, you know, a little bit under-handed by the Obama administration. I think within the intel community, it’s much more balanced, and they’re not as enthusiastic about it because the president doesn’t accept information that’s against his views. Literally, his presidential daily brief, he doesn’t take. He doesn’t take the intel briefings. He only wants the intelligence that fits a certain filter. For anyone that’s a bona fide intelligence expert, that’s the worst thing that you ever want to hear. It’s also an opportunity, though.

I think the smarter people in the intelligence community are gonna treat him like a dictator. And what do you do with a dictator? You play to his ego. So they will end up almost influencing the president like a foreign adversary, I think, that if they want to convince him of what they believe the truth or a balanced assessment for America is, they’re gonna end up treating him like a Gaddafi or a Putin, or somebody that they want to appeal to. And they’re literally gonna have to make their assessments with the information behind it come to terms with the president’s worldview, which is very frightening because it really sets up a lot of blind spots as well.

JS: There’s a lot of discussion now in the media of, you know, what’s called the Deep State, and also this notion that the CIA and certain sectors of the FBI are trying to undermine the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency; then on the other side, saying that the CIA and other agencies may not actually be providing President Trump with the full picture on an intelligence level because they don’t trust him. What do you say to that?

CW: I think what will be the tell about this division inside these organizations is when you see words of alternative intelligence process or alternative analysis process, which I imagine will happen. If you remember back during —

JS: And what does that mean?

CW: If you remember back during the Bush administration when it was time to build the case for war in Iraq, there was certain segments in the Department of Defense that were coming up with their own independent assessments of the justifications to go to war in Iraq. And those oftentimes competed and were contrarian to what you got out of the intelligence community. So, if this administration really wants to push a certain agenda — and we’ve already seen this now with the DHS’s intel assessment around the ban in these countries. They produced a report that didn’t match up with this policy that they’re pushing, so now you see the administration say, well, I’m not gonna listen to it. We’re still gonna push it forward. Maybe we need to go back to the drawing board and do analysis.

What I would expect them to do is start to put together alternative teams out of the White House that are going to provide another competitive look at these questions. And if we see that, especially in the Department of Defense, or run directly out of the National Security Council, I would have great concern. That to me would signal, I don’t trust my intel agencies, and the intel I want to support my actions is the following. Go find it. And that happened, if you remember, back during the Bush administration, where there was this alternative intelligence process which was coming out sideways against the intel community. So that’s very nerve-wracking to me.

JS: Well, and just to provide people the historical context for that, you had Stephen Cambone, who was one of Rumsfeld’s top deputies, who ran what they call the Office of Special Plans. And Cambone and other minions or representatives of Rumsfeld were doing what’s called stovepiping. They were taking raw bits of intelligence and cherry-picking them to support a conclusion, rather than letting the facts lead to a conclusion.

And Nada, you served during this time at the CIA, where you had this parallel operation being run out of the Pentagon while the CIA was tasked with determining, are these things true? Are they not? What does the evidence look like? And then you had Cambone and others running around cherry-picking intelligence and providing it directly to the vice president. Could we see something like that replay under Trump, Nada?

Nada Bakos: So, under the Office of Special Plans, as you mentioned, Doug Feith was involved, Paul Wolfowitz was involved. Their findings were the opposite of basically what we were finding at the time. I was on the team charged with figuring out whether or not Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 and al Qaeda. Now, that question did not come up organically through the intelligence we were collected [sic]. That question came up from the administration. We weren’t seeing indicators. We wouldn’t have formed a team otherwise to evaluate this information. So, that in and of itself, was the beginning of a backwards, you know, cart before the horse. We came to our conclusion. We delivered it to the White House, to Congress. The DOD did have a very different opinion on how they characterized relationships between Saddam and other terrorist organizations. They weighed false information. They also took raw reports and cherry-picked those from sources that we didn’t deem reliable, and gave those to the president. It’s very clear that politicizing intelligence and cherry-picking information that you think is gonna support your bottom line, you know — it led to war, in this instance.

Colin Powell: One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq’s biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents. Let me take you inside that intelligence file and share with you what we know from eyewitness accounts.

JS: Because the two of you have a lot more experience than I do in the world of intelligence, I want to throw at you something that is, to me, the biggest lingering question about the Russian affair, so to speak. The question I have for you guys is this: given that we know that the same cell or the same actors that were using the same Bitly link and the same tools, and all the forensics indicates this, we’re going after opponents of Vladimir Putin outside of the United States, within Russia, journalists, NGOs, in Ukraine, in other countries around the world. But in the United States, it wasn’t — and this is the point I’m getting at — it wasn’t this surgical strike on the DNC’s emails. It wasn’t a surgical strike on John Podesta’s Gmail account. These hackers were targeting swaths of people that were influencers in the United States that were connected to the military or connected to intelligence. And so, to me, the idea that you say, well, the intent of the hack was to influence the election, I don’t believe we’ve seen evidence to back that up.

CW: I think there’s four scenarios, and you can rule out a couple really quick. On the Trump side, what he would tell you is he’s just a guy who likes Russian issues and believes very similar to them. On the other end is the Manchurian candidate. He’s picked, selected and is doing the bidding of Putin. I don’t think the links are there to come to that conclusion. In the middle, though, you’ve got two scenarios. One, the useful idiot scenario: he’s a guy that the Russians saw picking an agenda that waffles back and forth, and is not — as we’ve seen now — very much on top of national security issues, so you can just run with him. And so you just promote him, you know, and you tear down other opponents to him.

And then there’s the compromise scenario. Is he really just compromised, and he doesn’t have much choice? I think that there’s only two things that can really flush that out as we move forward. And if an investigation moves forward, there’s a special prosecutor. But they ultimately have to term it is, in the useful idiot scenario, he’s gonna be surrounded by a bunch of advisers that are comprised, influenced, paid for by the Russian governor. And we already are seeing some signals of that. Trump is notorious for bringing people on as allies and business or in government that he doesn’t really know very well, and jettisoning them just as quickly. So I think it’s highly probable that Russia could influence these key political figures around him to come help mold his mind, push him towards Russian positions, whether he knows them or not.

The other scenario is compromise. Are the claims of St. Petersburg and financial compromise — are they there? That takes a deep investigation, and we know less about this president’s tactics and businesses than any president in the history of mankind. If I had to guess right now, I think it’s the useful idiot surrounded by Russian influence agents. You know, there’s three or four people that it appears who are being investigated or looked at. They had sway with the president at different times. You know, Trump walked up and cited Sputnik News, fake story about a Podesta email in Benghazi and dropped it on the ground.

DJT: “If the GOP wants to raise that as a talking point against her, it is legitimate.” In other words, he’s now admitting that they could have done something about Benghazi. This just came out a little while ago. [Crowd shouting]

CW: Who gave that to him? Well, it had to be somebody that was tightly woven into the influence system of Russia. Now, is that Trump doing that himself? Well, you can’t say that because we’ve seen how many conspiracies he falls for on Twitter, so he could equally fall for the influence of a nation state who just strategically puts a few people around him for a few 100,000 dollars. I mean it could be a very cheap effort. So, I don’t think it’s this Manchurian candidate. And in fact, I think what’ll disprove the Manchurian candidate scenario is as soon as Trump and this administration, which now has McMaster, Mattis, Kelly — a lot of these people in there, a huge push now from the Republican congress that’s anti-Russian. Soon as they go against Russia, whether it’s in Syria or Ukraine or one of these Eastern European countries, when you see the Russians pivot their influence operation against Trump, then you’ll know he’s not the Manchurian candidate scenario. It’s somewhere in between.

JS: Speaking of useful idiots, I wanted to talk about Sebastian Gorka for a moment.

SG: A mixture of fascism, of communism, all wrapped up in the religion of Islam. And it’s these people you must read and understand if you wish to understand the threat to America, and why it truly is an existential threat.

JS: He is in the news a lot because Trump and Bannon have put him there. What does it mean that he is in the position he’s in right now, and who is he?

CW: He started showing up at events that I was at probably around 2011, ’12, you know, if I had to put a guess on the date, and would be a panelist and always very strong, very antagonistic, oftentimes rude towards other panelists that were there. Very aggressive, and always sort of fawning over the military, law enforcement, tough talk, which was good for his business. I mean he’s primarily a trainer. You know, he’s trying to sell training, or what I call “edutainment.” You know, it’s a cross between education and entertainment, and it’s not good at either one, really, you know, and you’re just getting a show. And so, what you see is very typical of President Trump, which is he sees somebody that’s saying something that he likes or that makes sense, and it’s a very simple explanation. He’s seeing somebody who’s a very good presenter, and he is — Gorka is a very good showman. He’s a dynamic, engaging speaker. You can’t deny that at all. But under the surface, when you look at his claims and what they’re actually about, they’re oftentimes very hollow, no more than an inch deep. They play to the audience that is hiring him and bringing him his cash stream.

SG: If you want people to read your book, especially Americans, you must have a good story.

CW: The first time I watched him, and he repeats this every time is, “I know what they’re saying ‘cause I read the Koran in English.” He doesn’t note that part ‘cause he doesn’t know Arabic. You know, “I study it, and all you’ve got to do is read what they say and know that we’re at war with Islam.” And then he’ll sort of tailor back and say radical Islam. And then when you try and pin him down on that, it’s like it could be anything under the sun. And the strategies that he’s picking are exactly the ones for which al Qaeda attacked us with the far enemy doctrine to begin with, backing apostate dictators who don’t obey human rights and are, you know, hard on their people, and clamping down on terrorism in ways that are not beneficial to the U.S.

And that’s generally the strategy of Trump. We’re gonna partner in ways like we did in the ‘90s, which ultimately brought the rise of al Qaeda. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I think what you see with Gorka — and this is not limited. This is Bannon, this is Gorka, this is that strain in the inner White House. They want this end times battle with Islam. And it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. They’ll clamp down and be hard, to be tough and look tough in the face of the adversary, which is poorly defined. And that’ll provoke terrorist attacks, and they’ll say, “See? I told you so. I told you we have to clamp down harder.” It’s a weird phenomenon that they’re running with.

JS: If you, on the one hand, have Trump going after the CIA, putting pressure on the FBI, and then putting people like Gorka, who are basically fan boys of the Special Operations community, that to me is what’s dangerous about this, because you have a disproportionate number of, kind of, Jerry Boykin acolytes within that world than you do in the broader U.S. military. And it concerns me that a guy like Gorka — it’s not that he says something about Trump’s politics. It says something about their strategy that these are the kinds of guys that they want around. The fact that you have Gorka and Bannon and Stephen Miller and these kind of radical ideologues who view Islam as the cancer on the world, and that our main mission should be to destroy it, what does that say about the broader risks that are posed by Trump’s presidency on a national security level?

CW: Well, it’s very blindsided — I mean, it’s so narrow and so hyper-focused on an issue that you might put number five under the Obama administration. I mean, Islamic extremism’s been a big deal for a while, but you could see it start to move away. China, Iran — we’re back in this nation state stuff with Russia. We’re now pivoting right back to re-fighting Iraq in 2005. You know, that sort of thinking. And it’s gonna blind us to all these other more legitimate threats. For example, I’m really excited about McMaster being in there as a national security advisor because Flynn was deeply scary to me. But if you look at even McMaster, Mattis, Kelly, a lot of these military people they’ve pushed forward, who’s in charge of the cyberattack that hits the United States and is the expert on it? It’s definitely not Gorka, Bannon, or any of these folks. They’re basically turning a blind eye to every issue except for radical Islam.

They’re also doing several things. One, they’re playing up to war. They’re playing up to defense spending, which I just talked about before; and they’re playing up to the biggest and best killing machine that’s ever been created in history. What is super scary about it to me is you’re looking at people who have got a thimble of knowledge about a lot of these groups that we’re tackling right now. Al Qaeda and ISIS have never been so disaggregated and spread on so many different continents. You can’t lump them all together. You’ve got them dangerously lumping Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda and ISIS all as allies right now. That is lunacy. You’re creating a big enemy so that you can then go fight it when I have to say, under the Obama administration and the end of the Bush administration after the sort of missteps, we’ve really reoriented in a much smarter way to be more nimble and focus on what is the real threat we want to worry about, which is no attacks on the homeland, going after core al Qaeda leaders, trying to stay out of a lot of these insurgency campaigns.

And we are almost just across the board, the Trump and that inner circle, we’re gonna undo everything that was done before us, and we’re gonna double down on those that we want to be most like. And it’s a general insecurity. Trump, Bannon, Gorka are insecure about themselves, and the way they build their security is to try and reinforce and touch on those people that are the toughest in the business.

NB: Surrounding himself with people like Bannon and Gorka, he’s bought into this, and I think can only understand this binary conversation about terrorism. He doesn’t — Bannon and Gorka — Gorka, we’ll talk about him. He especially clearly does not understand radicalization process and what happens to an individual as they go through that process. And there’s many stepping off points. You can’t argue that there isn’t something tied to religion with al Qaeda and ISIS and other groups like this. But he doesn’t even understand how it’s tied in. He thinks it’s really about mainstream Islam, and the Koran and what it teaches. He’s reading this literal version of the Koran. And if you did with the Bible, you’d come out with the same sort of outlook of violence and death and [laughs] destruction. I mean, it’s not —

JS: I was terrified as a kid every time —

NB: He doesn’t understand —

JS: — we’d read the Old Testament.

NB: Right.

JS: I would have nightmares for months.

NB: Exactly.

Dramatized Audio Bible (Deuteronomy 20): If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock, and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves.

NB: And he doesn’t understand the philosophy and the education that goes into understanding — you know, interpreting these historical texts. The fact that Gorka can’t even understand that on a basic level means that he is completely the wrong person to be looking at countering terrorism and understanding the Middle East at all whatsoever.

Now back to your question about the DOD. It does bother me that he is just surrounding himself with one single type of viewpoint, because this isn’t — there’s a lot of tools in this toolkit that he should be using. The State Department, the intelligence community. If you’re only seeing everything — and I hate this analogy, but I’m gonna use it — as a nail and you have a hammer, that’s all you’re gonna use. A lot of these generals don’t have this interagency experience. They don’t understand how to build governance processes. They can tear stuff down, you know, and clean the path forward, but they don’t know how to rebuild because that’s just not what the military does, and that’s not what they’re charged with.

I would say the same thing for what — the reliance on JSOC. I don’t understand, on one hand, how continuing to use this tool, over and over again, is a strategy. And anyone would see it that way. There are limitations to using anything continuously  — same thing with drones. What I don’t see at all is a nuance of understanding of global outlook, and in addition to how we can actually develop and enact a foreign policy that’s not based on military conditions.

JS: You know, on that token, it does seem as though Trump believes that Mike Pompeo is his guy, and Pompeo is the director of the Central Intelligence Agency now. That probably would be of concern to you. I mean, if they’re striking deals to get Cabinet posts that could potentially compromise them as director of an agency, such as the CIA, that could be real problematic.

NB: It concerns me to the extent that I think, if there is undue influence by the administration, the expectation that you toe the line according to what they want versus the reality, the situation on the ground? Absolutely. Because what that does it politicizes the structure of the intelligence community. So you can politicize the information that comes out, you know, possibly develop your own team that feeds the bottom line that you’re after, but you can also do it through the structure. That to me is one of the more concerning underlying factors in how he’s treating the intelligence community, because if it’s always serving his needs and serving his view of the world, he may as well not have one.

JS: Well, you know, what about the balloon that the administration floated about bringing back or reconstituting the CIA black sites and rolling back the clock on some of the authorizations for what, I think, can clearly be called torture techniques to be used on prisoners? And the fact that the deputy CIA director herself was reportedly involved with setting up these CIA black sites? I know they’re saying now that they’re not gonna do that, but this administration is quite unpredictable and contradicts itself hourly.

NB: [Laughs] So, I cannot imagine they’re gonna find a CIA officer willing to stick their neck out and do anything with that type — reconstituting that program. Look at Sabrina De Sousa. She’s currently being detained in Portugal based on what had happened in a rendition in Italy. Is the Trump administration running to her defense? No. So, this is — clearly the message is, if you’re caught and you’re involved, too bad. The United States government isn’t gonna worry about it.

JS: Well, or —

NB: I can’t imagine a CIA officer taking that risk.

JS: Well, or you write a book, like Jose Rodriguez, where you brag about it, or you’re the contractors who help to set this up. I mean, it’s not — I’m sure you’re right about actual CIA officers. But, I don’t know about contractors and certain people like Jose Rodriguez, who has profited off of bragging about how he had to put on the big-boy pants and teach everybody how to torture.

NB: I’m sure you could find a contractor who would set this up at this point for an X amount of money, because evidently, they’re increasing the military budget. But again, I think you’d have a really hard time finding people within the building of the CIA willing to be heavily involved in this and take any type of — any kind of responsibility. You would probably have to turn it on — off to outsiders to make it function.

JS: As we wrap up, Clint, what’s your biggest concern for the next four years, if in fact Trump decides he wants to stay president, or if he manages to keep his presidency alive for that time? What’s your biggest concerns?

CW: There is a war right now between that inner circle, the Bannon, Gorka, Walid Phares, former General Flynn, NSA and these other agencies. And so, to their credit, they’ll say, “Look, we gotta come in and shake things up, and we’re breaking down the old roles, and we’re gonna do things different.” And that sounds great. And if they could cut the bureaucracy in government, that would be wonderful. But as we just saw, they just increased defense spending, which is increasing bureaucracy. And I think my biggest concern is — in the next six months, in this war between, I call it the pragmatists and the ideologues, the pragmatist being more like a General Mattis, that we’re reliant on a guy who goes by chaos to be the one to bring the peace  — is can they set the course of the administration so it’s not dangerous and counterproductive, in a way, before the ideologues take over?

And the one — my biggest fear is that there’s a major terrorist attack between now and that current takes over, because it will bring the country under the umbrella of the president to be tough and have to prove yourself, and the ideologues will run first because they’re more organized. If you look at these dumb executive orders they pushed, they did it before the appointees were even in office or even aware of it, which is dumb. But it shows how zealous they are. And that’s why I’m scared about — if I were al Qaeda or ISIS, I would attack now. If I was a nation state, Russia, China, Iran, I would provoke us right now because you’ll get that overreaction that they want.

JS: Nada Bakos, your biggest concerns in the coming years?

NB: Incompetency. I mean you look at the White House and how it’s structured. They’re copying and pasting from the George W. Bush administration on the structure of the National Security Council, and then they realize that they did it wrong, and that the Joint Chiefs of Staff was actually on there under Obama, and this is unacceptable. They are at the top level of government. And I am concerned that just the incompetency coupled with the ideologue attitude, we are going to see just enormous decisions being made that are at the expense of the people of the United States. I also am very concerned about, as Clint mentioned, ideologues running this country. I spent 10 years of my life at the CIA evaluating and writing intelligence reports on ideologues of all spectrums. And that’s really the last thing that I want to see at the helm of the United States government at this point.

JS: All right, well, Nada Bakos, thank you very much for joining us.

NB: Thank you.

JS: And Clint Watts, thank you —

CW: Thank you.

JS: — very much for your time.

[Music interlude]

JS: Nada Bakos was a career CIA analyst who also served as the chief targeter in the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi during the Iraq War. And Clint Watts is a former FBI special agent on the Joint Terrorism Taskforce.

After the break, we’ll talk about private prisons. And we have the world premiere of a new song by the hip-hop artist Narcy. I only have three words: Steve Bannon auto-tune. This is Intercepted. Stay with us.

[Music interlude]

Jeff Immelt: Mr. President, good to see you again.

DJT: Hi, Jeff. Jeff, actually, watched me make a hole-in-one, can you believe that? Should you tell that story?

Bill Murray as Carl Spackler: I’m on the first tee. What do I give him? A driver. He hauls off and whacks one. Big hitter. Long. Into a 10,000-foot crevice right at the base of this glacier. So we finish 18, and he says, “Oh, gunga galunga. Gunga gunga lagunga.” And he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey! How about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” [Crowd laughing]

DJT: It’s a crazy — it’s a crazy — no, I actually said I was the best golfer of all the rich people. To be — to be exact. And then I got a hole-in-one. So, it was sort of cool.

Kenny Loggins: I’m alright

Nobody worry ‘bout me

Why you got to gimme a fight?

Can’t you just let it be?

JS: Okay, we are back here at Intercepted. And Donald Trump has accomplished a tremendous amount of golfing in his first month in office. Just tremendous. As he sets out to break Kim Jong-un’s legendary golf accomplishments, Trump has hundreds, literally hundreds of vacancies in positions that still need a Senate confirmation. Trump seems to be spending an incredible amount of time watching television and then tweeting things that he hears on television, without checking if they’re true or not. But not all of this is something to laugh at, because what Trump has officially done as president, it’s real. It’s serious.

As we record this Tuesday night, there are reports that Donald Trump may be reconsidering some of his hardline positions on undocumented immigrants. This was one of the linchpins or his campaign for the presidency. Build the wall, mass deportations, round them all up. Here are the facts so far. Donald Trump and his administration have set a tone in this country that is clearly aimed at dehumanizing certain types of immigrants or visitors to the United States. We’ve seen that with the Muslim ban. And to listen to Trump, you would imagine that there are just swarms of Mexicans and Central Americans descending on America with a singular mission to commit crimes against white people.

DJT: We will begin removing the more than two million criminal illegal immigrants from the country — drug dealers, gang heads, gang members, killers — and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.

JS: While Trump and his administration and their high profile supporters conduct this very public fear campaign, on a policy level, they’re building up the infrastructure for mass deportation operations, and a further paramilitarization of the Department of Homeland Security, of the U.S. Border Patrol, and of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security released a pair of memos that officially began the process of implementing Trump’s ultra hardline domestic immigration enforcement vision. These DHS memos radically expand the range of people who can be swiftly deported without any meaningful due process. My colleague here at The Intercept, Ryan Devereaux, has been reporting on the Trump administration’s executive orders, on his immigration policies, on his Department of Homeland Security and immigration visions. He has sources that have been blowing the whistle from within the government. And his reporting on this has been essential.

Ryan, thanks for being with us. Lay out what your reporting has found about what the Trump administration is doing here.

Ryan Devereaux: Essentially, what the administration has done is radically expanded the category of people who can be targeted for deportation. And it’s important to remember that in this country, we have all kinds of families with mixed status: a dad who’s undocumented, a kid who has, you know, citizenship. So, millions of people can and will be impacted by this and already are. The fear in immigrant communities across this country is unlike anything that’s been seen in recent years. It’s already happening.

JS: And so, what does it mean to expand the categories of people that can be targeted? Give an example.

RD: So, under the — basically, the new rules, folks who are believed to have committed something that could constitute a criminal offense could be prioritized for deportation. Folks, who have just an immigration violation on their record — they just happened to have not been checked when they came across the border, could be prioritized for deportation. So, I mean, what this has done is cast such a wide net, and that’s why so many people are terrified right now.

JS: Where are they gonna put all of these people that they round up in these ICE raids?

RD: So, the executive orders have called for the expansion of a network of detention facilities along the U.S. border with Mexico, and they are to be built as quickly as possible, and that is including through private contracts. So, we are going to likely see a lot of these private prison companies, basically, trying to get in line to make money off of this. And that’s where these folks are gonna go. The administration has vowed to crack down on so-called catch and release policies that allow folks to be outside of lockup while their cases are processed, so you’re gonna see a lot more people in cells. And if the administration doesn’t follow through on hiring more judges, then we’re gonna see the backlog, the historic backlog that we already have in immigration cases only grow as more and more people fill up these facilities.

JS: Ryan Devereaux is an investigative reporter at The Intercept. You should check out all of the reporting he’s been doing on the Trump administration, its executive orders, and what’s happening at the Department of Homeland Security at Ryan, thanks for being with us.

RD: Thanks for having me.

[Music interlude]

Newscaster: Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo calling for the government’s continued use of private prisons, reversing an Obama administration directive to phase them out.

JS: Don’t believe for a second that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that he was canceling this Obama-era order aimed at ending the use of private prisons in the U.S. is not related to the anti-immigrant tornado that is whipping across this country. The Correctional Corporation of America and other private prison companies stand to make a killing as a result of Trump’s emerging policies. And they thanked him. They thanked him by kicking in huge sums of money for his inauguration festivities. To discuss all of this, I’m joined by a great investigative journalist, Shane Bauer, who writes for Mother Jones. Shane spent four months working as a guard in a private prison in Louisiana, the Winn Correctional Facility. He’s also embedded with militias, and he spent more than two years in an Iranian prison after being snatched from Iraq, where he was reporting.

Shane Bauer, welcome to Intercepted.

Shane Bauer: Thanks for having me.

JS: Okay, Shane. You got hired by this private prison as a guard, despite the fact that you submitted a completely truthful application; you didn’t hide who you are. You didn’t hide that you’re a journalist. You weren’t undercover, per se. You submitted your real resume to this company. And why do you think it is that they didn’t seem to do any diligence on figuring out, you know, is this a person that should be working in this prison?

SB: The job pays $9.00 an hour. They’re very desperate for workers. So, you know, I got the sense — when I was doing the interviews, it was almost like they were trying to convince me to take the job. The person I was interviewing with in Louisiana asked me if I liked to hunt and fish, and she said, “People around here like to squirrel hunt, and, you know, so, there’s a lot of forest around here, if you want to do that.” [Laughs]

JS: Wow. That sounds like a very probing question to make sure they’re not hiring an unhinged person to be around prisoners.

SB: Yeah. I mean, most of the people that worked there were, you know, just kind of poor people from the town that needed jobs. It was kind of a mix of kids right out of high school, you know, 18, 19-year-old kids, and a lot of single moms, you know, that just kind of needed to get health insurance. And then there were some kind of war veterans and some police veterans that couldn’t really find other work.

JS: And what were your biggest takeaways from your experience working as a private prison guard?

SB: I mean it was very clear being inside that prison that the profit motive had a really significant impact on the prison. The guards’ pay was a big issue. That was much lower than the other prisons in the state. And the lower guard pay leads to issues of understaffing, ‘cause even in that poor town, people would not — didn’t want the job. A lot of guards sell drugs and bring contraband into the prison to just make ends meet. Healthcare was really impacted. I met a guy who lost his legs to gangrene, which he caught in the prison. He had been complaining for months of severe pain, going to the doctor, and they would just give him Motrin and send him back. And eventually, when it got very severe, he was sent to the hospital and had to have his legs amputated. And I saw this kind of issue come up a lot, where people were complaining of serious ailments, but were not sent out to the hospital. And when prisoners are sent out to the hospital, the company has to pay those expenses. And when they’re making, you know, 30-some dollars a day for a prisoner from the state, it’s a major expense to pay a hospital bill.

Security was really low. I mean the company had been cutting positions to save money. I mean there’s constant pressure to lower costs. So, like the guard towers were empty, for example. There was a prisoner who escaped while I was there —just hopped over the fence in the middle of the day. You know, everybody there, prisoners and guards that I met, outside of the kind of high levels in the administration, really hated this company. And they would kind of bond on that sometimes. I would see guards and prisoners kind of talking to each other about, you know, how screwed they felt by the company.

JS: And how — so what’s the economic model behind this? I mean, how are these private prison corporations making their money?

SB: So typically, the states will pay a per diem fee for each prisoner. So every prisoner, you know, in Louisiana, it was 30-some dollars a day. In California, it’s 60-some dollars a day. So that’s the bulk of the money that’s coming in. But the companies are also traded on the stock market. So, you know, most of the investors are banks and mutual funds.

Newscaster: In the week after Election Day, stocks of two major private prison companies increased dramatically.

SB: You know, we saw when Trump was elected, CCA stock rose dramatically. It was the highest raising stock in the entire stock market, probably because of expectations around immigration policy. You know, if more people are going to be detained, then potentially more detention centers are gonna need to be built. And CCA and the other major company, GEO, would probably be trying to run those.

JS: And more recently, you had the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, reversed an order that was issued last year by President Obama that effectively said that the government is supposed to phase out the use of private prisons. When you heard that news, what were the first thoughts that came to mind in terms of the implications of this, or what this indicated to you?

SB: I was not surprised by this decision. But I will say, when the first — the Obama-era decision came through to stop using private prisons, that was very surprising and significant to me. And it meant that 20-some thousand people were not going to be living in these prisons that have been much more violent. They’re bare bones holding tanks, essentially. And so, it was significant that, you know, this number of people were not gonna be there. And I think as soon as Trump was elected, that was one of my first thoughts, that that decision was going to reversed, like many other decisions, and kind of moves forward have been. And, you know, Sessions — there were a couple of Sessions aids that became lobbyists for one of these companies. There’s a huge revolving door, and, you know, I think it’s notable that these actions are being taken, given that private prisons are so unpopular. I mean there are very few defenders of private prisons in this country.

This is also a time when our prison population is declining. There’s been a lot of kind of bipartisan consensus on the need to reduce the prison population and to make some major changes. And I think when the original decision to stop using private prisons came through, a lot of people felt like that was, you know, a major step in kind of reforming our prison system. And, you know, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of support, necessarily, for these kind of decisions that the Trump administration is making.

JS: Well, and you as a reporter, you not only went and worked at a private prison, but you’ve also joined up with—I don’t like to use the term militia, but you’ve joined up with groups of armed individuals who believe it’s their mission to keep the illegals out of the United States. Maybe you could also talk about that experience.

Three Percenter: The three percent today are gun owners who will not disarm, will not compromise, and will no longer back up at the passage of the next Gun Control Act. Three percenters today say quite explicitly that we will not obey any further circumscription of our traditional liberties, and will defend ourselves if attacked.

SB: Yeah, that — I spent some time on the U.S.-Mexico border with the Three Percent United Patriots, which is a nationally organized militia. And what was most remarkable about that experience to me was seeing how much the federal border patrol was working with these paramilitary groups. They — you know, I saw encounters between the border patrol and the militia where the border patrol, you know, approached us as we’re essentially coming through the desert in the middle of the night. And I thought that, you know, we would be kind of sent away. But instead, a guy who says that he’s an intelligence officer is telling the leadership of the militia where we should go, where we should set up. He took us on a — you know, a tour. You know, so they’re kind of using these paramilitary groups to do a lot of their own work. And this was under Obama, you know. So it’s hard to say, you know, what is going to happen now. I mean the border patrol has long been one of the most rogue federal agencies, and I can only imagine they’re feeling pretty empowered right now.

JS: Right. And given now that Trump, you know, he got the endorsement of the ICE union, although he tried to say that he was endorsed by the actual federal entity, the Immigration Customs Enforcement, and makes it a centerpiece of his speeches to, you know, give his Blue Lives Matter rap and to talk about the illegals and the criminals and the gangsters.

DJT: And I said at the beginning, we are going to get the bad ones, the really bad ones. We’re getting ‘em out. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

JS: How is that received by the Three Percenters and these other organization militia around the country that believe that what they’re doing is sort of Second Amendment, you know, revolutionary stuff to protect the country by expelling the criminals and hunting down the — it’s not just undocumented people. It’s also, you know, the Sharia law is coming to Oklahoma type mentality.

SB: Yeah. I mean, I have been in touch with some of those guys, including one person who left the group. And, you know, what I’m hearing is that the main — the pivot right now is kind of — they’re less focused on the federal government than they have been and than they typically are, and more concerned with protests, Black Lives Matter — that was always a scary thing to them — and Muslims. You know, these guys are obsessed with the idea that Muslims are taking over the country. I mean, when I was on the border operation with them, they would put pork fat in all of their food ‘cause they thought it would keep out Muslim infiltrators.

JS: [Laughs] It sounds like they’ve got some very good operational security.

SB: [Laughs]

JS: And so, when these groups, or specifically the group you were with, if they did encounter, you know, somebody trying to come into the United States across the border, or there was somebody wandering around that they believed to be a potentially undocumented person, what do they do?

SB: So, I was never really explained the protocol. But what I gathered just from going out with people on these operations was that we were supposed to radio the base. I mean, there essentially was a kind of small military base that they set up in the desert. We would radio there, and then they would call the border patrol, and the border patrol would show up. However, I mean, when I would go out on these operations, we’d leave in the base in the middle of the night. A lot of these guys, who are Afghan War veterans, Iraq War veterans — one of them had done multiple tours as a sniper in Iraq — they’re really amped up. And they’re, you know, talking about hunting Mexicans. So a lot of that is just, you know, rhetoric. But —

JS: Well, but I mean, we have had —

SB: The idea of running —

JS: Go ahead.

SB: The idea of running into somebody in the middle of the night that jumps out from behind a bush, you know — it wasn’t hard to imagine things escalating pretty quickly. And at one point when I was out there, there were some guys that were pointing their guns at the border patrol that showed up, you know? There was a little standoff before they kind of realized who each other were.

JS: Right. And all of this, this is not happening in a — you know, in a political vacuum, particularly right now, because you have — it’s not even dog whistling from the White House. I mean, you really do have a kind of open, encouraging of what can amount to a war against undocumented people, transgender people, Muslims. And then you have these, you know, well-armed, angry characters who are roaming around thinking of themselves as defenders of the real America.

SB: Yeah.

JS: And, you know — and we just had a black president.

SB: Right.

JS: You have an increase in hate crimes. I mean, it’s a pretty scary landscape out there that’s been empowered by the rise of Donald Trump.

SB: Yeah. And I mean, this area is pretty lawless, and they kind of treat it as the last frontier in America. Also, the kind of line where they’re defending, you know, the rest of the country from this kind of wild land. But they’re — you know, they’re going out. They’re finding food and water bottles left by organizations in the desert, and, you know, they stab the water bottles. They destroy food. I mean they’re doing things that really impact the lives of people who are making these journeys across the desert. And, you know, they’re encouraged. I mean the border patrol encourages them to do that. The local police I saw encouraging them to do that. The border patrol does it themselves.

JS: Well, and it seems like, you know, just the ginormous elephant in the room here is, if you’ve gotten empowerment of these militia types, and then you have a stated policy of round ‘em all up about undocumented immigrants, and you have an order to continue financing and using private prisons, it does seem like we’re witnessing the emergence of a policy here. I mean, we have essentially, you know, thousands of guys who have been doing paramilitary training aboveground, pretty much uninhibited, for eight years. These guys are really well trained.

And, you know, there was kind of a way that I would hear people talk about militias as kind of writing them off as grownup Boy Scouts and, you know, stuff like that. And there’s some truth in that. I mean, a lot of these guys are just kind of wanting to get away from their home life and, you know, have some excitement. But, you know, I mean, it’s almost, you know, silly to even point out that if these guys were black or Muslim, I doubt we would have been hearing the same kind of rhetoric. But now we have, you know, these guys that are trained and ready, and if there is an escalation in some form, you know, in our society, we have highly trained paramilitary groups on the right that can either be deployed or just take action into their own hands.

JS: Where is the — what’s the next insane group of people or terrible institution that you’re gonna go embed in or with?

SB: [Laughs] I’m not sure. I’m actually working on a book right now about private prisons, so I’m trying to stay out of something new.

JS: [Laughs] All right, cool. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. And more importantly, just thank you for all of your great work over these years.

SB: Yeah, thanks. Likewise. And I’m enjoying the podcast and looking forward to seeing where it goes.

JS: All right. Thanks for being with us on Intercepted, Shane.

SB: All right, thanks.

[Music interlude]

[Phone ringing]

Yassin Alsalman: Hello?

JS: Yassin.

YA: Yes.

JS: This is Jeremy.

YA: How you doing?

JS: All right. So you have a new song that we’re gonna premiere on The Intercepted podcast. What’s the name of the song and what’s the message behind it?

YA: The song is called “Fake News,” man. I guess the message behind it was really, you know — it was something that I wrote the day after the shooting happened in Quebec. I had been quiet for a while and sort of stayed away from direct messaging to what was going on in the world. And I felt this urge to get a lot of stuff off my chest based on what was going around and all the rhetoric that was going on about, you know, whatever: immigrants, refugees, Muslims, brown people in general, black people. And I figured the best way to tell it was in auto-tune, for some reason, you know?

JS: I thought it was funny, man, to hear, you know Steve — people will hear it in a second, but to hear Stephen K. Bannon’s name in auto-tune is pretty surreal. What’s that about?

YA: You have to find ways to be direct about what people should be paying attention to without force-feeding them anything, you know? So I wanted to write something that was sort of catchy, but also, in a way, tongue-in-cheek about the way politics is being presented as a TV show. That everything is almost on hyper-drive, everything is on steroids right now, like it’s all just a show. And we’re not thinking about the long-term impact of this thing, you know, of the new rise of, you know, sort of — of xenophobia all over the world, you know?

JS: And what was it about Stephen Bannon that you wanted to highlight? Like why did you name check him in the song?

YA: Well, listen, I had a song called “Halliburton” back in the day, you know? So it’s like, this feels like Dick Cheney too, so it’s like, you know. And it’s, you know, Muslim bannin’, and it’s just Bannon. It’s in the name. It just — when you’re in the booth, and you know, if you “Muslim, they bannin’, they bannin’, they bannin’. So, you know, who do you look at? Holler at Stephen K. Bannon,” you know? That’s who wrote it. So it’s just — it’s the — it’s just the truth. I’m just saying what the reality is, you know?

JS: All right. Yassin, also known as Narcy, also known as Narcicyst, here’s his song “Fake News.”

Narcy: “Fake News”

My baba called me said he really worried

of what I might say

I told him I’m not in a hurry

Hung the phone up, got on Twitter, saw the shooting

Wasn’t ready for it

Last twenty years feeling really blurry

All Day:

Information overload

Refugees on them boats

Can’t you see them social codes

How can we be rich in culture

Everybody go for broke

If money makes the world turn,

someone please burn the dough

I don’t trust my phone or television

What is this hell I’m living?

It rings a bell I’m given

devotion for the culture

No hope in politicians

Quebec is cold baby

Can’t feel my soul lately

I love it, I love it, I’m loving it still

Pay your taxes

Numbers don’t lie

But the government will

The way you make me feel

It turn me off like Michael Jackson

No black or white

No Sunni or Shi’ite

We gon’ be aight

Bombs over Baghdad

I’m an outcast, bombs over Baghdad

Every day, real bombs over Baghdad

North American life ain’t that bad

Bombs over Baghdad

I’m an outcast, bombs over Baghdad

Every day, real bombs over Baghdad

North American life ain’t that bad

If you Muslim

They bannin’, they bannin’, they bannin’, they bannin’, they bannin’

Holler at Stephen K .Bannon

Remember that name, K. Bannon, K. Bannon

How come the last president out in St. Vincent Copa Cabanin’

Whole brown world image on that cobra commander

All I hear is Aladdin, Aladdin, Aladdin Bin Laden, Aladdin

Rub the Lamp, stir the pot, the world is lost

Then the magic will happen

The enemy is here is what they all say

I take it with a grain of salt, bae

Man, everything done changez

I’m disappointed in Kanye (call me bro)

You Canadian or nah, eh?

Flo Rida in my latte

Soy almond yoga grande

Like Ariana, I’m sorry mama,

Been on Instagram the whole day

Fake news, so vague,

Always, short taste, phase 2 (phase 2)

Alt-Right might punch a Nazi

That’s a court case, we all right

We getting trapped anyway


Bombs over Baghdad

I’m an outcast, bombs over Baghdad

Every day, real bombs over Baghdad

North American life ain’t that bad

Bombs over Baghdad

I’m an outcast, bombs over Baghdad

Every day, real bombs over Baghdad

North American life ain’t that bad


No justice, no peace

JS: That is the Iraqi-Canadian hip-hop artist Yassin Alsalman, aka Narcy, performing his new song, “Fake News.” That was an exclusive premiere here on Intercepted.

[Music interlude]

JS: That does it for the show. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro, and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Production assistance from Elise Swain. Our music was composed by DJ Spooky. We’re a new show, and we need your help spreading the word. Please subscribe in iTunes, on Spotify, on Google Play — wherever you do such things. And if you feel so inclined, please give us a rating. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.

SG: Doing something, but in fact, were not doing it — where we’re half-pregnant.

Top photo: U.S. President Donald Trump during a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.

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