The old adage that the cover-up is worse than the crime seems like it was tailored specifically for Donald Trump and his merry band of imbeciles, ideological zealots, and — family members. This week on Intercepted: Don Jr. is in the shit throne over a secret meeting he had with a Russian lawyer that was brokered by a D-list music agent. Could this be, as many in the media are claiming, the smoking gun of Russia collusion? Or are these people just really fucking dumb? Both? Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald weighs in. Rachel Maddow spent 20 minutes in primetime discussing a forged document sent to her MSNBC show. The forgery was created using a real document published by The Intercept. Glenn spoke to the alleged forger about why they did it and tells us what they said. (The fake document, which the forger said they sent to Maddow is below, if you want to play along from home). Jeremy gives an update on the latest Erik Prince/Trump administration shenanigans. And Intercept reporters Alice Speri and Alleen Brown talk about the shadowy mercenary company TigerSwan’s operations against water protectors protesting the Dakota Access pipeline. We also hear music from Victoria Ruiz of the punk band Downtown Boys.
The fake NSA document
Glenn Greenwald spoke to the person who claimed to have forged the document Rachel Maddow spent 20 minutes talking about on her primetime MSNBC show last Thursday. The alleged forger also said they sent the document to BuzzFeed News, which confirmed it to The Intercept. Maddow told Greenwald she would not comment, but the person claiming to have done the forgery said there was one small difference between the versions he sent to Maddow and BuzzFeed — one that only the forger would know. That difference was confirmed to The Intercept by BuzzFeed.
“All I did was white out your text. Put in my own and some black bars then ran it through the Photoshop ‘photocopy’ filter. Took me a whole 10 mins,” the alleged forger wrote. “I did it because I want to make sure the media is held accountable to check their sources before they post rather” than “run with anonymous sources only to backtrack months later.”
[HBO intro music]
News anchor: Another potential bombshell report from the New York Times alleging that Donald Trump Jr. received an email informing him that —
News anchor: Documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia, and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously —
News Anchor: Releasing what he says is the entire email chain that set up his controversial meeting with the Kremlin-linked lawyer during the U.S. presidential campaign.
Tony Soprano: Hello?
Carmela Soprano: Hi, yeah, it’s me. AJ stayed in the city with his friends last night and he’s not home yet.
TS: All right, All right, I’m on my way. What’d you say to your mother?
TS: What did you say?
Donald J Trump Jr.: I didn’t say anything about the Holocaust.
TS: What’s different about you?
CS: He has no eyebrows, Tony.
TS: Look at your face!
DJT Jr.: In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently.
TS: Who did this? Now’s the time to tell us. I mean, what went on up there?
DJT Jr.: Again, this is before the Russian mania.
CS: Liar! I want to know what happened.
DJT Jr.: This is before they were building it up in the press.
CS: Oh, see, it’s my fault.
DJT Jr.: For me, this was opposition research. They had something. I think I wanted to hear it out.
TS: Well, let’s hear it.
DJT Jr.: It went nowhere, and it was apparent that that wasn’t what the meeting was actually about.
CS: What? Well, you know what? I am sick of your bullshit. Enough of your lying.
TS: Take out the trash. Go outside.
[“Rumors,” Timex Social Club]
Look at all these rumors
Surroundin’ me every day
I just need some time
Some time to get away from
From all these rumors
Can’t take it no more
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from The Intercept. And this is episode 22 of Intercepted.
DJT Jr.: Well, it just goes to show you their exact moral compass. I mean, they’ll say anything to be able to win this. I mean, this is time and time again, lie after lie.
JS: Well, the old adage that the cover-up is worse than the crime, it seems like it was specifically tailored for Donald Trump and his merry band of imbeciles, ideological zealots, and of course, family members. They’re like the political version of the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Every time a new exposé drops from the New York Times or the Washington Post, what we really learn is how absolutely incompetent Trump and his inner circle are at keeping their lies secret. This week, it’s Donald Trump Jr.’s turn, as Washington is abuzz with discussions of this meeting that Don Jr. had during the presidential campaign with a lawyer who is Russian. And nowadays, being a Russian lawyer means you are a Kremlin connected lawyer, or a Russian government, or a Putin connected lawyer. And there are serious journalists who have spent a lot of time in Russia who cast serious doubts on how connected this particular lawyer actually is. But that’s for another discussion.
What is sort of relevant, I think, is that Jared Kushner was also at this meeting, and he appears not to have disclosed it on his SF 86 security form that is required to get national security clearance at the White House. And it gets dumber and it gets weirder. It turns out that this meeting that Don Jr. and Kushner were at, that it was set up by a music publicist named Rob Goldstone and he reps one Emin Agalarov. Agalarov is the son of Russian pop musician Aras Agalarov. And he’s a wealthy Russian who at one point was planning on building a Trump tower in Moscow. Donald, Sr., the president, knows them both well. In fact, he appeared in one of Emin’s music videos alongside a cast of Ms. Universe contestants.
Donald J. Trump: Emin, wake up. Come on. What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you, Emin? Emin, let’s get with it. You’re always late. You’re just another pretty face. I’m really tired of you. You’re fired.
JS: We’re gonna dig into this whole Don Jr. affair in a few minutes. But first, did any of you watch last Thursday’s Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC? Well, even if you didn’t, it’s important to note that it is now the number one rated prime time show on cable news in the United States. A lot of people actually watch it. And I bring that up because last Thursday, Rachel spent more than 20 minutes of her show discussing a story that we’re gonna get into in a second. In cable news hours, that’s like half of her show. And she spent it on what she billed as this ultra important exclusive that she claims she was reporting out, or discussing, as a public service for other news organizations covering the Trump/Russia story.
Rachel Maddow: Politically, this thing is so sensitive it takes all the air out of the room, and all of the nearby rooms as well. People talk about finding the smoking gun. What got sent to us was not just a smoking gun. It was a gun still firing proverbial bullets.
JS: Now, Rachel Maddow explained to her viewers that someone very sophisticated had sent her an explosive document through her website. In this section that she sent up and often promotes, called “Send it to Rachel.” It’s sort of her version of the old dead drop site in the tech era. The document, Rachel said, was an ultra Top Secret NSA document. And the documents, she said, were so explosive that they could potentially change everything in an instant about what we understand about Trump and collusion with Russia. That is, if the document was real. Well, Rachel and her team at MSNBC, and this is what she said, spent weeks combing through this document. They had their intelligence analysts at MSNBC and their experts review it. They did forensic examinations of it. There was a big-time effort here. And after this thorough, CSI-like investigation, they determined that the document was a very, very sophisticated forgery.
RM: So, here’s the deal. We believe now that the real story we have stumbled upon here is that somebody out there is shopping carefully forged documents.
JS: But there’s more. Rachel Maddow and crew determined it was a forgery that was created using a document published by us, published by The Intercept on June 5. You’ll recall it was that NSA document that detailed purported Russian cyber-penetration activities by Moscow’s military intelligence targeting U.S. manufacturers of software used in U.S. elections. And on her show, Maddow played this game of, “I’m just asking questions or throwing ideas around” to imply that it was possible that whoever created this forged document and submitted it to “Send it to Rachel” may — may — have actually had access to it — drumroll, please. [Drumroll] Before The Intercept published it. [Dramatic sound effect]
Now, on the show, Maddow did not show this forged document, and she said that she wouldn’t reveal its contents, while at the same time saying, “If it had been true, it would have changed everything.” But she did explain how she and her team at MSNBC ultimately concluded, after weeks of analysis that it was built from The Intercept’s actual NSA document
RM: Our document appears to be a cut and paste forgery derived from The Intercept’s document. We cannot know for sure. But if that is the case, then whoever did that work to create this forgery was cutting and pasting together a fake document, working from a document that was not yet publicly available.
JS: Well, this week on Intercepted, we have our own exclusive of sorts. And it should serve as a warning to other news organizations to be vigilant not to fall for the same trick that the Rachael Maddow Show did. We actually spoke to the person who claimed to have forged the document that Rachel spent 20 minutes talking about. My colleague Glenn Greenwald actually was in touch with the person who claims they forged the document. And their story is — it’s pretty funny, the motivation for doing it. We’re also gonna be publishing this forged document on our episode page so you can play along at home and determine if you would have needed an army of intel analysts to determine if this document was real or fake. Well, joining me now is my colleague Glenn Greenwald. Glenn wrote an excellent story on this whole episode last week called “Rachel Maddow’s ‘Exclusive Scoop’” — in quotes — “About a Fake NSA Document Raises Several Key Questions.” Now, Glenn did get comment from Rachel for that story. He’s gonna talk about what she said in a second. As I said, for today’s, Rachel said she wouldn’t have a comment, and the reason, she said, is because she had learned her lesson from giving Glenn comment last week for his story. Glenn, welcome back to Intercepted.
Glenn Greenwald: Thank you for having me back.
JS: First, before we get into sort of the exclusive that we have here, a funny little exclusive, talk about that segment and your analysis of it, and also what Rachel Maddow told you.
GG: So, people have said, in response to this column, that she really only had one point, and that point was that media organizations have to be careful to authentic documents that they receive anonymously because they might be fraudulent. And if that were really her only point, one might wonder why she felt she had to spend 21 minutes at the top of her show with the word “exclusive” hovering behind her the whole time, as though media organizations didn’t know that it’s important to authenticate documents that they get in the mail from anonymous sources. Her actual point was much different and obvious. If we look at the reaction, which was that the document that she got, that she said was fraudulent, she said not only was based on The Intercept’s document that we published on June 5th, the NSA Top Secret document, but that metadata on the document showed that the document she got was actually created before we published our document. In other words, that whoever sent her this forged document got access to it before we published it. Which led huge numbers of people on the internet to conclude either that the Trump White House or the NSA forged this document and sent it to Rachel to trick her, or that someone at The Intercept did that, or that someone had compromised our security.
And the whole thing was based on this fundamental misunderstanding, or misreading, of metadata, which is that the date on the document in the metadata that she looked at was simply the date and time that we uploaded that document to the internet, that matched exactly the document that we published, proving that whoever send her that forged document took it from our site after we published it. Which means it could have been literally millions and millions of people, anyone in the public who saw that, significantly reducing the drama and importance of that story.
JS: What I found kind of amazing about that segment was that she went to great lengths to act like this super sleuth who was deciphering this riddle for her viewers, and how they figured out that this was actually a fabrication, and that The Intercept’s document was the underlying source that was used to create this fabricated document. And yet, when they go through all of the fabrications, they leave out the fact that they are now saying, “well, we’ve definitively figured out that this may actually have been created before The Intercept published it.” I mean, there’s a complete disconnect in logic from that segment.
GG: Well, because the whole point that she was trying to convey, which ended up being utterly and totally false, but was necessary for her to wildly inflate the importance of what she had, she tried to mislead people into believing that whoever sent her the forged copy had it not once we published it, but prior to our publication. Because what she was really trying to imply was that someone with high-level Top Secret access was trying to trick and discredit Rachel by sending her a forged document. And the only way that that would be true, the only way that’s interesting, is if she could say that whoever did this got access to this Top Secret document before we published it. Because if all it meant was that somebody saw it on our site and altered it with, like, some standard graphics or whatever, then it’s totally mundane. That happens all the time. Anyone from the Internet can take anything and alter it. It only is interesting if it was somebody with super Top Secret access. And she tried to imply that based on a complete and total misunderstanding or mis-assessment of what this metadata actually showed.
JS: Well, and then on Twitter and elsewhere, you had the usual suspects who are always immediately accepting as true any criticisms or any allegations hurled at The Intercept. You have Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare, and of course, a close personal friend of Comey. He came out and said, “Aha! This proves that my theory about The Intercept having major security flaws in their protection of documents internally has been right.” Now again, he did apologize after you pressed him on it. But still, to this moment, you have members of the hashtag #theresistance believing and promoting the idea that it was The Intercept that actually sent this fabricated document in an effort to entrap Rachel Maddow.
GG: Yeah. I mean, look. For years and years, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and Fox News made huge amounts of money and got massive ratings by feeding their readers wild, unhinged conspiracies about Obama, and before that, about Bill Clinton, that they were desperate to believe. And now Rachel Maddow has this huge ratings bonanza because every night she goes on the air and feeds people conspiracy theories that she knows they want to believe. And the key to it is that the people who watch her and the people in Washington, in New York, who are obsessed with the idea that Trump colluded with Russia or whatever, have zero critical faculties, or at least there’s zero willingness to use those critical faculties. Whatever they hear that’s pleasing to them, they instantly assume to be true, whether it comes from anonymous sources at the CIA or FBI, or unhinged cable hosts. And that’s exactly what happened here. It took the tiniest amount of critical thought to realize why what Rachel — this tale she was spinning, was bullshit, including the fact that even if we hadn’t had the proof that the metadata in her document matched the metadata in ours, just — it’s so easy to alter metadata. All — anyone could have just taken that document and changed the metadata to make it look like they had it before. But to believe that this extreme, wild, exotic conspiracy happened based on nothing is what we see over and over. And Rachel has benefited from that greatly, as has MSNBC, and she knows it. And so, there’s no reason for her to stop doing it.
JS: Now, when you were writing your story that showed that this was all bullshit, and that it just took a little bit of actual sleuthing to figure out what was wrong with the narrative that Rachel Maddow was pushing, you actually got in touch with Rachel and had a back and forth with her. Talk about that.
GG: You know, she and I had a back and forth, and I basically explained to her this issue with the metadata, and said, “Actually, the metadata proves that whoever sent you this forgery didn’t get it before we published, but actually got it from our site after we published.” And she got a little bit indignant and began insisting that this was totally consistent with everything she said, that she never meant to imply that the person who got this document got it before we published; that in fact, she said over, and over, that whoever sent it to her sent it after we published. Which was true, but the whole reason she spent so many minutes on this timeline was to imply that whoever got it obtained it pre-publication. And then once she saw the proof that that was false, instead of acknowledging that, instead of apologizing for not having contacted us before doing her story, which would have led her to find this out, she just got very defensive and started insisting that the meaning that so many people took from her report was not actually anything that she said. And so, it was not particularly constructive.
JS: It appears, Glenn, as though we have now a copy of this fabricated Top Secret NSA document that was sent to Rachel Maddow. And in a minute, I’m gonna read portions of it. But first, I want you to talk about how we got it and what the source told you.
GG: So, someone contacted me anonymously on the day that I wrote the article, and said, “I’m the person who sent this document to Maddow.” He said, “I’m attaching a copy of what I sent to her.” He said, “I also sent it to other news organizations, and that my motive in doing it was that I wanted to test whether media outlets would just run with an obvious forgery if they liked the message.” And he said he literally — that Maddow made it seem like it was some sophisticated forgery, but that in fact, it took him about ten minutes to whip it up; that he did nothing but take the document from our site, stick it into a graphics program or a basic —
JS: He used the Photoshop ‘photocopy’ filter on it.
GG: Right, right. He Photoshopped it and then made ‘photocopy’ to make it seem like it was a photocopy. He said he whipped it up in ten minutes, and that he purposely made it ridiculous to see if he could trick media outlets into running it. And the reason why I believe that he is in fact the person and that this is the document is because BuzzFeed said that they got the same document that Maddow got and instantly realized what a fucking joke it was. Like, BuzzFeed looked at it, and they’re like, this is an obvious fraud, and they just moved on. And there was one small difference in the document that BuzzFeed got and that Maddow got. And this person knew what the difference was in the two documents, which he could have only have known if he were the one who sent it, because BuzzFeed hadn’t publicly disclosed it.
JS: I read this fabricated document and, like, guffawed, because it is so transparently fake just on the way — on the content of it. But the title of the document is “Russia/Trump Campaign Communications: Trump Campaign Director David Bossie, Communications With Russian State Agents, Coordinating Release Of The WikiLeaks John Podesta Email Dump. September 2016 to October 2016.” And then the summary, it says, “Russian agents made contact with Trump campaign manager David Bossie on,” and then there’s a redacted, “by telephone at” redacted. “Security footage confirms the unregistered phone was purchased on,” and it says the word “redacted.” It’s not actually redacted, “by a member of David Bossie’s staff at redacted contact in September 2016. Mr. Bossie discussed the release of the ‘Podesta Files’ through the Russian front Wiki Leaks.” And WikiLeaks has a space between Wiki and Leaks, “with Russian State Agents.” And this is my favorite part of it. “In October 2016, it is believed Russian State Agents reestablished contact with Mr. Bossie, informing him of a potentially damaging video of Candidate Trump being released in the coming weeks.” It’s kind of astonishing that the number one cable news show in prime time actually promoted the idea that they believed at first that this document was, A) real, and B) that they would spend 20 minutes on their program talking about something that some dude made and sent in to them.
GG: Oh, my God. She — they spent weeks gathering experts and former NSA officials and lawyers to investigate this. She said that this was a very sophisticated forgery. Because again, she was trying to imply, because her story only matters that this came from the highest levels of the government. And so, to do that, she had to pretend that this was like some mastermind forgery that the likes of which could never have been perpetrated absent some very high-level skills, as opposed to the reality, which is that you read this document and you laugh your ass off the second you look at it because it’s the biggest, most obvious joke ever, as BuzzFeed and every other media outlet that got this document immediately concluded and said nothing about because it was such a crank and such a joke. I think that the reason why this is significant, aside from the fact that she is the most watched cable news host in the country, and one of the leading voices — media voices of the self-identified resistance, is because it’s just generally indicative of this broader trend of the media completely losing its mind when it comes to Russia.
And the best report that I’d recommend is a long article in The New Yorker by its Russia correspondent, who interviewed real Russian journalists, people who have reported intrepidly and courageously on Putin. Investigative journalists who have said that the American media has lost its mind when it comes to Russia, and it’s just like madness and hysteria, the way they think about Putin and their country. And it’s really worth reading.
JS: You know, as I watch the massive protests against the G20 summit, and the protests against Trump and against Putin and against all these world leaders, and knowing that at the heart of that, they’re protests against neoliberal economic policies around the world, and you have countries throughout Europe that have been decimated by these economic neoliberal policies. Austerity measures have been imposed. At the same time, we have — the war in Syria is not abating. It’s getting worse. In Iraq, you have the third or fourth iteration of the post-9/11 wars in Iraq. The U.S. is surging in Afghanistan. And it’s sort of like, you know, if you can spend 20 minutes on the number one rated cable news show in the country right now talking about a document that some dude made in a few minutes, but not talk at all about what’s at the heart of the protests against the G20 summit, about the slaughter that’s happening around the world, not to mention what the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Britain are doing in Yemen, it says a lot about our priorities.
And it’s — it really is kind of an epic global wag the dog, where everyone is following the minutiae of, you know, the palace intrigue, and, you know, Trump is actually president. And the G20 leaders came together and agreed on most of everything. And it’s sort of like, you know, we’re gonna talk about Donald Trump Jr. because this is stuff that could eventually lead to, you know, serious problems for the Trump presidency. But I mean, do you get my point? Like, we’re not talking about the real issues that are important to people around the world and the issues that are actually causing people to lose their lives and lose their livelihoods.
GG: And this has been the problem for the Democrats for over a year now. And a lot of Democrats — you know, Democratic officials are starting to explicitly recognize it, which is, they ran an entire campaign based on issues that many, many people, arguably most people, didn’t really care about. People don’t care when they wake up in the morning — they’re not worried about what Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin are doing. They really didn’t care about these character issues that the Clinton campaign based its entire campaign on. They care about what can the Democratic Party do to improve my life? So, you have this entire Democratic Party and their media allies obsessed with Russia, which isn’t to say it isn’t a story — it isn’t to say that it doesn’t merit investigation. We’ve all said from the start that it does, and it is being investigated formally now, by a well-trusted, longtime prosecutor, Robert Mueller, and his team of prosecutors. So, the truth is all gonna come out eventually, as it should.
But in the meantime, everything else is getting crowded out — questions about the implications of Donald Trump’s foreign policy, his domestic policy, the effect that it’s having on people. Very little of it gets discussed, in part because the Democrats have gambled that this Russia collusion issue is gonna be the silver bullet that brings down Trump. And at least thus far, it doesn’t look like that that’s gonna happen. And in the meantime, there are millions and millions of people out in the United States who are suffering, waking up with anxiety about job prospects, and healthcare, and their kids, hearing virtually nothing from the Democratic Party, again, still, about what they intend to do to improve their lives. And I think that’s a serious danger.
JS: I want to say, before we get into the meat of what The New York Times reported, that it’s remarkable how the story just keeps changing with this White House. I mean, how many times has Mike Pence either knowingly lied on national television or in speeches, or has he been lied to, and then he’s going out and is sort of sent to the dogs to pass the lies on. But the list of lies that just the Vice President has told over the past six months, including before he was vice president, is in and of itself astonishing. The way that the Trump White House has handled these allegations by just kind of tweeting rage or tweeting blatantly idiotic things, in and of itself, is something I guess worth talking about. But the reason I wanted to talk about this Donald Trump Jr. thing is because they really have lied a lot about this stuff, Glenn. And that is disturbing when you’re talking about the First Family, and you’re talking about the highest rungs of official established power in the United States — your read on this story?
GG: So, a few things. First of all, obviously, it’s a serious problem when high government officials — which by the way, does not include Donald Trump Jr., though he was a campaign official — but others like Jared Kushner, and Trump himself, and Pence, have repeatedly lied to the public. Yes, it is a bad thing when government officials lie. Unfortunately, we’ve created a moral standard where we don’t actually punish them even politically, let alone legally, for doing so. I think the way that you can look at this Donald Trump Jr. story is very similar to a lot of the other Russia stories, which is — the ultimate question is: Is there underlying evidence of actual criminal collusion? So, if what happened is what Donald Trump Jr. says is what happened — and that’s a big if, but that’s so far the only version that we have, which is, someone told him, “Hey, there’s this woman. She’s a Russian lawyer, and she says she has incriminating evidence on your father’s campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton.” And he said, “Okay, I’m willing to listen to what she had — has to say.” He went, realized she didn’t have much, and then left. That doesn’t seem criminal to me. It doesn’t even seem uncommon to me. I mean, I keep reading all these things online about how it’s treasonous to be willing to get dirt on your opponents from Russians. And yet, the entire Steele memo, which Democrats love and have continually cited, is nothing but that. All that is — is an operative paid by the Democratic Party, by the Clinton campaign, going to Russia and getting dirt about Donald Trump from Russians. That’s what campaigns do. Anyone who tells a campaign operative, “I have dirt on your opponent” is gonna be listened to.
So, as far as the inconsistent statements are concerned, like Donald Trump Jr. first denying it and then kind of poo-pooing it, and now coming out with more details once The New York Times catches him — I think you can look at that in one of two ways. Either the reason why Trump officials keep lying about and getting caught in inconsistencies concerning their meetings with Russians is because there really is underlying criminality, and at some point, we’ll see the evidence of that, and they’re lying about it because they want to cover that criminality up. Or, the alternative explanation is that in Washington, the climate now is that if you meet with anyone who’s Russian, even if they’re not a Russian official, as this lawyer isn’t — she’s “Kremlin-connected,” whatever that means. To me, that means she’s Russian. We’ve created this climate where any meeting with Russians of any kind is deemed nefarious and even treasonous. And so, in that climate, it makes sense to me that people like Jeff Sessions, or Michael Flynn, or Donald Trump Jr., or Jared Kushner, would want to downplay how many times they met with Russians and how deep these meetings were because they know that any meetings that they have are gonna be depicted in this nefarious light.
Whether — it’s one or the other. Whether it’s actually covering up underlying criminal behavior or it’s just a political fear of trying to downplay these meetings because of how it gets depicted is something we’re gonna find out. We’re gonna have a comprehensive report by a well-regarded prosecutor armed with subpoena powers who will finally tell us whether there’s real criminality here. And that’s why it’s just so irritating that we’re obsessed with everyday leaks as though — you know, these are like stories that dominate the news cycle for 12 hours. People get excited that it’s gonna be the final nail in the coffin of the Trump presidency. And then it disappears because there’s no underlying evidence of criminality. And I just think that until we have that, this story will be lacking.
JS: What if kind of the darkest narrative is true here, that this woman was Kremlin-connected, this lawyer, that she came, and that she — let’s say she did have information, and she presented to them, that did show something questionable about Secretary Clinton when she was running for president. Would you have any problem then, given the whole history of how opposition research is used in American politics? Is there anything inherently wrong with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner receiving information that they can effectively use as opposition research from someone who is actually connected to the Kremlin, if that’s true?
GG: No. No, I do not. And for people who are shocked or outraged by that answer, I guess the way — the question I would pose is, look at the Steele memo. That’s what the Steele memo is. It’s the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign hiring* a former member of British intelligence to go to Russia and get dirt about Donald Trump from the Russians. I guarantee you a lot of the Russians he spoke with were “Kremlin-connected.” That’s how they have the dirt in the first place. Nobody said it was immoral for the DNC or for the Clinton campaign to try and get dirt on Donald Trump that comes from the inner circles of the Kremlin or from Russian intelligence because that’s what campaigns do. Why is it okay for the investigators of the Steele memo to get dirt about Donald Trump from Russians, but it’s not okay for Donald Trump Jr. to get dirt about Hillary Clinton from Russians? I really would love somebody to explain that — the discrepancy in that standard for me.
It has not been established that Hillary Clinton’s campaign or the official Democratic Party directly paid for the production of the so-called Steele dossier. It has been reported that “allies” of Clinton contributed to its funding.
JS: Glenn Greenwald, great to have you back on the show. Thanks for being with us on Intercepted.
GG: Always happy to be back, Jeremy. Thank you.
JS: Glenn Greenwald is my fellow co-founder of The Intercept.
JG: Before we go to break, I have two brief updates that I want to give our listeners. The first is, as you know, we’ve done a lot of reporting and discussion on this show about Erik Prince of Blackwater infamy and his ties to the Trump White House, and particularly, his close relationship with Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News. And even before Trump officially became president, I was reporting at The Intercept and on this show after Trump became president on the connections of Erik Prince to Vice President Mike Pence, as well as Bannon. And a few weeks ago on the show, we talked about Prince pitching his idea for a mercenary force to take over the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Well, on Monday of this week, The New York Times ran an article. They reported that Bannon and Jared Kushner actually brought in Erik Prince and a guy named Stephen Feinberg, who is the billionaire owner of the mercenary company DynCorp. And according to The Times, these two mercenary kingpins were brought in to “devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.” The paper says that insiders have referred to this proposal as the “Laos option,” which apparently is a reference to the CIA’s dirty war, dirty campaign, in Laos in the 1970s. Erik Prince himself, as we’ve reported on this show, has called for a new version of the Phoenix program, which was the CIA’s assassination program in Vietnam.
And in an appearance on Steve Bannon’s radio show before Trump was elected, Prince said that such a Phoenix style program should be used to defeat terror networks around the world. According to the New York Times, Defense Secretary James Mattis listened politely to Steve Bannon when Bannon tried to convince him to adopt this mercenary position, but he declined to implement it. We’re gonna keep you updated on all of those developments.
And then the second update I have relates to this story that we did in early June that I was mentioning in the earlier segment about Rachel Maddow, having to do with the Russian cyber-espionage efforts targeting U.S. software companies that service elections in the United States in some states. And of course, someone was arrested — an NSA contractor named Reality Winner was arrested, and the FBI put out this heavily politicized affidavit really kind of trying to convict her before she even goes to trial.
Well, this week, First Look Media, which is The Intercept’s parent company, announced that it’s going to be contributing financially to the defense of this alleged whistleblower Reality Winner. She’s facing prosecution under the Espionage Act on charges that she was the one who anonymously leaked this Top Secret NSA document to The Intercept. And of course, The Intercept does not know who sent that document to us, who the person was. But we are against any attempts to prosecute whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, in part because it’s an attack on the very existence of a free press. And this is really outrageous, that Reality Winner is being held without bail while she’s awaiting trial. And in addition to helping directly fund her defense, First Look is also providing $50,000.00 in matching funds through its Press Freedom Defense Fund to a group called Stand With Reality. That’s a grassroots crowd-funding effort that is seeking to support public awareness and legal work around winner’s case.
I actually want to briefly draw your attention to a statement this week by our editor-in-chief, Betsy Reed, about the internal review that we said we were gonna be conducting about this story, the NSA Russia hacking story. And in her statement, Betsy writes:
Betsy Reed: An internal review of the reporting of this story has now been completed. The ongoing criminal case prevents us from going into detail, but I can state that at several points in the editorial process, our practices fell short of the standards to which we hold ourselves for minimizing the risks of source exposure when handling anonymously provided materials. Like other journalistic outlets, we routinely verify such materials with any individuals or institutions implicated by them, and we seek their comment. This process carries some risks of source exposure that are impossible to mitigate when dealing with sensitive materials. Nonetheless, it is clear that we should have taken greater precautions to protect the identity of a source who was anonymous even to us. As the editor-in-chief, I take responsibility for this failure, and for making sure that the internal newsroom issues that contributed to it are resolved. We are conducting a comprehensive analysis of our source protection protocols, and will make revisions to ensure that any materials provide to us, anonymously, are handled in the most secure manner possible. It remains core to our mission to ensure that all our journalism is carried out in a manner that honors the risks that whistleblowers take.
JS: That statement in its entirety is available at theintercept.com.
JS: And you are listening to Intercepted. When we come back, we’re gonna talk about the shadowy mercenary company TigerSwan. They were the ones hired to target activists protesting the Dakota Access pipeline. And we’re also going to speak to Victoria Ruiz of Downtown Boys. Stay with us.
JS: Okay, we are back here at Intercepted. And in late May, the Intercept published part one of an ongoing investigative series about a U.S. mercenary firm hired to infiltrate and gather intelligence on water protectors and their allies protesting the Dakota Access pipeline. The series that The Intercept published is based on more than a hundred leaked internal documents from this firm TigerSwan. And these documents show how TigerSwan surveilled pipeline opponents from the air, on social media, through radio eavesdropping, and also through the actual infiltration of the camps and activist circles. And then they shared that intel with local law enforcement. These documents were leaked to The Intercept by a contractor working for TigerSwan. Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, they were the ones that hired TigerSwan. And the fact that this mercenary company is now operating inside the U.S. — and they were not just in the Dakotas. They have their sights set on several other U.S. states as well — that’s an ominous development in an already heavily paramilitarized law enforcement landscape in this country. You can read all five of the articles in this series at theintercept.com. A sixth installment is gonna be published in the coming days. The reporters who have been doing this story are Alleen Brown, Will Parrish, and Alice Speri. Two of them join me now. Alleen Brown, welcome to Intercepted.
Alleen Brown: Thanks so much, Jeremy.
JS: Alice Speri, welcome to Intercepted.
Alice Speri: Thanks for having me.
JS: You know, when I see TigerSwan, I think of former special operations soldiers. I think of the work that TigerSwan did. And I’ve spent a little bit of time over my work as a journalist looking at TigerSwan. They’ve been involved with covert contracts with the U.S. military and with U.S. intelligence agencies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. To see that they’re then deployed on indigenous soil inside the United States, or inside of the borders of the United States, I think for a lot of people is and, it should be, shocking and kind of an affront to people’s understanding of the Constitution of the United States. It’s sort of a work around of posse comitatus, which prohibits the U.S. military from operating on U.S. soil in a law enforcement capacity. But if you have former U.S. military doing it, it’s kind of a backdoor way of having soldiers face down against water protectors, which is the term that the movement uses. The media often calls them protestors. They call themselves water protectors. There’s a lot to cover here. But I wanted to just begin with you giving an overview of the documents that we’ve published at The Intercept that you’ve reported out, what they say, and who the main players are.
AB: TigerSwan is a private security contractor that worked on the Dakota Access pipeline. A contractor for TigerSwan leaked more than 100 internal documents describing their daily activities monitoring the pipeline and surveilling water protectors protesting its construction. So, there’s a few things that the documents tell us. I mean, for one, they show us the invasive tactics that this private security firm was using: use of aerial surveillance, as well as a propaganda campaign. The documents, in their descriptions of the activities of the water protectors, use really militaristic language, comparing water protectors to Jihadist fighters at times. At one point, they describe the movement as an “ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component.” And another thing about the leaked documents is that they reveal this private security firm’s collaboration with law enforcement.
JS: Who hired TigerSwan, Alice?
AS: So, in this case, TigerSwan was hired by Energy Transfer partners, which is the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline. But I think what you’re pointing out, too, is really interesting. This is a company that’s, for the most part, done foreign contracts for the Department of Defense. They have worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they’ve taken those same tactics back to the U.S. I think that’s very clear in the language they use when describing water protectors. They talk about them as Jihadists. They talk about their direct actions as attacks. They talk about the camps as a battlefield. It’s really quite fascinating to see the language of war sort of brought back home. You know, if they have been able to operate in such an unchecked manner here in the United States, where we have reported, for instance, that they worked in North Dakota without a license for months. They just recently got sued because of that, but they were still able to be on the ground there basically since September with pretty much free reign. Who knows what they’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there’s even less scrutiny of their actions.
JS: Right. And Alleen, the main guy at TigerSwan is this former colonel, James Reese. Describe who James Reese is, as much as you’ve been able to gather about his history.
AB: Sure. James Reese is a former commander for Delta Force. And many of the contractors he’s employed to work for TigerSwan are also former Special Ops members, so many from Delta Force. Beyond his background in the military, TigerSwan is being sued, as Alice mentioned, by the North Dakota Private Investigations and Security Board, which provides licenses to private security firms in North Dakota. And they’re being sued because they were denied a license to operate as a security firm after doing so for several months.
JS: I remember back in 2005, in New Orleans, in the aftermath of the flooding of the city, I encountered Blackwater mercenaries on the streets of New Orleans saying that they were there to, you know, stop looters and confront criminals. And they too had operated for a period without a license to be a private security firm inside of the state of Louisiana. Eventually, they claimed that they were deputized by the governor of the state of Louisiana. And ultimately, we learned that they had actually been hired on a contract with the Department of Homeland Security. In this case, though, we’re talking about a private company hiring its own private mercenary force, and they’re using the same language that they use when they’re hired by the U.S. government to work on so-called counterterrorism operations. Find, fix, and finish is a term that we reported on in the Drone Papers, which is used for finding a target, fixing their location, and then finishing them off, either in a night raid or in a drone strike. TigerSwan used this phrase in the documents to talk about the targeting of water protectors — “find, fix and eliminate.” What kinds of tactics were TigerSwan’s operatives using against the water protectors?
AS: Basically, some of the things that we learned about in their situation reports are aerial surveillance; very, very intense social media monitoring; and then direct infiltration, which I think is one of the most fascinating and disturbing aspects of it. We know that they had undercover agents in the camps for long periods of time, building relationships with water protectors, and then using those relationships to feed information back to their clients. They were also creating lists of people of interest. They were collecting photos and personal information. They were collecting license plates numbers and all kinds of like, really detailed — really detailed information on people that they still have. And the other thing that I think is really important to stress, that we’ve been reporting on, is that, yes, Energy Transfer partners was the client, and so this was really a private contract that TigerSwan had. But at the same time, without that relationship being sanctioned in any contract, they were also feeding all of this information to law enforcement.
So, for instance, we were able to find some of their reports that were leaked to us, eventually made it into the public record as well, because they were sent by TigerSwan to local police. The local police was using this to inform their actions on the grounds. Their reports also talk about TigerSwan, you know, regularly meeting with local sheriffs, with state and sometimes federal agents to discuss some of their findings. So, I think it’s important that we remember that, yes, they were not directly deputized by law enforcement, but they worked with them very closely.
JS: In the first story that you did in the series, you cite an October 3rd report where TigerSwan — this is a direct quote from one of the documents — “exploitation of ongoing native versus non-native rifts and tribal rifts between peaceful and violent elements is critical in our efforts to delegitimize the anti-DAPL movement. Talk about that, Alleen.
AB: The documents frequently note rifts within the movement, and at times, as you mentioned, talk about the imperative of exploiting them. So, this is kind of where we see the work of TigerSwan shifting outside of just surveilling the movement into also influencing it. So, another example that kind of speaks to that is this counterinformation campaign that TigerSwan was pushing forward. You know, they frequently analyze the news coverage that the pipeline is getting in reference to the need to combat it. We learned that one of those efforts transformed into the production of videos published on Facebook featuring an individual posing as an anchor, a news anchor, critiquing the water protector movement.
Robert Rice of TigerSwan: Now, let us be clear. We are not against peaceful protesting. However, many of the members of this cell have been part of the destruction in Standing Rock last year. And they’ve all been posting regularly on social media about how they refuse to be part of society. That means constantly asking for money and support for locals. We are not here to convince you they shouldn’t be welcomed into your community. We just want to make you aware of the full situation to keep you informed.
AB: So, this individual did not disclose that he was working for TigerSwan. Essentially, this is a form of fake news that people were sharing and liking on Facebook that they had no idea was being produced by this private security firm.
JS: The fact is that TigerSwan then was not only focused on the Dakota Access pipeline. They also set their sights on another project that clearly, they though that what they had done in Dakota was this great success. And then they started looking at Mariner East 2. Talk about what that is and what the private security industry was hoping to gain by working on that.
AS: Yeah. So, first of all, something that’s important to notice is that TigerSwan is obviously a for profit company. And it’s very clear in all of the reports that they’re constantly trying to justify their presence. So, they’re constantly describing the situation on the ground as being more dangerous and more volatile than it actually was in an effort to continue their contracts, to gain more contracts in other states.
JS: As you guys point out in the pieces, you wrote something like, it borders on parody, the way that they’re using military terms to describe the caliber of munitions for — you know, for paint guns and the stockpiling of protest signs. I mean, it really —
JS: You know, it does read as though a desperate attempt to justify their presence. You know, another one, “operational weakness allows TS, TigerSwan, elements to further develop and dictate the battle space.”
AS: I mean, if they weren’t so disturbing, these reports would actually be pretty hilarious. Like they’re an interesting read, definitely. The language and the images they convey are certainly characteristic of a certain type of company and framework, really. But yes, that’s definitely what they’re doing. They’re trying to make it look as if things are about to blow up any second. They’re like obsessing over the potential for crimes, the potential for weapons. They’re always very vague in their speculations, but they’re very alarmist. And that’s part of their effort to convince their client, and other clients, possibly, that there is this massive need for security, and this massive need for surveillance and infiltration. So, as you mentioned, they are already beginning to look past the Dakota Access pipeline to other pipeline projects. And, you know, the protests are actually dying down in North Dakota. A lot of the camps were evacuated and people started leaving. And so, TigerSwan finds itself in the position of needing to justify its paycheck, essentially. And so, they start talking about other pipelines. They also talk about Mariner East 2 Pipeline in Pennsylvania, where they do have a presence, as we reported in one of our stories. But they also began talking about the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana, the Rover Pipeline in Ohio. They’re starting to sort of build the ground for possible future work. I would also like to point out that after our reporting and after the lawsuit in North Dakota, ETP actually dropped TigerSwan in North Dakota. They’re still working with them in other states, but they’re no longer working in North Dakota. And I imagine that they will consider new contracts with some more scrutiny going forward.
JS: What does the future hold for TigerSwan as you can best assess from reporting on this story?
AS: Well, we know right now they are in some legal trouble, at least in North Dakota, right? They are getting sued for operating without a license. And I think that was partially a result of our investigation, really. We saw this lawsuit that used some of our documents as exhibits. I think, you know, these are very creative companies. We’ve seen — you’ve mentioned Blackwater before. These are companies that have a history of sort of resurrecting themselves and finding new ways to stay in business. I think one thing that TigerSwan is positioning itself or it’s really monitoring that goes much beyond pipeline protests and environmental activism — some of the infiltration they did in Chicago, for instance, into a very wide-ranging set of activist groups. They look at the anti-Trump resistance, which of course is a very broad movement, so to speak. They look at some Black Lives Matter activists. There’s all kinds of potential there for TigerSwan and others like it to stay in business. And that’s actually something else we want to remember, is TigerSwan is one of several private security companies that were involved in the policing of the DAPL protest. So, if their legal troubles eventually kill them off, there will be many others to pick up the work.
AB: I mean, I would say just the level of freedom that a private company like this has to surveil a social movement should be really shocking. You know, we’ve done a lot of reporting at The Intercept about the deep limitations to the guidelines that entities like the FBI have to follow in order to carry out covert operations. You know, we’ve reported that their guidelines are essentially insufficient. But a private security firm like TigerSwan doesn’t have to follow anything like that. There are so few rules about what they have to do and the constitutional protections that they have to keep in mind that it raises a lot of important questions about the tactics that private companies, profit-seeking companies, can use to enhance their bottom line.
JS: Well, and it’s — you know, I think people would do well to read the history of the Pinkertons in this country, and also look at the utter lack of accountability for all of the crimes committed by contractors abroad in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, you know, whatever new battlefields are going to emerge in the Trump era. Well, I want to highly recommend that people read this incredible series that Alleen and Alice have reported. It’s of vital importance that we focus on real issues and not just be following the tit for tat of the Democrats and the Trump administration, because for many people, these are life and death issues, and it certainly is a life and death issue for the planet. So, I want to thank both of you, Alice Speri and Alleen Brown, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
AS: Thank you, Jeremy.
AB: Thanks, Jeremy.
JS: Alleen Brown and Alice Speri are both journalists at The Intercept.
JS: And finally, we’re gonna end today’s show with some music. When it comes to the intersection of politics, activism, and music, very few bands actually walk the walk. The band Downtown Boys, they’re one of them, and they do it gracefully, with a hell of a lot of energy.
[“Wave of History,” Downtown Boys]
Coming in on a wave
A wave of history
Coming in on a wave
A wave of history
JS: Once called America’s most exciting punk band by Rolling Stone, and recently quoted as Tom Morello’s favorite punk band, the Providence, Rhode Island, quartet is upfront about who they are: Latinx, queer, bilingual. And their actions, such as successfully leading the charge in forcing the festival South by Southwest to change its artist contracts, which you’ll recall threatened musicians with deportation, show where Downtown Boys stand: for the marginalized and oppressed, and against white hegemony, American imperialism, and the police state. Well, our producer Jack D’Isidoro spoke to lead singer Victoria Ruiz about what it means to be a musician living in the Trump era.
Victoria Ruiz: My name is Victoria Ruiz, and I’m the vocalist in Downtown Boys. Our music is filled with messages of our own personal experiences of having to deal with colonialism by white supremacy, by toxic masculinity, and by systems and institutions that weren’t made for our survival. And I think that, like, our music is very much about figuring out how to live so that we can survive, so that we can exist, and think about how to dismantle a lot of why we’re here. And we had a lot of messages around workers. We had a lot of messages around policing. And I think that it was like this very broad sort of swoop about capital. And I think we’re coming out with a new album called “Cost of Living.” And I think it’s getting at sort of the mundanities and the nuances of actually having to think about the distribution of resources and what that cost is of that void, of that space between you and freedom.
I grew up in the Bay Area. I grew up in San Jose. And I grew up in a Chicana-dominated family, so I didn’t grow up with a dad. I had like all the women in the family were the breadwinners, the caretakers, and like, the leaders of the family. And I think that that affected me in a really good way, and that I feel like I was in this seashell where I got to develop and grow. And then I think when I left the shell behind, I’m very vulnerable to the fact that that’s not how the rest of the world really functions. And I think that’s honestly been my entry point. Like I remember just kind of being in school or — and having to deal with seeing the way that boys were being fed a lot of, like, masculine propaganda and being bullied, and like, having my grandma come during lunchtime and like, yell at the bullies. Like, I feel like that’s a very — what punk wishes it could be, is, you know, really awesome Mexican-American grandmas yelling at the bullies sometimes.
[“Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)”, Downtown Boys]
VR: So, “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)” is my favorite song on the record. And it translates into like, “We’re precious, and elegant, and intelligent, and we’re not stupid.” And I think a lot of us who are trying to use culture as a weapon deal with a lot of pushback because capitalism doesn’t want that. And that’s what this song is really about. It’s all in Spanish mostly, but it riffs on Nina Simone’s song “I Ain’t Got No,” where she’s like, “Ain’t got no money, ain’t got no shoes, ain’t got no sweater.”
[“Ain’t Got No, I Got Life,” Nina Simone]
Ain’t got no home
Ain’t got no shoes
Ain’t got no money
Ain’t got no class
Ain’t got no skirts
Ain’t got no sweaters
Ain’t got no perfume
Ain’t got no love
Ain’t got no faith
VR: And she talks about all the things she doesn’t have, and then she’s like, “But I got my body, I got my smile, I got my love.” And she talks about all the things she does have.
[“Ain’t Got No, I Got Life,” Nina Simone]
I got my hair, got my head,
I got my brains, got my ears,
Got my eyes, got my nose,
Got my mouth, I got my sex
I got my arms, got my hands —
VR: And so, “Somos Chulas” does the same thing. It’s all about how like, we don’t have land. We don’t have a ticket. We don’t have a way out. But we have our fingers, we have our veins, and that’s how we fly.
[“Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)”, Downtown Boys]
VR: “The Wall,” believe it or not, was written before the current president was inaugurated. But it can be very literal and relevant. And then it was also meant to be very just like metaphorical. It uses a quote from a poem by Assata Shakur. So, “a wall is just a wall and nothing more at all.” And as people, we’re gonna hold so many imperfections. We’re so fallible. And part of the wall is making us believe that those imperfections are our entire being.
[“The Wall,” Downtown Boys]
VR: Those walls, they’re made up. They’re used to try and continue capitalism and racism, and trying to continue to build these fake reasons for why we can’t be free. But I think our songs are tools. And so, I think that wall very much is just a wall. And in order for us to feel it has to be nothing more at all, we have to come together and know how to break it down.
[“The Wall,” Downtown Boys]
JS: And that does it for this week’s 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, and we had production assistance from Elise Swain. Many thanks to HRT Croatian Radio and Television for hosting me for this week’s episode. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.