Subscribe to the Intercepted podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, Radio Public, and other platforms. New to podcasting? Click here.
The unconscionable genocidal destruction of Yemen is continuing unabated. This week on Intercepted: Sen. Chris Murphy blasts the U.S. government for its support of Saudi Arabia and lays out his fight to end the carnage in Yemen. Jeremy tears apart Thomas Friedman’s gross love letter to the Saudi crown prince and talks about the bi-partisan war against journalism from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump. As more women come forward to name their sexual assaulters and harassers, Intercept Editor-in-Chief Betsy Reed and BuzzFeed’s Katie Baker analyze this unprecedented moment. Robert Mugabe was removed in a military coup, but his successor is a brutal thug from the same party. We get analysis from Harare, Zimbabwe, about why the U.S. and Britain supported Mugabe’s repressive regime, who is in control now, and what the future holds in this mineral rich country. Comedian Joe Pera performs a dramatic re-enactment of a secret Snowden document about a summer intern at the National Security Agency who experiences culture shock. And Donald Trump stars in the exciting finale of ‘Merican Beauty.
Jeremy Scahill: Previously on Intercepted.
Anthony Atamanuik (as Donald J. Trump): I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what’s happened to me. But it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much money in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My stomach fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. Two quarter pounders with cheese, extra ketchup, bacon, no pickles, and fries — supersize me.
And then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.
You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. I mean, I have no idea what I’m talking about. But don’t worry. You will. Believe me.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Crack Down on Press Freedom Is Dangerous but Isn’t New
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City, and this is episode 37 of Intercepted.
President Donald J. Trump: That was just fake news by NBC, which gives a lot of fake news lately. And it’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write.
JS: Donald Trump is an enemy of the free press. His attacks on journalists and journalism reek of authoritarianism. His use of the term, “fake news” is lifted directly from Joseph Goebbels’s playbook. He knows what he’s doing and it’s insidious.
There are three specific incidents that I believe should be cause for grave concern by anyone in this country who believes that we must have an independent and a free press.
First, Donald Trump recently went on a Twitter rampage against big corporate media outlets, specifically CNN and NBC. Now, I have no great love for either of these outlets. Both of these institutions have used the airwaves to promote U.S. government propaganda. They have retired U.S. military generals and admirals and CIA operatives on their payrolls as independent analysts, and they never disclose the conflicts of interest that some of these so-called experts have who profit from the very wars and conflicts that they’re supposedly giving their independent views on.
I’ve always been clear about this and I’ve criticized both networks repeatedly, including on their own airwaves.
Jeremy Scahill on CNN’s ‘Reliable Sources’: I also think that CNN and MSNBC and Fox are engaging in the Terrorism Expert Industrial Complex, where you have —
Jeremy Scahill on MSNBC’s ‘All in with Chris Hayes’: There has been no serious, hard-hitting critique of the president’s foreign policy from the issues that actually are real. This thing with him —
JS CNN’s ‘The World Right Now with Hala Gorani’:CNN needs to immediately withdraw all retired generals and colonels from its airwaves. You know, Fareed’s Zakaria, if that guy could have sex with this cruise missile attack, I think he would do it.
JS: I also went after Chuck Todd, perhaps the most prominent figure at NBC News right now, he’s the host of Meet the Press, for his demeaning of people that were calling for CIA torturers to be held accountable when Barack Obama was first elected President.
Jeremy Scahill on Bill Maher: Chuck, you called it “political catnip” to talk about the CIA and Cheney’s role in this because it distracts from the important issues. This is a central issue and you called it cable catnip. You prevent future torture by prosecuting past acts of torture.
JS: So I want to be clear that I believe that all media outlets, particularly big, powerful corporate networks should be criticized and blasted when they’re in the wrong or they’re serving as lapdogs for the powerful.
But what Trump is doing is suggesting that news outlets that don’t parrot his atrocious, and often crazy, talking points, should have their licenses revoked.
He said that CNN’s job, this is what he believes, is to promote his brand of America, like Fox News does all around the world. Those are very serious ideas for the President of the United States to just sort of float out there on Twitter.
He’s also stoking unfounded rage against the very institution of journalism and he did this throughout the campaign at his rallies and that can have grave consequences.
I have serious issues with a number of CNN personalities and the way that the network as a whole gave Trump endless airtime and they continue to do so at the expense of real reporting on serious crises like the U.S.-supported genocide in Yemen, the plight of poor and working people in the United States.
It’s not that CNN or NBC don’t cover these issues, it’s that they’re often squeezed in between covering Trump’s latest tweets or embarrassments or Russia, Russia, Russia — the priorities are totally warped.
At the same time, CNN has some incredible, brave international reporters, and camera people, and fixers, who regularly risk their lives to tell stories that matter. I’ve met them in war zones around the world. These are not political hacks or retired generals profiting from wars — no, they’re real journalists and they deserve our defense against attacks from the most powerful figure in the United States and arguably the world right now.
The second issue is that the Trump Administration has dramatically expanded the number of leak investigations in the United States. And Trump seems to believe that the Justice Department should get into the business of arresting reporters who publish classified information. He told then-FBI director James Comey that he should consider doing just that. The Justice Department right now is attempting to throw the book at an NSA contractor named Reality Winner, who they allege was the source of a document that was published by The Intercept. That document detailed alleged Russian operations aimed at targeting U.S. software companies that service the U.S. electoral system in a couple of dozen states in the United States.
Reality Winner is right now being held, without bond, on charges of violating the Espionage Act. She could face decades in prison. In addition to this unjust denial of bail and the severity of the outrageous espionage charge against her and the potential prison sentence in this case, this is also an attack on journalism. Like Barack Obama, Donald Trump only wants journalists to publish official leaks or official pronouncements. That’s not how real journalism works, and every news outlet should be standing against these attacks and against Reality Winner’s imprisonment.
The third issue: the U.S. government recently forced the television network RT to register as a foreign agent in the United States. RT has been accused by U.S. intelligence agencies, members of Congress, pundits of various political stripes of being a propaganda outlet for the Kremlin. RT has been cited as being part of an active coordinated misinformation campaign aimed at influencing the 2016 presidential election; they were cited in the U.S. intelligence community’s report.
Academics, journalists, politicians and others who have appeared on RT recently found their names publicly listed by an anti-Trump group, accusing them essentially of guilt by association.
The law that RT was forced to register under is the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which officially passed in 1938 and its aim was to stop the spread of Nazi propaganda.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: The need for this legislation is perhaps most clearly demonstrated by the case of Russian propaganda networks like RT America and Sputnik International.
JS: The Committee to Protect Journalists, which is a very mainstream U.S. press freedom organization, they have come out against this move saying that it could set a dangerous precedent that could result in criminalizing individual journalists who work for RT.
Under the law, RT is going to be forced to include a public disclaimer on any information that they send out in the United States, and the network is going to have to file a version of all of its reports — this could also mean social media transmissions — with the U.S. Justice Department within 48 hours of transmission. There are only a handful of media outlets that have been forced to register as foreign agents. I am entirely opposed to this action by the U.S. government. Already, Russia, which is a heinous enemy of journalism, has said that it’s now going to intensify the targeting of U.S. media outlets operating in Russia in retaliation for this action the U.S. has taken against RT.
But that’s not the only reason that I’m against this action. By singling out RT, the U.S. government is further eroding the very idea of a free press. Americans have a right to get their news from a variety of sources including state funded media outlets like the BBC, Al Jazeera, and, yes, RT. And when we start allowing the government to make up rules about who is and who is not a journalist, then the door for attacks on media organizations widens and widens. Of course RT broadcasts propaganda: it is a Kremlin-funded media outlet. And, by the way, Fox News is a propaganda outlet. It’s not state sponsored, but it’s propaganda nonetheless. Should Fox News be required to register as an agent for white supremacists or racists or Donald Trump? Should they be required to put a disclaimer saying that their reports are on behalf of the current President of the United States?
You know who has a show on RT? Larry King. Remember him from CNN? The guy with the suspenders? He says RT has never edited or intervened in his show. So RT is supposed to put a disclaimer on Larry King’s program saying it’s on behalf of the Russian government what about former MSNBC host and partisan Democrat Ed Schultz’s show on RT? It’s just nonsense.
I’ve appeared on RT a few times over the years and I’ve many times declined to appear. There were some shows and hosts that I thought were responsible and some that I didn’t. There are aspects of RT’s coverage that is undoubtedly propagandistic. And there were times when RT was willing to have me or other journalists on to discuss important stories that big, U.S. outlets were systematically ignoring or when they were parroting the U.S. government’s line. And RT reported on those stories accurately.
RT’s Alyona Minkovski: I’m just curious why, then, it is that we haven’t seen you on every single news channel, why all of those real news networks out there aren’t dying to get the story from you.
JS: Yeah, so far it’s just been Democracy Now!, Al Jazeera and Russia Today, RT, that have expressed serious interest in this story. And I should say —
JS: I was asked numerous times to be on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, and I declined all of those invites unless they would do it live.
Bill O’Reilly: We’ll do it live! We’ll do it live! Fuck it!
JS: Why did I insist on doing it live? Because I didn’t trust Bill O’Reilly and Fox News to edit the interview accurately. And, by the way, I also spoke out when the Obama Justice Department served a warrant on Google for Fox News reporter James Rosen’s personal e-mails, as I did when it obtained the Associated Press’s phone records.
The point of all of this is not that we cosign all or even most of what RT is doing. Or that RT is not a Russian state media organization — it is. The point is that it’s dangerous to have the U.S. government deciding what constitutes journalism and who constitutes a journalist and selectively choosing which media outlets should be subjected to these restrictions and which should not. There are an incredible number of state funded outlets who broadcast in the United States and have not been subjected to these restrictions. Where do we draw the line once we start down this path?
Now, Trump is, no doubt, an enemy of the press and Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric is chilling. At the same time, we have to be honest: Trump did not start the U.S. war on press freedom, and I think it’s a mistake to view his attacks out of that historical context. Barack Obama? He prosecuted record numbers of whistleblowers and leakers under the Espionage Act.
President Barack Obama: Leaks related to national security can put people at risk.
JS: Obama’s Justice Department threatened New York Times reporter James Risen with prison if he did not give up his source. Obama also personally intervened in Yemen to keep a Yemeni reporter who exposed the U.S. secret bombing campaign of Yemen in prison. Barack Obama was no friend of the free press either. Under Bush, the U.S. killed one of Al-Jazeera’s correspondents in Iraq. It was a direct hit on the position he was broadcasting from.
The U.S. military also shelled a hotel, killing two foreign journalists: one, a Spanish cameraman, and the other a Reuters photojournalist. Bush had Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj locked up in Guantanamo for six years without charge, where they were trying to force him to confess to a nonexistent link between Al Jazeera and al Qaeda. A U.S. helicopter gunship gleefully sprayed bullets on Iraqi civilians and killed two Reuters journalists.
‘Collateral Murder’: Come on, fire. [Gunfire.] Keep shooting. [Gunfire.]
JS: In 1999, Bill Clinton authorized the bombing of Radio Television Serbia and killed 16 media workers. Most of those people were makeup artists and technicians and security guards — not a single propagandist for Slobodan Milosevic was killed: only the technical workers.
President Bill Clinton: We have to stand united with our allies for peace. By acting now, we are upholding our values, protecting our interests and advancing the cause of peace.
JS: U.S. Presidents always hold up the United States as this beacon of freedom, and for some people it certainly is. But let’s not pretend there’s not been a long, bipartisan war against journalism and journalists waged by the United States government.
Across the globe, journalists are under attack and dying in record numbers. Whether it’s targeting journalistic sources in the U.S. or murdering journalists in Mexico, or assassinating them in Russia, it’s the responsibility of all of us in the news media to stand up and collectively say, “No.” That’s true under Trump and it should remain true the next time a Democrat is in the White House. Okay, on with the show.
Sen. Chris Murphy on the Key Role the U.S. Plays in Saudi Arabia’s Destruction of Yemen
JS: The unconscionable genocidal destruction of Yemen is continuing this week unabated. But don’t tell that to New York Times columnist and official chronicler of taxi drivers and hotel concierges who miraculously deliver perfect sound bites whenever he’s in their presence. I’m talking about Tom Friedman.
No, Tom took to the pages of the paper of record to heap praise on the brutal thugs running Saudi Arabia’s vicious war against the poorest nation in the Arab world. Tom mentions that there is a humanitarian nightmare in Yemen and he refers to a “Saudi-backed war” as though the Saudis are just supporting this war that’s being waged by unknown assailants. Forget about mentioning the U.S. support for this brutal destruction — no, Tom had more important thoughts to share on the valuable real estate that is his New York Times column.
[Music fades in.]
This story of Tom of Arabia begins with our mustached hero arriving in Riyadh during the Saudi winter, but soon discovering it’s actually an Arab Spring: Saudi style. You see, Tom informs us that this revolution is not coming from the people, but from the very top. And the hero of this story is the 32 year-old crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, or as Tom calls him, MBS. Tom manages to make his way from the airport to MBS’s ornate, adobe-walled palace. And there, Tom gathers with a group of people who have the pulse of the ordinary folks in the kingdom: the crown prince and his brother, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and an assortment of several other senior government officials. According to Tom, they shared different lamb dishes that spiced the conversation.
Gob Bluth: Fried cheese with club sauce.
Lucille Austero: (moans)
Gob Bluth: Popcorn shrimp with club sauce.
Lucille Austero: (moans)
Gob Bluth: Chicken fingers —
Lucille Austero: Stop it, you’re making me dizzy.
Gob Bluth: — with spicy club sauce.
Lucille Austero: No, I mean stop it!
JS: After nearly four grueling hours with the prince and his crew and the lamb, Tom tells us that he surrendered at 1:15 AM to MBS’s youth, with Tom pointing out that he’s exactly twice the crown prince’s age. And then Tom observed, and I quote, “It’s been a long, long time, though, since any Arab leader wore me out with a fire hose of new ideas about transforming his country.”
Okay, I’m not going to continue with this anymore (laughs), but the point is that this is the crap that Thomas Friedman writes in the so-called paper of record while Yemen is being utterly destroyed by the very people he was enjoying a variety of lamb dishes with. And Saudi officials — they sent Friedman’s piece around to journalists in Washington D.C. That’s usually a sign that you’re doing something wrong.
60 Minutes, they recently did a story on Yemen that completely removed any U.S. involvement in this slaughter. And the U.S. Congress refuses to do anything that would actually end the U.S. role in this unforgivable mass crime. There are a few members of Congress who have fought to cut off U.S. support for the Saudis and to end the annihilation of Yemen. The most vocal of these is Senator Chris Murphy, he’s a Democrat from Connecticut and he is on the Foreign Relations Committee. And he joins me right now. Senator Murphy, lay out what you believe the U.S. role has been in this war and the devastation that we’re witnessing right now in Yemen.
Senator Chris Murphy: I do not believe that Saudi Arabia could conduct this military campaign in Yemen without the United States. The United States provides the targeting assistance. The United States provides the munitions. The United States, in fact, provides the refueling to the Saudi and coalition jets mid-air without U.S. logistical support, without U.S. weapons, without U.S. arms sales: They simply could not be engaging in this destructive bombing campaign. At any time, the United States could cut off our support and in the face of a million cholera cases, in the face of thousands and thousands of Yemenis dying and many more starving to death, we have yet to deliver that message to the Saudis. And so, I make a very tough argument, but I think it’s a fair one: That every single death inside Yemen today has a U.S. imprint on it. And when I talk to Yemenis, as I remind my colleagues all the time, they tell me that inside Yemen, this is not seen as a Saudi bombing campaign. This is seen as a U.S.-Saudi bombing campaign. And so the long-term effect of this is that we are radicalizing potentially millions of Yemenis against the United States.
JS: Now, when you and Senator Rand Paul, who of course is a Republican, you co-sponsored the Stop Arming Terrorists Act and a majority of your Democratic colleagues, now that Trump is president, joined on to that effort, but you had a much more difficult time it seems convincing your Democratic colleagues to take this stance when Barack Obama was president, to what do you attribute that?
CM: Well they were two different resolutions, admittedly the first resolution to stop arms sales to the Saudis in 2016 was arguably not directly connected to the Yemen war. This arms sale in 2017 was. Also during that period of time, the Trump Administration removed basically all vestiges of pressure that the Obama administration had applied on the Saudis to try to correct their behavior. If you remember, Obama did in the end stop selling these precision guided weapons to the Saudis because of their targeting errors and because of their targeting successes when they were going after humanitarian sites. So, the Trump Administration was worse on this question then the Obama administration was. The arms sale was much more directly relevant to the war inside Yemen and the humanitarian catastrophe was a year worse in 2017 when we took that vote. So, sure, maybe some of the reason the more Democrats voted against it this year was because it wasn’t a Democrat in the White House but there are also some reasonable explanations for why some of those votes shifted.
JS: Another part of all of this that I find somewhat curious is the fact that whether it’s a Democrat in power or Republican in power, it’s sort of just assumed that the big picture line on Saudi Arabia is that they are necessary to our national security. And throughout both the Bush Administration and Obama Administration, you had the United States relying very heavily on Saudi intelligence to select its own targets inside of Yemen with drone strikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
But, in general, also the Saudis seem to be dictating a lot of U.S. policy on the Arabian Peninsula particularly in Yemen. Why is that the case and do you think that the U.S. should be relying so heavily on the Saudis?
CM: It’s a real head scratcher and it’s an issue that I constantly raise here in Washington. As the flow of Saudi money moves through the Wahhabis to extremist groups and radical clerics all around the world, our eyes should be wider open than ever before as to the threat to U.S. national security that comes out of Saudi Arabia.
Now, certainly there are important counterterrorism intelligence programs between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. They have been able to achieve a kind of temporary detente between the GCC and Israel, that’s important to us. But the billions of dollars that flows out of this country that ends up radicalizing young men to join groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, that is directly contrary to U.S. national security interests. And so I have never understood why we are so deeply in bed with the Saudis. It probably has to do with our prior dependence on the Saudis for oil to power our country. It probably has something to do with all of the money to they have put into this town. You know, there are many think tanks in Washington D.C. that have Saudi money and end up coming to the Hill to recommend that in the strategic security interests of the United States that we must maintain our unbreakable alliance with the Saudis. They’ve been, done a good job of cementing this alliance with oil and now with money flowing into Washington, and I think there are more people now than ever that are questioning that relationship, but they don’t tend to be in this administration.
JS: You know, Saudi diplomats have been sending around this week to journalists Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times which was basically just a kind of cartoonish praising of the Saudi crown prince, and doesn’t even mention the direct consequences that you’re citing that can be linked to the Saudi bombing and the U.S. support for it.
Thomas Friedman: You think this bubble fantasy we’re just going to let it grow? Well suck on this.
That, Charlie, was what this what this war was about. We could’ve hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. We could’ve hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.
JS: At the same time, 60 Minutes, I give them credit, they took 13 or 15 minutes to talk about Yemen.
60 Minutes Scott Pelley: This mother, Ameena Saleh, told us her family left after Saudi-led airstrikes killed more than 70 people in her town.
“The planes would fly above us and fire rockets and missiles like this,” she told us. “At night there was no sleep and we were holding the young ones.” She said that her older son was saying, “We’re going to die.” She told us, “We saw people die right in front of us.”
JS: But none of what you’re talking about was included in that. It’s almost as though there is this epic crime with no perpetrator, when everyone actually knows that there is a perpetrator, there’s multiple perpetrators.
CM: Remember, what is the greatest threat to the United States today? Every politician will tell you it’s the potential of a terrorist attack. Where does that attack emanate from? It’s Sunni extremist groups. Where does the money come from that creates an intolerant version of Islam that prompts people to want to do violence against nonbelievers? It’s Saudi Arabian money, it’s Gulf state money that comes out of the Wahhabi movement, and you know you can’t tell the story of Yemen just through the lens of the epic humanitarian catastrophe. You have to acknowledge that the most lethal arm of al Qaeda, AQAP, has gotten bigger and stronger inside Yemen during this civil war because they have sort of gobbled up the ungovernable territory created by the civil war. ISIS, which didn’t have a footprint in Yemen, now has a pretty big one. And so if we’re really fighting these radical groups, why on earth are we participating in a war inside Yemen that’s actually causing those radical groups to get stronger?
JS: Do you believe that the Houthis, which is primarily a northern-based, Shiite-minority movement in Yemen that doesn’t fact control the majority of the capital right now, do you believe that this is directly an Iranian proxy at this point?
CM: Iran has taken advantage of this civil war in order to draw closer to the Houthis, but there has never been a command and control relationship in the way that it exists with Hezbollah in many places. But every single day that the Saudis continue to drop bombs inside Yemen is a day that the Houthis get closer to the Iranians. The Saudis are essentially creating, you know, their own problem by pushing together these two groups.
So, no, it has never been as simple as the Iranians running a proxy army inside Yemen, but they are becoming more interdependent. But that’s because this civil war has perpetuated, and the Houthis seen no political route out of this mess. And, by the way, you know as well as I do that the Houthis are not blameless when it comes to the humanitarian catastrophe.
They have hit civilians, they have contributed to this nightmare, most of the deaths are caused by Saudi activity but there are plenty of very bad actors on the Houthi side as well.
JS: What is the reason that you’re given by the Democrats who are not on board with what you’re doing? I mean clearly you’ve done, more than any lawmaker, in your official capacity to raise awareness specifically what’s happening in Yemen, and I give you, and we’ve said this on our show, enormous credit for naming the U.S. role in this. But what’s the defense that any of your Democratic colleagues offer you and why they won’t join your effort?
CM: Well, again, let’s just remind ourselves that there aren’t many Democrats left that oppose my efforts to cut off funding for this conflict. I think there were, you know, maybe three or four Democrats in the Senate who voted against my measure earlier this year.
But, to the extent that there has been resistance, it is tied up in this construct that you were handed when you were elected to Congress that the United States are resolute allies with the Saudis, and that it is sacrilegious to break that bond. There is also a belief, that’s been built up by the Saudi lobby here, that the Houthis are agents of Iran and if you are an anti-Iranian member of Congress then you have to be supporting the Saudis inside Yemen.
Ultimately the Saudis are going to be cut off here. I mean we are trending in a direction such that the next arms sale will not be approved by Congress.
JS: What can someone in your position do to break through the silence on this when you have North Korea and you have a president who seems to be trying to tweet us either into a war or into being the laughing stock of the world?
CM: Well, I wish the famine and the cholera epidemic moved people. I mean this is not a naturally occurring famine, this is a manmade famine, this is a manmade cholera outbreak and the United States has been a participant in causing it. I wish that that was enough.
I think we’ve got to talk more about the national security implications here. I think we need to make it very clear to people that al Qaeda, the group that Donald Trump tells us he is going to stamp out, is getting stronger inside that country because we are giving them space to grow. So, I think for the members of Congress are still left over, that haven’t joined us here, we’ve got to make it very clear that we are putting this country at risk by continuing to be involved in this civil war.
JS: One of the so-called adults in the room, Defense Secretary General James Mattis, has a very hawkish track record with regards to Iran and you definitely have people permeating the Trump circle on a foreign policy level that believe that Iran-Contra was not a scandal but a model for how the United States should be conducting itself. Are you concerned that part of what we’re seeing here in Yemen with the Trump Administration adopting this line, that it’s really a war against Iran could lead to U.S. military action in Iran?
CM: I don’t have any information or evidence that the Administration is planning military activity against Iran directly. But what I know is that the more deeply that you get involved in these conflicts and we have not yet talked about the fact that we now have upwards of a thousand U.S. troops inside Syria today, the harder it is to avoid conflicts with countries that are also involved. What we saw in Syria, for instance, is that when Iranian-backed militia forces got too close to U.S. forces we fired upon them.
We attacked Bashar al-Assad under the pretext that his chemical weapons usage posed a danger to U.S. forces that were in the region.
The way in which this administration has broadened out its authority to conduct military activity in the Middle East suggests that it thinks it has the legal ability to go after anyone and any actor and any country in the region the potentially poses a threat to U.S. forces. Iran is on that list and so the broad jurisdiction that the administration has granted itself regarding military activity could conceivably convince them to launch an attack against the Iranians without congressional approval. Now, I don’t have any information that they are planning on doing that. I just worry that they have given themselves a carte blanche in the region that seems to have no end.
JS: You know, the last report that we have from Special Operations Command in Tampa is that the U.S. has special operations personnel deployed in more than 130 countries around the world. Now, that doesn’t mean that they’re engaged in combat in all of those countries, but recent events in places like Mali, and Niger, and increasingly Somalia are a good indication that there is a tremendous amount happening in the, in the shadows under this president, but it also happened a lot under Barack Obama, that not only are the American people not aware of it, but the Congress doesn’t seem to be briefed on many of these operations or doesn’t seem to be demanding the information that would be required to effectively oversee it. How concerned are you with the fact that we have 800 troops in Niger, 400 troops in Mali, we don’t know how many troops are in Somalia? All of these places are potential areas where U.S. body bags could be coming home, but also actions could be taken that cause blowback on us down the line.
CM: I think we have to go back and take a look at how we authorize this dispersion of U.S. forces around the world. What we learned in Niger was that those troops are there under an authority given to the executive by Congress, in Title X, to help train and equip foreign forces. Now, it sort of doesn’t feel like we were in the business of training and equipping given that we had our guys out there doing real life dangerous missions. Technically, were we with local troops? We were. But it seemed like we were engaged in more operational capacity than we were in training capacity.
So, here’s one way to solve this and I haven’t submitted this as legislation yet, I just think it’s worth thinking about: Why doesn’t Congress in the annual defense authorization bill actually list out the countries that the Department of Defense is allowed to do this training and equipping in? If they have to do it on an emergency basis that’s fine, they can do it for the rest of the year, but they have to come back the next year and get explicit authorization.
Right now, it’s a blank check, that they can train and equip in any country they want. They can put an unlimited number of Special Forces operators into those countries and there’s, as we’ve learned, real fuzzy territory between training and soldiering.
So, there are ways that we could look at to get Congress more deeply involved in the question of where we are deployed. We could actually have a debate about that every year in the Defense Authorization Bill, and my feeling is that that would be a lot closer to the division of power on foreign policy that the Founding Fathers imagined.
JS: Senator Chris Murphy is a Democrat from Connecticut. He serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Sexual Assault in the Media, Hollywood, and Politics
JS: Right now, in the United States, we are witnessing an unprecedented moment. Scores of women are coming forward and bravely naming the men who have sexually harassed, assaulted, raped and otherwise abused or mistreated them. The cases that we read about or hear about are of course those involving powerful men, men who use their positions and influence to assault or harass women. The meticulous reporting on Hollywood kingpin Harvey Weinstein seems to have opened a floodgate for women to speak out and demand accountability.
And it’s not just women. In the case of actor Kevin Spacey, his alleged victims were men. Some of these cases have resulted in the firing of prominent men in journalism or the resignation of others. In some cases they may result in criminal prosecutions. We also know that Harvey Weinstein hired two private security companies to spy on and dig up dirt on some of his accusers. One of those firms was an Israeli company staffed by former Mossad agents and other Israeli military and intelligence units.
Right now, we also have a president who has been accused of rape, sexual harassment and assault, and who was caught on tape bragging about how he grabs women “by the pussy.” The president has come out in support of the Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore who is facing a barrage of allegations including assaulting teenage girls. The longest-serving member of Congress, Democrat John Conyers, has just stepped down as chair of the Judiciary Committee following public allegations that he sexually harassed and possibly assaulted women working for him. Conyers is denying all of this and says he is going to fight this. Al Franken’s political career, at the same time, is very much in question and there are certainly scores of men in media, film, government, and other industries who walk around wondering when their abuse or harassment of women will come to light.
This is definitely an historic moment and one which has the potential to bring much needed change to the sexist and misogynist culture that permeates our society. But that’s going to require not only the brave blowing of the whistle by women, but men actually listening and institutions taking action.
To discuss all of this I’m joined by two people. Katie Baker is an investigative reporter at BuzzFeed News. She’s tenaciously covered this beat for years and Betsy Reed is the editor in chief of The Intercept. Welcome, both of you, to Intercepted.
Katie Baker: Thank you for having me.
Betsy Reed: Thanks, Jeremy.
JS: I was trying to think of any kind of historical analog to what we’re witnessing right now with so many people coming forward and stating what happened to them at the hands of powerful men, whether they’re in Hollywood or media, etc. And there seems like there is, in many of these cases, this immediate sense of there’s going to be accountability right now. The closest thing I can think of is like, the overthrow of dictatorships or like kind of like the Arab Spring where you see this sort of instant reaction, the likes of which I can’t recall another moment in time that would be similar to this. How do you see this moment that we’re in right now, given all of the reporting you’ve done for years on these issues?
KB: I think what’s unprecedented is not just people sharing their stories of sexual assault and harassment, but the almost immediate accountability that appears to be happening, at least with famous people. I’ve written about a lot of powerful men who women accused of sexual assault and harassment who faced bad publicity but no repercussions. And I think what’s happening right now is really exciting and overwhelming because it does feel like the consequences are happening — literally the same day, in many cases.
JS: A lot of the coverage of this right now links back to the Harvey Weinstein moment and this deluge of allegations against him from a variety of very prominent women in Hollywood. You also have the reality of Donald Trump being president and openly bragging about sexually assaulting women.
DJT: You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. Just kissing. And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything.
Billy Bush: Whatever you want.
DJT: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
JS: Not to mention the fact that there are serious questions about whether he’s raped people or committed acts beyond what we already know that he’s owned. Your view on sort of where we are right now.
BR: Well, I mean I think Donald Trump’s election in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape and all the allegations that the New York Times had reported before that, it really tapped into a well of fury and outrage among women. I think it helped sort of establish that this was a really legitimate area for like mainstream newspapers to pursue. It takes a lot of resources, as we all know, to pursue these stories and The New York Times devoted two, you know, top reporters for almost a year, right, on the story.
But it is, you know, ironic that basically he seems to have gotten off scot-free and I think that it’s perfectly appropriate for him to be facing heat. It’s unclear kind of what path that could take politically, but I think it’s very legitimate how those women feel who came forward with their stories about Trump and basically felt like they were, you know, slapped in the face by the result of the election.
JS: Now, Katie, you’ve written about Juanita Broaddrick, who now for several decades has been emphatic that she was sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton.
Juanita Broaddrick: It was not consensual.
Lisa Myers: You’re saying that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted you, that he raped you?
JS: What do we know about Bill Clinton and sexual assault, sexual harassment. You did a deep dive into Juanita Broaddrick. What’s the truth of that as you understand it from your reporting?
JB: In the summer of 2016, my editor Ben Smith suggested I try and profile Juanita Broaddrick because no mainstream media outlet had done so since she first spoke out in the late 90s. I did not know who Juanita Broaddrick was. I’m not that young — I’m 30. So, it’s not as if — I had no excuse. And I was, when I started researching and reading up on her extremely credible, consistent allegations I was really shocked that I had no idea who she was and I asked people of various ages, older, as well as younger, and even if people kind of remembered her, no one really, people just thought, “Oh, well, those were not credible,” or they didn’t quite remember them. But Juanita Broaddrick has said for years that Bill Clinton raped her in a hotel room, not a gray area situation. She said that she was supposed to have a business meeting with him when he forcibly raped her.
And the reasons why she didn’t speak out right away are extremely credible, the same types of reasons that we’re hearing almost every day right now: she was scared, she didn’t think anybody would believe her, she fell intimidated, and she only ultimately spoke out because reporters were on to her. She didn’t seek out reporters — sort of like what we’re seeing with Roy Moore and his accusers didn’t go to the Washington Post, the Washington Post came to them. Juanita was bombarded until she finally sat down and tried to tell her story and then she was almost immediately disbelieved and dismissed.
BR: I was really struck by, in your piece, how you show this very revealing chronicle of the costs when these kinds of cases are politicized and used as like, you know, weaponized political footballs. And, you know, as much as you are respectful to her and her credibility in her story, you also raise some really hard questions about how she allowed her story to be used.
KB: Completely. It was a really, really complicated story to write, especially at that time. That was before Juanita had officially decided to essentially join the Trump campaign and go to the debates and sit there and really campaign for him essentially.
JB: Hi, I’m Juanita Broaddrick, and I’m here to support Donald Trump. I tweeted recently, and Mr. Trump retweeted me, that actions speak louder than words. Mr. Trump may’ve said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me, and Hillary Clinton threatened me. I don’t think there’s any comparison.
KB: Juanita Broaddrick kept telling me that the only reason she was voting for Trump was because she didn’t want Hillary to win, and that she wasn’t ever going to work for his campaign. And I could kind of tell that that she was lying and that it was the direction she was going in.
But I also completely understood why, because if you find her allegations credible, she has been dismissed not just by the Democratic Party, but by the types of progressive organizations that typically support and believe rape victims. And then, at the same time, you had Breitbart treating her story with the sensitivity of Jezebel or something, going, “Well, it’s very common for rape victims to not come forward and this all makes a lot of sense.” And then you had liberal publications completely ignoring it, and I agree that the politicization of sexual assault claims is really troubling and I think that we’re seeing that happening right now as well.
JS: Betsy, I want to ask you about this other major high profile case that took place during the same time period in terms of when it came to public light, and that was the Clarence Thomas nomination to the Supreme Court. Anita Hill, even this past week was on the Sunday talk shows and was calling out both Republicans and Democrats for their role not only in perpetrating these kinds of crimes against women, but in building this wall of silence around them.
Anita Hill: I think we’re really at the tip of the iceberg here. Many stories have already come out. But there are still women who are marginalized, women who are in minimum wage jobs, women of color who may be fearful of coming forward with their stories because they don’t want to embarrass people racially. There are all kinds of things at play.
JS: Clarence Thomas wouldn’t be confirmed to the Supreme Court today, is that your assessment?
BR: I would say that’s a fair assumption. I remember personally watching it, being completely glued to it and horrified.
AH: After approximately three months of working there, he asked me to go out socially with him. What happened next, and telling the world about it, are the two most difficult things, experiences of my life. It is only after a great deal of agonizing consideration and sleepless number — great number of sleepless nights, that I am able to talk of these unpleasant matters to anyone but my close friends.
BR: I just couldn’t believe, you know, having this feminist education, I couldn’t believe that like things were really this bad. That like, not only would you get harassed like this but you come forward and then to be subjected to this kind of, you know, character destruction.
And then I thought, you know, sort of hopefully, “well this will provoke you know a conversation, there’s a lot of feminist organizing around it.” But actually then what we saw over the succeeding couple of decades is not a whole lot of progress, and, in fact we had the development of this entire system which, in many cases, has served the interests of the harassers has, like as we saw with Weinstein, basically, you know, he had this whole apparatus with lawyers and you know, NDAs, and settlements. And if you look now at what’s gone on in Congress, that now it’s under the spotlight, what’s happening what with the congressional system for investigating reports of sexual harassment, in light of the accusations against John Conyers, it’s coming under a long overdue scrutiny that basically it’s essentially a mechanism for covering up all of these payouts and there’s calls for it to reveal not only, you know, the people who in the last year but going retroactively if that happens, if we actually see, you know, get some sunlight into that and see what’s happened over the last twenty years, you’re gonna see a lot more people going down.
JS: The House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was on Meet the Press this weekend and she quite clearly tried to draw distinction between the allegations against her Democratic colleagues and Roy Moore.
Nancy Pelosi: John Conyers is an icon in our country. He has done a great a great deal to protect women, the Violence Against Women Act, which the left wing, right wing is now quoting me as praising him for his work on that. And he did great work on that. But the fact is, as John reviews his case, which he knows, which I don’t, I believe he won’t do —
Chuck Todd: Why don’t you — ?
NP: May I finish my sentence?
CT: Sure, sure.
NP: That he will the right thing.
JS: And a lot of people went berserk at her, and I think rightly so. What did you make of the way that she talked about John Conyers and the allegations against him versus Roy Moore and the allegations against him?
KB: Well, I think this goes back to what we were just discussing about Juanita Broaddrick, the politicization of sexual assault claims, the way that they’re used by politicians to attack the opposite side but as we’re seeing now and as we’ve seen for decades, when it comes to their own party, both sides are not very good at taking accountability.
And I definitely think that there’s no accountability without transparency which is why all of this news that’s coming out, both from Weinstein to Conyers, about all of these confidential settlements and NDAs. I report a lot on academia and they call it “passing the trash” there. If people are allowed to pay out settlements and there’s no record, and people can just go from job to job, whether that’s in Hollywood in academia and politics without anybody knowing what really happened, and, in my experience, at least that means often times that they face multiple accusations of the same behavior.
BR: I do think that we are seeing some progress, though, in that there are prominent Democrats really calling for accountability for Al Franken and John Conyers, really vocal people like Jackie Spears and Kristen Gillibrand. So, I mean, I think there is more willingness now —
BR: — than before, you know, Nancy Pelosi aside to actually really clean our own house first. And you even see this like with Fox News, right? And some of the women who came forward there and what ultimately happened.
KB: Well, something I was really struck by is last week when Sarah Huckabee Sanders said:
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: I think in one case, specifically, Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn’t. I think that’s a very clear distinction. Major.
JS: What Trump has sort of shown is if you just bulldoze through this and you refuse to cede any territory, it’s like — the guy won the presidency.
JS: He has more than a dozen allegations, specific allegations of either rape or other forms of sexual assault and harassment against him, he openly brags about this, and he won. I mean the message that that has sent, and I think the Roy Moore thing taps into it, is just deny, deny, deny, fake news, fake news, and that’s my model for doing it.
DJT: He totally denies. He says it didn’t happen. And, you have to listen to him also. You’re talking about, he said 40 years ago, this did not happen. So, you know.
BR: That is partly the consequence of what we’ve been talking about, like all of these charges have been so politicized for so long. The nasty way that the parties operate with opposition research kind of allowed Trump to say, “This is just fake news. This is just another example of like the Hillary oppo research.” And then look at Bill, and then he trots out all of Bill’s accusers and he puts them in the front row, and it just became part of that sort of circus.
JS: Let’s talk about men in our industry, in news media, the most prominent recent case is probably Glenn Thrush who was at Politico, now at the New York Times, and he basically has done a kinda, what I would call a sorta culpa, where he’s saying, “Oh yeah, maybe I was inappropriate, but I was an alcoholic.” What do you make of those kinds of responses — Glenn Thrush is not alone in sort of treating it that way.
KB: Something that I am really interested in thinking more about is what do we do with all of these men. If the #metoo movement shows how endemic not just sexual assault and rape are, but sexual harassment and other coercive forms of gender-based discrimination, whatever you want to call it, from more minor grievances all the way down to rape. And I think if we’re going to talk about everything on the spectrum, which I have been trying to do for years in my reporting and that, and which I really support, we have to think: What does rehabilitation look like? What does it mean for someone to be held accountable? You know, we can’t just expect all the men in our lives to disappear from the face of the earth. I don’t want to send more people to prison, personally. So you know, what do you do? Should companies be held accountable? Should institutions be held accountable?
Unfortunately I do not have the answers, but this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot and I do think that I don’t want to put more responsibility on the victims to have to hold their assaulters or harassers accountable and make sure they do better. But I also don’t feel that optimistic about institutions doing the work to make sure people are going through counseling or whatever else we decide would show that somebody was, was really changing their behavior
JS: Dylan Byers, who now is at CNN, he now has deleted this tweet because he said he was misunderstood, but he tweeted that “obviously the focus of the should be on the victims, but what an incredible drain of talent this has resulted in.”
And it’s like: First of all, I want to ask him like, “What is the world missing from Mark Halperin disappearing from our lives?” Zero. It makes Morning Joe slightly more tolerable, but what should the consequences be? I don’t necessarily mean legally in courts, but in this industry.
BR: In terms of the talent drain, what my immediate thought was: What about the massive drain of talent that this epidemic of sexual harassment has produced in terms of women in leadership? There are countless stories if you look hard, it’s like, OK, what happened after this, this person was harassed, like a lot of them have taken a different turn, they choose a different career, they leave that organization and they don’t have that path to rise-up. So, I think that’s what we need to be focused on, and also on the opportunities that this kind of crisis and discussion creates for a different kind of path to leadership for women, because I think it really does — I mean, women are not perfect in power. There are women in many of these scenarios who played powerful roles. Like Charlie Rose’s producer, right, was an enabler and has really, you know, apologized for what she done. So, it is not perfect to have a woman in power, but I do believe it makes a difference and I do think that if we can really gain anything from this moment, you know, it’s going to shift the overall gender power dynamics in the industry.
KB: I completely agree with Betsy. I mean, one thing I hope comes out of this moment is ensuring, that there’s more women in positions of power, as imperfect as they are.
BR: I wonder, I mean maybe it’s just a fantasy but like it is interesting to imagine what Hollywood would be like, what changes in film and television we’ll see, if this genuinely empowers women in that industry in producing and directing and writing roles, because I think we do see the sort of sexism of the behind the scenes part of the industry reflected on the screen.
JS: I wanted to ask you both, you know, some weeks ago it came to public light that there was this Google spreadsheet that was shared by, we don’t know necessarily the specific individuals, but led to believe that it’s women in media that was referred to as the Shitty Media Men list, and you had dozens of names of people working in media and then it had specific allegations against them and some of those cases ended up in the public light. And, in some cases, there seem to be validity to it.
In others, it seems plausible that some of the men that are being accused on that list by anonymous individuals may not have anything that they’ve done and it’s sort of been used by the Mike Cernovichs of our current world to try to destroy people’s careers. What do you think about that specifically, that Shitty Media Men list, but also the sort of anonymity of some of the allegations against a variety of men?
BR: First of all, it has to be understood as what it was originally intended as like a document to be shared among women privately. It was never intended, in the first place, for public consumption and the accusations on there while, as you note, some of them have turned into real cases where real victims have come forward. And that is not true of a lot of the stuff on that list.
And we do have to kind of take this whole situation very seriously and part of that means like distinguishing when you have an actual credible accuser, a person who’s making a specific claim, and a random, anonymous list circulating that doesn’t even have any particular individual attached to any of the allegations on it. So that belongs in a different category and we have to just take seriously what evidence is before us, and that means believing women who come forward as a starting point.
KB: As far as the list goes, when I first saw it my first thought was “this is not a true community resource” because it is anonymously accessible and edited by anyone. And I support women gossiping and sharing stories, and I think that’s crucial, and I understand that women that aren’t as connected, or that you know are newer to media might really benefit from a list when they couldn’t get that gossip firsthand. But definitely as a reporter who, as I just said, really thinks a lot about how to support peoples’ stories, my first thought when I saw the list was, “oh my God, this is not going to end well for the women on the list, you know? Who knows if they’re even writing this themselves.” I definitely found it alarming.
And the more I thought about it, I thought, well this is a messy solution to a messy problem. And I’ve written about women coming together in similar situations in different industries before and often people feel like they have no other option, especially when investigations are often covered up confidentiality agreements. Or otherwise, I think that people often feel that they have no other option but to write on the bathroom wall, so to speak.
And so I am really sympathetic to it and I understand it, but definitely as a reporter, my first thought when I saw the list was: “Is this the best way to create change?”
However, it’s been a month or so and from my perspective, at least, the list has led to some really important reporting and, as far, as I know I haven’t heard of any unfair repercussions as a result of the list. Again, I think the best way to put it is I think it’s a messy solution to a messy problem.
JS: Katie, as we wrap up, I wanted to make sure that we address the fact this is not just famous men who do these things or prominent men who these things that need to be held accountable. You’ve written about powerful non-globally famous or even nationally famous men alleged to have raped people. Your latest report is documenting these 180-plus allegations of sexual assault at a company called Massage Envy, which is a chain of spas around the country.
Maybe you could talk, tying in this piece and some of the other reporting you’ve done, but about how women across the country are facing the same kinds of sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment that Harvey Weinstein’s victims face but there’s really isn’t reporting on it.
KB: My story was about predominantly women going to Massage Envy spas and being very brutally sexually assaulted by male massage therapists. There are just so many reports of it, and after looking into it, I found that the policies and practices of the company is to investigate these claims internally without any training or outside help. And I think from colleges to businesses such as Massage Envy, there are a lot of companies and institutions that really care about protecting their brand, sometimes more so than assuring that these complaints are handled appropriately. But then, of course, our criminal justice system is completely awful at investigating and handling rape claims, which is something I also report a lot about, so I hope that this cultural moment that is happening now trickles down so that people whose assaulters are not famous are still being addressed even if they’re not Harvey Weinstein or a politician.
JS: Betsy, I have to ask you, because you’re the editor-in-chief of The Intercept, a former employee of First Look, our parent company, who also did work on Intercept stories over a certain period of time, Morgan Marquis-Boire, there are very serious allegations of rape that have been leveled against him. The Verge did a very in-depth report on these allegations, we also — I mean there are specific women I know when this started coming out told me that friends of theirs had been victims of him. Maybe you could explain to people who listen to this show or are supporters or readers of The Intercept, your perspective on that case, because you just had to deal with the fact that you had a man who was employed at our institution and did do work and was bylined on some pieces at The Intercept accused of very heinous, serious crimes, including rape.
BR: Morgan Marquis-Boire was a director of security here, he was working directly with The Intercept in 2015, so I overlapped with him for about nine months, and then he went on to a different role within First Look, and, you know, throughout we actually did not hear any allegations like this about him, and his employment here ended in September of this past year, right before, like three weeks before all of the spilled out on social media. So, I can understand how it kind of looked like, “oh, we discovered this and fired him.” But like that actually didn’t happen. We were like as shocked as anyone else reading this on social media, and horrified. And we also had no kind of specific allegations from anyone to follow up on, because this did not actually happen to anyone who’s on our staff.
And that was not true of Freedom of the Press Foundation and Citizen’s Lab, his other employers, and they did their own internal process of investigation, and they made statements. But since we didn’t have an accuser, there was nothing to actually follow up on, until we saw the exhaustive and chilling report in The Verge by Sarah Jiang, which laid out in painful detail with many very specific claims from multiple different women. And, at that point, you know, we felt like it was really important for us to make a statement about it, and, you know, to say that we have no tolerance for this kind of behavior here, but not only that, that we actually, you know, we recognize that this person was in our orbit and he’s accused of these things and we’re determined to stamp out misogyny and sexual harassment and abuse and do anything — everything — in our power to confront it and to support the women who have come forward.
JS: We’re going to leave it there. Betsy Reed, thank you very much for joining us.
BR: Thank you, Jeremy.
JS: Katie Baker, thank you and congrats on such great reporting over a sustained period of time, it’s a great public service you do.
KB: Thank you so much.
JS: Betsy Reed is the editor-in-chief of The Intercept and Katie Baker is an investigative reporter at BuzzFeed News.
Zimbabwe’s Military Coup, Mugabe’s Legacy, and the Future Under Emmerson Mnangagwa
JS: For the first time in 37 years, the African nation of Zimbabwe has a president who is not Robert Mugabe. Last week, Mugabe’s former vice president, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in. This followed a series of moves by a collection of powerful Zimbabwean military figures, where they seized control of state television and told Mugabe to his face that he was no longer president. Now, Mugabe did put up somewhat of a fight, we understand. But when his own party ZANU–PF sacked him, and he faced near certain impeachment, Mugabe accepted his fate.
The events of the past year in Zimbabwe made clear that there was going to be a showdown over the future control of the country. The only real question was whether it would happen before or after the 93-year-old Mugabe died.
Mugabe had made very clear that he had chosen his wife Grace as his successor. Widely viewed as corrupt and out of touch, Grace and her G40 faction of the ruling ZANU–PF party were not going to take power without a very serious fight. So, in some ways, what the military did was to hasten events that seemed inevitable.
Now, China has substantial investments in Zimbabwe in mining, construction, and security, and has long had a close relationship with Robert Mugabe. What role, if any, Beijing may have played in this military coup is not clear at this point.
Under Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s economy has been a disaster. And his rhetoric of giving land and sustainability to the country’s overwhelmingly black majority has consistently proven hollow. Zimbabwe is a country rich in mineral resources, yet the vast majority of Zimbabweans struggle to make ends meet in their daily lives. Despite his human rights abuses and authoritarian rule, Mugabe has long been preferred by Western powers.
At the time of Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, Mugabe was seen by the United States as a safer alternative to more progressive forces and allies of Nelson Mandela’s ANC in neighboring South Africa.
The new president of Zimbabwe was himself a longtime ally of Mugabe and was considered a hero of their independence war and he was also the former head of the country’s security services. His nickname is The Crocodile.
Emmerson Mnangagwa has a reputation for brutality and as Mugabe’s enforcer. Early last month, he claimed that he had to be airlifted to South Africa after an attempt to poison him. Many Zimbabweans believe that Mugabe or his wife were behind it: we may never know. But the point is that now this man is in charge of Zimbabwe. To get a sense of what is happening on the ground right now, we go to the capital, Harare, where we are joined by a Zimbabwean journalist. We are not going to name our guest for his own safety, but we now welcome him to Intercepted.
Anonymous: Thank you.
JS: Explain why you felt anonymity was necessary at this moment.
A: We have been getting WhatsApp messages about soldiers who have been asking people about IDs. If you don’t have your IDs, you are taken to the barracks where they interrogate you, and people are talking about people who have been disappeared. There’s no ways of verifying this, but when you look at the treatment that has been meted out on the former minister of finance, Ignatius Chombo, he was abducted from his home, was held in a barracks someone, for days on end, until he appeared in court last weekend.
So, there is still an atmosphere of fear because we don’t know what they’re looking for, we don’t know when this will end, soldiers are still patrolling, we basically are in a state of emergency.
JS: Explain the political context of what happened, because it seemed as though when the military came to tell Mugabe basically he was finished, they didn’t go to kill Mugabe or execute him in public, and in fact the man who is now the president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, he was Mugabe’s vice president, and some months ago was sacked by Mugabe. So was this a coup? Is this just sort of ZANU-PF continuing on, albeit without Mugabe? Like, what’s happening right now?
A: Basically, what’s going on now, maybe you could call it Mugabism without Mugabe. The reason why the army, there’s been doubts about what happened, in fact, even when the army took over, when they went on ZBC, our local broadcaster, they were keen to emphasize that it was not a coup.
Sibusiso Moyo: We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government.
A: But actually it was a coup in all but name, because basically what they did was they basically went to Mugabe’s house and disarmed his presidential guard, and put away everyone who was opposed to what they were doing, including the deputy director general of the Central Intelligence Organization, they went after him. He was arrested for, for some days, and Mugabe himself, maybe for the first two or three days, couldn’t move out of his property, in the north of Harare. So, it was a coup.
So, what was precipitated what the army did, was the firing of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is a hero of the War of Independence, which was fought between 1972 and ’79. In ’77, he became Mugabe’s personal assistant, and before that, in the 60s, he had been part of what’s called in Zimbabwe “the Crocodile Gang,” which explains the crocodile moniker that is attached to President Mnangagwa.
So he is a deeply revered figure in ZANU-PF, especially among the security elites and they saw him as key to the Mugabist project. But a few years ago, Mugabe had started to show that he had other intentions. And it was around this time, his wife, Grace Mugabe, also started showing political ambitions.
And so, basically, what happened was, to stop Mugabe from imposing his wife as his successor.
JS: This man who is now the president, Mnangagwa, he also has a reputation for brutality and was, at times, running various entities within the security apparatus the intelligence apparatus for Robert Mugabe. Talk about his reputation for brutality or repression within Zimbabwe as a sort of henchman for Robert Mugabe. A: So what happened was, in the 60s, in the early 60s, there was this one big party which was called Zimbabwe African Peoples Union, ZAPU, which was led by Joshua Nkomo, who is now late. So, Mugabe and other key people in, in this party broke away, informed what is now ZANU.
And so, with time, ZAPU, came to be identified as a Ndebele party. And the Ndebeles are people in the, in the South of country.
So with the result in ‘81, there was battles in the townships, in Bulawayo, which is our second city. Scores of people died. And then from that time, the war kind of moved from guerillas into these two parties to a war, a war against all Ndebele-speaking people in the south, in the southwest of the country, and it’s estimated that up to 20,000 people were killed in this operation. Emmerson Mnangagwa, and Perence Shiri, who is now air vice marshal, and people like Ernest Kadungure, who is now late, and the former defense minister in Mugabe’s government, Sydney Sekeramayi, were key lieutenants in basically killing people who were defenseless. And, Mnangagwa was the more volatile person in this war. He basically threatened people, which is why, especially in the South of the country, among the Ndebele people, his ascension to power has been viewed with fear, because of his key role. It’s easy to blame him for what happened, but actually, the person who was ultimately responsible for what happened was Mugabe himself. Also, obviously he had key lieutenants, people like Emmerson Mnangagwa.
JS: Explain who Robert Mugabe was when Zimbabwe won its independence.
A: The man himself, I think it actually was in 81, he says, “What I was, I still am.”
Robert Mugabe: I just don’t care what they say. As long as I know I’m right, so they can say anything in their papers, damage me in every way possible, as long as the people I lead are behind me, and the proof of what we are doing. That’s what matters.
A: I don’t think Mugabe, he has changed. I think Mugabe remains the man that he was in the 80s, authoritarian, brutal, with no ideology of his own. When we look at the man, he comes back from Ghana in the early 60s to show, he had been teaching in Ghana. Some of the people around the nationalist movement decide to invite him to a talk, and he talks before these people, and some of them were barely educated or semi-literate or with basic education, and they here is this guy who speaks nice English, who has two degrees or three degrees, at the time. He is invited to join, not because of espousing any revolutionary talk. It is more like, he is well spoken.
In fact, actually, the first role that he is given by the party is as a publicity secretary, which kind of shows you what his value at the time was, it was as a ventriloquist to channel whatever the party wanted him to say, and they wanted someone who called, say it in the nicest English possible, and Mugabe was the person.
So, in the West, they talk about Mugabe as a good guy. Basically what they mean was he protected the interests of big capital, and which is why the British embassy, the Australian embassy, the American embassy were quiet about the killings in the, in the south, because while those killings were going on, Mugabe was protecting white capital or Western capital.
JS: When Mugabe came to power in Zimbabwe early on, George H.W. Bush, who was the vice president at the time, called him a genuine statesman and then a decade later he was actually knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
President Ronald Reagan: It has been a great pleasure to have had the opportunity today to meet with Prime Minister Robert Mugabe of the Republic of Zimbabwe, as the first prime minister of Africa’s newest independent state, his wise leadership has been a crucial factor in healing the wounds of civil war and developing a new nation with new opportunities.
JS: What was the Western agenda in supporting Robert Mugabe? What did the West hope to gain from him?
A: For them, it was more of a case of: Who do we prefer? ZAPU, the Joshua Nkomo-led ZAPU had closer links with the ANC in South Africa, so what they didn’t want was for ZAPU to come into power in Zimbabwe, because what it will mean is to expose another front. Because, already, in ’75, Mozambique had got independence, and ANC guerillas were already beginning to trickle into South Africa from Mozambique.
Robert Mugabe: Ah, of course we are not a front-line state, the struggle in South Africa is a national struggle for South Africans, and not one we should regard as Zimbabweans, as our own concern.
Peter Snow: You will not support an armed struggle in South Africa?
Robert Mugabe: No, we will not.
A: So imagine, if, say, ZAPU had come into power in 1980, it’ll mean another front, like a longer one, actually, has been opened in the war against apartheid South Africa. So, it was more, more of a case which is the better devil. As least they knew that ZANU has no close relationship with ANC, and it’ll be better to have Mugabe in power in Zimbabwe then to have the Joshua Nkomo-led party. I think the bigger prize really, was, South Africa and they wanted to prolong apartheid for as long as possible.
You raise this about the knighthood in ’94, Bush describing him as a statesman.
George H. W. Bush: I met him many years ago and I visited his country and I’ve seen him several times since then, and I’m just so pleased that you’re with us. I’m glad to have you here.
A: So he was all these things when Western capital was safe. This is the Mugabe that is celebrated, especially among the progressive left in the States, among African Americans in the left, this is the Mugabe that they know. They don’t know the other Mugabe, the pre-2000 Mugabe who basically was killing black people and preserving the Western capital’s hegemony in Zimbabwe intact.
So, it has always been about power. It has always been about power. Even now in the negotiations, he still is insisting, “Can I be allowed to finish my term?” You know, even though, you know, he can barely keep awake, he can barely walk, there was no national interest in Mugabe continuing in power and this is what his lieutenants finally realized. This is what, as ordinary citizens, we realized this a long time ago that Mugabe’s continued stay in office is of no national interest.
JS: Now that you’ve had this very quick transition from Mugabe to Emmerson Mnangagwa, what are your biggest concerns about Mnangagwa running the country?
A: We have elections next year, and these people who affected the coup have previously said that they won’t accept any president who didn’t participate in the war. So, the question which everyone has been asking here, is this: that do you think if another person who is not Emmerson Mnangagwa wins the election, are they going to accept the result? Or are they going to do that person what they did to Mugabe?
My second reservation has to do with the brand of economics that Mnangagwa’s regime might bring. I think he was preferred by the Chinese, which is why there are these whispers about, that the coup had sanctioned from the Chinese, because the general who led the coup, a few days before he led the coup he had been in China, and it is thought that he told them that this is what we’re planning.
It’s difficult to verify that as the Chinese say, “We had no knowledge of this.”
My point is this: In China, Mnangagwa was preferred in China, Mnangagwa was preferred in Britain, Mnangagwa was preferred in the West, because he was seen as good for business.
He wants to turn Zimbabwe back to its neoliberal ways of the 80s, which was easy for business to operate.
However warped that the later Mugabe brought, the economic nationalism, given land to black people, basically destroying the monopoly of white people of the most protected land in Zimbabwe.
So, if the early signs are anything to by, Mnangagwa might reverse the gains that the later Mugabe achieved for Zimbabweans.
JS: If elections were held, you know, tomorrow, what’s your sense of the political temperature in the country right now? Are people okay with ZANU-PF continuing on, albeit without Mugabe, or as you put it, Mugabism without Mugabe, or do you get a sense that there’s a wide belief that things need to radically change?
A: If it were up to me, I would prefer a transitional arrangement, maybe of five years in which things are stabilized, because this country barely functions. And I don’t care if it is under Emmerson Mnangagwa or anyone else, because we have been having elections for the last, I don’t know, for the last seventeen years and nothing has changed, and people are tired, which is why, to an extent, people aren’t really concerned about politics, because you are more worried about where can I get money to go to work? You know, people don’t get paid at the end of the month. The country imports basically everything, including milk. The country doesn’t work at all. And if it were up to me, I would prefer a longer transitional arrangement in which the country is fixed and then a time in which we do security sector reform, because, if, against all odds, the MDC wins the elections next year, do you think the army is going to allow that when they removed their most revered figure? So, I think if we have elections, say today, or next week, or next month, or next year, Emmerson Mnangagwa is going to win.
JS: As we wrap up here are there any other points that you want to make or information that you think would be important for people to understand about this current situation?
A: It was a coup, despite the semantic quibbling, it was a coup, and Mugabe is gone, and people are really excited about the end. Not because they love the army, but because Mugabe had brought, you know, the crisis that began in 2000, brought the country to its knees, and people left to go to South Africa, to go to Botswana, to go to the States, to go to the UK, and families were destroyed, but people are excited that maybe this is the beginning of — and people have been calling it a new independence, that, they day that Mugabe resigned, people have been calling it the second independence, but, as people here say, Zimbabwe proves that there is no bottom. You keep on climbing the depths. And the new guy, people are willing to give him time to effect change and bring back the country back into the international community.
JS: I want to thank you very much for being with us and for offering your analysis. Thanks for joining us on Intercepted.
A: You are welcome.
JS: That was a Zimbabwean journalist speaking to us from Harare. We granted him anonymity because of fears of reprisals.
Comedian Joe Pera Performs an Audio Drama From the NSA Newsletter
JS: To close today’s show, we’re going to resume our series of dramatic reenactments of classified NSA documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
You may not know it, but the NSA has its own secret online newspaper. It’s called SIDtoday, which stands for Signals Intelligence Directorate —Today!
And the reason you’ve probably never heard of it is because SIDtoday contains classified information, and it’s published by the National Security Agency, and it’s available only to NSA employees who have security clearances.
Signals intelligence is the NSA shorthand for the type of information it collects by eavesdropping on electronic data across the world. SIDtoday has even had its own columnists, who, at the NSA, are regular agency staffers who wrote in their spare time. There’s been a columnist on grammar, another on office etiquette and there’s even been a columnist on the ethics of surveillance. These columns were among the documents leaked by Snowden and The Intercept continues to publish scores of them on an ongoing basis.
In this installment of the series, we hear the story of an intern at the NSA who explains how his views of the agency differ from his college days when his only understanding of the NSA came from news articles and Hollywood movies. Here is, “Culture Shock: NSA from the Perspective of Summer Interns,” starring comedian Joe Pera.
[Music fades in.]
Joe Pera: Being idealistic young interns we were excited about the big find we just made.
We were explaining the trail of SIGINT to our project lead, so eager to get it all out there we barely stopped for breath between words.
“Who found this woman, Nadia Lnu, and she’s our target’s wife, so we’re trying to track his movements that way.”
Redacted slowly began to smile as we spoke and finally asked, “Wait … what is her name?”
We repeated, “Nadia Lnu, we’re not sure if that’s how you pronounce it, though.”
Redacted burst out laughing and did not explain himself for what seemed like an eternity. We, the starry-eyed interns, just stared blankly at each other, wondering if this longtime NSAer had finally cracked. All we could say was, “What? What’s wrong?”
At last he said, “Spell it.”
We responded hesitantly, “L-N-U.” That means ‘last name unknown.’
We fell quiet and we just hung our heads in embarrassment, knowing the story of a rookie acronym mistake soon be public knowledge to all of as to S2I6.
This is just one of the example of how interns who come into the Agency motivated to soak up all the knowledge they can usually fall flat on their faces on more than one occasion.
On the very first day we arrived, we were hit with culture shock. For instance, when we stepped onto the solemnly quiet elevator, an older gentleman turned us and asked us if we were new.
Male Voice: “Hey, are you guys new?”
JP: We answered “yes” — we must have been wearing our insecurities on our sleeves.
All he replied was, “The only thing you need to know is we don’t talk in the elevators; and the extroverts look at other peoples’ shoes.” All we could think was what have we gotten ourselves into?
As members of the Intelligence Analysis Program we expected to come to work this summer and have all the facts and figures readily available at our fingertips. We pictured data flying through cyberspace at supersonic speeds, helping us catch terrorists in the blink of an eye. Little did we know, you cannot simply hack into someone’s Facebook account and steal all their photo albums. Open source research is not as effortless as it seems in the outside world — especially when you are accustomed to the speed of your stylish MacBook at college.
We had imagined the formidable NSA police creating us every morning at the gate with their large submachine guns. So, there was no disappointment there. However, we also visualized workstations with some of the most advanced computer systems conceivable and high operating speeds, which turns out is not quite the case.
After viewing all the popular media that depicts NSA as the embodiment of Big Brother, we also did not expect regulations on targeting U.S. persons to be so strict. We kept waiting to hear about the ultra secret —a mythological level believed to be above top secret — product line that is permitted to target domestic communications.
Some interns starting out at the NSA expected to be swallowed up by a spooky Big Brother organization, but, instead, we find that we are cheerfully welcomed into the government. And, to our surprise, the welcoming committee wasn’t wearing trench coats and sunglasses.
What we are trying to express is that the NSA can be an intimidating place for a young intern. We were initially overwhelmed by with a five-page long list of acronyms, a diverse of array of tools with baffling names, and a challenge to overcome assumptions about what we thought the Agency did. However, it is an also an extremely rewarding place to work. With ample movement through different offices and so many diverse targets, a college student thirsting for knowledge would be hard-pressed not to find something that interested them.
In our opinion, it would be hard to get that rewarding feeling of defending our country anywhere other than the NSA. Sure, we might hide quietly in the background and never be famous, but that feeling of fulfillment from work is hard to replace. And, as redacted would say, who doesn’t love doing the “happy happy joy joy dance of discovery?”
JS: And that does it for this week’s show. If you are not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log on to theintercept.com/join.
Our honorary producers our Cam Cowan and Natalie Holme-Elsberg. Many thanks to you both for making this show possible.
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. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Elise Swain is our production assistant and graphic designer. Anthony Atamanuik is our Donald Trump whisperer. Special thanks to Ali Gharib and Michael Bloom for their breakout performances in the Snowden dramatization. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.
JS: “It’s been a long, long time though, since any Arab leader wore me out with a firehouse —” [All laughing]
Elise Swain: Sorry, I can’t — (All laughing)
JS: Hold on a second. (Laughing.) Hold on a second. (Laughing.) Alright, alright. We got it? (Laughing.) “It’s been a long, long time though, since any Arab leader wore me out —” (All laughing).
JS: This is going be very difficult to do without laughing.