Does Donald Trump want to make 1980s Reagan-era covert wars great again? This week on Intercepted: Matthew Cole joins Jeremy for a discussion about their explosive report in The Intercept that Blackwater founder Erik Prince, a former CIA officer and Oliver North of Iran-Contra fame have been pitching a private spy operation to the White House and CIA to counter the “deep state” attempting to undermine Trump’s presidency. Radio show host, activist, and comedian Randy Credico has been hit with a subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee investigating Trump and Russia. Roger Stone claims Credico was his secret liaison with WikiLeaks during the election. We ask Randy what this is all about and if he plans to appear before Congress in a week. Journalist Barrett Brown spent four years in prison stemming from his involvement with Anonymous, LulzSec and other hacker collectives who went after powerful private security companies. Barrett talks about the FBI’s campaign against him and offers a critique of WikiLeaks, Trump, and the state of the media in the U.S. Singer Amanda Palmer has a provocative new video out for a cover she did of Pink Floyd’s “Mother,” from the iconic album The Wall. The video was inspired by Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. She talks about Trump, her music, and the fight to save net neutrality.
White House press corps: I believe Sarah Huckabee Sanders is walking out now.
Tommy Wiseau as Johnny : Oh hi, Mark!
Major Garrett: Sarah, is the White House, or the president, at any level, considering, creating a global or regional spy network?
J: (laughs) What a story, Mark. No, it’s not true! Don’t even ask. Yeah. That’s the idea. What’s new with you?
Cecilia Vega: Sarah, yesterday the president said that he felt very badly for General Flynn. Would he consider pardoning him?
J: What’s she talking about? (laughs) You must be kidding, aren’t you? Oh hi, Danny!
Jordan Fabian: Hey Sarah, did the president know that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI at the time that he fired him in February?
J: What makes you say that? Danny, don’t ‘plain too much, it may not come out right. What’s new with you?
Jordan Fabian: Thanks, Sarah.
J: Anything for my princess. [Laughs.]
Press corps: I’m wondering how the president reached the conclusion that all of Moore’s accusers, including those who put forward evidence, are lying?
J: How dare you talk to me like that? Peter, you always play psychologist with us.
Press corps: I’m wondering how the president reached the conclusion that all of Moore’s accusers, including those who put forward evidence, are lying?
J: How dare you talk to me like that? Peter, you always play psychologist with us.
Hallie Jackson: When did the president know that Mike Flynn lied to the FBI?
J: You are tearing me apart, Lisa! Do you understand life? Do you?! I’m going to take a nap.
Press corps: Vet those videos. Before he posts them!
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City and this is episode 38 of Intercepted.
President Donald J. Trump: Well, I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly. He has led a very strong life and I feel very badly, Jon. I will say this: Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI, nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it’s a shame.
JS: This week, my Intercept colleague Matthew Cole and I published a story that we both agree is one of the most surreal that either of us have ever worked on. It details how the Trump White House is considering a set of proposals that have been developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince, retired CIA officer John Maguire, with assistance from Oliver North, perhaps the most infamous figure in the Iran-Contra scandal. And the proposals are for services that would provide CIA director Mike Pompeo and the president with a global private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies.
We reported that these plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering deep state enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency. Now, obviously the creation of such a program raises the possibility that this effort could be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump Administration’s political agenda.
Now, there are often comparisons of Donald Trump to Richard Nixon and I definitely see that in the current landscape, but this particular story, it’s straight out of the Reagan era. It’s like they want to make 80s covert action great again! Like, Iran-Contra for Dummies.
Oh and to top it all off, you have this involvement of Oliver North, an actual sort of antihero of the 1980s covert era I was just talking about.
Lieutenant Colonel John W. Nields, Jr.: Did you or did you not shred documents that reflected presidential approval of the diversion?
Oliver North: I have absolutely no recollection of destroying any document which gave me an indication that the president had seen the document or that the president had specifically approved. I assumed —
JS: Oliver North appears all the time on Donald Trump’s favorite TV network, Fox News, and he’s viewed as an uber-hero by many of the Make America Great Again people.
ON: The Iranian nuke deal is worse for the American people than Obamacare. They can both kill you, it’s just a matter of how many and how fast.
JS: The men offering Trump their services: we understand that they enlisted North to help sell the effort to the administration because they viewed him as a sort of mascot who could be an ideological leader that would lend credibility to this effort.
Some of the people involved with these secret proposals have also met with major Trump donors and ask them to help finance these operations before any official contracts have been signed with the CIA or any other agencies. They even set up a secret suite at the Trump Hotel in D.C. that they referred to as the, “tinfoil room.” Trump donors were told that inside that suite, the tinfoil room, they would be safe from the prying eyes of the deep state that was not only spying on them, but seeking to destroy the president.
And, yes, you have heard all of this right at the White House on Tuesday. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about a report and issued what can only be called a bizarre non-denial, denial.
Major Garrett: Sarah, one issue that you may have seen this morning: is the White House or the president, at any level, considering creating a global or regional spy network that would circumvent the U.S. intelligence apparatus and serve the president outside of the normal and legally defined intelligence-gathering mechanisms?
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: I’m not aware of any plans for something of that definition or anything similar to that at this time.
Major Garrett: The president would be opposed to that?
SHS: I haven’t had that conversation with him, but I’m not aware of any plans for anything like that moving forward.
Major Garrett: No senior official has been briefed on that idea or has been discussed at any level in this Administration?
SHS: I haven’t done a full survey of every member of the Administration, but I can tell you, as of right now, that’s not something that’s currently being planned, and not something that I’m aware is moving forward in any capacity.
Major Garrett: It’s possible, right?
SHS: Again, I’m not going to answer every hypothetical for every single member. Did some random person off the street come in and say something? I don’t know, Major.
Major Garrett: Is this something the president might consider?
SHS: I’m sorry?
Major Garrett: Is this something the president might consider?
SHS: Again, I haven’t asked him but it’s not something that’s currently in the works. John!
JS: Joining me now to discuss this is my colleague Matthew Cole. Together, we coauthored this story. Its title is, “Trump White House Weighing Plans for Private Spies to Counter “Deep State” Enemies.” Matthew, welcome back to Intercepted.
Matthew Cole: Thank you, Jeremy.
JS: So lay out what you and I reported in The Intercept.
MC: Well, a few weeks ago we started hearing first that Erik Prince was trying to reconstitute parts of his clandestine organization that he had run when he was working for the CIA and, in particular, on their assassination program. And starting from about roughly 2006 and 2007, and even beyond the Bush administration after the program been shut down, Erik maintained a team of deniable assets, as they would call it, but spies, people who had worked for the CIA, foreign nationals who were willing to kill or capture and could gather secrets mostly in the Middle East. And he started calling around and offering cash, with a “let’s get the band back together kind of line” and as that started trickling in, we started hearing from sources in Washington about something very oddly parallel, or similar, which was an effort by the Trump Administration to put together, you know, “off the books,” but a direct arm, intelligence unit that would work for the CIA director Mike Pompeo and for the White House and only for them, and would be essentially stove-piped, so that whatever intelligence was coming in would not go through the normal intelligence community wouldn’t be vetted, wouldn’t be seen, wouldn’t be shared.
It’s important to note that what they’re proposing as we understand it so far in and of itself is not illegal. Neither the privatization of it nor the idea that the president or the CIA can have their own intelligence unit as long as it’s properly briefed. There are a few checks and balances that go into it. They are minimal, but they are there.
So it’s not necessarily that it’s illegal, but what we started seeing was that Prince, along with a longtime associate and a former CIA officer John Maguire, and sort of the guy who seems to have brought the real special sauce for this mix, was Oliver North of Iran-Contra fame. And the three of them have — they’re all close friends, they’ve worked formally and informally together for years — and it appears that basically as soon as Trump took over the White House started to push for the idea of an intelligence unit that could be a check on the CIA. And that language is really a euphemism for their fear or their belief that the deep state, what is described to us as their read and description of the deep state, was really the intelligence community that was brought in, they claim, under the Obama administration. So really, it was a politically disloyal group of people working in the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, what have you, that this unit would be a check on them so that the president could have the intelligence he needs.
And so the real question that this raises is the potential for abuse. As we saw in the second Bush administration, before the war in Iraq, Cheney and the neocons set up a unit in the Pentagon that reported basically just to Cheney, and was cherry-picking the intelligence that the CIA, the military and the FBI had picked up to try to find an excuse and justification for the War in Iraq.
JS: For people that don’t recall that history, basically Cheney and Rumsfeld and a bunch of these neocons who cut their teeth during the Nixon era and really believed in this notion laid out in one of the Federalist Papers of the unitary executive, which basically said that the executive branch of government, i.e. the White House, should operate as essentially a dictatorship without any effective oversight when it came to the national security of the United States. And Dick Cheney himself, when he was a member of Congress, was the lead author of the minority report that actually said, “No, no, no, this wasn’t a scandal, this is a model for how we should be conducting our covert actions around the world.”
Vice President Dick Cheney: Examples of Congress moving in and usurping presidential power and authority, and I think what we’ve seen over the last fifteen years is the development of that theme, of a more assertive Congress that no longer honors the traditions that are laid out in our report, in terms of the practices of the president’s preeminence in foreign policy.
JS: If you sort of take away the salacious nature of the players: Erik Prince, John Maguire, the former CIA officer, and Oliver North is something that presidents throughout modern history have tried in one form or another.
MC: We’ve seen this before. There’s nothing new about this. In fact, one of the things that our sources pointed out, and it’s genuinely accurate, is that the model for having a unit that reported solely to the director of the CIA was something that William Casey did. And Casey, he was Ronald Reagan’s CIA director during the Iran-Contra affair, and, in fact, the people involved here all come, with the exception of Erik, who is younger than the rest of them, the people who sort of are populating this story and this effort all come from that era.
John Maguire joined the CIA under Casey in the early 80s, and his first assignments at the Counterterrorism Center were in Central America against the Sandinistas. He was helping to mine the harbor there for the CIA.
JS: And the Sandinistas, of course, a leftist, populist movement that took power in Nicaragua and the Contras were a notorious right-wing death squad that was backed, financed, armed by the United States, in part through the illicit funds that were gained from selling weapons to Iran, and that’s where Oliver North comes into play: he was one of the key figures in selling these weapons to Iran and then funneling the money to the Contras in Nicaragua to be used in an attempt to overthrow leftist government. And they killed a tremendous number of innocent people.
MC: This story has an enormous amount of history to unpack. What Trump has done is he’s surrounded himself in part with a bunch of 80s-era cold warriors. And in the 80s, it was the godless communists and then that shifted into post-9/11, you know, it took on a religious tinge under the Bush administration. We sort of have both of those things combined now under the Trump Administration, at least as we see this effort.
But one of the side shows is John Maguire and the company that he works for, Amyntor, or works with, which is trying to get a contract with the CIA to run this private network, were trying to do fundraising with Trump donors and Trump fundraisers, and they would bring them into the Trump Hotel in Washington and they would show a list and say these are the people that the “deep state” is surveilling.
Those names would include Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, almost always the name of the donor that they were trying to hit up, one person said it was a sort of amazing that the names on the list would change, but the only change would be which donor they were trying to hit up that day for money.
And then they, what would they would do is say, “Look, we’re doing this to help protect the president. Because if we don’t do this, there’s going to be a deep-state coup.”
And the story that they would trot out was that Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, has a series of burner phones and they have an e-mail or something that purports to show his phone sending surveillance information, because he’s working — this story is a little convoluted, so bear with me — but working with a top NSA official, using the NSA to surveil Trump supporters in and outside of the administration, in and outside of the White House. And that that intelligence that’s gathered the surveillance is then sent electronically to a warehouse in Cypress. And they happen to uncover that that warehouse is owned directly by George Soros.
And I know that that’s hard to believe, and we should state that, as far as we know, none of the evidence, there’s been no evidence that demonstrates that it’s all purported and we can’t verify the accuracy.
JS: You’re telling me that you don’t believe that George Soros is spying a random assortment of Trump donors.
MC: You know, I can’t say, right? I want to just say that it’s possible, right? Anything is possible in this world. I think—I’m joking, of course, but I think that the picture I’m trying to paint here is that they’re bringing in these wealthy Trump donors and they show this list, they give this story and then they may or may not take you up to a room, one of the top higher floors of the Trump Hotel, and bring you into a room, what they call the “secure room” and to show you the kind of operation that that they need you to fund.
JS: Oh, they don’t just call it a secure room.
MC: Well, the thing is that the people who came out of it, often terrified by what they were seeing, called it the Tinfoil Room. We should point out, by the way, Jeremy, that as far as we know the walls themselves were not covered in actual tinfoil, but the idea was it was a Faraday cage and it was a place where they could make calls safely without the NSA spying on them.
JS: It reminds me of the Chris Rock routine about no sex in the champagne room.
Chris Rock: No matter what you think of what I’m saying, remember the one thing: There is no sex in the Champagne Room.
JS: There’s no tinfoil in the Tinfoil Room.
MC: Yeah, so the tinfoil room, as it was derisively called, was a demonstration of their operation. They did brag that they had more than one, that they could move it around, it was a secure communications room where they were safe from the prying surveillance of the deep state that was trying to take down the president. I will say that there’s a real cynical element to this.
JS: I just want to give people a sense of this. So, you have Erik Prince and John Maguire both have been around the world of private intelligence, contracting private military, they have a long working relationship together. In fact, John Maguire recently worked as a consultant for one of Erik Prince’s companies, Frontier Services Group. So they’ve worked together on many projects. They most recently were working together at Erik’s company.
Now, Maguire’ company, Amyntor, is saying that Erik has no formal relationship to any of their proposals, that was the word that they used and Erik said that he’s played no role in any of these alleged proposals.
But what we know, both of us, from covering this for so long is that the world of military and particularly secret CIA contracting is intentionally murky. And both Erik Prince and John Maguire try to shield their actual involvement in a lot of what they’re doing.
So, it’s difficult to know who is actually running what aspects of this. But what we do know is that Erik Prince for years has had this network of spies, fixers, foreign intelligence agents, former U.S. intelligence personnel peppered around the world that he offers to potential clients, whether they’re businesses, foreign governments or the U.S. government, for use in whatever you want to do in Libya, or near Somalia, or in Israel, or Saudi Arabia.
And John Maguire, now, also has access to a kind of notorious network as well.
MC: Right. This gets back to the cold warrior part. So, Maguire, who worked, came in in the 80s, worked under a very legendary and infamous CIA, senior CIA official named Duane Dewey Clarridge, who ran the Counterterrorism Center and was one of the key figures in the Iran-Contra scandal. And after he was out of the CIA, was out of the CIA for 30 years, he died last year, I believe. During the Obama administration he ran a private spying network that he was able to sell for a time to the Pentagon in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
And that network of spies eventually sort of dried up, when the story got exposed by the New York Times, the contract got killed. And his spies, although they moved around and they continued to work, he was constantly looking for money. And he died last year and John Maguire picked up that network.
And, again, you’ll see the Ollie North connection there. Ollie North and Dewey Clarridge were very, very close friends.
JS: And Clarridge also played a role in Iran-Contra.
MC: Right. And you can’t understate how close these people are: they go to each other’s weddings, they are very friendly and they work together in the informal sense. Maguire and Ollie North have worked together informally, they are friendly. Erik and Maguire are friends.
JS: In fact, you had Oliver North and Maguire both attended in 2014 a very small reception celebrating Erik Prince’s third marriage. So we’re talking about people that are connected to each other, but also deeply connected to this particular administration. John Maguire was on Trump’s transition team. Erik Prince’s former colleague from the assassination program days under Bush, Michael Barry, is now running the division of the National Security Council that is in charge of the very kinds of programs that we’re reporting on here.
MC: Also, Erik was an informal adviser to the transition and, of course, last week Erik Prince testified behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee on the Russia-Trump investigation because it is reported that he was a backchannel between the Trump Administration and Putin in Moscow, through a meeting in the Seychelles.
This is a group of people who admire each other: Maguire, Prince, and Ollie North are all three big supporters of president Trump, were supporters of the campaign. This administration is an opportunity to come in and fix, in their definition, the intelligence apparatus in this country. And that includes essentially creating a mini-CIA for just the director of the CIA and the White House.
JS: The reason why this would be appealing to Trump or Mike Pompeo is because they appear to believe that there is a globalist conspiracy and that there are enemies within the deep state including at Mike Pompeo’s CIA, including at the NSA, including at the Pentagon, who are trying to undermine the Trump presidency and therefore, according to the theory, are not giving the president the real intelligence that he needs. This isn’t just about countering their influence; it’s the same idea that Cheney had when he said, “Look, I want my own intel operation, ’cause I can’t trust those liberal think-tankers at the CIA.” So now you have Oliver North, who was used essentially as a source, said to lend credibility to it.
Now most people don’t use the word Oliver North and credibility in the same sentence. The point also is Oliver North appears on Fox News all the time; the president is glued to Fox News. It’s like better than Sean Hannity — let’s wheel in Oliver North to sell this idea!
And really briefly: one of the concrete things that united them, Oliver North, Maguire, and Prince on this project was they all have long been concerned that the United States government was not taking seriously apprehending terrorist suspects who had conducted high-profile terrorist actions against the United States in the 1980s, when North was at his peak. And one of the specific plans that Maguire and his people and North were advocating was what’s called a rendition operation or kidnapping, some people would say, operation of two suspects who are at large, who are believed to have been involved with a major terrorist incident in the 80s that we’re not reporting for security reasons. But why don’t you explain that?
MC: Yeah, so, at some point this summer, people close to Maguire, and who work with Maguire, brought the White House the opportunity to grab two wanted individuals in the Middle East. And Maguire and Prince — separately, apparently — pushed for this this operation to be done and wanted White House approval. And as we understand it from sources from the intelligence community, the way it was received was sort of like a proof of concept, that they were trying to demonstrate their ability to use their spying network in the Middle East to catch terrorists. This was what they were proposing for in a larger manner as a rendition unit as one of the contract proposals that the CIA would pick up.
Now, they would dispute that they were working together, but, ironically, as Maguire is in the White House trying to press this, Erik Prince is at that moment in time at that exact moment in time, elsewhere in the world rehiring former parts of his team from his assassination unit when he was working for the CIA. And now, flush with cash, he tells them, “We’ve got a new organization. We’ve got money. We’re ready to go. This is the real deal.” And one of the first things that were doing is to go into the Middle East and grab the same two wanted terrorists that Maguire and his associates were offering to grab for the White House.
JS: It’s interesting because part of that narrative, too, is the FBI hasn’t done anything about this and we don’t believe that they are. We can get men in place to snatch these people, and, in fact, one of the sources in this story with direct knowledge of this said that the message essentially from this motley crew was, “We’re going to go snatch them. Where should we drop them off?”
MC: “Who wants them?” We’re going to grab them, we’re going to grab them, who wants them?”
The danger here is, and I think the thing that’s significant about that particular proposal, was the effort to locate these individuals, essentially to find them, was put in place without any authorization. Now, there’s no suggestion that any of the people who were offering to render them would do so without U.S. authorization. In fact, it seems clear that the reason why they brought this to the White House was they believe that Trump was sort of the last, best hope to grab these guys, that previous administrations, both Republican and Dems were not interested in getting involved in, bringing these people to justice. And so, they wanted to get the approval to do it.
But the first part of it, which was to find them to make it possible to really, physically do it. There is an enormous amount of intelligence work that’s to go into just getting up to that point. That was all done without any approval.
What I think it’s potentially scary here is that as far as we understand, the appeal to the president and to Pompeo, which is things can be done with very little government oversight, there’s no need to tell Congress. In fact, that you can’t tell Congress, you can’t tell the rest of the CIA, you can’t tell Washington because it may leak. And because what we can show is that we’ve got the stones to do it and the.
Part of the message that was being sent was that for years the intelligence community had become frankly weak and unwilling to go do things like bring people to justice and here was the opportunity to do it.
JS: The White House, in very interesting language, is categorically denying the veracity of this story. The CIA took a bit of a different position on it, though, which is interesting. They said, “Oh yeah, those proposals came to us from the White House, but there’s no traction to it.”
I mean it’s really remarkable. The White House says, “We can find no evidence this ever came to the attention of anyone at the National Security Council.” They say: “The White House does not and would not support such a proposal.” But we also have a current U.S. intelligence official contradicting that, saying that the various proposals were first pitched at the White House before being delivered to the CIA. So, somebody doesn’t have their story straight.
You know we reached out to a bunch of primary players, including the office of Vice President Mike Pence and listen to this statement from Mike Pence’s spokesperson: “There was no record of Erik Prince ever having met with or briefed the VP.”
So, we don’t have evidence, we don’t have record. Like under Obama, when they were going to deny something, they would say, “This is just not true.” There would be no like, “Well, we can’t find any evidence that anything like this happened.”
I mean, it is quite a curious series of denials and non-denials from everyone involved in the story.
MC: I think what you can see is a real rift and division between, for instance, the main body of the CIA versus the White House on this. And Mike Pompeo, according to sources really wants this idea and has lobbied the White House to get the approval necessary for it. That’s something in particular that the White House denies. We feel very strongly about that that it’s accurate.
But what that suggests is that Pompeo has this idea that the people under him, he can’t trust. He needs something extra and special just for himself. And I think one of the things that we’re going to see probably unfold is that there is a real division between the current director of the CIA. And, if it’s true that he might end up as the secretary of state, this might be an issue that comes up during his confirmation hearings.
JS: Matthew, thanks for being with us on Intercepted.
MC: Thank you so much, Jeremy.
JS: Matthew Cole is an investigative reporter at The Intercept. You can read the story he and I wrote at theintercept.com. It’s called, “Trump White House Weighing Plans for Private Spies to Counter ‘Deep State’ Enemies.”
JS: Last week the House Intelligence Committee, that’s conducting its own investigation of Trump and Russia in the 2016 election, sent a subpoena to a community radio host named Randy Credico. Now, I’ve known Randy for the better part of 20 years, and I know him as a dedicated activist against the very harsh Rockefeller drug laws in New York City and against racial injustice. He’s an anti-war activist and he spent a lot of time in the streets protesting Reagan’s dirty wars in Central America, for instance.
Randy is also a standup comedian and back in the 1980s, he sort of found himself at a crossroads. Randy was a rising star in the comedy scene. He was political but he also had a kind of broad appeal because he was sort of a great impressionist. Randy got an invitation to appear on what was the single most important venue for stand-up comics at the time: The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Ed McMahon: From Hollywood, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. This is Ed McMahon …
JS: Randy ended up going on that show and he did a radical political routine, and when the routine was done, Johnny Carson did not invite him to the couch, which was a sign that you had made it. If Johnny said, “Hey, come, come over to the couch.” And Randy was never invited back on The Tonight Show again. Here’s a clip from that Tonight Show routine from the documentary about Randy’s life which is called, “60 Spins Around the Sun.”
Johnny Carson: This is a young comedian. This is his first appearance on national television. Works in Hollywood, out here, at the Improvisation and would you welcome him, please, Randy Credico. Randy?
Randy Credico: Good evening, ladies and gentleman. Thank you, Johnny. What a great introduction. As he said, I do political impressions.
RC: “I’m doing great, you know, I’m doing the Reagan.” “The Jesse Jackson,” “Ted, Ted, Ted Kennedy and all this.” And there was a point where Freddy de Cordova had said, “This guy’s great, right? He’s coming back.” I thought that I would get the chair! I was doing that well. There was a point where I was going to get the chair.
RC: I was doing very well.
60 Spins Around the Sun: What did you say that rubbed them the wrong way?
RC: Uh, a couple of things.
60 Spins Around the Sun: Like what?
RC: Jeaney Kirkpatrick, Jeane Kirkpatrick, she is a UN ambassador and she says a lot of interesting things. Matter of fact, if you examine some of those statements, you got to ask yourself seriously: did Eva Braun die in that bunker in 1945? (laughter and clapping)
RC: Somebody said, “Whatever you do, don’t do Carson. I did like, a little bit of Carson as well.”
RC doing: As a matter of fact, he is the Tommy Newsom of the political scene, I would say. Ed — (boos from the audience).
RC: That sealed my fate, no chair.
Ed McMahon: Randy Credico.
Johnny Carson: Good stuff.
JS: After this appearance on The Tonight Show, Randy Credico’s career went downhill and it never quite recovered. He poured himself into activism and he’s been very open about pouring himself into alcohol, and drugs, and having problems in his relationships. Believe me, he’s a surreal character and you should check out that documentary about his life.
Anyway, over the past year, Randy has been hosting a show on Pacifica Radio Station WBAI in New York. It’s called, “Live on the Fly with Randy Credico.” And his show gained somewhat of an international audience when Randy did a 12-part series on WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
Randy did several interviews with Assange, he interviewed Assange’s mother and he interviewed people that have been working with Assange. And there’s no doubt that Randy is a passionate supporter and advocate for Julian Assange. Which brings us back to the subpoena that Randy received that by the way was signed by the chair of the Intelligence Committee Republican Devin Nunes. And here’s what this is about: Randy had former Trump adviser and still apparently Trump close friend Roger Stone on his radio series on Julian Assange. Roger Stone, of course, was one of Nixon’s henchmen and he is more famous in the current times for seeming to know ahead of time that WikiLeaks was going to be releasing emails about Hillary Clinton and John Podesta’s emails and the DNC communications. Roger Stone has a huge mouth and he openly bragged that he had this source close to WikiLeaks that was feeding him this information in advance.
And then, when Stone recently appeared himself before the House Committee, he reportedly told the Congress members on that committee that Randy Credico was in fact his secret source that was giving him information from Julian Assange. And then Randy got hit with this subpoena.
So, to discuss this really bizarre, sordid tale is the man with the subpoena in his hand, Randy Credico. Randy, welcome to Intercepted.
RC: Uh, Jeremy, it’s great to be here. Finally, I’ve been trying to get on the show for a long time.
JS: And you and I have known each other for the better part of 20 years.
RC: Since you went to Albany with me in 1999.
JS: I was a young reporter working for Amy Goodman and WBAI, and my first introduction to you, you were very close to the great radical lawyer, the late William Kunstler.
RC: Right. I was running his fund at that time. I was running the William Moses Kunstler Fund for racial justice, and our key project at that time was the repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws. And you went up there in the early days, you and Robert Knight, from WBAI, actually went up there and we had a huge rally.
JS: Right, and for people that don’t remember this is the Rockefeller drug laws are some of the harshest prison sentences doled out against nonviolent offenders including first time offenders, you know minor possession, charges, basically.
JS: And for people that don’t know Randy Credico, if you had a loved one incarcerated under the Rockefeller drug laws, you absolutely knew Randi, he knew all of these women whose husbands, whose sons, whose family members were locked up under these and he would organize buses of family members and activists and others to go to Albany to protest against the Rockefeller drug laws.
RC: You know, we started out May 8, 1998, in front of the Rockefeller Center with about fifteen family members of those who were incarcerated. And kids — kids whose mothers were doing, you know, 20 years in prison that grew up without their mothers.
Regina Stevens: I didn’t get any help from anyone until I met Randy Credico.
RC: This is Regina Stevens, her son under the Rockefeller drug laws: muscular dystrophy, full-blown muscular dystrophy, did ten years in a maximum security prison.
Regina Stevens: They have to dress him, put him on the toilet, take him off the toilet. They have to turn him every two hours while he sleeps. He’s no threat to anyone.
RC: It started out there on the 25th anniversary of the Rockefeller drug laws and we were there for the next 6, 7 years until they were modified. And they were changed that year, they were changed again — not enough, to my satisfaction — but they made it retroactive so a lot of people who were still behind bars were able to get some relief.
JS: Ok, let’s transition and start talking about WikiLeaks.
RC: Oh no (laughs).
JS: So let’s start the beginning: you did, what was it, a 12-part series?
RC: Yes, it started out as a, this is April 2nd, Assange had called me —
JS: April 2nd, 20 — ?
RC: 2017. 2017. That’s this year. Yes. I did it this year. I had him on the show, August 26, something like that, of 2016. I had him on, along with Cindy Sheehan. And then I didn’t get him back on for 6 months, 7 months. He finally called me up. He finally called me up and said, “I would like to do the show.”
RC: The most accurate source in news, Julian Assange. Welcome back to the show, Julian.
Julian Assange: Good day, Randy.
RC: It’s good to have you back on.
RC: And in the following week, I began building a series. I didn’t know how long it was going to go, and it went right up to his five-year anniversary inside the Ecuadorian anniversary, which is, I think, June 17.
JS: And what was the point of the series?
RC: The point the series was it was called Julian Assange’s Countdown to Freedom, it was a hook. The reason why I continued with it was the crowd was growing, I was getting this international audience of people from Pakistan, from Russia, I shouldn’t say that, but you know.
JS: And you were interviewing?
RC: I was interviewing everybody, interviewing people like William Binney and Ray McGovern and then his mother came on at the very end. And she would only do my show because she listened to it for seven or eight weeks and she finally funny came out of the woodwork and said, “I trust you. I’ll do your show.” And she did it twice.
RC: I know that for a mother to be separated from her son like this it must be grueling and difficult road to hoe on a daily basis.
Christine Ann Hawkins: It is. I, I, it’s difficult. [indistinct] I don’t think, it’s very hard to put into words this experience that we’re going through over the last seven years.
RC: He came on at the very end. I really started getting into it, once I got to know the story here about WikiLeaks and so that show just took off. Roger Stone was on one of those first 10.
RC: Because he was such a supporter of WikiLeaks. I was, every week I’m trying to juggle a show. Right? Craig Murray was on three or four times. Craig Murray, the former ambassador to Uzbekistan.
JS: British ambassador.
RC: And he’s made some statements out there that that are controversial but very smart guy.
JS: Well, just to be clear, Craig Murray claims that he was the intermediary between WikiLeaks on the one hand and whoever it was — their line is that “whoever it was that leaked the DNC emails gave them to Craig Murray and Murray then gave them to WikiLeaks and that it wasn’t about Russia at all.”
RC: I heard that, I heard him say that but I never brought that up to him on the series.
JS: Good, great journalism there, Randy.
RC: No, I didn’t. I really did not because I’m sure he didn’t want to talk about that. But he did talk about everything else. He talked about Assange’s association, his association with Assange. It’s all there! I had him on like three times.
JS: When did you receive a subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee?
RC: Just last week when I got back from London. I got the letter on November 9th. I went to London on the 11th and 12th, all the way to the 17th, and then I came back.
JS: What were you doing in London?
RC: I was covering a hearing at the high court trying to get documents between the Crown Prosecutor services and the Swedish prosecutor that took place, that they had hidden from an Italian journalist, that showed communications that they kept the Swedish prosecutor from interviewing Julian Assange, because that might exonerate him early. They didn’t want them in London to interview him, because they would lose their pretext to keep him there.
JS: This is on the allegations that Julian sexually assaulted women in Sweden.
RC: Right, and they could’ve come in and they could have had that interview, but they did not want — and so those, that was the basis of that they’re trying to get documents that would prove that they colluded with the SPA.
JS: So this was roughly a month ago, did you meet with Julian while you were there?
RC: Yes. Yes. That’s already public, so I can say that. Twice, I met with him.
JS: Ok. When you got this subpoena, what did the subpoena say that they wanted to question you in connection to?
RC: Well the first, I sent you the letter —
JS: Well no one can see that on this show.
RC: I understand that. But it was about Russiagate! I mean, it doesn’t say Russiagate! Anything, all matters Russian with the involvement with the 2016 election, and preserve documents, preserve this, preserve that.
And so, just before deadline, my lawyer, Marty Stolar sent them an email saying that I refuse to voluntarily give them testimony.
So, a week later, low and behold there is a subpoena to show up on the 15th. The last day before they go to break the following day.
JS: Are you — are you gonna show up?
RC: I don’t know. We don’t know. I have like four or five lawyers right now that are working on this, and maybe one big organization, civil rights organization, still kind of building. Marty’s still kind of the lead lawyer on this, I’m getting advice from others as to what to do on this date.
JS: Ok, now, clearly one of the events that precipitated, if not caused you to be hit with this subpoena, is that Roger Stone gave your name up to the committee and said, “This person that I’ve been talking about, tweeting about, my secret squirrel into Julian Assange’s world, and how I knew that things were going to be coming out was Randy Credico.” Right?
RC: I think that’s the reason why. But I haven’t seen anybody’s testimony, but I don’t know! That could be what they put out, what they leaked out there. But maybe it’s something else. Maybe they want to have information with my source: Julian Assange.
JS: Hold on. Let’s get to that in a second. Let’s just talk about Roger Stone for a moment.
JS: Roger Stone, then, when it came out and people started saying, “Oh, this journalist/comedian, Randy Credico was Roger Stone’s source.” Then reporters who had been covering this got text messages from Roger Stone saying, “I’m sorry that I lied to you. I was trying to protect my source, Randy Credico.'”
Is Roger Stone telling the truth when he says that you were his conduit to Julian Assange?
RC: I’m not at liberty to say exactly what Roger Stone did, other than what he has said on my radio show at this point.
JS: Which was?
RC: I can’t conclusively say — he was on my radio shows many times. He got me Gary Johnson on my radio show, he talked to my radio show.
JS: The libertarian candidate for president.
RC: The libertarian candidate, and, like I said, he’d been on my show. I got a lot of heat for this, I had him on, this goes way back to when I had the morning show before David Rothenberg on Saturdays. I had him on, I had Wayne Barrett.
JS: Ok, people can, people can look at that archive.
JS: Ok, how about this question? Is Roger Stone being truthful when he says that you were his conduit to advance information from WikiLeaks?
RC: This is the kind of question I’m going to get next week.
JS: Well this is a practice run.
RC: Yes. Well, this practice run is: I have to say I stand on my First Amendment grounds, or I stand on my Fifth Amendment rights, here.
JS: So you’re making me play the role of Adam Schiff.
RC: Yeah, you’re Adam Schiff!
JS: Would you have had access to advanced information to give Roger Stone?
RC: Do you think I could? May I, may I ask you a question?
JS: Go ahead.
RC: Would you trust me with any — you’ve known me, and you know my reputation. Would you trust me with information?
JS: Well it depends: if it was information strategizing on how to get people out of prison who are there for totally outrageous first-time drug possession, yeah, I would trust you to have a secret strategy meeting among activists for how are we going to do this?
I would not trust you with, “Hey, by the way, we’ve got this guy, his name is so and so and he’s going to give us secret information.” I would not tell you that. But I want you to answer that question.
RC: I think you can come up with some kind of conclusion, if you were to look through all the dates and go through all the material, the answer to that question — but the fact of the matter is since I am unable to talk about my communication Roger Stone and Julian Assange, other than our conversation. This is by my lawyer. I asked him, if you asked me that question, what can I say? He said, “You can’t say anything.”
JS: Has your lawyer also been sending out your tweets? Like the president?
RC: Look at my tweets. Look at Roger Stone’s tweets.
JS: I’m going to look at your tweets. June 17th, 2016, you tweeted, “Assange to drop coup de grace hammer on career criminal Clinton.” How did you know that?
RC: I said that?
RC: What day was that?
JS: June 17, 2016.
RC: June 17. Well, that was something that I would just say. When did it come out? That was, that was based on his tweets. That was based on his tweets, OK! He’s the one that said that he’s going to jail, that he had enough material. Just take a look at his tweets. Mine are based, back then, on his tweets. I didn’t know, I didn’t even know Assange on June 17.
JS: So June 17, you tweeted that. July 27, at 10:30 —
RC: I must’ve been drinking back then.
JS: You must’ve been drinking. “WikiLeaks begins to release tens of thousands of DNC emails.”
RC: Well they probably had already done that, right?
JS: So did you know anything about this information in advance?
RC: How would I know that? How would I know about that? That, there, the June — That’s even news to me that I put that out. Must’ve been one of my drinking binges, but if you take a look at his tweets, prior to that, that I would extrapolate based on his tweets what was coming out.
JS: On June 17, 2016, had you ever had any communication with Julian Assange?
RC: No. No.
JS: So you were not in touch with Assange?
RC: No. No. I had him on my show, August 25.
JS: OK, so clearly what you’re saying then, it’s safe to say, June 17, 2016, you had no more foreknowledge of anything WikiLeaks was going to be doing.
RC: When did they come out?
JS: July 22, 2016. A month later.
RC: They did. Nothing came out by then. So that’s very mysterious to me. That I would have that, that I would put that out. Then when would they even need to go to Roger Stone, when I predicted before him?
JS: Well I —
RC: Maybe he was my backchannel. Maybe Stone was my backchannel.
JS: Maybe Stone was yours. I know at that point already that it had been clear that Assange was going to be releasing documents about Hillary Clinton. I’m not sure that we knew anything specific.
You tweeted that two days after WikiLeaks had already started releasing information so when you said, “Assange to drop coup de grace hammer on career criminal Clinton,” what you’re saying is that they had just published this stuff and —
RC: I make wild tweets, ok? Mine are as irresponsible as the president at some time, and Roger Stone at some time. Depends on what time of the morning it is.
JS: So it’s clear then, and you’ve stated clearly, you wouldn’t have had any foreknowledge, you hadn’t yet met.
RC: June 17, all I can say is that my conversations off the radio show with Julian Assange, I’m not at liberty to talk about. That tweet obviously came after what he had put out.
JS: Right. When did you first communicate with Julian Assange?
RC: On August 26th, by phone, on my radio show.
JS: So that was that was the first communication you ever had with him?
RC: Any direct communication was on my radio show?
JS: Ok. And when you first meet Julian Assange in person?
RC: Face to face?
JS: Yes. Pretty sure it’s a matter of public record, yeah.
RC: I think it’s September 6, September 6, was that it, something like that?
JS: So September 6, 2016, you were in London and you met with Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy. RC: Yes. Yes. Yes. Very expensive going to Harrod’s to have lunch.
JS: I’ve also been to that embassy. I haven’t got my subpoena, yet but I’ve gone into meet Julian Assange.
RC: A lot of people have. Fewer now.
JS: Sean Hannity’s been there also.
RC: Yes. It’s already public knowledge that I was there on September 6. Plus, you know they have photos outside, you know? There were two people from Catalan.
JS: Well they also have your photo, that was taken outside of the embassy.
RC: That’s my photo. That’s a selfie.
JS: Yeah, I got it. Yeah.
RC: They have that photo, but don’t they have their own photos?
JS: Oh, I’m sure. Yeah, they have their police presence out there, it’s under constant surveillance.
RC: You see who is behind me in that photo with the earpiece?
JS: Who is that?
RC: Who knows? He was just there all day long.
RC: Doing nothing.
JS: What I’m trying to get to here, and I understand that you’re under subpoena, this isn’t a light matter. I mean you are under subpoena, you are going to be —
RC: I’m going to be surprised with things like that, that you just surprised me with.
JS: Well you better get your ducks in a row if you are actually going to talk to that committee. They’re going to go through your entire timeline.
RC: My entire life.
JS: So here’s the most important part —
RC: I have met with the guy three times. I said that. yes. With Mr. Assange, I consider him a friend. I consider him now a close, I really got to lie him. I know he’s controversial, people on both sides, on the left and right, large elements that don’t like him.
JS: To me, there are two very relevant to ask you regarding this specifically. One is: Is Roger Stone being truthful when he describes you as his source?
RC: I can’t characterize Roger Stone’s — I can’t talk about Roger Stone’s testimony because I don’t know what it is.
JS: You wrote to me and said, “He’s a fucking liar.”
RC: I did?!
RC: Well, he, I mean, in the past he has lied about me. He said that I was the guy who called up Eliot Spitzer’s father at 3 o’clock in the morning in 2007. Of course that was proven to be wrong. So I’m saying that he has lied in the past. I don’t know what his testimony! I haven’t seen his testimony!
JS: Not his testimony, Randy! What he said after his testimony that he’s saying, “Oh yeah, I’m sorry, I didn’t want to snitch Randy out, but guys, he’s my source.”
RC: That’s what he said.
RC: This is going to have a beautiful ending, this story here.
JS: What do you mean?
RC: OK. This story is going to have a beautiful ending. I cannot discuss here. I’d like to say conclusively but unable to at the behest of my attorneys, and my lawyer says, “just take the Fifth Amendment.” I can only take that if I take it now.
JS: I get it and I respect that. I mean, I’ll just make my own comment about this then. Which is that the way I see this is even if you knew that WikiLeaks was going to be releasing more emails, how on earth is that criminal? I guarantee you that there are many journalists around the world who did have advance knowledge that WikiLeaks was going to publish things. And my point is: so what?
RC: Right. I’m sure, a lot did. I’m sure —
JS: The issue, is were you being used as a backchannel to Trump?
RC: You know, let’s take in the case of Stefania Maurizi, who has worked with Glenn Greenwald and has worked with Snowden.
JS: You’re talking about the Italian journalist.
RC: Very close friend of mine. Now she probably gets advanced information before its released.
JS: Right, so what I’m saying is, if you’re working in a journalistic capacity, and someone says, “Hey, this thing is coming down, it’s going to be published on this date, be on the lookout for it.” I get like that all the time from a variety of actors in all these stories.”
The question, though, that I think is different than that is did you cross a line, a journalistic line, because you are claiming First Amendment protection as a journalist in some of this, where you then are knowingly giving information to someone who is in direct contact with Donald Trump about emails that are going to be —?
RC: (yelling) WikiLeaks! I love WikiLeaks!
JS: Right. That are going to be coming out. That’s the issue. Is not whether or not you as a journalist got it, is that did you knowingly give it to someone who you reasonably can assume would tell the president?
RC: Here’s what I’d like to know: If Roger Stone doesn’t tweet that out, would Julian Assange not put the stuff out. All right? Was that going to come no matter who knew about it.
JS: Yeah. Of course, it was going to come, but the point, and I think this is why they’re looking at it is because they’re up this whole collusion thing.
JS: And their assumption, which has not been proven on a technical level, is that WikiLeaks knowingly was disseminating emails that had been obtained by Russian hackers and so the point they’re getting at is if Roger Stone had advance knowledge of something that was essentially a Kremlin PSYOP to try to tilt the election, then that would be relevant to this investigation. That’s the point they’re making.
RC: Right. Right. Well, let them prove that point. They have to prove that point. And I’m just telling you, right now, unfortunately I am not at liberty, and I think I told you this coming in, I’m not at liberty to talk about any conversations I had with Roger Stone or with Julian Assange outside of our radio show which is public.
RC: Wouldn’t you be doing the same thing?
JS: Oh, I wouldn’t be sitting here being interviewed by me.
RC: Right. Oh, you’re tough. You’re tougher than Chuck Todd. No, I’m kidding. I’m joking though.
JS: Whoa! That’s really low.
RC: No, I’m not joking, you are tougher than Mike Wallace. All right? You’re tougher than Mike Wallace. All right?
JS: Given that you’ve spent all this time interviewing Assange and supporters of WikiLeaks and family members of Julian Assange, what is your assessment of this entire Russia investigation into Donald Trump as it relates to WikiLeaks?
RC: Well, let me just say this about Donald Trump: I do not like Donald Trump. I have been against Donald Trump way back with the Central Park joggers. I despise him and I would do nothing to facilitate his victory. And I did not — look it was a sad day for me. I was so depressed, but I was going to be depressed if Hillary won!
But obviously things are very bad right now. My point is there are other ways to get to, to get to him legally. And to use this as the prop, to use this as a tire jack, this Russiagate thing on Trump is wasting a lot of time. Look what just got passed: this huge trickle-up tax bill that’s going to be signed and everything else that is going on.
JS: If you do have to show up down there.
RC: I do have to show up!
JS: So you are — ?
RC: I do have to show up. I mean, if not, I’m held in contempt.
JS: But why don’t your lawyers ask if it can be a public hearing? Say, my client will appear but the public has to be allowed into it, none of this closed door stuff.
RC: That’s a good question, because why is it that the IC guys like Clapper and Hayden, they get to do it publicly, but the people who are witnesses, people who are being charged, gotta do it privately.
JS: Erik Prince, the head of Blackwater, last week.
JS: He testified behind closed doors. All we get is the trickle out of what witnesses say happened inside of the room.
RC: Whatever they release, because there are no reporters in there. Whatever they release.
JS: Right. So you could be in that situation then, where they’re going to be saying you’ve said something, and —
RC: And you can just take it out of context, and you can drop it out, so I would insist that it would be public. That’s one thing. And, I have no idea what my response is going to be. Will I? Will I go behind closed doors and testify? Probably not.
RC: That’s my inclination.
JS: Randy Credico, thank you for joining us on Intercepted.
RC: Thank you.
JS: Randy Credico is an activist, a comedian, a radio host and now the recipient of a subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee as part of the Trump Russia investigation.
JS: We’re going to continue on with this WikiLeaks theme and talk to a young journalist who was arrested and imprisoned on federal charges stemming from his alleged role in the hacking of the private intelligence company Stratfor. I’m talking about Barrett Brown. Last year, Barrett was released from prison but while he was still locked up he managed to win the very prestigious National Magazine Award for his prison commentaries that were published by The Intercept. Barrett has been a longtime advocate for hackers, a supporter of WikiLeaks and Anonymous, and he of course has paid a very personal price for this after he went after very powerful private companies in his reporting.
Barrett’s ordeal began in May of 2011 when the hacking team LulzSec targeted the internet security firm HBGary. LulzSec released thousands of internal company emails and they also published the personal communications of HBGary’s CEO, Aaron Barr. They took control of some of his social media accounts and they exposed all sorts of personal information about him.
Barrett Brown reported on that hack, and then began crowdsourcing the analysis of these thousands of hacked documents, and he did this in a journalistic collective that he created called Project PM. That group was formed to report on private government contractors that are working on cyber security, surveillance, intelligence. They were also investigating FBI involvement with these intelligence firms that were targeting activists and journalists and others.
From some of those hacked HB Gary documents, we learned that there was a plan by the company to try to destroy the reputation of WikiLeaks and also of my fellow Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald, who, of course, then would go on to report the NSA leaks from Edward Snowden.So basically, HBGary was trying to destroy people exposing companies like HBGary, or entities like the NSA or the FBI.
Later in the same year, the hacking collective AntiSec, operating under the broad banner of Anonymous, hacked the intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting, Inc — better known as Stratfor. AntiSec wrote on the company’s home page after they took control of it, “Merry Lulzmas” and then they proceeded to dump an enormous trove of exposed communications from Stratfor. We’re talking emails, both internal emails and from clients, internal documents, personal usernames, emails, passwords, credit card numbers, on and on. Barrett Brown was reporting on these hacks and also trying to help the hackers sift through what exactly they had.
The FBI had already been monitoring Barrett going back to at least the HBGary hack. They sent search warrants, they raided his apartment, they raided his mother’s apartment and after Barrett posted a series of YouTube rants against the FBI and its agent Robert Smith where he threatened to publish his personal information among other things, Barrett was arrested in September of 2012, and the government threw the book at him.
At one point, Barrett Brown faced more than one hundred years in prison. In the end, almost the entire case against him fell apart and Barrett ended up accepting a plea agreement and received a five-year prison sentence. He’s sort of been a free man since last November, though he was briefly arrested for giving an interview. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen this time as Barrett Brown joins me now.
Barrett, welcome to Intercepted.
Barrett Brown: Thank you for having me.
JS: Give an overview of how you see this moment that we’re in right now in the United States.
BB: I think the most important part of this is that this illusion, this bipartisan, sort of center-moderate cozy illusion that our institutions are generally sound, that the authority of the United States government and its institutions is just, and that this is a republic that can sustain itself as a moral enterprise over the next few decades: That’s all been sort of torn asunder. And that’s good, because the things that were happening were already in play, we’ve already had broken institutions before Trump arrived, he just sort of accelerated quite a bit of it.
And that does help get us to a point where we can start talking seriously about what we’re going to do about all this.
JS: You’ve had your own issues with law enforcement. In fact, it very clearly seems like they were trying to completely destroy your life. When you see liberal commentators or the press sort of lionizing Robert Mueller or the FBI, what’s your sense of where that’s coming from and what do you think of it?
BB: You know, I saw some of those hearings last year when I was still in prison, when Comey was first brought before Congress to talk about the Hillary Clinton best occasion and watched with other federal prisoners as these congressmen on either side, on the different points there, whenever he was apparently in their corner, you know, just sat there and just praised the FBI.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz: I want to thank Director Comey for being here.
Rep. Elijah Cummings: For your independence, for your integrity, and your honesty.
Rep. Stacey Plaskett: Director Comey is a man of impeccable integrity.
Rep. JC: I have the greatest admiration for the FBI.
Rep. Jim Cooper: And I’m thankful at this moment that you have such a lifetime record of speaking truth to power.
BB: Obviously, that’s all nonsense. And, it’s nonsense that has somehow maintained itself, you know, sort of building up again after ’75, ’73, ’74, when COINTELPRO came out and the FBI’s actual conduct was laid bare. It’s unfortunate that that occurs and of course you’re always going to have this disingenuousness among both parties and among sort of different kinds of tribalism, partisans and just people who don’t know any better.
The FBI, obviously, in its actual effect, as we can see from actually looking at its cases and how it handles itself does have a contingent of people that are indeed relatively straightforward relatively virtuous law enforcement officers. It also has a very large contingent of people who are not, of people who do engage in due process violations and crimes essentially in the course of their duties.
And then there’s a contingent that is sort of an enforcement arm, a sort of amorphous enforcement arm against activists and against unpopular political entities. And that’s obviously where we came into the picture, when they started coming after us at the same time they’re going after Glenn Greenwald, for instance, and WikiLeaks and left-wing groups that are going — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and all of that came out, the DOJ was running these bizarre criminal operations that were exposed, that Palantir and HBGary and some of these other companies were involved in.
It doesn’t really do anything. It doesn’t change the fundamental perception of the average television presenter, even some of the more cerebral columnists, it just doesn’t take. And so, one way or the other they have no idea what the FBI really is and they shouldn’t be explaining it to the rest of us.
JS: I want to get your take on the kind of evolution or devolution, depending on how you look at it, of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. What have you made of WikiLeaks and Assange’s role in 2016, the publication of the DNC documents, the emails, the role that Assange and WikiLeaks played in the 2016 election?
BB: I was a very visceral, very vicious partisan of WikiLeaks going back to 2009 and 2010, which I was one of the early bloggers and commentators to not just write about it but to really strongly praise it. Thereafter, when I became more of an activist and got involved with Anonymous and then my own group, Project PM, a number of our operations were related to WikiLeaks in some way, including several that were intent on defending WikiLeaks from its attackers here in the U.S. and elsewhere.
I was pursued by the FBI starting right after, you know the HBGary thing had come out, when I was still very aggressively going after the executives at these companies, like Booz Allen Hamilton, who had sort of gotten away with this, hadn’t even really made it into the media narrative and I was happy to do it because I was very strong believer in what WikiLeaks was doing. I thought it was a very important early example of what the internet can do in terms of new forms of collaboration, leveraging communications in order to combat larger entrenched institutions.
You know, and then obviously there was always criticism and some of it legitimate of WikiLeaks or Assange personally, and I was comfortable with that. And then when I went to prison, obviously, I had to follow these things a little more loosely and then of course during the election heard that the DNC deal and all that. I was never opposed to them releasing the DNC emails. That’s an entirely appropriate thing for them to do, it didn’t matter to me where they came from. Again, it’s not WikiLeaks’ job to determine if it’s being provided to them for, you know, a political purpose. That’s not the point of WikiLeaks, nor should it be.
What crossed the line for me, starting a few months ago, was, first of all Assange, claiming that Trump had been vindicated in his original claim that Obama had wiretapped him during “the very sacred election process.” Just extraordinary disingenuous stuff he was posting, and I took issue with it publicly for the first time. I really criticized Assange in public, and I should note that he and I have never directly spoken. We’ve passed along messages here and there, just vague things, and he’s spoken about me during my case and all that.
And I am a beneficiary of the Courage Foundation, which he and Sarah Harrison originally founded, although he’s no longer on the board, but it was, so that was a big break and that’s representative of a larger fracture in this movements. Obviously, there is still a number of people who, even after the Trump Jr. exchange became public, even knowing that WikiLeaks had publicly claimed in 2007, on a Reddit question and answer session that they were not colluding with the Trump Administration or any political party.
Even after some of these more recent decisions he’s taken to make other claims that are just not viable, some of which he has even had to delete because they were so clearly wrong, there’s people who will still defend him and still are defending him, and the movement has to, and when I say the movement, I mean this sort of larger, sort of internet-driven, anti-establishment movement. Anti-institutional movement, has to make some serious decisions about what kind of movement we really are, if we’re going to be a tribal movement, just another entity on the playground, or if we’re going to have actual, visible, robust ethics surrounding what we do.
JS: You know, there are some very radical Assange and WikiLeaks partisans, who sort of argue, well, the Don, Jr. DMs, that’s just evidence of the kind of fifth dimensional chess that Julian was playing with the Trump people. And I sort of viewed it more in the same way that I saw one of your comments, I sort of look at that and I say, “Why on earth are you assisting what is essentially a fascist force or a fascist-enabling force that, you know, has taken power in this country.”
BB: They’ll find several different things, depending on who they are. Some of them, like Kim Dotcom, openly support Trump and think it’s totally appropriate for him to have done that. There’s others who will not acknowledge that this was actually supporting Trump, and they’ll tend to address one or two portions of a conversation that has really six or seven actual aspects to it.
The most important aspect of this, the most critical one is Assange saying that the “kicker” of this scheme whereby Trump Junior would provide Trump’s taxes to WikiLeaks, you know, would allow him to change the “perceptions” about you know him being “pro-Trump and pro-Putin,” which he goes on to claim is a canard put forth by the Hillary Clinton people, here he is talking to the Trump people and eventually giving them advice about contesting election and earlier providing them information about a political action committee that he wrongly thinks was also a pro-Iraq political action committee, and denouncing it as libel, that he’s pro-Trump.
Beyond that, this thing about him giving the tax returns to Assange. But WikiLeaks does not, in my memory, release documents that have been given to them by the institution in question. There would be really no point for that. WikiLeaks has always been something where a leaker provides information about an institution and forces transparency on it.
So presumably and it’s pretty clear in this conversation it would not be an exception, obviously it wouldn’t change perceptions about Assange or Trump if it was known, if he comes out and said, “Oh yeah, the Trump people gave me this and we’re releasing it.” It would serve no purpose. So clearly this was going to be a fraud against everyone, in which they were going to sort of pretend that they had gotten it via their usual means. And so, you know, that’s the kind of thing that people are now having to defend. They’re also having to defend anything to do with the Trump Administration or every new revelation about Trump and Russia. They’re having to defend Flynn and claim that this thing about Flynn is some item of overreach by the FBI, which is actually one of the few incidents that I’m familiar with where the FBI has not really overreached. That’s the path that we go down when we start choosing a leader and following him down whatever path he takes, which, and the path is also secret. So.
JS: What first got you on the FBI’s radar, what kind of work were you doing?
BB: Well, after having been a journalist for a while, I had grown disenchanted with mere journalism and I wanted to have more of a direct effect on the things I was investigating. And I got involved Anonymous during the Arab Spring, during Tunisia, because there’s a lot of Anons were Tunisian nationals themselves who were heavily involved in that revolution. During this Arab Spring assistance effort, we found that we had been spied upon by a man named Aaron Barr of HBGary Federal, and some of Anonymous hackers went in the next day and took over his servers and took all of his emails and we began our investigation into him and that yielded, within a couple days, this team Team Themis conspiracy, in which these companies, including Palantir, run by Peter Thiel, were engaged in this extraordinarily lawless and indefensible conspiracy against journalists who supported WikiLeaks, that’s where Glenn Greenwald came in.
WikiLeaks itself, donors to WikiLeaks, and then separately against enemies of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which had also hired these companies. And this had all been done through a major law firm, Hunton & Williams, and with the acquiescence and really the instigation of the DOJ, and went to Congress, Congress was going to investigate, that got shut down by Lamar Smith, the Republican who gets money from these companies.
And so, I reengineered Project PM, which was my group originally, turned it into a makeshift crowdsourced investigation, and that was around the time when the FBI started getting secret search warrants, forming, going to grand juries and then eventually raided me the following year.
JS: Explain what HBGary is and why they would have been interested in spying on you or WikiLeaks, or Anonymous, or Glenn Greenwald?
BB: Well, HBGary is one of the many companies that have kind of come into fruition the last, since 9/11, really under the radar of the public and of the press, even the technical press, and these are companies that we call intelligence contractors, or they call themselves that, usually, or security contractors, and they provide different services and products to the U.S. government, to governments abroad including dictatorships like Bahrain. They occasionally, like in this instance, engage in espionage and sort of counterintelligence, disinformation and oftentimes criminal hacks that are of the sort that people in Anonymous actually get arrested for all the time, and they do it without any consequences, even when they get caught. And so, in this case, in addition to his paid proposal that they were putting together about how they could go after WikiLeaks and Glenn Greenwald, they were also separately going to go after Anonymous on behalf of Booz Allen Hamilton, which ended up having some other project that we never figured out what it was. But we had e-mail exchanges between Aaron Barr of HBGary and one of the vice presidents of Booz Allen Hamilton.
Back then, and there was a report that Endgame Systems, which is another one of these firms that was in Team Themis, had written a report on WikiLeaks and Anonymous, actually a very accurate report compared to the kind of things you saw back then. And, it was very clear from that that Anonymous was taken pretty seriously as a threat to these kinds of people back then. And rightfully so, since, of course, we ended up taking down quite a few of them.
Stephen Colbert: Anonymous took down Barr’s website, stole his emails, deleted the company’s backup data, trashed his Twitter account, and remotely wiped his iPad (laughter). Anonymous then published all of Barr’s emails, including one from his wife saying, “I will file for divorce” and Barr’s World of Warcraft name Sevrynsten. (laughter) That’s right. They ruined both his lives.
BB: There was this sort of broad, amorphous collusion between different government agencies and different ex-government people and some of these companies, all sort of figuring out ways to stymie Anonymous. And then later, of course, we found more about that when the Edward Snowden documents came out, and GCHQ of course, as Glenn Greenwald wrote about, had been targeting us as well, using some methods that were just as information-based, others that were outright illegal, including phone hacks of the sort that I used to get back then.
They had plenty of reason to want to spy on us. Aaron Barr unfortunately did not do a very good job of it, and went and spoke to the Financial Times and presented some information that he said was correct, some of which was publicly known to be false, stuff about Anonymous having been founded by someone, there being a directorship of it, that kind of thing. And, of course, he ended up having to resign after these other things came out as a consequence of all that.
JS: When did you first encounter federal agents as you were doing this work? When did the government first start to kind of identify you as someone that they wanted to go after?
BB: It appears, based on mentions of me by Aaron Barr and some of the emails we took, and, as well as the grand jury and secret search warrants that we later had access to after I was imprisoned, that this began shortly after my role in bringing attention to and pursuing a criminal conspiracy by the DOJ and these companies against journalists and against activists. So this would have been about March is when the search warrants began I believe. And then, between March of that year and March of next year when I was finally raided for the first time, there was a lot of other things that we now realize were probably, emanated from the FBI or some other allied companies, as well as GCHQ, but the formal search warrants began again shortly after this was all unveiled and continued, and, you know, it went on until I was arrested.
Chatroom Audio of Barrett Brown’s Arrest: [Yelling and screaming] Whoa, is Barrett getting fucking raided by the FBI! Holy shit!
JS: And, I mean, at one point, I think when you take the various indictments that you, faced correct me if I’m wrong, you were facing a combined total of up to more than 100 years in jail.
BB: Yeah, that was how much exposure I had. You know, but they overcharge people it’s what they do. And they do so because that’s how that’s how they get their 95 percent convictions rate: juries tend to believe FBI agents, and FBI agents, as we saw in my case, and this was the great thing about my case, was that this was quite unusually, actually, got a lot of attention. And this was something where pretty conservative outlets, like The New York Times and outlets that are not generally willing to cry, you know, “this is absolute government persecution in our Republic,” all sort of agreed, you know, with the gag order I was placed under from the prosecutor’s own words, for having written an article that was “critical of the government,” things of that nature. It just became so obvious by the end that this was retaliation for my work exposing their doings.
So, it actually served, I think, to help as a prelude to the institutional disenchantment that we’ve seen lately with Trump Administration.
JS: Among the things that they charged you with was sharing like a hyperlink to the hacked materials from Stratfor, this sort of pseudo-intelligence firm that charges people a lot of money to get their experts telling them what’s going on in various places around the U.S. and the world. Was that part of it that it was that you had linked to a file where people could download a zip of data from the Strafor hack?
BB: Yes, what happened was after the Stratfor hack had occurred, there’s anonymous chat rooms and there is Project PM chat room where me and some other researchers and journalists analyze, whenever Anonymous takes emails from a company or governments, we analyze them. And so the hackers had been pasting stuff, posting links into that anonymous chat room, and I was copying and pasting immediately into the Project TM chat room for my people as it happened. And one of them that I pasted ended up being a link to the credit card information for its subscribers and, as shown in those chats which are all part of the discovery, I asked after having pasted that link, “What was in this?” And the guy goes, “Oh, those are credit card numbers for whatever.” And I’m like, “Oh, OK.”
And as the forensics people for the government themselves found, I didn’t open the file. There’s no reason to believe that the 300 hundred people in the Anonymous chat room were, you know, not responsible for all the credit card charges made after that, whereas the twenty journalists and researchers at the Project PM chat room were, but I was to be hit with every credit card charge that have been done beginning the second that I’d posted that link in, even though those charges were dropped, the linking charges, because they were really wrong, there’s something called relevant conduct.
The FBI, working with the probation department, was able to get me on the hook for it $800,000 to Stratfor, having still held me liable for the entirety of that which was, you know, another extraordinary part of this and one of those things that are elements that are fairly common in justice system and that we see sort of amplified when they go after whistleblowers and activists and that sort of thing, and which people finally got to see and understand.
Those things do help to bring attention to what these organizations actually are. They’re not just one thing, of course, but they are themselves very complicated institutions like all institutions that sometimes pursue the things they are supposed to pursue and sometimes don’t.
And that’s, again, that’s a very different picture than the one painted for us by not just the congressmen who are sucking up to the FBI when they need to, but, you know, the average journalist, the average TV presenter, they don’t know these things. Why would they?
JS: Is that the entirety of the case basically that they that they went after you on?
BB: After they had raided me, they told my lawyer they were going to charge my mother as well for obstruction of justice because when, they, you know they raided my apartment so I wasn’t there I got my mom’s place previous evening, my laptop was over there, she hid them in the kitchen cabinet. They came the first time that morning but didn’t have a warrant, and they asked me if I’d give my laptops, and I said, “No, there’s information on there involving Bahrainian and Tunisian activists who are living in nations that the U.S. are allies with, they’re military regimes and I’m not going to give you this information.” We know what the FBI does.
They came back with a warrant, five, six hours later. In meantime, you know, she had the laptops because we thought they were going to take them. They had no warrant when she hid them.
So it wasn’t then that I started making the threats to one of the FBI who was involved, it was later on when we discovered HBGary, who they continued to work with had endangered me in various ways. They had ex-military people posting pictures of my residence and my address during a time when Anonymous was in this big feud with the Zetas.
And, just all of this and the use of confidential informants, confidential informants who were also working for HB Gary, and, in their words, were trying to get something to get me picked up on. All of that, with addition to the threats against my mom, kind of drove me to try to make a point that we couldn’t quite get across, which was I was going to do to this FBI agent what Aaron Barr had tried to do to activists, because clearly it was legal when Aaron Barr did it, so we would see if it was legal when I did it.
BB (YouTube) Ah, anyway, that’s why Robert Smith’s life is over. When I say his life is over, I’m not saying I’m gonna go kill him. But I am going to ruin his life and look into his fucking kids, because, Aaron Barr did the same thing. And he needs to be ready for it. How you like them apples?
JS: You were never charged for any crimes related to HBGary, is that correct?
BB: No. I was not convicted on anything involving the investigation.
JS: And what did you ultimately plead to?
BB: Led to accessory after the fact, for having called Stratfor, called one of their executives. Right after the hack, Jeremy Hammond and Sabu, Hector Monsegur, who later turned out to be an FBI, who’d been turned by the FBI some months prior, we were talking about releasing all of the emails online at once, and I was concerned that this might reveal the identities of the people living abroad under the dictatorships who might be informants, who might be hurt by this. So, I told them, “Wait, let me see if, Stratfor wants to help us identify, help us redact them, these things, before we do that.”
And I contacted them, and then meanwhile the decision was made, which a couple of us had been advocating for them to just give the emails to WikiLeaks instead, so they could oversee that and that’s what was done.
So for that phone call, and this was funny, because we had to actually to give them this idea, like after they dropped all the other charges and I will still facing a few others, once the fraud charges were dropped, which I wouldn’t have pled to, then we had the conversation about what I would plead to, and we had to give them something and that was what we came up with.
And, so, you know, the idea was that I helped them get away by making this call for them. Of course, obviously if the hackers have wanted to call Stratfor they could have done so without identifying themselves, that’s what they do, and of course that hackers were not originally planning to make that phone call, so it didn’t make any sense in that respect. But that’s true for a lot of it.
And then there was: interference for the search warrant for hiding a laptop, or for my mom hiding the laptops or whatever, and then the threats against the FBI agent.
JS: I mean at the end of the day, then, what do you believe was at the heart of why they were going after you?
BB: It was clearly because we had done a pretty effective job of finding new pieces of the state, corporate intelligence apparatus, including a big report I put out on Romas/COIN, you know, involved Apple and Google at some point, dealing with the same Aaron Barr guy, to create this product for the Pentagon or the CIA or some government client.
You know, we had been very troublesome — the HBGary and Team Themis scandal was a huge black eye for the DOJ.
So we were doing a great deal stuff both in front of the press and with the press, and also behind the scenes for the press, to ensure that more of these things came out, that more were pursued and that the people involved were eventually have to deal with some actual consequences. And that was essentially why they went after me.
JS: These are really outrageous prison sentences if you look at the nature of what they were even doing. I mean, it seems clear, particularly during that era that it was an attempt to just scare away people that had any thought of engaging in the hacking of any powerful institutions.
BB: That’s exactly what they wrote down they wanted to do, they wanted to deter Glenn Greenwald from — they wanted to force him to “choose career over cause” by virtue of their campaign against him, they wanted to scare donors away by investigating them, that kind of thing. So that was kind of that policy finally written down for all to see. Thankfully Anonymous was able to acquire and show everyone. And that’s been the pattern we’ve seen since.
You know, it’s all the more indefensible given that not only are they going after people for protest tax including all the Anons, they raided forty different households on a single day in late January 2011 for having supposedly been involved in the DDoS-ing of Mastercard and Visa and Amazon’s websites in protest of their economic blockade against WikiLeaks.
This took down, you know, the Mastercard website for like three seconds, and forty armed raids. Meanwhile you have people working with the FBI, caught committing crimes and planning crimes against, you know, activists and against us: never charged, never investigated. So we have a situation in which we have a lawless organism growing out of the state, out of its companies, do business with the state that do not have to obey the law. And those of us who will be investigated regardless if we break the law or not.
And that’s the kind of environment that does encourage people to go ahead and break the law, both because it’s practical and both, and also because it actually becomes your duty at some point.
JS: How do you sort of keep your head up given that the state still has a boot still pretty firmly on part of your neck, and the fact that you lost years of your life to prison and to having to fight this battle instead of doing other things? How do you keep your head above water these days?
BB: Well there was a time in which people were expected to, you know, put themselves at risk in exchange for causes. We live in a particularly weak, kind of post-war decadent society in which that kind of thing is now unusual. But there was a time in which people like Emma Goldman went to jail over and over again for sending birth control information to women over the U.S. mails.
Emma Goldman: I decided to devote myself to the presentation of anarchism as social philosophy which aims at the emancipation — economic, social, political and spiritual — of the human race.
BB: How did she do it? Well she looked to people before her who had taken similar things. There’s no argument I can ever makes anybody say that you have to be an activist and you have to engage in some civic duty that may be harmful to you. All I can say is that you have the choice to either just inherit and accept that the liberties that we still have, and just use them and enjoy them, or you can take the same route that those before you did, to give us those liberties, and that’s your choice. And that depends on what kind of person you want to be.
Beyond that, obviously everything they do to me, were in a position to turn it into propaganda and to damage them further. Obviously these institutions don’t really exist outside of our heads, and so should the extent that their authority, their moral authority, as perceived by the citizenry, is diminished, we come closer to the point at which we can challenge those institutions on entirely different scale altogether.
JS: Alright, Barrett Brown, we’re going to leave it there. Thank you for very much for joining us on Intercepted.
BB: Thank you very much.
JS: Barrett Brown is a journalist and a columnist and he’s the founder of Project PM and the Pursuance Project.
JS: To end today’s show, we’re going to talk with independent singer and songwriter, artist Amanda Palmer. She has been a street performer, a performance artist, a member of the band Dresden Dolls. Amanda Palmer is well known for crowdsourcing her art and her music. She has a book that’s called, “The Art of Asking.” She’s also given a TED Talk on that same subject. Amanda’s latest video and new song released just last month is a beautiful and epic short film called, “Mother.” It’s a cover of the Pink Floyd song. And she joins us now.
JS: Amanda Fucking Palmer, welcome to Intercepted.
Amanda Palmer: Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you. Thank you for not censoring my name. I appreciate it.
JS: So let’s start with one of your latest projects, performances, “Mother.” And the video that you produced for this has not been received in the same way as a lot of your other work.
For people that haven’t seen it or haven’t heard the song, maybe you can start by describing what it’s all about.
AP: This video is unlike any I have ever made because usually I make music videos because I’ve written songs, and this was different. I was watching the news and just horrified at all of the people chanting “Build a wall, build a wall.”
Crowd: (chanting) Build that wall! Build that wall!
DJT: Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!
AP: And I saw so many resonances between what was going on politically, and the Pink Floyd movie, “The Wall,” which I loved and worshipped growing up.
[“The Wall” by Pink Floyd]
AP: And then I thought, you know, the song “Mother” from “The Wall.”
[“Mother” by Pink Floyd]
AP: It’s a powerful song to begin with and I thought: “Wow, this would be a really great anti-Trump song if you spun it the right way and created a video that combined the ideas of Donald Trump wanting to build this wall, and the idea that maybe he is who he is because he wasn’t loved enough.”
[“Mother” by Amanda Palmer]
AP: But I mean then it was even stranger because the video came out and it came out in this whirlwind of feminism gone extreme nowadays.
You know, I won’t spoil the entire video for you but basically (laughs) it’s a bunch of mothers versus a bunch of politicians and a bunch of children being forced to build a wall by Donald Trump.
But the mothers triumph at the end of the day and breastfeed Donald Trump (laughs).
JS: (laughs) I mean, what was behind the decision to actually show yourself literally breastfeeding someone dressed as Donald Trump?
AP: I knew that I wanted to cast people who were really going to believe in the message of the video, you know? I didn’t, I didn’t go to central casting for this: I went to my friends, which is what I do for most of my work. I thought I want as many — definitely as many women as possible, and most of the cast and crew were women, but I especially wanted women with children and mothers who would actually bring their kids to the set and get their children involved because the very message of the video is that we’re not going to play by these patriarchal rules. We’re going to write a different narrative.
You know, a lot of this merges with my own personal battle and insecurity that I had around having a child, because I was really scared. I was scared as an independent artist who always has control over my schedule and has really busted out my own path in a music industry full of men. I was afraid to have a kid. I was very afraid about what it would do to me, and how my kid would dance and interplay with this world of making music and being in recording studios and being on video shoots and doing what it is that I do as work.
And the way that I’ve found around it, which is the way I’ve found around everything, is there isn’t a whole lot of separation between my life and my art. It’s all one big, blurry mess.
And there we all were making this video together, sending this huge message, not just to the White House, you know, saying that you’re not going to be able to educate our children into hatred and bigotry and isolation, because we’re the mothers and we’re in control, but also like, man, as an artist, I get to create my own narrative. I am not going to let a male-dominated entertainment industry and music industry tell me what to make, how to make it and who to make it with.
[“Mother” by Amanda Palmer]
JS: When we started this program, we have had a commitment from the beginning to feature the work of independent artists and when we kicked that off, we stated very clearly that part of the reason we were doing that is because in times of fascism or the rise of authoritarianism, one of the first institutions to come under attack, they are cultural institutions: it’s the artists, it’s the writers, it’s the musicians.
What do you think about that context of the artist as almost like freedom fighter in times like this, but also as a potential target of, to Donald Trump, you know, “the bad guys?”
AP: I think you only need to look at the patterns in fascism through history and what they thought about artists and musicians and what they did (laughs) to know how critically important it is to maintain and celebrate and support free speech, and free speech within the artistic community, because all of these things are so fundamentally connected. And if fascist, controlling, fear-based governments didn’t think that artists and writers and journalists were dangerous, they wouldn’t take such great pains to silence them.
JS: We think about, “Oh, the Nazis burned books, that was so horrifying!” Well, the same core motivation of book burning exists with the ideas that are being promoted to strip away fair access to the internet and it’s going to directly target, well, people like you!
AP: You know, I almost feel like I’m living in a Sci-Fi novel sometimes when I think about the idea of net neutrality. Creating a world in which ten years from now, we’re telling our kids, “Yeah, the internet used to be amazing! You could just get on it and do anything.”
You know, and net neutrality is like basics, it’s ground zero. Because if we’re not able to communicate to each other freely through the internet and through this, you know, free exchange of media and ideas and connections, especially, right now, as the developing world is finally you know hopping online in record numbers. You know, we forget that a lot of the people in the world don’t have internet, but they’re getting it right now, as we speak.
And that could be the greatest gift and boon to humanity as people have, you know, all of a sudden access to the internet, access to education, access to information about how to grow better food, access to ideas that are going to get them out of stifling political situations, etc., etc.
JS: Well, you know, the flip side of this discussion is that it probably would be a good idea to severely limit Donald Trump’s internet access. I mean it may well get us into a nuclear war. But also, I mean there are, there are there are real concerns. I mean our medical records are now digitized. Spy agencies no longer have to like break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, they can hack us.
I mean it’s a really strange world we’ve built for ourselves, but, at the end of the day, I, like you, I err on the side of more access to each other around the world is always going to result in a better world.
AP: Yeah. I agree. And, you know, I’m incredibly excited about things like blockchain and what blockchain is going to be able to do for musicians, do for artists and you know bring back a kind of a fairness and equality in making sure that people who are working hard and making artists can still make a living and make a salary and get fairly compensated for their work.
We’re rewriting a whole new code of ethics right now for the internet and how it works. And, you know, this is it, we’re the vanguard, we’re the firsts. You know? I grew up without the internet. I didn’t get online until I was about 17. And now everyone, you know, our kids, your two year-old, my two year-old, they’re all going to grow up digital natives and the code of ethics that we’re currently sitting down to write is going to shape their world how they’re treated, how they treat each other, what they believe they should and shouldn’t protect and share.
And you can look at that is really, really frightening or you can look at that, as, you know, really exciting or probably both. And, I was going to play you “Drowning in The Sound.” This song was written in a flash songwriting session. I went to my patrons and I said, “Listen, I’m going into the studio in a couple of days. I’m going to write a song really fast. I’m going to record it in a few days, and then I’m going to put it out to you guys and charge you for it. But before I go in, I want to sort of take the temperature of your emotional states, so everyone leave me a comment about how you’re doing.” And then I had to cope with the fact that 900 people sent me comments and some of them were five paragraphs long and I actually spent, you know, seven hours sitting there reading off these comments on the internet, while simultaneously Hurricane Harvey was hitting Texas and I was refreshing the New York Times and The Guardian and, you know, looking at, looking at pictures of senior citizens trapped in rooms with four feet of water and families stuck on roofs of homes and people unable to connect with and help each other.
And simultaneously, you know, people made a cute joke on Facebook about Taylor Swift’s new video which had just come out that week, her video for “Look What You Made Me Do,” and I, you know, I didn’t even say anything negative about her. I basically said, “Oh look, she’s going through a goth period, finally!”
It’s angry Taylor, you know, because she was so busy as a teenager being a bubble gum country pop star that she didn’t get to lock herself in the room and smoke clove cigarettes and listen to The Cure like we did it. And, now she’s finally going through her angsty goth phase, congratulations Taylor!
And given that the internet is the internet, I came back to that post an hour later and it had blown up on Facebook and the top comments were about how Amanda Palmer was an unapologetic racist because she supported Taylor Swift. (laughs) And it was just one of those whiplash moments where I was like, “Really? This is what it’s come to? You know, this is what it’s come to that I walk away from the internet for an hour and a bunch of people decide that because I’ve made a joke about Taylor Swift being goth, I’m an unapologetic racist?
JS: That’s why I love Twitter! The nuance.
AP: Oh my god. But, there I was, reading that comment on Facebook an hour before I went into the recording studio to sit down and pen this song and the eclipse it just happened, I had been to the eclipse the week before and I had made a last-minute decision to grab my one year-old and take him down to Tennessee where I knew that I had a place to stay because I didn’t want to miss this moment in history.
So, all of those things: the eclipse, the Facebook thing, Hurricane Harvey, the general political climate, all of the disconnection, the metaphors abounded. Those are all the ingredients that that went into the song.
[“Drowning in The Sound” by Amanda Palmer]
JS: Amanda Fucking Palmer, thank you for being with us on Intercepted.
AP: You are so welcome. It’s been really a pleasure to talk about all this stuff with you.
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, who did just that, are 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. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.