Ralph Nader, the legendary consumer advocate and former presidential candidate, is still fighting the good fight. This week on Intercepted: Nader analyzes the state of the Democratic Party, the DNC lawsuit against Russia, Trump’s campaign and WikiLeaks, and lays out the John Bolton threat. As the CIA wages a domestic propaganda campaign to push through Gina Haspel’s nomination, Jeremy breaks down the history of the CIA and the Church Committee investigations. Whistleblower and Senate candidate Chelsea Manning talks about prison, whistleblowing, comparisons to Edward Snowden, and her campaign. And artist Ricardo Cortés (“Go the Fuck to Sleep”) talks about the secret history of the coca and cola in your Coke, jury nullification, his post-9/11 coloring book about xenophobia, and his latest work, “Sea Creatures from the Sky,” a children’s book about otherness.
George Stephanopoulos: James Comey. Now he’s sharing his story about standing at the crossroads of the most controversial election in modern history.
GS: What part of you is thinking: I helped elect Donald Trump?
Kanye West: Absolutely not. They try to position it through the media in some way. They talk the most [bleeped] about the people who care the most?
GS: On a cold winter day in January, he was about to tell Trump about the Steele Dossier — salacious, unverified —
GS: How graphic did you get?
KW: I didn’t take it as a joke. It ain’t no joke, as Rakim said. And everyone looks at me like, “That’s not an important issue or something.”
GS: The day after you were fired, the president is meeting in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister. Calls you a nut job. What did you think when you saw that?
KW: So I literally have to be Michael Jackson in order to break open the doors for everyone that will come after I’m gone. Isn’t that so funny?
GS: What will it mean if president Trump tries to fire Robert Mueller?
KW: Are you connecting? Picasso is dead. Steve Jobs is dead. Walt Disney is dead. Name somebody living that you can name in the same breath as them.
GS: If you knew that letter would elect Donald Trump, would you still send it?
KW: Don’t tell me about being likable. I’m sorry for the realness. Yes.
[“Believe It or Not” by Joey Scarbury plays.]
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 53 of Intercepted.
President Harry S. Truman: Communism is based on the belief that man is so weak and inadequate that he is unable to govern himself, and therefore requires the rule of strong masters. Democracy is based on the conviction that man has the moral and intellectual capacity, as well as the inalienable right, to govern himself within reason and justice.
JS: In the aftermath of World War II, President Harry Truman signed into law the National Security Act of 1947. In doing so, Truman created two important new entities that would operate under the control of the executive branch of the United States government: one was the Central Intelligence Agency, and the other was the National Security Council.
With the nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA director and John Bolton already in place as the national security adviser, I want to take a quick tour through some history that I think is important for all of us to keep in mind and to study at this moment.
Newscaster: Meanwhile, in Tehran itself, all are ready to welcome the return of the Shah, after the dramatic development in events which first compelled him to flee, and they lived through a royalist coup-d’état, in which Mossadegh was arrested. Now, everywhere supporters from the streets proclaiming their loyalty to the Shah.
JS: For the first several years of its existence, the CIA was run by military officers. And then, in 1953, Allen Dulles was named CIA director, and it was under Dulles his tenure that the real dirty work began. Before heading the CIA, Dulles had been recruited by the legendary military spy Wild Bill Donovan — that was during World War II — and Donovan asked Dulles to join a secret intelligence and covert action force. It was called the Office of Strategic Services. That would later form the basis for the creation of the CIA.
Allen Dulles: The idea that it is necessarily nefarious, it’s always engaged in overthrowing governments. That’s false. That’s for the birds. Now there are times, there are times when the United States government feels that the developments in another government, such as in the Vietnam situation, is of a nature to imperil the safety and the security and the peace of the world and ask the Central Intelligence Agency to be its agent in that particular situation. At no time has the CIA engaged in any political activity or any intelligence activity and running not approved at the highest level.
JS: Dulles kicked off his tenure at the CIA with the agency overthrowing the democratically-elected government of Mossadegh in Iran. They installed the Shah and his brutal secret police. That was followed in 1954 by the toppling of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala. That was an effort that the CIA conducted with the assistance of the United Fruit Company. By the way, Dulles owned stock in United Fruit and Árbenz was threatening to nationalize it.
It was during Dulles’s time in office that the CIA began experimenting with mind control and brainwashing through the MK-Ultra program and also studying new ways of torturing people.
Alan W. Scheflin: The director of Central Intelligence in April of 1953, Allen Dulles, gave a talk in which he said that we are in a battle with the control of men’s minds, that’s his term, and that we were losing the battle.
History Channel Narration: Dulles Wastes no time in signing a secret executive order creating project MK-Ultra. The goal? To leave no stone unturned in the area of mind and behavior control.
JS: Beginning in 1954, the CIA began working to overthrow the North Vietnamese government and propping up an authoritarian dictatorship in the south. This was a full decade before official U.S. involvement began.
It can be argued that these actions that Dulles oversaw directly led to the Vietnam War. In 1957, Dulles began authorizing covert campaigns in Laos and facilitated the overthrow of several governments there.
Two years later, the CIA helps the brutal dictator Papa Doc Duvalier seize power in Haiti — the first black republic in the world.
And then came the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the assassination of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and the forcing out of the democratically elected president of Ecuador, the barrel of a gun.
And there’s the murder of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo and on and on. These are just some of the highlights from the Dulles era at the CIA. But it was during this period that the agency consolidated its power and made its own survival superior to any elected president of the United States.
John F. Kennedy: I know of no man who is a more courageous, selfless public servant than Mr. Allen Dulles.
JS: All of this continued after Dulles’ reign at the agency. There was the overthrow of Sukarno in Indonesia, the installing of the murderous dictator Suharto, who would slaughter upwards of half a million or more people accused of being communists.
There was Greece, the Dominican Republic again, the Phoenix Program death squads in Indochina, the coups, assassinations, installing of dictators, covert actions, the undermining of democracy, the support for brutal death squads — all of this was tattooed in the DNA of the CIA.
Interviewer: Mr. Hinckle, when did Ramparts first get information regarding CIA activities and student groups that started your investigation?
Warren Hinckle: Approximately two months ago, we had our first information on this story and we’ve had a team of about eleven reporters and investigators reporting on it full-time ever since.
Interviewer: This investigation has gone on throughout the country.
WH: That’s correct. All over the country.
JS: The agency also conducted covert operations inside the United States under the guise of fighting communism. It infiltrated antiwar groups, civil rights groups and surveilled other problematic Americans. We know that this goes back to at least 1959. In fact, it was Seymour Hersh in 1974, who broke the story of Operation Chaos — that was a sweeping domestic spying program run by the CIA.
Hersh’s exposé also put out in the open many of the CIA’s assassinations and coups and other covert actions that raised very serious legal issues. In fact, a quarter of a century after the CIA was created, there was still no serious oversight of any of its activities from the U.S. Congress, and that was how the CIA wanted it.
Narrator: The case against the CIA has always lacked information on how precisely its officers set about their covert action. Philip Agee, now living in Cornwell, was such an officer, and his diary to be published by Penguin in the next few weeks, gives his version of what life is really like inside the agency. He names every officer and agent he’s ever met and describes a CIA man’s work in daily detail.
Philip Agee: Why should I be delicate with them? I don’t expect any, any, any quarter in return, because this is part of the conflict is going on in that world right now. The CIA is enforcing American economic exploitation. And people are dying and people are starving because of this system.
JS: Hersh’s reporting, and books written by CIA whistleblowers, including Philip Agee, resulted in public anger at a special investigation in Congress that became known as the Church Committee.
Senator Frank Church: The interception of international communications signals sent through the air is the job of NSA, and thanks to modern technological developments it does its job very well. The danger lies in the ability of the NSA to turn its awesome technology against domestic communications.
JS: That was in 1975. That committee was headed by Senator Frank Church of Idaho, and it dug deep into more than 20 years of dirty and bloody CIA activity — overseas, and inside the United States.
The investigation also uncovered a covert program: Operation Shamrock. That was an NSA operation involving all major telecommunications companies in the United States that gave the NSA access to all telephone calls going out of or into the United States. At times, information from these intercepts was used to build a domestic watch list. Operation Shamrock began in 1945, some 68 years before NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations. And it was not until the Church Committee investigations that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees were created. They began operating in 1976.
Sen. Church: I thought that it was a matter of real concern, that planted stories, intended to serve a national purpose abroad, came home and were circulated here, and believed here. Because this would mean that the CIA could manipulate the news in the United States by channeling it through some foreign country. And we’re looking at that very carefully.
JS: The Church Committee and the creation of the Intelligence Committees was a dark period for the CIA. At the time, the formation of these committees was seen as a counterbalance to some of the nefarious, unchecked, extra-legal activities that the Church Committee investigation exposed and documented.
And while at times the intelligence committees have done important work, the CIA has always invented new ways or used old ways to circumvent its authorities.
Sen. Church: Do you have any people paid by the CIA who are working for television networks?
CIA Director William Colby: This, I think, gets into the kind of, getting into the details, Mr. Chairman, that I’d like to get into an executive session.
JS: The reason I’m bringing all of this up at this moment is because of the nomination of Gina Haspel to serve as the director of the CIA.
We know that she played a key role in the torture program after 9/11. We know that she was involved in running black sites. We know that she was involved with the destruction of torture tapes. We know that some of her colleagues began referring to her as “bloody Gina.”
And here’s what else we know: Since her nomination by president Trump, the CIA has waged a domestic propaganda operation. Its target? All of us.
The CIA has used its social media platforms, including Twitter, to spin a tale about the legendary career of Gina Haspel, as though she’s some Lara Croft meets Jason Bourne meets Lawrence of Arabia. Here are quotes from just some of the CIA’s tweets about Gina Haspel.
[“Africa” by Toto plays.]
“Haspel’s first overseas assignment was as a case officer in Africa. ‘It was right out of a spy novel. It really didn’t get any better than that.’ She arrived during the closing days of the Cold War and had a front-row seat as the struggle played out.”
“Haspel recalls the initial shock of witnessing grinding poverty & the excitement of carrying out a clandestine mission amid billboards plastered with Marxist-Leninist slogans. She traveled the region, learned to recruit & handle agents, & survived a coup d’état along the way.”
“Haspel’s first posting as a Chief of Station soon followed in an exotic & tumultuous capital.”
“The skepticism of some of her male colleagues was obvious, w comments like, ‘I can’t believe they’re sending you to a place like that.’ She quickly proved doubters wrong.”
“Gina Haspel joined CIA in the waning days of the Cold War & for the past three decades she has quietly devoted herself to serving on the front lines of our mission.”
“She leads with compassion, integrity, discipline, humor.”
All of this is from the CIA’s Twitter feed. They’ve also been retweeting articles with titles like this: “Why, In Their Own Words, CIA Professionals Love Gina Haspel.” They highlight letters from former CIA and military officials supporting her. But they ignore the letters that were written by people raising questions about her past activities.
And then last Friday, the CIA released a memo written by former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell that the agency said cleared her of any wrongdoing regarding the destruction of CIA torture tapes. Even Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is generally a supporter of the CIA, blasted the agency, accusing it of declassifying “only material that’s favorable to Gina Haspel, while at the same time stonewalling our efforts to declassify all documents related to her involvement in the torture program.”
All right, so, what does any of this have to do with the history that I ran through at the beginning? What’s happening right now is that the CIA is actively campaigning and using domestic propaganda in an effort to make sure that a CIA insider, one who has already shown that she is completely in sync with the dirty, bloody business of torture, and kidnapping, is at the head of the agency. It’s a CIA power play aimed at consolidating the authority of the agency and defending its turf.
Gina Haspel is part of the worldview within the CIA that was cultivated, encouraged set in motion by Allen Dulles. Her ascent to the head of the CIA is a coup d’état of sorts that Langley is trying to orchestrate to ensure that its interests are protected by someone who has shown she will do whatever it takes to cover the agency’s ass.
Narrator: This man is not in politics. He’s not a financier or a businessman. Yet, today, he’s one of the most influential men in the United States.
Interviewer: Would you describe yourself as a revolutionary?
Ralph Nader: No, actually, I describe the corporations as the revolutionaries. They’re basically, the institutions who are trying to upset our basic value systems, and I mean that very, very seriously. If you say our basic value systems are in compliance with the law, our arm’s length relationship with the government, our competitive quality, competition, our concern for the neighbors, the avoidance of violent impacts on people — and who are, in effect, perpetuating all these injustices? Corporations produce most of the violence in terms of pollution and hazardous products. They corrupt governments. They, in effect, make a mockery out of competition and quality in the marketplace as they concentrate the economy in the hands of larger and larger corporations. They violate laws, right down the line, hundreds and thousands of them on a company by company basis. They’re, in effect, revolutionizing the basic, ideal pattern of the society.
JS: Joining me now is a man who is perhaps the best-known public advocate in modern U.S. history. He’s run for president several times. Talking about Ralph Nader.
He rose to prominence in the 1960s after blowing the lid off of extreme safety issues with General Motors and other car manufacturers. His book, “Unsafe at Any Speed” became an instant classic, and it was one of the most influential books in sparking a broader consumer rights movement in the United States.
Nader has waged countless campaigns aimed at food safety, worker and environmental protections, pollution, cronyism in government, financial crimes and more. Ralph Nader simply calls himself Public Citizen. He continues to be blamed by many Democrats and liberals for George W. Bush winning the 2000 election – which, by the way, is a total fraud, based not only on lies but also on anti-democratic principles. But, that’s for a different time.
Nader, at age 84, perseveres. He continues to wage the very same battles that he has from the start of his public life. His latest book, “Breaking Through Power” chronicles his various battles against the U.S. government, big corporations, and concentrated political power.
Ralph Nader, welcome to Intercepted.
RN: Thank you, Jeremy.
JS: First question is just: Have you ever seen anything like the CIA social media campaign that’s being waged right now in an effort to get Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA director.
RN: Well who has ever found a boundary for the CIA? I mean they’re not supposed to deal with overt armed action abroad, according to their original charter, they’re just supposed to collect intelligence, and we know where that’s gone — that’s out of the window.
The CIA does what it wants, under the cloak of secrecy and national security, does whatever it wants, and who’s going to stop it? They really want her in because they think that Trump is perfectly capable of nominating an outsider who would give them a lot of trouble. And they’ve been jolted more than usual, publicly, as an agency, and they want stability. It doesn’t matter what she did in Asia in terms of the Thailand episode and torture. I mean, that’s what they do. That’s what the CIA does all over the world.
JS: You know it’s interesting, as I watch Trump supporters who are railing against the deep state and saying that, you know, you have all of these powerful people within the CIA/NSA/FBI bureaucracy that are plotting against Trump, the thing that comes to my mind is that if I were a really dark character within the CIA, right now, I’d be very content with Trump being the commander-in-chief because he doesn’t seem to understand the full range of powers that the CIA has. And it seems to me like they’re able to do basically whatever they want right now without much questioning from the White House.
RN: Well that’s been true of prior presidents. They want deniability. They don’t really want to know what the NSA and CIA do. They don’t want to know that the NSA was dragnet snooping on virtually all Americans, a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, as well as the FISA Act. President Trump is no different in that way. What they are really upset about is: When was the last time we ever heard a president attack “the deep state.” He’s not attacking some rogue outfit in Afghanistan that’s an offshoot and maybe under contract. He’s attacking the military industrial complex’s core secrecy operations and that is freaking out people at the CIA, especially career people who have never been fingered that way from the White House. That’s why they want the stability of this present nominee.
JS: What about Mike Pompeo now going over from CIA to State Department?
RN: Well he’s the last a person to be appointed head of the nation’s diplomats. I mean Pompeo is a warmonger, his statements when he was a congressman were just off the charts — only to be exceeded by the crazed John Bolton. Now he’s pulling back, and, you know, he’s moderating and he has to deal with the foreign service. He doesn’t want to disrupt any further a shattered, fractured State Department.
But he is a part of this clique that’s growing around Trump to use armed force regardless of international law or the Constitution or federal statutes. It’s remarkable that he and Bolton don’t believe in the rule of law at all — it’s just, “Bomb ’em.” And we’re going to get to Bolton, I hope, but they are kin: Pompeo’s a graduate of Harvard Law School and John Bolton’s a graduate of Yale Law School, and they’re the shame of both law schools. It isn’t that they just pursue policies abroad that reasonable people can disagree with. They are constantly pursuing illegal criminal acts of aggression.
JS: If you look at John Bolton’s first hours as national security adviser, it was all about pummeling Syria and launching this attack. What are the top concerns you have about John Bolton being in this non-Senate-confirmed very powerful position of national security adviser?
RN: Well, first of all, he has a record, a demonstrated record of alienating Muslims and Arabs. He is a prime advocate of anti-Semitism against the Arab people. He is associated with Pamela Geller, the notorious Islamaphobe, he has had a record of aggressively supporting the criminal invasion of Iraq under Bush and Cheney and says to this day that it was not an error, it was not a mistake. He still pushes for it. He’s written an Op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, as many people know, urging the bombing of North Korea. He wants to overthrow the government of Iran. He supports the annexation of the Palestinian West Bank to Israel. He’s crazed.
I call him a lethal juvenile because he never asks himself what’s going to happen after you bomb North Korea, or after you try to overthrow Iran, or after you annex the West Bank. Having said that, Bolton doesn’t have many friends. He’s a bully toward his subordinates, he’s what’s called observer once called a “kiss-ass” to his superiors and that’s one reason why Trump likes him. He doesn’t have many friends in the Senate. Republicans wouldn’t even confirm him as ambassador to the UN. It had to be a recess appointment by president Bush in 2005. So that’s consoling, that he’s alienated so many people. But all he has to do is persuade one person: Donald Trump.
You might ask: How does he keep bouncing up if everybody doesn’t like him? And there are two reasons: One he’s useful to the military industrial complex’s extreme elements — he wants more and more weapons, more, and more contracts, and the other is the swarming Israeli lobby which thinks he’s heroic beyond their dreams, and then you put in the mix the neocons who keep popping up in powerful areas and who were heavily responsible for pushing Bush into Iraq, and that explains why this madman — and that’s an understatement, he really is a madman — he is Dr. Strangelove on steroids. It’s very hard to exaggerate the criticism of one, John Bolton.
Now, he may self-destruct, he may say the wrong thing, he may get Trump pretty embarrassed, and we’re all hoping that that will happen because Trump will give John Bolton the bolt.
JS: Let me ask you about this recent airstrike festival that Trump and Bolton and the UK and France just participated in where they launched more than 100 cruise missiles and other munitions at a handful of facilities in Syria, supposedly as a response to the Syrian government using chemical munitions in Douma. Why did that happen? Because it clearly didn’t have any impact on any chemical weapons facilities or storage facilities, but maybe start from the beginning: What do you believe of the allegation that was very publicly made by Nikki Haley, and now Donald Trump, that Assad definitely was the party that was in charge of using these chemical weapons?
RN: Well I think the two strikes by Trump in Syria were basically macho strikes — he has to show that he’s tough and strong and commander-in-chief because it didn’t have any strategic effect.
The other part of your question is very puzzling in terms of trying to find a response because there are claims on all sides that there has been use of chlorine and sarin gas by various parties, from the Assad regime to forces opposed to him. You can see the rationale — Assad is running short of ammunition and planes, and lethal gas is a way to smoke people out, to use one of George. W. Bush’s phrases, in urban areas, and to create terror. And the other side, the rebels, they want to make sure that Assad is associated with chemical weapons because that will bring the Americans in.
Well, the fact is that we’ve lost the war in Syria, the Russians and the Iranians have far more people on the ground. They have far more strategic interests and we’re not willing to admit it.
The rest is mopping up ISIS with a couple thousand U.S. soldiers in Syria. ISIS is now being scattered where it can become even more dangerous in other countries. So this is a multifaceted civil war. The best that can be done here is to try to have an international peace conference, with all the parties that can pull the strings in Syria on Assad, and on the rebels, and on other factions.
JS: Now if you look at the history of United Nations investigations in Syria on the issue of use of chemical weapons, as you point out, there are findings of responsibility for the Syrian armed forces under the control of Bashar al-Assad and there also are clear findings of responsibility for the Islamic State and other actors.
What I find really, unfortunately not surprising, but really significant to bring up, is that so many people just because the United States government says so, say: Well, this incident must be Assad’s forces using the chemical weapons, when these strikes that Trump recently ordered took place literally on the day that the OPCW inspectors arrived in Syria to go and do their investigation.
And I think we’re in a dangerous situation where, if people are going to take the word of Nikki Haley or Donald Trump on an issue that the United States has a long track-record of lying about, including the Iraq War but also other examples, then we sort of are like lead like sheep to our involvement in war crimes or in bombings that play no strategic purpose even for the stated missions of the United States in Syria. It’s incredible to see Democrats and liberals sort of lapping up what Nikki Haley and the president are saying as though it doesn’t bear any scrutiny. You know? I wouldn’t doubt if Assad was responsible, but should we confirm that?
RN: Yeah, it is strange that you know in a day of massive advance surveillance and techniques, remote an otherwise, that that has not been determined.
I think it’s because it’s in everybody’s interest to accuse everybody else that they are using chemical weapons. We should remind listeners that a large amount of Assad’s chemical weapons were given up and transferred to U.S. custody where they were burned on a U.S. warship in the Mediterranean but obviously he, like most dictators, always want to maintain something in reserve because it tends to be a deterrent. That’s all one can say. I think that we’ve got to focus on the problems that cause the problems over there, here, and when you have the New York Times have a major editorial titled, “Yes, John Bolton Really Is That Dangerous” and American Conservative magazine says that John Bolton is dangerous and that he’s a prevaricator, a violator of law.
So this is the root, here, that is under the control of the people.
JS: On a different subject, Ralph, as you’re aware, last Friday the Democratic National Committee filed this lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan against the Russian government, the Trump campaign, individuals that the DNC alleges participated in the interfering in the U.S. electoral process in 2016, and they also named WikiLeaks as a party in the lawsuit, even though the suit itself doesn’t allege that WikiLeaks participated in hacking or knew in advance about it at all, it just says WikiLeaks was publishing the hacked e-mails.
That part of it, to those of us in the media that follow these issues, is chilling because what they’re essentially saying is that news organizations or publishers that publish hacked or stolen material which every publication in this country has done repeatedly, that that’s a criminal or an activity that should be sanctioned or punished.
What is your analysis of this DNC lawsuit naming the Russian government, WikiLeaks, Trump campaign, etc.?
RN: Well, first of all, I think it’s an insurance policy in case the Mueller investigation fizzles, doesn’t come up with conspiracies, doesn’t come up with indictments at the top. That’s one.
The second is the Democratic National Committee wants to raise money and it’s a great fundraiser.
The third is that when you file a civil lawsuit like that, you’re much freer to try to get information under subpoena and depositions and get information maybe that the Mueller investigation chooses not to get or not to disclose, or the Justice Department.
And four, there’s been criticism that the Democratic National Committee is moribund, it’s hunkering down and it wants to show that it’s in the center of the action.
So what’s not to like? From the head of the Democratic National Committee, [Tom] Perez, who will not meet with citizen groups who want to suggest a winning agenda for the Democrats in 2016.
JS: What’s your broader sense of the Mueller investigation, and it seems to me like the goalposts ever widen, and also this shift has occurred from really focusing on is Trump like a sleeper agent or a collaborator-conspirator with Putin, over to, well, we may uncover all this other criminal activity in this investigation. I mean, it doesn’t seem like they, certainly what’s available now in the public, have been able to directly link Trump to any sort of criminal conspiracy with Russians or Putin or Russian entities.
RN: Well, the Mueller investigation is going to lead to a lot of indictments, and they’re going to hand off some of these to the U.S. attorneys because they’re not set up in the Justice Department to pursue them, and, as you know, they’ve already started with the U.S. attorney in New York. They’re finding a lot of things. So far, a lot of economic shenanigans, that’s what they’re finding, and they’re not really interested in pursuing that directly unless it reaches Donald Trump, which it may.
I mean, you’re talking about an incredibly complex matrix of economic webs and tie-ins with the Russians. You know, he was in bankruptcy, again — and again, he couldn’t get U.S. banks to loan to his casinos, and this was at the time that the Russian oligarchs were pouring money out of Russia, looking for a place to invest. So, there are a lot of trails here that can be examined.
So, number one, I think we’re going to get a lot of prosecutions of people who deserve it. As far as whether they ever get anything on Trump — you know, who knows, it’s all speculation.
I think Trump now is more worried about Michael Cohen’s imbroglio with the Justice Department and the seizure of his records by the Mueller team, and by the women who he bought favors from filing civil lawsuits. I think a lot of people don’t understand the enormous information you can get through civil action lawsuits under the law of torts. And someone who does understand that is one Donald J. Trump.
JS: Well, and James Comey on his big media tour right now, has said repeatedly that he found Trump to be a man with above average intelligence. What do you make of the whole Comey episode and the way that Comey has sort of proceeded here?
I mean, first of all, you have this lionization of Comey that is happening on a lot of liberal networks and in liberal circles, and he has a track record filled with anti-civil rights, anti-civil liberties actions and his time working in the Bush Justice Department and on and on. But in this specific case, presumably, the guy is going to be an important witness in any prosecution or investigation of Trump. And yet, he’s running around just sort of talking about all of this out in open. What’s your sense of the Comey moment?
RN: Well, if I can guess, one he wants to justify his place in history. He’s caught between what he did to the Clinton campaign and what he’s doing to the Trump campaign, and he wants his explanation out there repeatedly on the mass media.
And, two, there is obviously an economic incentive, he’s not a super-rich man; a bestseller helps the security of his family economically.
And, three, he wants to protect the FBI. I think he’s infuriated the way Donald Trump pejoratively puts down the FBI — when was the last president who’s done that? And that has shaken the FBI to its core, especially with recent resignations by McCabe and others.
JS: As a very young reporter, Ralph, when you were running for president in 2000, I was at a press conference after you launched your campaign, I believe it was in Denver, Colorado, and I asked you at that time, “Would you abolish the FBI?” And I’m wondering your thoughts on that now, whether we should even have an FBI as it currently exists.
RN: J. Edgar Hoover put the FBI on a very bad track because he used his secret files to extort and expand his influence against high members of Congress who might have offended him or presidents and vice presidents, and they were terrified of him. And you never want the secret domestic police to terrify the leading elected figures in our federal government. That has lingered at the FBI. They have an undeserved reputation of excellence, when, again and again, they have fumbled investigations.
However, they do have a level of pride. They haven’t had many conventional examples of being bribed into doing something. And the FBI agents, many of them are lawyers, members of the bar, officers of the court, that adds to their pride and they just can’t believe how they’re being beat up by the president of the United States, and Comey is viewed as their defender, the person who is in the mass media where they cannot be, taking on this man who is damaging and besmirching the reputation of the FBI.
JS: You know, I have to say, Ralph, that when I listen to you talking about Donald Trump and the way that the national security establishment views him and the FBI right now, and sort of he’s shaking them to their core, I can’t help but sort of daydream what would it be like if we had an actual principled leftist who was in this position rather than Trump, the disrupter, but if we had an actual principled individual as commander-in-chief, as president of the United States, sort of what that would even look like if you had sort of the moral equivalent of Trump.
On the flipside, somebody that was going after them for the right reasons, the reasons that, you know, you’ve spent your life fighting about.
RN: What it’d look like is waging peace. For heaven’s sake, there are enough examples in the last 100 years where waging peace instead of the first option, war, have paid off. That’s got to be the function of the State Department, which under both Democrats Republicans have been more belligerent in the statements of Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.
Look at secretary Hillary Clinton that toppled the regime in Libya, against the wishes of Secretary of Defense Gates, and the chaos and violence spreading all over that area of Africa is a tribute to her folly and to her arrogance, and going to the White House and telling Obama to only take a few planes and we’ve got an alternative government ready to replace that of Qaddafi. So, waging peace has a lot of benefits, certainly win every public opinion poll in every country in the world, and that’s not something to be minimized.
Second, I would require the Pentagon budget to be audited. The Pentagon budget is violating federal law since 1992 when Congress passed a law saying that no department or agency can observe the law without providing honorable data to the Government Accountability Office of the U.S. Congress. And every year, the GAO reports on the Pentagon, saying: Sorry, we don’t have honorable data to audit the sprawling massive budget of $700 billion or so now, and that’s not a technical accounting matter, because that is what puts the trail on billions of dollars being lost in Iraq or Afghanistan, billions of dollars of inventory available, but not locatable, by the Air Force and Air Force warehouses around the world, so they buy them all over again. And it exposes this hallowed defense budget which is being supported automatically by both Democrats and Republicans in the Congress and shows how it’s draining our country as part of a runaway empire. All empires devour themselves, and the Pentagon budget is devouring billions and billions of dollars that could renovate schools and rebuild highways, drinking water systems, sewage systems, public buildings, bridges, public transit, you name it. That’s what a president should be doing — every mayor, every labor union, every chamber of commerce would be behind that kind of public works or infrastructure agenda. And then, third is you’ve got to empower people in Congress. Congress is the pivotal most important branch of government under the Constitution. It declares war or supposed to, it’s got the appropriations, the tax function, the exposure function, the confirmation of nominee function. And as Warren Buffet once said, there are only 535 of them on Capitol Hill, and we’re 3 hundred million, why can we control them? And I’m amazed how many investigative reporters and good editorialists, they do the right denunciation — it’s imperial, it’s applicable to today’s concerns — but they don’t go back to the districts and say, it never takes more than 1 percent of the people that has a Congress watchdog hobby, several hundred hours a year, with a few full-time people in congressional districts representing a majority opinion, to turn around our foreign and military policy with both conservative and liberal support.
JS: Hmm. Last question, Ralph. Part of the line from a lot of Democrats is that people like Jill Stein and people who were aggressively reporting on Hillary Clinton and on the Podesta e-mails and the DNC hacks, and that this is a charge daily thrown at you, at me, at Glenn Greenwald and others. What is your response when people say, “Well, look what you gave us with Donald Trump. And Hillary Clinton would have never put us in the peril and danger that we find ourselves in with Donald Trump. Just look: John Bolton is now the national security adviser.”
RN: And the Democratic Party could not landslide the worst Republican Party in history since 1854? The most ignorant, the most corporate indentured, the most warlike, the most corporate welfare supportive, the most bailout-prone Republican Party, anti-worker, anti-consumer, anti-environment? Why don’t they look in the mirror? The Democratic Party is the main scapegoater in American politics. It’s never their fault. It’s never Hillary’s fault. It’s always a Green Party fault. It’s always an independent candidate fault. They’ve lost two presidential elections since 2000, even though they won the popular vote because the Electoral College took it away from them. There’s a major national citizen effort to have an interstate compact to neutralize the Electoral College.
The Democratic Party is not supporting of that. The Democratic Party doesn’t want to get rid of the Electoral College. They’ve lost twice to the Republicans. And that meant George W. Bush, and that meant Donald J. Trump.
So, this scapegoating is nothing more than a sickness of the Democratic Party that cannot unleash new energy. It keeps putting losers in place like Nancy Pelosi. It keeps putting the Democratic National Committee apparatus against any kind of insurgent effort like Bernie Sanders. It’s a sick decrepit party that cannot defend the United States of America against the worst Republican Party in history.
JS: Does anybody ever have to ask you what you really think, Ralph?
RN: Well, what I really think is that we ought to make an accusation, Jeremy, that the Democratic or Republican parties do not really believe in democracy. If they did, they wouldn’t attack the press when the press is uttering inconvenient truths, they wouldn’t attack competitive candidates. Democracy cannot be a democracy if wealth is concentrated in a few hands, and democracy cannot be a democracy if it is not a competitive democracy in a multi-candidate election situation, and the two parties have an autocratic duopoly opposed to those democratic principles.
JS: On that very powerful note, I want to thank you, Ralph Nader, very much, for speaking with me.
RN: Thank you, Jeremy Scahill, very much.
JS: Ralph Nader is a pioneer of the modern consumer rights movement he’s the former Independent and Green Party presidential candidate and author of many books. His latest is “Breaking Through Power.”
Coming up on the show we’re going to be talking to whistleblower Chelsea Manning after seven years in the U.S. military prison. She’s running for Senate in the state of Maryland. And we’re going to talk to artist Ricardo Cortés. You may know him as the illustrator of the wildly successful book “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” but did you know he also has created some amazing illustrated books that deal with Islamophobia, the history of Coca-Cola and jury nullification?
But first, a quick check-in with my friend Mehdi Hasan. He’s the host of the new podcast from The Intercept. It’s called Deconstructed. Mehdi, what do you have coming up this Friday on Deconstructed?
Mehdi Hasan: Thanks, Jeremy. We are covering Gaza and the tragic ongoing violence in Gaza, but from an interesting, I would argue, slightly different perspective. Jeremy, you know that the Israelis often say, “Well, you know, all of these accusations, it’s all fake news, it’s all anti-Semitism, it’s all made up by Palestinians who hate us.” When in actual fact, Jeremy, some of the best documentation of Israeli Human Rights abuses in Gaza, in the West Bank, come from Israeli human rights groups.
And I’m pretty pleased that this week I’m speaking to two of my heroes from Israel, Hagai El-Ad, and Avner Gvaryahu, who run, respectively, B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, two of Israel’s most amazing human rights groups.
JS: Well, we’re really looking forward to that Mehdi, and, again, for our listeners, the podcast is Deconstructed, it is in your podcast feed if you hit the subscribe button. It comes out every Friday.
Thanks a lot, my friend.
MH: Thank you.
JS: Mehdi Hasan’s show Deconstructed comes out every Friday. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
JS: Back in 2010, an Army intelligence analyst based outside of Baghdad leaked a huge trove of data nearly 750,000 classified diplomatic cables, battlefield videos and secret military reports from Iraq and Afghanistan to the organization WikiLeaks.
That analyst, Chelsea Manning, was arrested in Iraq and transferred to a U.S. military base in Kuwait and held in what Manning described as an animal cage. Eventually, Manning was transferred back to the United States and was subjected to treatment that can accurately be described as torture. Manning was prosecuted on a number of charges, including espionage and aiding the enemy.
That last charge, Manning beat at trial, but she was ultimately convicted in 2013 of numerous charges including espionage. Manning was given an incredible 35-year prison sentence. She endured all of this while going through a gender transition, for which she was mercilessly mocked in the media. Manning twice tried to commit suicide in prison.
At the end of Obama’s presidential term, he commuted Chelsea Manning sentence, which was the longest ever imposed in the U.S. for a leak of classified materials.
President Barack Obama: It has been my view that given she went to trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime, that the sentence that she received was disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received, and that she had served a significant amount of time that it made sense to commute and not pardon her sentence.
JS: After Manning was released from prison on May 17, 2017, she burst onto the public scene. She posted the first pictures of herself as a trans woman and her Twitter feed was always plastered with various emojis as she shared her new life and thoughts and views on — well, pretty much everything.
In her highly public life, Chelsea Manning — who, by the way, is only 30 years old —has been through a tremendous amount, from a chaotic upbringing and living homeless in Chicago for a few months, to then joining the army and deploying to Iraq, to serving an extremely harsh sentence in a military prison — which, by the way, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture concluded was cruel, inhuman and degrading.
All of this, while she was being attacked viciously in the media as a traitor and some sort of confused freak. Manning did not set out to leak to WikiLeaks. In fact, she says she tried to contact both The Washington Post and The New York Times to possibly provide them with documents or become a source. For a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen and Manning ended up connecting with WikiLeaks.
The extent of the information that Chelsea Manning leaked was vast. She had downloaded war logs, embassy cables, videos and what became known as The Guantanamo Files — she did a lot of this, by the way, from a Barnes & Noble store in Maryland while on short leave.
In April of 2010, WikiLeaks released the collateral murder video, that showed a U.S. helicopter gunship spraying bullets at Iraqi civilians and killing two Reuters journalists. Shortly after that video was broadcast across the world, propelling Julian Assange to fame, Manning was arrested at the Forward Operating Base outside of Baghdad.
Chelsea Manning doesn’t talk much about her whistleblowing these days. She’s focused on her insurgent run for the Senate in Maryland, where she’s challenging Ben Cardin for the Democratic nomination. He is the incumbent senator.
Manning has had her share of controversy since being freed from military prison, including a strange evening with a host of so-called alt-right figures.
I covered the story of Chelsea Manning from the beginning before we even knew her name or her identity, and I’ve always felt that her treatment was a heinous episode. And I could never shake the deep feeling of outrage and disgust at how she was treated versus Gina Haspel, CIA torturers, of how she was prosecuted while Donald Rumsfeld and others from the CIA and the military went on book tour, bragging about their exploits during the so-called War on Terror.
What Chelsea Manning did was a vital public service, not just to this country, but to the world. And as I look at her now, I have to keep reminding myself that she’s just 30 years old and that almost her entire adult life has been spent being homeless, or being in the military, or being in Iraq, or being in prison for seven years in harsh conditions. I don’t know what that would do to me or to you or to any of us, but I do know that it’s taken incredible strength on her part.
Chelsea Manning joins me now. Chelsea, welcome Intercepted.
Chelsea Manning: Thanks, it’s great to be here.
JS: Explain to people what this Senate run is about you know Ben Cardin is sort of like a staple of the Senate, has been around in politics for a long time, generally popular I guess with the so-called base of the Democratic Party. What is your insurgent campaign against Ben Cardin about?
CM: The main focus of this campaign is to bring attention to the real issues that are affecting people. The Democratic establishment hasn’t had a meaningful platform in a very long — ever, really. And so I’m bringing to the table like new ideas, completely restructuring things, like eliminating the prison system, dismantling the police state that we’ve built, you know, we have more and more federal agencies, abolishing ICE and this deportation taskforce that’s carrying out an ethnic cleansing essentially.
And, you know, the positions of the of the Democratic establishment which Ben Cardin is a perfect example of, they just end up supporting the swirling death machine of police, military intelligence that just keeps expanding and growing and they always act surprised and shocked whenever somebody comes in and says: I’m going to do terrible things with it.
JS: The Democrats of late have really made a big deal about running veterans, that’s a big plus, and they say, you know, so-and-so served in Iraq and he’s going to take on the Republicans and is going to implement smart security and the Democrats like to showcase their elected officials who were veterans.
You, of course, had a very different experience than a lot of those candidates. What do you bring to the table from your time in the military and subsequent time in military prison?
CM: The experience that I had in Iraq, it’s a bullet point on my resume it’s not a downside, and the carceral system that is so toxic and that is so omnipresent in our society, I’ve experienced both sides of that. I’ve been both the executor of the policy, and I’ve been at the receiving end of these policies. So, you know, I really, I’ve really seen both sides of this, which I think gives me an insight.
You know many of these politicians that tout their veteran status, they don’t really talk about these more nuanced issues or these more complicated terrible things that end up happening. And the fact that I’m willing to say: You know what? I’m actually willing to push back against the military and I’m willing to push back against the intelligence community in a meaningful way. And being in the Senate would give me the ability to do that.
The Senate reauthorizes so many bills all the time that never get debated on. The reauthorization bills for all of these, you know, detention center programs, all of these intelligence programs, these almost never get debated in either the media, on the Senate floor — many of them never even get debated even in the committee level. So I would make sure that I would slow down the process for many of these policies.
JS: The recent airstrikes in Syria, I mean, first of all, it’s important to point out that the U.S. has been militarily engaged in Syria for years now —
JS: — including bombing. But in this particular case Trump took the decision to strike at what he said was the Assad regime, and so they hit 100-plus cruise missiles raining down on a handful of facilities. A year earlier, very similar tactic with 59 cruise missiles.
CM: Well what’s troubling is if you read the tweets, he names Russia, you know, so there’s an added element here that it’s not just about Syria. This is, this is quickly turning into a very open, more, you know, openly discussed and more openly carried out proxy war between the United States and Russia. And that should give people pause, I mean we’re still both nuclear powers and you know, Syria is a muddled mess. You’ve got so many interests already involved in Syria and getting more involved in a proxy war is I think not in the interests of anyone, you know, let alone, you know nobody ever talks about what the Syrians are experiencing or dealing with. And this is not a humanitarian issue. If it was a humanitarian issue, we would be letting refugees in — you know, more than 11, as we have done in the last four months.
Instead, you know, we’re sending missiles and preparing more conflict in a region that where you have Turkey involved, you have —
JS: Saudi Arabia.
CM: — the Syrian regime involved, you have Lebanon involved, you have Iran involved, you’ve got Iraq involved like you have so many countries and now you have France and Great Britain who have a complicated history with the Levant, especially France.
JS: Among the Democrats, in Congress, you did have some Democrats who were just totally supportive of the idea of strikes even though they, in a partisan sense, are against Trump.
But you had others who sort of said, “Well, we would be fine with this but the president needs to come to Congress.” What would your position have been if you were in the Senate right now? What would the basis of your objection to those strikes have been?
CM: We’ve been involved in the Middle East, the United States, for, you know, a half a century now. And it has not ended well for us. We need to not be involving ourselves and intervening ourselves because all we do is bring chaos and more destruction. And we’re not trusted by anyone in the Middle East. Nobody wants us there. Not a single country wants us there. You know, the regimes might, you know, obviously in the case of Saudi Arabia, when it comes to Yemen, but the people don’t want us there. And we should acknowledge that fact.
And on the issue of congressional authorization. I mean, sure, we might go to Congress but does that make a strike right? The answer is no.
JS: When did you first start coming up with the idea and ultimately plan to run for the Senate? When did it first pop into your head?
CM: It popped into my head last summer — I’ve read a lot of things about political prisoners throughout history getting involved in politics, but I honestly wanted to settle down.
But whenever I started going out, I started exploring and living in the world again, I realize that this is not the same place that I remember. We’ve been building a massive prison in our society. I’ve lived in prison, so I kind of see the surveillance, I see the police presence, I see the militarism. And I’ve also lived an occupied country, I was an occupier an occupied country, so I see that the police force in many communities, especially the most vulnerable communities, people of color, immigrants, we’re living in a domestic occupation, essentially a domestic military occupation, these are paramilitary police forces.
You know whether it’s ICE, or whether it’s the, you know, strategic response group of The New York City Police Department, or in Baltimore, you know, we have the, a very corrupt police force. We should just do away with it. There have been multiple calls in Maryland for the Baltimore Police Department to be dissolved, which I fully support.
JS: When you were in prison, how did you get access to, what was your main way of getting access to news?
CM: I had phone calls with other friends who were very dedicated volunteers and they acted as my conduit with the outside world. They helped me do research, they helped me write articles, they helped me edit, you know, articles.
JS: Did you have access to newspapers or any internet?
CM: I did. I had about forty subscriptions going at one time. People donated their subscriptions to me.
JS: Obviously you didn’t have access to social media except in the times when you’re able to like dictate something or a supporter could help you.
Stepping back from the whole thing and just asking a very simple question, what was it like to exist in a world without regular internet access and without the ability to have your voice through social media which you use now quite effectively?
CM: It’s awful because so much communication now happens in the world electronically. So prisoners get cut off largely. I had to find workarounds, but most prisoners aren’t able to find workarounds. Most information never makes it to us. You know, we might have televisions, but, again, those are often censored and controlled not by us.
JS: Well, and you seem to also have a particularly hostile authority that you are facing down against, which, you know, the overwhelming majority of black people in prisons today are facing very hostile authorities just based on who they are.
CM: Yeah. Absolutely.
JS: And, in a way, not just because of your politics but also because of the grotesque manner in which these institutions responded to you coming forward and saying, “This is my identity.”
Amy Goodman: Manning’s lawyers say she could be sent back to indefinite solitary confinement after being accused of a number of infractions, including having an expired tube of toothpaste, an issue of Vanity Fair in which transgender celebrity Caitlin Jenner described her new life living openly as a woman, a copy of the U.S. Senate report on torture, several LGBT books and magazines, and other so-called prohibited property in her cell.
JS: You had a kind of a multifaceted attack on you that you had to endure.
CM: Yeah, but, you know, I also was able to get out of it and I also had the ability to advocate for myself. That’s not an ability that everybody has. I want to fix that. I haven’t forgotten where I came from. I spent more time as an adult in prison then I have anywhere else, so that is an experience that I’m never going to forget, and I can’t forget the people that I was in prison with. And I can’t forget the millions of people who are in it right now, or in detention centers. You know, whether it’s — this is not just a campaign issue, this is a passion, this is a subject of mine that I really care about deeply, and when I say that we need to dismantle the prison system, I mean that from the heart. That’s the only way that we can really start to mend the tears in our society.
JS: How did you first hear about Edward Snowden?
CM: Funny enough it was — I mean, I was in trial — so I think it was my lawyer who mentioned it.
JS: That it happened? That it was going on?
CM: Yeah, we were really caught. I mean, we weren’t really paying attention because I was in the midst of my court-martial at the time.
JS: You know, because I don’t know how closely you follow this, but there was this real kind of split and there were people that were sort of attacking either you or attacking Snowden for different reasons, but the one thing that I saw as kind of the dominant in that is people saying, “Well, Chelsea took responsibility for her actions and faced up to it and spoke in the court and Snowden ran away and is hiding in Moscow.”
CM: Well I also experienced, I went to prison for seven years. I also went — you know — I spent a year in solitary confinement. And for 60 days, I was essentially disappeared. I had no idea what was going on the outside world. You know, for 60 days I had no idea if even people knew that I had been arrested. You know, I was completely cut off in living in a cage in Kuwait with nobody telling me anything, or no access to my lawyers. So you should take that into account.
And it never happened — what had happened to me had never happened before. I had no ability to know what would happen, you know?
And did I fully understand the consequences of what I was, of what I was doing? I mean, no I didn’t, you know, not to this extent. This was — what happened to me was unprecedented. So I don’t think it’s fair to criticize someone who sees what happened to me and says, I don’t want to go through that.
JS: Yeah, and in fact, I think that point is one that Snowden has made, you know, in public when, when that sort of attempt is made to kind of say, “Well, let’s divide these: One is good, the other isn’t.”
CM: I was very much forced into the position of going through the system by being in confinement.
JS: Right, and it’s not like you showed up and said, “Hey, I’m handing myself in.” I mean you were put under surveillance and then eventually they snatched you, and, as you say, you were disappeared. I mean just reading the description of some of your treatment in prison, I honestly don’t believe that the people who attack you on such a grotesque, personal level are aware of what actually happened there to you, and how that informs who you are.
Because but my sense of you, and correct me if I’m wrong, was that you were not someone looking for the microphone before all of this.
JS: I mean maybe not in this sense, maybe other senses you wanted a microphone, but I didn’t get the sense from what I’ve read.
CM: You know, I never sought to be a public figure. When I did this, you know, I kind of thought, “I’m going to lose my job over this, I’m going to get discharged, I’m going to lose my security clearance.” For a 22-year-old who has an enormous number of options in life, that’s the end of my life, essentially. That’s everything — you know security clearance, job security, and I had just been homeless a few years earlier, so losing my job and losing that sense of security, I was literally throwing everything away. Nobody ever really had gone to prison for this, but I did think, I certainly expected to get to lose my job.
And I was really worried that I was going to be ignored, and when I went to The Washington Post and the New York Times, I was ignored largely. So, I expected that to continue in many respects.
JS: I think people don’t, I mean I know you know that story inside and out, I don’t think people understand that there were actions and tactics that you tried early on in this. Maybe just explain what you’re talking about going to The Washington Post and the New York Times.
CM: Right. I talk about this in my book, because I’m still writing a book, so there is a lot more detail in that. But the understanding of the time among journalists about the threat in terms of the electronic surveillance was not well understood in the journalist community. So me reaching out to the New York Times or The Washington Post, it was hard for me to explain, “I can’t just e-mail this to you, I can’t just show up and walk in.”
And I probably seem like a crank caller, you know because I’m calling from a public phone in an office, at a Starbucks somewhere. But I get into a lot more detail in the book about the trials and tribulations with this because it was extremely difficult.
JS: There’s an enormous community of people across the world that I think remain incredibly grateful for what you’ve done and are cheering you on in whatever you want to do. I put myself in that camp. And, for a lot of us, who have been covering Iraq and Afghanistan and all of these wars, the publication of so many of those facts and details was an affirmation that the people doing that work are right, that this is a systematic series of injustices that need to be exposed.
So I mean, I do think that is your legacy from that era, and if people want to attack you it’s because they’re, they’re angry that you outed it, not that it existed and I think that that’s an important distinction to make.
CM: Yeah, but I mean, even just outing it doesn’t solve the problem. So, my goal now is to actually start to tear it down, to start to dismantle it, these systems, you know, whether it’s our domestic carceral system, or our you know global presence. This is now the time to say, “No, we’ve had enough. We need to stop this.”
JS: As you lay out your platform and you talk about the carceral state, and you say, you know, “abolish it,” talk about what you’re doing to try to build community with these groups that have also been working on this for a long time.
CM: Dealing with activists is what I do. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work, it’s a lot of conversations, a lot of tough conversations. Activists, you know, they’ve been burned before. And I’m an activist, I know what that feels like, so me coming to them as a candidate is a tough thing to do, and it’s something, it’s work that I’m willing to do.
You know, I work with the J20 activists a lot, you know the J20 activists being the people who protested the Trump inauguration in 2017. They arrested 200 people and 59 people are still facing felony charges. I have nothing but solidarity with that because I face life in prison for, you know, doing something that I believed in.
JS: Well, and you had powerful people on television saying that you should be executed. I mean it’s —
CM: Yeah and there are powerful people that, on television, who are now ignoring this. Nobody’s talking about the J20 defendants. Nobody’s talking about these trials.
Working with the activist community is tough, I get asked some of the toughest questions by activists. You know — even tougher than journalists, I hate to say, I get grilled by activists and it’s, these have been some tough conversations, but it’s also been a learning experience for me. Even if I can’t convince somebody, I come away from most of these conversations understanding the problems better. And I’m willing to put myself out there and do that.
JS: I also wanted to ask you about this in January, you went to an event hosted by, I don’t even know what we call him, alt-right figure Mike Cernovich, and you got a lot of shit for doing that, and, I have to admit, I also was sort of taken aback by it. But was that all about? Why were you hanging out with Mike Cernovich?
CM: Well, I mean I worked with a bunch of activists on that, so —
JS: Well, explain, put it in, because there’s been so much —
CM: Well, I’ve explained this repeatedly.
JS: I’m not trying to put you through the wringer on it, I’m saying that I think that there still are a lot of people who don’t understand your strategy there. And I’m —
CM: Well, I screwed up. You know, I thought I had a strategy, and I did — my understanding is prison life. You know? Confronting people face-to-face is something that I am good at. You know, like I’ve been I’ve been in situations where it’s a more enclosed personal environment. I’ve never worked in an environment where there’s a lot of optics and where things might be misconstrued, and I’m also, I’ve never been a public figure before.
So I’ve been given this platform and these tools, and I’m learning how to use them and I’m going to screw up using them and that was a big screw up. And, you know, I had the best, I had the best intentions but — and I, you know, did we learn things about the alt-lite? The answer is yes.
But was it worth the pain? And, you know, especially the sense of betrayal among people that supported me, that’s the one that hurt. And I’m sorry that I confused and hurt people.
JS: Well, I think the way that you approached, explaining that you where you were when you were 22, and then realizing that the bulk of your adult life was spent in a prison, gives context to a lot of other things. I mean I think it’s actually extremely, morally impressive, that you, in real time, own your mistakes. Major political figures never own their mistakes.
CM: Right. You know and I’m going to continue to make mistakes, like it’s just what being a human is. And I’m consistent, you know? Throughout all of this, I’ve been very consistent to my values, what I believe in.
JS: If there are people who are in the military listening to this and are contemplating blowing the whistle, what words of caution or encouragement, whatever, in your own words, like what would you say to people who are in that system now, don’t know what to do, don’t want to go to prison for life, don’t want to participate in it? I mean, I think a lot of people are sort of torn, like: What do I do? Because look what they did to Chelsea Manning. Look at how Edward Snowden is stuck in Moscow. I mean, is there anything you would even venture to tell people who are in that situation?
CM: First thing I want to say is there’s all this talk about channels. There are no safe channels. The channels that many politicians and leaders try to convince you to use are actually weapons. The Insider Threat Program tracks every single person who ever goes and brings attention to an issue. Jesselyn Radack has made her life career out of defending people who go through the proper, you know, the so-called proper channels, from criminal convictions and losing their job and losing their security clearance.
The mere act of bringing attention to an issue in the intelligence community will destroy you, even if you go through the correct channels. You need to consider that. I consider doing this kind of thing a form of direct action, just like any other, you know, [a] form of engaging the positions of authority. And when you can’t ask an institution to fix itself, you can’t go through its own systems to fix itself sometimes, whenever it’s failing, and you have to take matters into your own hands sometimes. I’m not willing to tell people what to do in a particular, in a specific circumstance.
You are the best person to make that decision. You’re in the best position to understand what is going on and what you need to do. And I’m not willing to second-guess that.
JS: As we wrap up, and you’re hitting the campaign trail if you do get a chance to debate Ben Cardin, what do you think would be the major divide between the two of you? Like what do you see as the issues where you would take him to town for his positions and what do you believe would convince voters that you’re a better choice than Ben Cardin?
CM: Ben Cardin is a career politician. He’s been in Maryland politics for 40 years. He started as a state delegate and worked his way up. He’s been doing this in his entire career.
And the most remarkable thing about Ben Cardin is how unremarkable his career has been. He goes the safe route with everything. He’s brought bills to go after BDS, people who want to boycott Israel and because of their occupation of Palestine and the way they treat Palestine. Ben Cardin has actually put legislation on the Senate floor up for consideration that would criminalize protest against Israel.
So, everything he has done has indicated to me that he is not willing, he’s not up to the challenge of challenging authority. Instead, he is there to sustain it and he is there to sustain the systems of oppression and power that have permeated every level of society and that are they are the cause of the problems that we have.
JS: Well, Chelsea Manning, I wish you the best of luck in your Senate run and thank you so much for joining us on Intercepted.
CM: Thank you.
JS: Chelsea Manning is a U.S. Army whistleblower responsible for sharing with the global public a vast amount of secret information about U.S. actions and operations across the world. She served seven years in a military prison and is currently running for Senate in Maryland. You can follow her on Twitter @xychelsea. She says her campaign website is going to be launched soon.
Cardi B: The cats nestle close to their kittens. The lambs have laid down with the sheep. You are cozy and warm in your bed. My dear, please go the fuck to sleep. [Audience laughs.]
JS: That was the hip-hop artist Cardi B reading from the book “Go the Fuck to Sleep” on “The Tonight Show” earlier this month. That book was published in 2011, and it quickly became a massive global bestseller. The audiobook was read by Samuel L. Jackson.
Samuel L. Jackson: The windows are dark in the town child, the whales huddled down in the deep, I’ll read you one very last book if you swear, you’ll go the fuck to sleep.
JS: As entertaining as it is to hear Samuel L. Jackson reading “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” we’re not going. to talk about that book today, despite the fact that my next guest is that book’s illustrator.
Ricardo Cortés may be best-known for “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” but his artistic work runs so much deeper. It’s subversive. After 9/11, Ricardo co-wrote a children’s coloring book called, “I Don’t Want to Blow You Up.” He also produced a children’s book about marijuana. It’s called “It’s Just a Plant” and his illustrated “A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola,” paints a fascinating and detailed tale of the hypocrisies of the so-called war on drugs.
He’s also spent a lot of time teaching art at the brutal jail, Rikers Island, and has drawn portraits for people locked up there. Ricardo also created an illustrated guide on jury nullification. He has a new children’s book that just came out. It’s called “Sea Creatures from the Sky” and imagines how the world outside the ocean looks from the viewpoint of sharks.
Ricardo Cortés joins me now. Ricardo, welcome to Intercepted.
Ricardo Cortés: Thank you very much.
JS: Let’s start with the new book “Sea Creatures from the Sky.” How did you come up with the concept for this book?
RC: “Sea Creatures from the Sky” is a children’s picture book, it’s an illustrated book that I originally got from the idea of people making like a janky website in the middle the country about an alien abduction that, you know, kind of the cliché of someone that sees something and maybe get abducted.
And that whole story, and I just was thinking about how similar that was to the experience of actually sea creatures, say, a shark that sees a human. Basically I mean that’s the simple thing, of just the perception of looking at organisms, earth life, from different ways and imagining how a shark would perceive a human.
But really, I mean, it’s really about shifting perspectives, of course, right? That’s kind of the main idea and that’s something I’ve done in other books as well in different ways.
JS: I know from “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” also, that you incorporate real people, including friends of yours, people in your life into your work. Who were the humans in “Sea Creatures from the Sky”?
RC: That’s cool! Yeah, I work a lot from photo references, especially when I’m drawing people, I work with photographs of friends and whatnot. So the woman in the book is actually an actual vet, a veterinarian, who works with creatures, not necessarily sea creatures.
The other is just a friend of mine, who’s actually a co-author, his name is Bowman Hastie, and we together wrote a children’s coloring book about xenophobia, post-9/11, a book about suspect communities, called, “I Don’t Want to Blow You Up.” And so he made his way as a cameo into this book as well.
JS: I mean, given the way that otherness is portrayed in your book, was there any part of the inspiration for this project that was found in the politics of this country around immigration? You reference in earlier, post-9/11 work that you did, was that at play in any of this?
RC: When I was writing it, I don’t think that was exactly what I was thinking the intention. But yes, I mean in the course of the creation of the book and in thinking about it now, I am constantly going back over similar themes and those themes are about how we are rooted in certain perceptions of, not only people but of things and I want to basically rejigger those perceptions. And sometimes I do it in adult ways, and, you know, some of my work goes a little bit into visual journalism that I do, and some of it is just children’s books.
So, for example, the first book I did was a children’s book about marijuana. It’s called, “Just a Plant.” Learning about marijuana when I was younger in high school was kind of my entree into social justice in the first place. Like seeing how a political issue was, how marijuana was illegal and learning the facts of it and from a scientific basis really being confused why the laws had gone this way or that way.
And I wanted to reintroduce that conversation from a whole new perspective — in doing so, to kids, and say, “Well how would we describe this phenomenon? If you didn’t have the political biases or the moral biases that we’re kind of taught from the get-go, how would we look at this afresh?” And so that could be applied to things like drugs that can be applied to things like political respect. I mean all issues we kind of get entrenched and whether or not you align yourself with left or right, it’s still these entrenchments that we believe, you know, that’s how it goes.
JS: Some years ago you and I did a public event together at the great independent bookstore in New York, Blue Stockings, and it was to celebrate the launch of your book “A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola.”
In a sea of things that I really enjoyed about that book, one of my favorites is the fact that you have a sketch of Oliver North on the cover of that book, intertwined with all these figures from the history of the coca leaf, but also coffee and Coca-Cola, and you managed to get a bunch of primary source documents about Coca-Cola’s history of, I don’t know how to put it, is it correct, importing cocaine into the United States or a derivative of cocaine?
RC: Technically, yes, importing cocaine, but more accurately importing coca leaf, which is where cocaine come from and is the active ingredient in the coca leaf. So that book, “A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola,” you know, another way to look at it was that I wanted to kind of compare two plants, right? There is coffee which is a pretty benign stimulant that a lot of people use, and it’s pretty much mainstreamed into society. Obviously, coffee and the caffeine alkaloid which in pure form is very dangerous, it’s toxic, but, you know, we’ve figured out how to regulate it and use it responsibly. And this coffee leaf is picked in the sides of mountains in South America. And right next to those same beans of the coffee, right next to those are the coca leaf, which is similarly a benign stimulant, which is cocaine, but it is in its native use and it’s used throughout the South Americas.
JS: In its plant form, it’s chewed, people make teas with it.
RC: Yeah. And yet, somehow over the course of history, those two plants have gone in very different directions and one, again, it is the most mainstream drug in the world possibly. And the other, coca and cocaine, is basically started one of the biggest wars in the history of the United States. And so, by comparing those plants and their original ways, not only the legal taboos against them but social taboos that at one point people wanted to ban coffee, coffee houses were shut down mostly because of the political implications of people gathering around and using the drug and what came out of that, but looking at these plants and these things from different perspectives.
JS: What did you find as you examined the history of Coca-Cola itself? What did you find in the documents and explain where you got these documents?
RC: Sure. Yeah, so, like I said, this book was originally designed as a comparison between coffee and coca. The deeper I got into it, one of the more interesting parts of the coca leaf that I found were these documents in the U.S. National Archives that related to the Coca-Cola’s company’s history with coca plant imports. And I found those in the files of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which is basically a precursor for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
So basically, Harry Anslinger, he’s pretty well-known as marijuana zealot, he was kind of the architect of the Reefer Madness campaign against marijuana in the late ’30s and the ’40s.
Announcer: These high school boys and girls are having a hop at the local soda fountain. Innocently they dance. Innocent of a new and deadly menace lurking behind closed doors. Marijuana! The burning weed with its roots in hell.
RC: He was, at the same time, the point person to the Coca-Cola Company, who had been for decades using coca as one of the flavors of the Coca-Cola drink, right? So that’s where coca comes from, the Coca-Cola is part coca leaf, part cola nut, the caffeine of that.
And so Coca-Cola had in interest in securing access to coca leaf from South America, even as coca became illegal, basically, in 1914, cocaine had to be taken out of the Coca-Cola drink, but they still needed —
JS: Wait, cocaine was in the coca drink at some point? Or was it coca, just coca? I don’t know the science of this, so you explain it.
RC: Sure. Basically, Coca-Cola started out as an alcohol drink that also had alcohol and coca.
[A Coca-Cola jingle plays.]
RC: And then alcohol was actually banned, prohibited in Atlanta, Georgia, so they had to get rid of the wine — it was a wine elixir — and they added caffeine and the cola nut, the West African cola nut, the extracts of caffeine, that’s basically where you get the coca and the cola. So there was cocaine in Coca-Cola as it started. And, yeah, it had to be taken out but they wanted to continue using that flavor.
JS: We think of, you know, when politicians talk about the war on drugs, and that’s a much bigger conversation that we can perhaps get into, but they’re talking about cocaine coming across the border into the United States.
RC: Yeah. Yeah.
JS: And we had the CIA crack-cocaine stories from the 1980s. But what you’re talking about here is a very powerful global corporation that is using mechanisms within the U.S. government to bring this product up to the United States for their own capitalist interests, and yet we don’t think of this as a way that Coca-Cola is circumventing the supposedly tough on drugs policies of the United States.
JS: And on the other side of that you have the workers that are cultivating both the illicit cocaine or root that can be used to make cocaine, but also servicing this huge corporation.
What I’m looking at is sort of the fact that there are seem to be acceptable ways to smuggle this openly into the United States and then unacceptable ways. It depends on who’s making the money is what it seems like to me.
RC: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. And actually, that Coca-Cola Company, in working with Henry Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, in trying to secure access to coca, had to go to the UN, because there is a treaty in the United Nations called the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that basically was negotiated over the course of 13 years. It covers a lot of different drugs. But Coca-Cola was able to, through dialogue with Harry Anslinger, who was the envoy to this treaty, from the United States was able to get a loophole in that that treaty which remains today which is the loophole that allows coca leaf which is banned pretty much for the rest of the world, and has been ordered to be eradicated through up South America, and anywhere else where it can grow, Coca-Cola was able to maintain access to that plant.
And, yes, that is the crux of the hypocrisy of all of this. I don’t actually have a problem with Coca-Cola using coca leaf. I think that’s great. You should use the natural resources and if it adds to your flavor profile, that’s wonderful. But the fact that they are able to get coca leaf and that it has, as we said before, sparked a war across the world, that has, I mean, yeah, we could go on and on about what that has led to.
JS: You have done work in prisons, including Rikers here in New York, and you’ve also worked with legal organizations that represent some of the most forgotten people in prisons, but I wanted to ask you about your work on jury nullification.
First of all, explain what jury nullification is for people have never heard about it.
RC: Yeah, so jury nullification is the ability for a jury, regardless of the evidence that is presented, to acquit someone of a crime that they have been charged with, again, regardless of the evidence that there is, they can acquit this person because they just simply don’t believe that this crime is a valid crime. It’s a primer for people that are going onto jury duty, and it came out of my own experience of having a pretty wonderful experience with jury duty and being very impressed by my fellow citizens and our power to take someone’s life in their hands with consideration.
So jury nullification allows you in my perspective, if someone is charged for a nonviolent drug crime, no matter what it is, if I, if the police say that this person had fifteen pounds of marijuana in their back and it’s all in videotape and it’s all certainly done, I’m saying, “Not guilty, go home and leave that person alone.”
So yeah, jury nullification is a pretty powerful tool that people can use. It’s also a dangerous tool because it can be used in many different ways, and there’s a history of jury nullification that doesn’t always go so well. All-white juries, for example, not wanting to convict white men of killing a black person. And saying, well, that’s not really a bad thing, is it, and voting not guilty.
So there is anarchy in the possibility of that, but I think in the modern day that it should be applied for all nonviolent drug crimes.
JS: My understanding of it is just in short, that even though they instructions given to the jury by a judge are to weigh the evidence and then come back with a truthful verdict under the law, it is still legal for a jury to decide, we don’t believe that this person should have the badge of being a criminal, we don’t believe they should be convicted of this, not because the law doesn’t say that what they did was illegal, we understand technically it’s illegal, but we as the jury, tasked to look at this, have decided we don’t believe that this person should be held responsible because we think the law is unjust. Is that the essence of it?
RC: Yeah. That’s it exactly. And jurors cannot learn about this in the court?
RC: The judge cannot tell them this. Especially, the defense attorneys cannot explain this. They have to learn it outside of the courtroom.
JS: I mean why, I mean I know this isn’t your policy, but how is that justified? If this is allowed under the law?
RC: Yeah, well I think what it could lead to again is the issue of what we were just talking about if it could go into dangerous territory, I mean there’s something to be said.
JS: Well, I’m sure the vast majority of jury nullifications have been white people absolving each other from crimes. I mean, I don’t have the stats on it, but it’s hard to imagine that juries left and right are doing what you’re saying which is to like not convict people for nonviolent drug offenses. But it could work in favor of people who say we’re against the mass incarceration complex machinery.
RC: Sure. And it is, it actually has been something that has been coming up in courtrooms and people are being acquitted of, say, for example, marijuana crimes because of their knowledge of this, and I think again that that’s we have to teach people outside of the courtroom if they’re not allowed to do it and say it inside.
JS: What have you been doing at Rikers?
RC: I’m not a Rikers right now but I spent about three years volunteering through the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, basically just running art workshops in a couple jails at Rikers Island. And what that kind of turn into, aside from running work, art workshops where I was bringing in art materials that are usually contraband, even just simple things like color pencils that these people weren’t given access to and then it turned into I was doing a lot of portraits, people were asking if I could draw portraits, and so while I might be in a room with 20 or 30 people and everyone’s drawing I would sit down with one individual and we would kind of have some time together to talk.
JS: So you did that work at Rikers for several years and what sort of came of it or how did it impact your work?
RC: After I left Rikers, I moved to Manhattan detention complex, another detention facility in New York and I worked with a housing unit with transwomen, in a basically an otherwise all-male facility downtown.
Now, a lot of transwomen in the incarceration system in New York are working in sex work. There’s a law in the New York penal code that gives law enforcement discretion to arrest people for loitering for the purposes of prostitution. This is done because law enforcement couldn’t always arrest people in getting caught in the act of prostitution, so in 1976 they created a law that said, we can arrest you for loitering for the purpose of prostitution, which gives law enforcement wide discretion and what they can do in arresting people. Mostly women, mostly women of color and disproportionately transwomen, is how it’s played out in New York City.
So what the law allows law enforcement to do is to arrest people for things that might be considered indicators of prostitution, which, to them might be you were standing outside on the corner for a long time, or you talk to some passersby, or even most egregiously the way that a person is dressed and the way that a woman is dressed. Working with legal aid, I was able to access some of the redacted documents, and the actually, the affidavits that were used to arrest these women.
And it was a kind of thing that if you just read them, the things that are written down in the handwriting of these police officers, all men what I saw, is these incredible grotesque descriptions of this sexualized gaze, G-A-Z-E, of women walking down the street and what they’re wearing. And this woman who had on a tube top that was extra tight, and that’s a reason that law enforcement can be used to arrest women.
I wrote a short visual essay using these documents and drawing them, it’s something that I do with my illustrations, for VanityFair.com. Melissa Gira Grant also did a wonderful piece that you can find a lot more of the backstory and the history of that for the Village Voice.
JS: What can you tell us about tomatoes?
RC: Tomatoes, how’d you hear about that?
JS: Anything you want to tell us about tomatoes. What should people know about tomatoes?
RC: Tomatoes, well tomatoes are, I’m curious how you knew about that, I’m working on a project about tomatoes. I’ve written a bunch —
JS: You have a very mysterious, in the book section of your website —
RC: Ah yes.
JS: You have a very mysterious image that is just a drawing of a tomato and there is nothing else about it.
JS: So, what can you tell us about tomatoes?
RC: Well I’m going to be writing a children’s book about tomatoes and it’s basically going to be a third part in trilogy of books about plants that I’ve done. The first book was a children’s book about marijuana. It’s called, “It’s Just a Plant.” The second book was book for high school and above, “The Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola,” which was about the coffee plant and the coca.
But I realize that all those books have kind of, again, been going around a similar theme of how we look at the social, the cultural, the legal evolution of plants and some of these plants that inebriate us and why they become legal for certain reasons, why they become accepted for other reasons.
And so I’m kind of taking a look at another plant tomatoes, and I’m going to destroy that plant, that fruit.
JS: You’re going after the tomato?
RC: Yeah I’m going explain, I am basically I’m going to take all the toolsets of the of the drug war propaganda, to the drug war machinery, and I’m going to unleash all of that onto the tomato and I’m going to use the same tools that Jeff Sessions used today against marijuana, and that Harry Anslinger used years ago, it’s all the same thing, and maybe in doing so you’ll see how stupid it is.
JS: Ricardo Cortés, thank you very much for all of your work and thanks for being with us on Intercepted.
RC: Hey, thank you for having me.
JS: Ricardo Cortés is an artist whose books include “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” “A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola,” and his latest book is “Sea Creatures from the Sky.” If you have a little one in your life, I bet they’ll like it.
JS: That does it for this week’s show. If you’re not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log onto theintercept.com/join.
I also encourage you to listen to the three-act play that Intercepted released. It’s written by Wally Shawn, you can find it at the intercept.com/talkhouse.
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. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Emily Kennedy does our transcripts. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.