John Bolton was ecstatic with Benjamin Netanyahu’s dangerous stunt about Iran and nukes, but he is clearly worried Trump will ruin his regime change plans in North Korea. This week on Intercepted: Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council confronts the lies and propaganda emanating from Israel and the White House on Iran and nuclear weapons. He also talks about how Israel and Iran worked together to attack Iraq in the 1980s. Jeremy goes through the case of a nuclear whistleblower who spent more than a decade in solitary confinement for telling the world that Israel had the bomb. As Trump prepares his Nobel Peace Prize tweets and the afterparty for his upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un, Christine Ahn looks at U.S. war crimes in Korea, Pyongyang’s strategy, and the quiet revolution that swept Moon Jae-in into power in South Korea. The CIA continues to wage a domestic propaganda campaign on behalf of Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee to head the agency. Mark Keam, a former top Senate lawyer and current delegate to Virginia’s legislature, talks about the CIA spying on the Senate, Haspel and torture, and the growing movement to block her confirmation.
White House Staffer: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.
President Donald J. Trump: At ease, and welcome to the White House, and this is officially, for, you, the rose garden. So relax, and have a good time.
You will be courageous members of the Space Force. Does that make sense? The Space Force, General. You probably haven’t even heard that. I’m just telling you now. This is perhaps — because we’re getting very big in space, both militarily and for other reasons, and we are seriously thinking of the Space Force.
Rick Moranis (as Dark Helmet in “Spaceballs”): Who is he?
George Wyner (as Colonel Sandurz): He’s an asshole, sir.
RM: I know that! What’s his name?
GW: That is his name, sir. Asshole. Major Asshole.
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 54 of Intercepted.
DJT: We’re in total touch with both North Korea and South Korea. We’ll be setting up a meeting very shortly. We have, we have it broken down to probably two sites now, two or three sites.
Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu: The Iran deal, the nuclear deal, is based on lies. It’s based on Iranian lies and Iranian deception. 100,000 files right here prove that they lied.
JS: All right. We have a lot to cover today. We’re going to be talking about Iran and that really bizarre PowerPoint presentation made by Benjamin Netanyahu — bizarre, but potentially very dangerous.
We’re also going to look at how the promised Trump/Kim Jong-un summit is looking from the North Korean perspective. And Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing for CIA director is set for next week.
But first, I want to get into a little bit of some history about nuclear weapons and the Middle East.
[“Take My Breath Away” by Berlin plays.]
President Ronald Reagan: We did not — repeat, did not — trade weapons or anything else for hostages.
Ted Koppel: It seems virtually certain that what the Soviets have experienced is a nuclear meltdown.
Newscaster: Space shuttle launch is under way. Challenger seems to shake herself free of the ice and goes, all five rocket engines burning well.
Val Kilmer (as Iceman in “Top Gun”): Because you’re dangerous.
Tom Cruise (as Maverick in “Top Gun”): That’s right, Iceman. I am dangerous.
JS: The year is 1986. A former nuclear technician from a Middle Eastern nation has taken secret documents from his clandestine worksite and he goes to London, England to meet with a reporter from The Times of London. They talk at length and the nuclear technician lays out an incredible tale of how this Middle Eastern country has been secretly building up a nuclear arsenal, and that it was actually in possession of a substantial number of nuclear weapons.
At the time, that country was denying to the world that it had a nuclear program, but the whistle-blower had photos and evidence and his own testimony that would prove that this Middle Eastern nation had been systematically lying about its nuclear capabilities and its large quantity of weapons.
Mordechai Vanunu: Because I worked in that place and I knew a lot about what they are doing there, I concluded that they are producing too much atomic bomb, beyond any imagination of all the world’s spy organizations, including the CIA.
My conclusions from my production is they are pushing about 10 atomic bomb about every year. And they have around 200 atomic bomb. It’s too much, and I decided that the world must know.
JS: Shortly before the story was published, journalists from The Times of London confronted this Middle Eastern government in question with the information that it received from one of its own secret nuclear technicians.
Peter Hounam: Here was someone who said he’d worked right inside the plutonium separation plant, helping to fabricate atomic weapons. Who had taken photographs of the machinery, and who had lots of information about how much material was being processed and so on, and therefore he was potentially going to be able to provide incontrovertible evidence.
JS: This Middle Eastern government denied the allegations made by its former technician to the Times, and they said it was all lies, that this was a disgruntled and deranged individual — who, by the way, was a low-level employee who had no real expertise.
But secretly that Middle Eastern government was in a panic. They had already heard from an informant about this technician’s meetings with journalists. The notorious spy agency from that nation had its psychologists study the man in question and developed a profile that would allow them to target this whistleblower, and they hatched a plot to kidnap him. But they needed to get this former technician out of London, out of the U.K. This government did not want to anger then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, so they turned to an old trick: a honeypot trap.
An operative from this Middle Eastern country’s spy agency flew to London and posed as an American tourist named Cindy. She was armed with psychological information about the former nuclear technician and had been prepped on how to get close to him.
He was lonely and seeking companionship — female companionship. It didn’t take long for Cindy to convince this former technician that she was drawn to him. That she needed to be with him. And when she suggested that they take a nice little vacation to Italy in the fall of 1986, he agreed. They flew to Rome, got in a taxi, and went to a rented apartment. There, the former technician was snatched by spies from the government’s intelligence service. He was drugged and thrown in a van. He was then taken to a port, put into a speedboat and ultimately whisked away to a military vessel that was posing as a merchant ship just off the coast of Italy — a month later, the Times of London published its story.
Olenka Frenkiel: He’d met an American woman in Leicester Square who seemed to like him. He was vulnerable and afraid.
When she suggested he’d be safe with her in Rome, he fell for it. It was a classic honeytrap. He was overpowered, assaulted and drugged. For weeks, no one knew where he was.
JS: That former technician, who was kidnapped in Italy, was ultimately prosecuted in his home country. There was a secret trial and he was convicted of treason and aggravated espionage, among other charges.
PH: He is the most sensitive prisoner that this country’s got. And whenever he comes here, they block off the windows of his van if they can, or they, in the early days, they used to put a crash helmet over him, so people couldn’t see him. And, at one point, they even had an electronic device that emitted a screeching signal so people couldn’t hear him speak.
JS: That technician was sentenced to 18 years in prison and he would end up serving 11 years in solitary confinement. But because of this man and his sacrifice, the world now knew that this Middle Eastern country had been lying for years about its nuclear program.
That whistleblower was named Mordechai Vanunu and the country whose nuclear program he exposed was Israel.
This is former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres talking about Mordechai Vanunu’s actions in an interview with the BBC.
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres: He was the traitor of this country.
Olenka Frenkiel: So what was your reaction?
SP: Very negative.
OF: What did you do?
SP: What I thought should be done.
OF: Which was what?
SP: To put him to trial.
OF: Kidnap him.
SP: My lady, I can’t go into all the processes. I am unwilling. I don’t see any reason to do so. The effect is that he was brought to trial.
JS: This was not Iraq. This was not Iran. This was Israel. Keep that in mind, keep this story in mind as you listen to Benjamin Netanyahu and all of the right-wing pundits on cable news and in newspapers taking his claims about Iran at face value.
There is one massive nuclear power in the Middle East with the ability to wipe countries off the map, and that nation is Israel and the reason we know about that is because of Mordechai Vanunu.
Mordechai Vanunu: I feel it’s very bad what they did, and I think they did the same to many that they did to me, but in Israel, they did it very secret.
JS: On Monday night, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a live, globally televised event that bizarrely looked like an early 2000s Steve Jobs presentation.
Netanyahu stood in front of a giant screen which was broadcasting a PowerPoint presentation, summarizing scores of what Netanyahu said were internal documents seized from Iran by Israeli intelligence. These documents, Netanyahu told the world, proved beyond a doubt that Iran has nuclear weapon ambitions.
BN: Iran lied. Big time. After signing the nuclear deal in 2015, Iran intensified its efforts to hide its secret nuclear files.
In 2017, Iran moved its nuclear weapons files to a highly secret location in Tehran. This is the Shorabad District in southern Tehran. This is where they kept the atomic archive.
JS: Now, a lot of people speculate that Netanyahu’s presentation was intended for an audience of one: Donald Trump. And the White House did respond to Netanyahu’s stunt by releasing a statement to journalists, and I’m quoting here: “These facts are consistent with what the United States has long known. Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people.”
Wow! Iran has — this is what the White House statement said — “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear program.” Just wow.
After that statement was reported, and former U.S. officials, including former CIA officials, expressed a mixture of concern and outrage at what they said was absolutely false, and people began to question this definitive statement from the White House. Only then did the administration revise its statement to assert that Iran had such a program in the past.
It is ironic, though, that the White House would also focus on Iran hiding the nuclear program from the world and its own people when Israel did just that and more. And Israel actually had nukes when they said they didn’t. And they actually locked up a whistleblower who had been placed in essentially a box of solitary confinement for 11 years for the crime of warning the world of this grave danger posed by the fact that a Middle Eastern nation, Israel, had nuclear weapons.
But, you know, that’s how it is and how it’s always been on this question when we’re talking about Israel.
And by the way — Netanyahu is basically the absolute last person that Americans should listen to about nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Consider just a few of Netanyahu’s greatest hits — and by greatest hits, I mean flat-out lies or wildly inaccurate and incorrect predictions.
BN: There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking, and is working, and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons. No question whatsoever.
BN: If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations in the region.
BN: Here’s a diagram: This is a bomb. This is a fuse. In the case of Iran’s nuclear plans to build a bomb.
BN: Even after the deal, Iran continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons know-all for future use.
JS: Those, just some of Benjamin Netanyahu’s hits.
Joining me now is Trita Parsi. He’s the head of the National Iranian American Council. That’s a non-profit, nonpartisan grassroots organization. He’s also the author of the book “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.”
Trita Parsi, welcome to Intercepted.
Trita Parsi: Thank you so much.
JS: So, there’s a lot of speculation as to where these documents and slides that Netanyahu had in his sort of imitation of Steve Jobs this week.
BN: This was an innocent looking compound. It looks like a dilapidated warehouse. But from the inside, it contained Iran’s secret atomic archives locked in massive files. Actually, they’re a little bigger than this, okay?
A few weeks ago, in a great intelligence achievement, Israel obtained half a ton of the material inside these vaults. And here’s what we got. Fifty-five thousand pages. Another 55,000 files on 183 CDs.
JS: Where does it seem that this information came from that Netanyahu was presenting as this new, indisputable evidence that Iran has this nuclear ambition.
TP: So it’s not entirely clear. The Israeli narrative is that they did a raid in Tehran back in January and that they’ve been sitting on this for quite some time. I have to say I find it quite unlikely. I know that the Mossad has been quite daring in the past, but that type of a raid and then flying it out the same night out of Tehran sounds a bit too much.
What I think is fascinating is that some experts have openly speculated that perhaps this wasn’t stolen from the Iranians. This actually was an effort by the Israelis, a successful effort, to hack the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], because the IAEA had it all, if not most, of this information already. Because this was part of the agreement that was signed in addition to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], in which the Iranians in July of 2015 agreed to cooperate with the IAEA to hand over all the documentation the requested and make all of their scientists that were involved in some of these things available for the IAEA to interview.
So, it wouldn’t be surprising if this was actually taken from the IAEA and not from the Iranians.
JS: And, of course, you’re talking about the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA.
You also tweeted recently, Trita, that you were talking last month to a U.S. government official about the new national security adviser, John Bolton. What did you learn from that official?
TP: It was a conversation over lunch and we were talking about what could change with someone like Bolton coming in, particularly mindful of his connections to the Iranian terrorist organization, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, which he’s very supportive of, which he has been receiving money from, as well as his very long track record of fabricating intelligence.
The point was raised that not only is it so that the MEK is now going to have a more prominent visibility and influence in Washington, but it was also raised that perhaps they don’t need to do so much because Bolton will do the work for them from inside of the White House, and that this was a concern that we would go back to the 2002, 2003-era, in which you had political operatives that were politicizing the intelligence in order to be able to get a war.
JS: What do you make of the timing of Netanyahu’s presentation? I think it is quite clear that it was no surprise or no coincidence that this took place just a day or two after Mike Pompeo had visited Israel, and had lengthy conversations with Netanyahu, as well as other officials in the Middle East, primarily about Iran.
National Security Adviser Mike Pompeo: We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel in the region, and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East remains. The United States is with Israel in this fight, and we strongly support Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself.
TP: Whether the U.S. gave the Israelis a green light to go forward with this PowerPoint presentation we won’t know for some time, I suppose, but there seems to be a very coordinated effort by those who want to kill the deal to be able to thwart any effort by the Europeans and others to try to save the nuclear deal.
JS: And you also had this issue where the United States released a statement to several journalists that claimed on Monday that Iran has — h-a-s — has a robust, clandestine nuclear program, and then the White House later had to walk that back.
But talk about the significance of that initial White House claim and then what happened after people started saying, “Whoa, wait a minute, they have a robust clandestine nuclear program?”
TP: This is very important because this goes to the very heart of Netanyahu’s presentation. His entire presentation was about what was happening in Iran between 1999 and 2003, which is precisely was why there wasn’t anything new in that presentation. People already knew this. They knew that the Iranians had been doing things that had military dimensions. They knew that the Iranians had not been forthcoming about those activities but they also knew that the IAEA had investigated this issue, and the issue was closed. So the only way Netanyahu could claim that something new was there was by saying that the Iranians have continued with those activities after 2003, and, perhaps more importantly, after 2015.
But guess what? Netanyahu never said that. He stopped short. He only insinuated. He only wanted to give the impression that he’s talking about now, and not 15, 20 years ago.
And then comes the White House statement that says that this confirms what the White House already knew, which is that Iran has a robust clandestine nuclear program. People immediately started reacting: what is this? This is not at all what Netanyahu had said. He didn’t even try to make that case. He was touching it but not really crossing the line — and then, there came a correction. And the question is: Was this truly a clerical error, a misspelling in their statement, which in and of itself would show the incompetence of this administration? Or was this actually a deliberate effort by the White House to stop muddying the waters? You know, erase the line between the implication of “had,” and “has,” which, of course, is a difference between war and peace, mindful of the fact that Bolton is in the White House right now, and mindful of the fact that prior to entering the White House as a private citizen, he oftentimes made statements claiming that the Iranians had continued to have a military program.
John Bolton: There is no chance that the Security Council sanctions will slow down Iran’s progress towards nuclear weapons, but it gives the illusion, the comforting feeling that the world is doing something about it. That’s badly mistaken.
Iran is on a course toward nuclear weapons and only outside military intervention, which isn’t going to come from the Obama administration is going to stop them. I think we need to face up to the reality and to the hard decision that lies before Israel, as it has to decide whether it will use force to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
TP: It would not be surprising to me if this actually wasn’t a clerical error, this was a way for them to start building up a narrative, just like they did with Iraq in 2003, that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iran, despite the nuclear deal, despite all of the IAEA investigations and inspections in Iran, which have consistently concluded that there is no such weapons program in Iran.
JS: What is the ultimate result that Netanyahu and Israel want to achieve regarding Iran? I mean it seems clear that the policy is regime change, maybe through force, maybe through, you know, encouraging some kind of a domestic uprising or a coup, Bolton has told an MEK gathering that if he is in a position of power, he wants them to be the new leaders of Iran.
John Bolton: There is a viable opposition to the rule of the ayatollahs, and that opposition is centered in this room today. [Audience cheers and applauds.] That I have said for over 10 years since coming to these events, that the declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullah’s regime in Tehran.
JS: Just quite interesting given that just recently they were a State Department designated terror organization, lifted from that status only because of this bipartisan group of vapid U.S. politicians that take money from them and speak on their behalf — it’s both Democrats and Republicans — but what does Netanyahu ultimately want to achieve in Iran? Like, what does he think comes if they overthrow Iran’s existing government and form of governance?
TP: I think it’s important to understand that regime change is not a necessity for Netanyahu. It’s, at best, just a means towards a much more important end. And the end is to shift the balance of power in the region, establish an order in which Iran has become much, much weaker and cannot challenge the maneuverability and the primacy of Israel in the Middle East. This is what this has been about since the early 1990s: The nuclear question was not a fabrication but it was much more of a way of getting the United States to take military action against Iran, because the aftermath of that military intervention in Iran certainly would be beneficial to Israel from a balance of power perspective.
What has happened over the course, since 2003, is that because of the invasion of Iraq, Iran’s power actually has risen. And this is why you see right now the Saudis and the Israelis coming together in a way that has never happened before, because they were the biggest losers of the Iraq War. They were the biggest losers of the United States weakening itself to the point in which it no longer could enforce on the Middle East an equilibrium that would be beneficial to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
So they have been pushing the United States for the last decade to take military action against Iran in order resurrect the pre-2003 balance of power in the Middle East. Regime change is one avenue towards getting to that goal, but it’s not a necessity. Military action without regime change would also be acceptable to the Israelis.
JS: You also, and I want remind people, that in June of 1981, the Israelis carried out an operation that was known as Operation Opera, or, in some other quarters, it was known as Operation Babylon, and this was in Israeli airstrike on an Iraqi nuclear reactor site and Israel went in and did this surprise attack against this facility in Iraq — and, interestingly, Iran had also attempted to destroy that same facility earlier than the Israelis did, but it is not beyond the pale to imagine Israel doing unilateral strikes in Iran.
TP: It is not beyond the pale to imagine Israel doing unilateral strikes in some of the Arab countries in its vicinity. To do so in Iran is a significant step beyond that.
You mentioned the intervention in [Iraq], and it’s actually quite fascinating. I interviewed David Ivry from my first book, “Treacherous Alliance,” he was one of the pilots who flew in that operation. And he made it quite clear that the Iranians had actually provided the Israelis with the blueprints for their reactor and their own imaging because they had tried to take out the reactor several times and they had failed, and they gave the information to the Israelis and the Israelis finished the job essentially.
But throughout all of this, when you take a look at Iran in Israel’s history, yes, there’s been a very intense rivalry for the last 25 years. But prior to that, Israel and Iran were actually security allies, and they worked closely together, this was particularly true during the time of the Shah, but he actually continued in the 1980s as well, under Khomeini.
So, one important element of this for the Israelis was that this kind of grew out of a very important doctrine that [David] Ben-Gurion put in place in the late 1950s, which was called the doctrine of the periphery: the idea that Israel security would be best achieved by creating alliances with the non-Arab states in the periphery of the Middle East in order to balance the Arab states in Israel’s vicinity, its inner circle. Iran was the most important periphery state, the most powerful one and the one that Israel relied the most on. And it also was built, at least from the Israeli side, on a history of Iranian people in the Jewish people actually having very, very strong and good relations for essentially the past 2,500 years.
Now, Israel and Iran have been fighting each other mostly through proxies in modern times, but there seems to be a psychological barrier that has recently now been broken which is one in which the Israelis are directly targeting Iranians, and the Iranians, of course, have been targeting Israelis as well. But to go the full length of actually flying into Iran and bombing it is another psychological barrier that I think the Israelis are somewhat careful about, because you don’t want to end up in a scenario in which after having such a strong enmity with so many of the Arab states, the Israelis will now also have a blood feud with the Iranians.
JS: Well and the timing of that attack and, as you say, the Iranians assisting Israel in this attack in June of ’81 in Iraq is that that was just as the Iran-Iraq war was kicking off, which killed upwards of half a million, some estimates say closer to a million Iraqis and Iranians, while the United States was heavily arming and aiding Saddam Hussein, also making deals with Iran. Then you have Israel coming in and essentially working with Iran to degrade Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s military capacity. It’s just an interesting sort of collection of allies and, you know, talking out of both sides of the mouth militarily.
TP: We’ve gone full circle, because back in the 1980s, you could see a clear divergence of American and Israeli interests when he came to Iraq and Iran. Israel’s viewed Iran as a potential ally, despite Islamic revolution there, and they saw Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as a lethal enemy. The United States, because of the hostage crisis had turned against Iran, or Iran had turned against the U.S., and were moving closer to Saddam Hussein despite Saddam’s very close relations with the Russians in order to punish the Iranians.
And this is part of the reason why the Israelis put together what ended up becoming the Iran-Contra scandal. They wanted to convince the United States that it actually needed to shift back towards turning Iran into an ally instead of investing in Saddam Hussein in the manner that the Reagan administration had done, and you’re now in a very new situation in which the Saudis and the Israelis essentially have a very, very open alliance and the only thing that is binding them is their fear that if Iran continues to rise, the balance of power will shift against their interests in a way that they themselves cannot undo — only the United States can do so, and that’s why they’re pushing the United States to take military action.
JS: Does Iran have a weaponized nuclear ambition right now?
TP: It does not, according to the IAEA, according to the Israeli intelligence service, according to the U.S. intelligence service and the intelligence services of the European governments. What they do have is a program that, right now, due to the inspections and the limitations that are imposed on them, only can be used for peaceful purposes. And this is not a political assessment. This is a scientific assessment. So, for instance, as a result of the nuclear deal, the Iranians are not allowed to have more than 400 kilos of low-enriched uranium on their soil at any time and that low-enriched uranium is under IAEA control anyways. You need at least 1,200 kilos of LEU in order to be able to produce a bomb. You have to reenrich that LEU to higher levels and you’ll end up getting roughly 25 kilos of highly enriched uranium.
But as long as you don’t have enough low-enriched uranium on your own soil at any point of time, you simply cannot produce a bomb. It’s not a political assessment, this is just scientific fact.
JS: You know, Iran is a much more open society than North Korea, and part of the reason I’m asking you if Iran has weaponized nuclear ambition is because one of the things that has been clear throughout the decades that followed the so-called Korean War is that Korea having that nuclear weapon probably is the single greatest factor in preserving its totalitarian state. And I, you know, I sort of look at it from the Iranian perspective and say, “Well, having a nuclear weapon is probably our best deterrent from Israel trying to intervene in our affairs and militarily strike us.”
TP: I don’t think having a nuclear weapon actually provides that type of regime security. Take a look at the Soviet Union, for instance. They had more nuclear weapons than anyone, and the Soviet Union still collapsed.
JS: Well it collapsed from within, though, Trita. I mean it was, yes, there was definitely outside factors involved, but there also was huge popular movements against the form of government in the Soviet Union at the time. I mean, I get your point, but it was a very different scenario than China and the United States somehow coming together and invading the Soviet Union. There were a lot of other factors. Yeah.
TP: Without a doubt. The point I’m trying to make is that I think it’s a bit exaggerated, the idea that having nuclear weapons gives you automatic regime security.
Now, it certainly makes other powers more careful about trying to pursue regime change, because you don’t want to use nuclear weapons to end up in the hands of non-state actors. But I think from the Israeli perspective that’s not the type of a threat Iranians perceive from Israel.
Iran actually believes that he has a sufficient deterrents against Israel because of its relationship with Hezbollah. I think the idea of having a nuclear weapon, if you take a look at what the Shah’s calculations with this was — the Shah became convinced not to have a nuclear weapon, but to have all of the technology necessary to build a nuclear weapon but not make the decision to build a nuclear weapon, unless the security environment around him significantly deteriorated.
And part of the reason why he was convinced to move in that direction was because the United States made it absolutely clear to him that because Iran was not part of NATO or any other major pact, the United States would not go to war with the Soviet Union on Iran’s behalf, if Iran was attacked by the Soviets. So he needed some sort of deterrence against a very, very powerful northern neighbor.
That’s not the scenario Iran is facing right now, but a might be the scenario Iran will be facing down the road as a result of the combination of what Trump is doing right now with killing the nuclear deal with Iran and then trying to strike a different nuclear deal with the North Koreans. The North Koreans have nuclear weapons. They have tested them. They have the delivery systems because they have missiles that can hit the American mainland. And if Trump kills the deal with Iran, who only had enrichment, and strikes a deal with North Korea, who has weapons and delivery systems, my fear is that the Iranians will conclude that the only way they can actually have an arrangement with the United States that the United States honors and respects is if they get a nuclear weapon. Their mistake was that they negotiated when they only had enrichment instead of actually having the bomb.
I think that would be very troublesome if that is the conclusion the Iranians draw from what Trump is doing right now, because that would mean that Trump is incentivizing Iran to actually go for nuclear weapons.
JS: Well, I always feel when we talk about this issue is that the elephant in the room, the ginormous elephant in the room, is that Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. It is the, by far, the most powerful military in the Middle East because of its possession of nuclear weapons and you have this former Israeli nuclear technician who in 1986 blew the whistle —
Newscaster: On October 5, 1986, The Sunday Times announced they had evidence to prove that Israel had become the world’s sixth biggest nuclear power, having developed their arsenal beneath the Negev desert at Dimona. Photographs like this were given to the Sunday Times by a former technician of Dimona, Mordechai Vanunu. His actions raised fundamental questions about loyalty.
JS: — and confirmed that, yes, Israel has not only an active nuclear program but is in possession of active nuclear warheads and he was kidnapped in Italy by a Mossad agent, taken to a ship and then was imprisoned for 18 years, 11of them in solitary confinement, and you never hear mention of what Israel did, including kidnapping one of its own citizens, and then subjecting him to horrifying treatment, simply because he confirmed to the world that Israel was a nuclear power.
TP: The Israelis are in violation of numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions. There’s been calls on them to put their entire program under IAEA safeguards. It’s only a limited amount of their program that is under IAEA safeguards. And you contrast that with what the Iranians now have agreed to as a result of the JCPOA. The IAEA is inside of Iran’s entire program. They don’t really have inspectors, but they have instruments inside of the program that is constantly measuring everything, including radiation in the air and live-sending that information to the headquarters of the IAEA in Vienna.
They have agreed to restrictions on their program that not only goes beyond the non-proliferation treaty, which Israel has not signed, but also beyond the additional protocol which most countries have not signed, and this is the deal that Trump then calls a bad deal. There is no way he’s going to be able to get a better deal than that, either with Iran or with North Korea. So his effort to kill this deal is only going to lead to a scenario in which most likely the Iranians will restart elements of their program that they have now put a hold on, and we will once again see the United States and Iran inch closer towards war, which is exactly what the Saudis and Prime Minister Netanyahu want.
JS: Trita Parsi, thanks so much for joining us on Intercepted.
TP: Thank you.
JS: Trita Parsi is head of the National Iranian American Council. He’s also author of the book “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.”
JS: Mike Pompeo is now secretary of state and John Bolton is the national security adviser. That sentence alone should make all of us gravely concerned about the fate of the globe. But there’s one truly amazing factor here that makes speculation on what horrors might unfold a little more complicated, and that factor is Donald Trump.
Years ago, John Bolton was as happy as a toddler glued to an iPad, when George W. Bush launched his global, borderless endless wars and named an axis of evil.
President George W. Bush: North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction while starving its citizens… Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror… Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil arming to threaten the peace of the world.
JS: Oh, how exciting this was for Bolton! He thought: This is going to be the beginning of the big regime-change party. And in Iraq it was, but what about those other countries? Not so much. The Bush years turned out to have not been radical enough for Bolton and then came the dark, lonely eight years of Obama.
But then — just as Bolton was considering ending it all and shaving his mustache, a light emerged with a clear orange hue.
Fast forward to today, and Bolton is in the most powerful position he has ever been in government. Bolton wants Iran bombed and invaded, he wants regime change. Same with North Korea.
JB: The only way to solve the North Korean problem is to remove the regime or remove the weapons capability — anything else, if we end up a year from now with this regime still in place or with a nuclear weapons capability in North Korea still in place, we have lost.
Tucker Carlson: You’ve called for regime change in Iraq, Libya, Iran, and Syria. In the first two countries, we’ve had regime change and obviously, it’s been — I’d say a disaster.
JB: I think — no, no I don’t agree with that and —
TC: You don’t think it’s been a disaster?
JS: It might actually be easier to name the countries that Bolton does not want the U.S. to invade or bomb. But back when Trump was calling Kim Jong-un Rocket Man and bragging about the size of his button and his missiles, John Bolton was ecstatic.
JB: And we had a great talk about it, and that’s all I’m going to say.
Brian Kilmeade: Really? Because I’ll just sit here in silence until you talk. I’ll wait you out. I got time. I’m telling you.
JB: You watch — look, I think he has demonstrated beginning in the campaign and through his tenure to date, he understands the threat of nuclear proliferation from the likes of Iran and North Korea.
JS: But then the unthinkable happened: Donald Trump got it into his head that peace in the Koreas might be a good thing. And here we are now, potentially weeks away from an unprecedented face to face meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un, and Trump seems most excited about the after-party potential at his summit.
DJT: We are looking at that as a potential site. Yes, I think it would be very interesting, I think it would be a great celebration if it works out well. And if it doesn’t work out well, that’s the way it goes.
JS: I’ll give John Bolton credit: He did his best to contain his disgust at such talk of peace from Donald Trump when Bolton made the rounds on the Sunday shows.
Chris Wallace: Any concern that President Trump is getting carried away?
JB: Not at all. As I said, there’s nobody starry-eyed around here. We’ve all been called a number of things — naive is not usually one of them. I think the president sees the potential here for a historic agreement, a breakthrough that nobody could have imagined even a few months ago. That potential is there.
But, as he says repeatedly, the potential for no deal at all is also there. And we’re not going to know until we actually have the meeting and see what Kim Jong-un is prepared to do. It certainly is the case that mere words aren’t going to sway anybody.
JS: Now, look: Anything can change. Trump is not exactly a man of his word. But, hey! If Trump can somehow pull this off, I’m all for it. Trump may actually be in this just in an effort to try to win a Nobel Peace Prize — take that, Obama — and he seems to revel in the chance, like these at his rally last week.
[Audience chants: “Nobel!”]
DJT: That’s very nice. Thank you. That’s very nice. Nobel. [Laughs.]
JS: Even if somehow Donald Trump does get the Nobel Peace Prize, let’s just remember — so, too, did Henry Kissinger, one of the biggest butchers in U.S. history.
But here’s the broader point: The real credit here should go to Moon Jae-in, the newly elected president of South Korea. You don’t see it mentioned often in the broader media in this country, but South Korea also had an authoritarian government for many decades, and Moon Jae-in is probably the most progressive leader to ever govern South Korea.
Newscaster: Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in shaking hands at the country’s border today to start an historic peace summit. The North Korean leader then crossed over to the South.
JS: The scene where Kim Jong-un crossed over into South Korea and then Moon Jae-in crossed back into North Korea with him, that was hugely important and significant. So, too, was the Panmunjom declaration that was signed by the two men.
[Audio of Kim Jong-un speaking to Moon Jae-in.]
Newscaster: “The peace era starts now,” says Kim, before signing an agreement confirming the goal of complete denuclearization, disarming by phases. “No more war,” they said.
JS: Joining me now is Christine Ahn. She is the founder and international coordinator of Women Cross DMZ. She organized a 2015 delegation of women who crossed the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. She’s been a tireless advocate for officially ending the Korean War and reuniting Korean families. Christine, welcome to Intercepted.
Christine Ahn: Thank you, Jeremy.
JS: What is the North Korean view of the history that led up to this moment that we’re in.
CA: Well, you can imagine what that is, which is basically the skillful diplomacy by Kim Jong-un, the chairman of the DPRK, and that this is a result of its pursuit of its nuclear weapons program, its pursuit of a strong position to negotiate with the United States that its effective deterrent is what succeeded in getting the U.S. to dialogue.
We do know that, to great surprise, that in the Rodong Sinmun, which is the domestic paper, that there was pretty widespread coverage of the summit and that there was a declaration that this was a new era for peace on the Korean Peninsula, and the process of unification.
But I might add that for the North Koreans, this has been part of their plan for the last five years, in 2016 to 2022, and in that plan it included completing the process of strengthening their nuclear and missile program so that they could have an effective deterrent against a U.S. invasion. It did include improving relations with South Korea — as soon as the administration switched, they had assumed that Park Geun-hye would ride out her term — and improving relations with the U.S.
So, I’m not saying that this is all hatched by North Korea. We clearly know that Moon Jae-in, and obviously the people’s movement that swept him into power, had probably the greatest part in all of this, but I would say that it is good news that North Korea is honestly covering it and is very hopeful, I think, about the upcoming summit with the U.S.
JS: Well and, of course, when this issue is discussed in the U.S. media, overwhelmingly the sense that you get is either there’s people just saying, “Oh, you can’t trust North Korea and Trump is nuts and fooling himself to think that this can happen.” But then you also have people saying, you know, Kim Jong-un will reneg on the deal and the nuclear threat will still be there, but all of that analysis is predicated on the idea that the United States has sort of been consistently an advocate for peace on the Korean Peninsula. And to this day, there is a very strong historical revisionism that gets unleashed on television in the United States, and, unfortunately, in newspapers like the New York Times, when we talk about the situation between the Koreas.
To what extent does the sort of propaganda that Americans have been subjected to since the start of the Korean War play in our perception of the threat from North Korea?
CA: It’s more than a revisionist history. It’s a distorted history and it’s an erasure, a systematic erasure of what happened. Let’s start with how Korea was divided. Let’s even go a little bit further back, and in 1905, in the Taft–Katsura act, in which the U.S. and Japan agreed to look the other way as the U.S. colonized Hawaii and the Philippines, while Japan invaded and colonized Korea. And so you have from 1910 to 1945 a brutal Japanese occupation.
Newscaster: This fellow is a typical example of the native Korean. He bows to the dominion of Japan, but he firmly declines to admit the superiority of Japan’s intellectual and moral culture over his own.
The Japanese empire, here in the new palace, amid the regal splendor of a departed era, the former king of Korea lives the bounty of his Japanese masters.
CA: My parents grew up in that era. They had to speak Japanese. They had to take Japanese names that they just lived in immense poverty. So, you take that period of being under Japanese colonial rule, and at the end of World War II, when Japan is defeated after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Koreans are awaiting their liberation, they view the Americans as there to help free them.
Newscaster: After 40 years of Japanese domination, Korea makes a start on the road back to national independence. All Japs, soldiers and civilians alike, have got the order to clear out. Independence for Korea is promised, with Russia keeping a watchful eye on its future.
CA: But what happens but a division. Two State Department officials, Charles Bonesteel and Dean Rusk, basically tear a page from the National Geographic. They draw a line across the 38th parallel, then Truman sends a memo to Stalin, and says: You can take north of the 38th, which includes Pyongyang, we’ll take Seoul and south of the 38th parallel, and that’s basically how Korea got divided and remains divided. And I think that there is this tremendous, powerful narrative that the U.S. has been on the Korean Peninsula to defend democracy, and if you actually look at what happened, especially from the 1945 to ’48 period, where there was a U.S. military government, where there was, for example, on April 3rd in 1948, a massacre on Jeju Island, where the people were rising up because they didn’t want there to be separate elections, and basically it was used as a ploy to quash this uprising and label them as communists.
And that has been the history of U.S.-backed military dictatorship since then, and there are just countless stories of U.S. massacres of innocent civilians. In 1980, it was an uprising in Gwangju.
Newscaster: After five days of violence in Gwangju, no one can explain the bloodshed, which has brought medical personnel streaming in, to treat not only people shot or bayoneted by soldiers, but also citizens wounded, evidently at random by other citizens. Many are dead. No one knows how many are dead because the city still is too dangerous for a body count. Armed young man, under no apparent organization, ruled the streets, with stolen army weapons and commandeered vehicles. They are unchallenged. The soldiers here, so far, are outnumbered.
All of this stemmed from anti-government feelings, and resentment against the discrimination this province always has suffered. But now, slogans are less important than guns, and those who have guns know that soon the army will be coming for them.
CA: And they had an uprising. It was after Park Chung-hee, the dictator that ruled South Korea for like 18 years, he was assassinated by the KCIA, and then there was a coup, by Chun Doo-hwan, and basically it was a crackdown, it was martial law and the students and the ordinary people of Gwangju rose up, and who sent in the paramilitary troops from the DMZ? The United States!
Newscaster: Today, the army began to surround Gwangju. The main road into the city became a staging area for what looks like a planned invasion. Helicopters brought in rations, ammunition, and machine guns. Frightened citizens of Gwangju walked out to safety. Already this week, troops in Gwangju have opened fire on civilians, killing several. Unless the military shows great restraint, what happens next could be worse.
CA: And so I think that was a real turning point, for especially the democratic movements in South Korea. Why is the U.S. here? Are they here to really truly defend democracy, or are they here to maintain a certain balance of power, maintain their geopolitical military, economic interests? And so it’s so critical to bring in this history that has been suppressed because there has been a national security law in South Korea for so long.
We know the repression exists in North Korea, but I think we are kind of presented this, there is freedom in South Korea and there is repression in North Korea — and by all means, there is absolutely significantly greater freedom. But there is this kind of unresolved state of war that allows the governments in South Korea, during, especially the hard, right-wing periods especially over the last ten years, preceding Moon Jae-in sweeping into power, that has really used the unresolved state of the war to repress the advancement of democracy.
I mean it has, the unresolved war has created arrested development, not just in North Korea but also in South Korea.
JS: By the way, we should remind people, millions of Koreans died during the so-called Korean War. And the United States was widely using chemical weapons against what would become North Korea, and it’s the United States that has the track record of using so-called weapons of mass destruction in conflicts on the Korean Peninsula.
First of all, I don’t think that most Americans unless they have family in Korea or they’re studying it as a sort of academic pursuit have much information at all about politics in Korea. But South Korea itself, and we talk about the authoritarian hermit kingdom in North Korea, South Korea has spent the bulk of the post-Korean War period under military dictatorship and authoritarian governments itself.
JS: What role has that played in sort of keeping things the way that they are with the countries divided and with tens of thousands of U.S. troops on the ground? How has South Korea’s history contributed to this?
CA: Well, I would say that probably the most glaring example was in the last presidential election, not the one last year in the snap election where Moon Jae-in won by a landslide victory, but the one before in which he actually ran against Park Geun-hye, who was the daughter of Park Chung-hee. And in that campaign, it was very close, and it was later discovered that the National Intelligence Service, basically the KCIA, had invested all these resources to basically be trolls on the Internet. And you know how wired South Korea is, it’s the most wired country in the world. And all these trolls were basically hired by and from the NIS, was painting Moon Jae-in as pro-North, and I think that that has played a very critical part in maintaining the state of war, maintaining a very hardline stance against North Korea.
So it’s just remarkable to me that for the first time, the millions of people on the Korean Peninsula in South Korea got to hear directly Kim Jong-un speaking and engaging with their president. And just seeing him as a human being, actually seeing that he has some very pragmatic and practical things, and even his ability to kind of make jokes about the state of the roads in North Korea and kind of joked to Moon Jae-in, I’m so sorry for disturbing your sleep with all those early-morning missile launches, you know, I think that kind of humanization would just be unfathomable even, you know, five years ago. And so I just think that it is the candlelight revolution, that was almost for half a year where one in three South Koreans, 16 million people took to the streets to call for the impeachment of Park Geun-hye.
[Audio of the protests.]
CA: And I just think that that it really heralds a new era for democracy, which is why I believe Moon Jae-in has the mandate. It’s extraordinarily heartening and just kind of knowing this critical history and trying so hard to educate an American population that is fed all this propaganda, that is looking at Korea through this kind of U.S. exceptionalist lens, and this erasure of the role of the U.S. in dividing the peninsula, in waging the most indiscriminate bombing campaign that destroyed 80 percent of North Korea and backed all these dictatorships in South Korea that really limited the possibility of democracy.
JS: What is your sense of who Kim Jong-un is?
CA: It’s very difficult to tell. I mean, there have been very few people that have engaged with him, but based on the things we’ve heard from Dennis Rodman and from some of the South Koreans that met with Kim Jong-un is that he actually is pretty sophisticated and what we do know for sure is that he went to boarding school, he grew up in the West. He went to boarding school in Switzerland, and I think that very much informs the kind of country he wants North Korea to be.
Let’s not forget that the policy of the North Koreans has been something called the Byungjin Line and it has been a dual track one has been the pursuit of its nuclear and missile program, so that they would have an effective deterrence in the event of a U.S. regime change, which we know is not fantasy but it’s actually in the operational plan of the U.S.-ROK joint military exercises, that, you know include such things as decapitation strikes.
But the other track has been improving the economy of North Korea, and that is so critical to understanding what is the incentive also for North Korea to be willing to give up its nuclear weapons because they want so much to advance their economy. They so much want to improve the conditions of their people. And I think that they have. I mean, especially in comparison to the kind of really tragic years of what’s called the arduous march, the mid-1990s through the end of that century where up to, you know, a million people perished in a famine and we can tend to simplify things in the West, and we tend to just see the images of starving emaciated children, and then we just go right to this assumption that it’s the evil dictator that is starving its people.
And, without a doubt, I mean every government has a responsibility for the well-being of its citizens, but if you actually start to parse it apart, you look at what preceded that, the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea had these bartering relationships with the USSR, with China. They depended very heavily on subsidized oil that was coming in from the Soviets, and not just to run their tractors, but, you, know they had developed a very green revolution industrialized agricultural system where even their fertilizer was petroleum-based and so you can imagine when that came to a halt it had just deleterious effects and when there was no longer a socialist trading block, it very much experienced what Cuba did, except they don’t have a year-round growing season. They have two seasons.
And, you know, if you look at the broader peninsula, South Korea has always been historically the breadbasket. Obviously, the climate is far better, and North Korea’s always been the industrial base. It’s so important for us to take a wider view, a deeper view about North Korea, because we’re just given all these tropes about North Korea without recognizing how much our policy, our U.S. government policies have very much shaped the kind of militaristic paranoid North Korea that we have seen.
JS: What would it look like? I mean if you have the North Korean government structured the way it is, where you essentially have, you know, a military state with a head of state that is, maybe has the full control of the military, maybe doesn’t — I mean I think it’s sometimes hard to tell, but how would you even have a reunification if Kim Jong-un is in power?
I mean do you, Christine, see any path where there’s a kind of amicable resolution to that border that would actually unify the two countries under one flag or when people talk about reunification, do they just mean normalization of relationships, free travel, et cetera, between the two?
CA: Well I think it depends on who you’re speaking to what that actually means, but the last kind of major agreement that outlined this was the June 15th joint declaration that Kim Dae-jung, the Nobel Peace laureate, signed with Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father, and in that they basically outlined three steps towards the eventual reunification of Korea, and one was family reunions — immediately starting those. Civil society exchanges. So, you know, at the height of the Sunshine era in 2007, half a million South and North Koreans met each other.
I mean, it’s just extraordinary, if you think about that process that was unfolding and then basically came to a screeching halt, and fell off a cliff and cut off all exchanges. And then the third was this economic integration, so the Kaesong joint industrial complex, which is in Kaesong, which is in on the North Korean side, using South Korean capital and energy and using North Korean labor, began these kind of economic zones and it was an opportunity obviously for those smaller South Korean business owners to have cheaper labor.
But that was it and the question was: So what about the political system? What is going to happen under reunified Korea? And that’s where, you know, the leaders, they punted. They said: “We’ll let the future generations decide. Let’s just begin the steps because we haven’t known each other for six decades, so it’s just going to take time to actually truly understand each other.”
And what has been advocated is a Confederate model that I think is possible, but that’s why it’s so critical, I think, to end the state of war and, you know, the two Koreas declaring that on Friday at Panmunjom, at the site of where actually the Armistice Agreement was signed, I think is incredibly powerful. It could be revolutionary because basically, they’re saying: “We’re not going to allow the interests of foreign powers to dictate whether war or peace prevails on the Korean Peninsula but we will decide ourselves.” It’s complicated though,because we obviously know that the U.S. still has wartime operational control over the South Korean military. We still know that 30,000 U.S. troops maintain on the Korean peninsula in South Korea, and all of these ways in which the U.S. and South Korea have been so tightly woven together economically, politically, militarily and so, yeah, it’s complicated but I think that is the will.
JS: It seems like there is true sincerity from both sides and my concern more as a student of the history of the American empire is when we hear things like this very simple statement that’s been said: “Well Kim Jong-un has said he’ll give up nuclear weapons and the nuclear weapons program in return for a promise from the United States not to invade.”
And, you know, you have a lot of U.S. pundits that are saying you know, Kim Jong-un will never keep his word to get rid of the nuclear weapons, and I sort of look at it and say I actually think it’s far more likely that the U.S. doesn’t keep its word if Kim Jong-un does actually denuclearize his country. I mean that would be my concern as a student of American empire, is like how on earth is Kim Jong-un or North Korea going to take the word of the United States, particularly when you have somebody like John Bolton who is almost on like comedy routines about mass killing North Koreans? I mean that guy is in Trump’s ear all the time?
CA: Oh absolutely, and he was on talk radio and on Fox News talking about how the model for North Korea is the Libyan model, as if North Korea looks at that as a successful denuclearization pact.
JS: Right, you can watch the video of Muammar al-Qaddafi, you know, being violently sodomized by U.S. backed rebels and the fact that the United States dedicated huge air resources to carry out regime change and whatever we want to say about Muammar al-Qaddafi, I mean Libya is a complete and total disaster and is just infinitely more violent than it was under the dictatorship of Qaddafi.
CA: Right, we don’t even have to mention Iraq, but I would also add, in addition to Bolton and obviously Pompeo being the secretary of state, who are they appointing as the ambassador of South Korea? But Harry Harris, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command. They switched his post to potentially become the ambassador to Australia, and then now to appoint him to be the ambassador to South Korea. He also happens to be mixed Japanese and American, and you can imagine the deep sentiments of the Korean people about that. And then furthermore he has testified to the Senate that he believes that Kim Jong-un is pursuing his nuclear weapons so that he could unify the Korean peninsula under communism.
Harry Harris: So he’s after what his grandfather failed to do, and his father failed to do and he’s on a path to achieve what he feels is his natural place, and where North Korea’s natural outcome is a unified Korean Peninsula, that’s subject to KJU and the communist regime. So I think that’s the long view and that’s what he’s after.
CA: So you have basically a war cabinet that doesn’t understand North Korea, that you know, if things don’t go right, could be very quickly pivoting toward some kind of military action and the U.S. is not going to give up South Korea so quickly and that is just incredible that this is the 10th largest economy in the world. It’s supposed to be an ally of the United States, yet it still maintains this very unequal clientalistic [sic] relationship. And I think Moon Jae-in doesn’t want that anymore and I think that’s why there has been progress towards this reconciliation with North Korea, because let’s not forget in November when North Korea conducted its last long-range missile test which many said had the capacity to strike the U.S. mainland, Moon Jae-in condemned that missile test but he also sent a very clear message to Trump and to the U.S., there will not be a conflict on the Korean peninsula as long as South Korea is not in agreement or collusion with that.
Things could get to a place where if the U.S. is willing to threaten military action towards North Korea, which we know would have a counter-retaliation on the 87 U.S. bases and 30,000 troops, that it would completely destroy the entire Korean peninsula.
I do think that Moon Jae-in would be willing to show the U.S. the door. That’s why this Panmunjom Declaration, that’s why this inter-Korean Summit, and they’re clear saying: “We’re not allowing the Cold War division to prevail in the Korean Peninsula. We declare the end of war.” This is going to be the greatest assurance against something going wrong between the Kim and Trump summit, and the war cabinet that is being positioned to basically take military action against North Korea.
JS: Well, I’m sure you know, Trump gives this speech in Washington, Michigan, the night of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and people start chanting, “Nobel! Nobel!” and Trump’s people point to, ah, it was Moon who first raised the issue that if this works, Trump should get the Nobel.
The sense I have from the outside is that Moon is a very skilled sort of chess player regarding Trump. Trump loves everyone to fluff him up and it seems like Moon understands where Trump is coming from. This is a pretty extraordinary moment. My biggest concern would be that Trump figures out a way to like completely fuck it up, but what would you see as the main issues that would represent something truly different from the past that could come out of a Trump-Kim summit?
CA: I mean, I just thought it was brilliant what Moon Jae-in said, which is, you know, he deserves a lot of credit and he has the political will to see this through, and it is obviously for his own narcissistic reason. It’s obviously the thing that has been saving him in the polls. It could be the thing that could get him another re-election. So, I mean, it’s super complicated. But I think Moon Jae-in has been very masterful. And he said: “He should get the Nobel Peace Prize and we’ll take peace.” But I think we need to be realistic. We need to urge the Trump administration to take a pragmatic approach. We know that the process of denuclearization is going to take a long time, just the actual mechanics of it and that there is going to be a need for a genuine security guarantee, and that’s not just in the form of a non-aggression pact or a peace treaty that formally ends the war but there’s going to have to be a lifting of sanctions, there’s going to be have to be some way that brings North Korea into the to the global economy, and I agree with you — we don’t have a great model of doing that and obviously the fact that the Iran deal is on the chopping block doesn’t bode well.
And I would say, the last thing about Trump screwing up: The presence of Bolton and possibly Harry Harris signals to me that Trump has an uphill battle. Even if he wants to do it for his own narcissistic reason. And the last thing, I just want to say, which is I think very fascinating is, who was the last Republican president that left office disgraced? You know? It was Nixon. But the one legacy that he was able to leave behind was the normalization of relations with China. And perhaps there is somebody in the Trump White House who has that perspective that could be whispering in Trump’s ear: This is the one thing that will save a Trump legacy.
JS: Well I hope that in some form or another you end up being right. I will say that I am concerned that you know, if Trump goes over there, and he has this — he seems obsessed with like, the after party, he’s talking a lot about what kind of party they’re going to have, but my concern is he, you know, he goes over there, he oversimplifies things, he thinks he’s got an agreement to like tomorrow destroy nuclear weapons, comes back Bolton convinces him, “Aha! See! They’re not keeping the deal.” And then Trump’s ego gets hurt because people start saying, “Aha! See, we told you.” And then Trump is convinced to do some horrid, unthinkable thing by John Bolton. That’s my outside nightmare scenario.
CA: Let’s see, but the train is moving forward and the greatest assurance we have is that we have a skillful negotiator in South Korea that is really trying to close the gap between North Korea and the U.S. and that is a huge blessing, and it’s a huge opportunity for not just peace on the Korean Peninsula ending the longest standing U.S. conflict, but world peace. I really, I really want everyone to remember that. This is a major breakthrough to see the leaders of two countries that have been so close to war, again, so many times to shake hands, to share a drink, to raise a glass for advancing peace and prosperity for the Korean people.
JS: Well, Christine Ahn, I want to thank you for all the great work you’ve done over the years to try to make these moments real and your grassroots activism and tireless advocacy for the broader cause of the Korean people on both ends of the peninsula. So thank you very much and thank you for joining us.
CA: My pleasure. Thanks, Jeremy.
JS: Christine Ahn is the founder and international coordinator of Women Cross DMZ.
JS: The Trump administration has had to pull some of its nominees for executive branch positions, including, most recently, Dr. Ronny Jackson, but there’s no sign that the administration is going to do that with Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel.
On Tuesday, the CIA released yet another carefully curated document on Gina Haspel, that was clearly meant to showcase her career as a CIA officer while carefully skipping over the parts where she happened to be involved with torture. A couple of weeks ago, you’ll remember, the CIA released a memo that was intended to absolve Gina Haspel of her role in destroying CIA interrogation tapes, and the CIA has waged what I think can only be accurately described as a domestic propaganda campaign on Twitter that is aimed at the American public.
On the CIA Twitter feed, Haspel is portrayed as a heroic, glass-ceiling breaking super spy. It’s really cringe-worthy stuff, and this week Haspel got a boost from the former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice when she appeared on Fox.
Brian Kilmeade: Gina Haspel has to defend her actions during their time in the CIA. What’s your reaction to that?
Condoleezza Rice: My reaction is if you were not in a position of authority on September 11th, you have no idea the pressures that we faced to try and make sure that this country wasn’t attacked again.
JS: Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing is set for May 9th, and there’s a growing coalition of former U.S. military intelligence, civilian officials coming out against Gina Haspel. And that coalition includes the former senior counsel to Senator Dick Durbin, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, that man’s name is Mark Keam, and he is currently a state delegate in Virginia.
Mark Keam, welcome to Intercepted.
Mark Keam: Thank you.
JS: Have you ever seen anything like this where you have the CIA, from its official social media accounts tweeting in support of one of their own officials to become director of the agency?
MK: Well let me put it this way— I’ve been in and around politics and policy-making for about three decades now, and I certainly have not seen anything like this where the agency itself is advocating for their next leader.
But, on the other hand, post-Trump, I’m not surprised by anything that the government does anymore.
JS: Right. And, well, and you have this memo that was sort of selectively declassified, as Senator Dianne Feinstein put it, they’ve declassified information that looks good for Gina Haspel while leaving classified anything that raises concerns about her role in torture or in the destruction of these tapes.
MK: Yeah, that’s right. And what’s unfortunate about that is there is so much behind that memo, as you know, from thousands and thousands of pages that were investigated over many years, and yet none of the public members, none of us have ever seen the entire breadth of that document so to be able to see just the selected versions based on the CIA’s interpretation, as opposed to even what the select committee did. I think that’s pretty egregious.
JS: What is at the heart of your concern? Why did you sign on to this letter and what do you think are the questions that need to be asked?
MK: First of all, I think that whenever we have a senior official representing the United States of America in any position, he or she should be a person of utmost integrity, qualifications experience and above all moral standing, so that when we announce to the world this person speaks for our nation we want to be able to stand behind that person 100 percent and whether it’s a civilian or a military position, we want to be able to say the United States the full faith and credit is behind this person.
For a person like Ms. Haspel who has such a tainted background, the cloud over her head with the torture situation, we would be sending a message that even though we don’t know, the public doesn’t know and the nation as a whole doesn’t know what she really stands for, what she believes in, we believe that she is the best person to be our head of our intelligence.
So I think that sends a wrong message from a moral perspective that we should be absolutely clear, unequivocal that we do not stand for torture, we don’t stand for any types of enhanced interrogations, and that by selecting somebody that has a cloud over her background and a reputation, we are not sending as clear of a message as we should be.
JS: Now you were former counsel to Senator Dick Durbin, and I wanted to ask you about your analysis of how the hill, or particularly Democrats may be seeing this issue of the CIA effectively campaigning on Twitter for Gina Haspel. Does that raise any legal or ethical issues that you think is worthy of Senate investigation?
MK: There is a separation of powers issue. Of course, the president has a right to nominate whoever he or she wants to nominate for any position that’s within his constitutional prerogative. And then the Senate, of course, has a right and the obligation to advise and then to consent, meaning that they will ultimately approve or disapprove the nomination.
So from a pure constitutional buckets, you’ve got two branches that will do whatever they believe is the right thing to do to advocate for and/or oppose nominations. So I don’t see as big of a problem there, but I do see a problem is that we’re operating with less than full extent of the information, so senators who have clearances especially those members on the Senate Intelligence Committee who have seen the details and know about what happened during the black sites and from 2002 on, they may have a lot of concerns but they may not be allowed to go public with that concern, and so in some ways there’s a little bit of a disadvantage where CIA, as you correctly pointed out, CIA can provide all the information that’s skewed towards their benefit.
But the senators who may have knowledge are not allowed to speak and those that don’t have knowledge are able to say, “Well, I don’t like this person but I can’t tell you why.” I do not believe that the Senate Democrats or anybody else will raise a constitutional concern. Rather, they will focus on the substance and, you know, ensure that this woman who obviously might have some experience in terms of professional qualifications, but from a moral and from personal experience and personal views is certainly outside the mainstream of this job, I think they’ll raise that as a concern.
JS: Well, see the reason I’m kind of harping on social media, particularly on the CIA’s official Twitter feed is that I read these glowing descriptions where they make Gina Haspel seem like, you know, the Bourne Identity and that she was like in the trenches and, in fact, they literally say that her career was right out of a spy novel. This feels like domestic propaganda to me and it’s like, who at the CIA is tweeting this? Like, whose voice is this in? And does it raise questions about the CIA? I mean essentially they’re engaging in a propaganda campaign aimed at U.S. lawmakers and the general public to try to embellish and clean up the reputation of a CIA operative with a very questionable track record.
MK: The CIA is probably the most unprecedentedly strong and independent agency where there’s actually very, very little checks and balances on what the CIA does. For them to then come out and say, you know, these are the selective admissions that we’d like for the public to understand, and we also know that the CIA is excellent at propaganda and, in part, unfortunately, that our nation’s and global history is full of examples where the CIA went in and undermined governments across the world, and propped up regimes that they would like to see happen.
And so to the extent that they are good at undermining society and building up and rebuilding reputations of certain members, I mean that’s something that the CIA has had many, many decades of experience. So we see a little bit of that happening. I’m hoping that members of Congress, as our representatives, as well as the public at large and work that you and many other media organizations are doing will reveal, that this is, in fact, something we should take with a grain of salt.
JS: Correct me if you have a different view or analysis of this. It seems to me like the current strategy of the CIA is to say, she wasn’t responsible for this memo really because Jose Rodriguez, who was the director of the National Clandestine Service at the time, he had a kind of noble reason for wanting these tapes to be destroyed. Yes, he got a letter of reprimand put in his file, but Gina Haspel basically was just following orders.
And what I think is significant about Jose Rodriguez: This is a guy who wrote a memoir called “Hard Measures,” where he not only admits to jumpstarting this torture program but actually says that it was the CIA putting on its big boy pants when they then embarked on this torture mission around the world. It seems like they’re pushing all of the Haspel responsibility onto an already known quantity that has been in public defending, essentially torture and wrote glowingly about it as putting on his big boy pants. In this book, do you sense that that is part of what they’re trying to do with the declassification or selective declassification of this particular memo?
MK: Yeah absolutely, Jeremy. I think part of this is a comprehensive and multi-pronged effort to try to change and rewrite history as it is.
It wasn’t very long ago — it was only about, you know, 12-15 years ago when this all came to light. And I was on Capitol Hill as you mentioned. I was a chief counsel to Senator Dick Durbin on his Judiciary Committee from 2001 to 2007. And as you remember the Abu Ghraib scandal happened around 2003, 2004. We also saw what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, even in the battlefields and a lot of the renditions that were going on.
And so by the time we, the members of the public, and Congress and others started paying attention, we’ve already seen how this wasn’t just a rogue action of one or two or three high-level or middle-level employees that this was a comprehensive effort started by legal counsel who worked for President Bush through John Ashcroft. I mean, you remember the torture memos. We spent many, many months and years investigating and having hearings over the three or four torture memos that the Department of Justice wrote.
And so they started with trying to have on paper a legal authorization and justification for what they’re about to do. And then they use that document, as flawed as it was in its legal theory, to use that to prop up their actions and then when they were caught, they said, well this is actually necessary for our national emergency. And then when they, when the pictures came out from Abu Ghraib, they turned around and said, no, no it was actually just a few rogue people that did this.
And so you have to take this from a comprehensive perspective, that there is no way that one or two or three or even a half a dozen people could have gotten away with anything that this was done in a comprehensive and coordinated fashion, not just within the CIA but within CIA, FBI and many other agencies that we don’t, we don’t know how far the tentacles go.
JS: We not only had the CIA basically just continuing on and saying, “Well, we’ll find a different way, we’ll render prisoners by using current partners instead of doing it ourselves.” But on this exact issue of torture, not only did the CIA not own it but when Brennan was the CIA director under Obama, the CIA was, in fact, spying on Senate investigators investigating the CIA over the very issues you’re talking about.
MK: Absolutely, and that that is probably one of the most egregious untold stories in the last few years. Obviously people inside the beltway follow the news, but I betcha most of your listeners out there, most of the American population at large are not familiar with the fact that we have an executive branch agency, the nation’s premier spy agency, spying not just on regular common American folks, but on those that we elect to represent us in government and what happened with the Senate Intelligence Committee, and investigations that ensued, and the cover-ups was really egregious.
I had an experience, Jeremy, back in 2000, I believe it was 2003, 2004, when I was on the Senate Judiciary Committee. We actually had a situation that resulted in some major changes happening in Congress but some of my staff’s memos were leaked to the press, which happens, unfortunately, a lot but when we discovered how the memos were leaked from the Democratic staff, turned out that a Republican staffer who worked in the same committee literally hacked into our computer system and downloaded thousands of documents and used that to orchestrate a judicial nominations battle for President Bush at the time.
As a result, today, if you send an e-mail to the Senate Judiciary Committee, you have to send it to judiciary.dem.gov versus judiciary.republican.gov. And that split in the servers and the actual hardware of the computers was done because we found that Republicans were spying on Democratic staffers during that time and investigations.
So that was in 2003, 2004, so think back just a few years after that, this intelligence hacking happened where the CIA was actually hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee. That’s really egregious. And more people need to know about that story.
JS: In fairness to point out, it was under Barack Obama’s CIA director, and before that Obama actually created a new post in the administration for Brennan because they feared he would not get confirmed over questions about his views on enhanced interrogation techniques and torture.
So, in the case you’re describing from 2003 and 2004, obviously that’s horrible and an extreme violation of privacy, but also just of the legislative and investigative process of that branch of government, but it also was Obama, his CIA director was in charge at the time that this happened and he pretty much defended the operation when Dianne Feinstein, who generally is a fan and a friend of the CIA, was very angry about this at the time, she was running the committee.
MK: Oh, absolutely. That’s a very good point, Jeremy. I think a lot of times in Washington D.C., as you see across the country and state houses like where I serve now, there isn’t an instinctive fear of partisanship that leads to people falling into tribes and so if, if a wrong-doing is alleged, the first impulse by most politicians is to say, “OK, who is doing it to us? Is it the other side?” Well, the reality this isn’t a situation between Republicans and Democrats, and you’re absolutely right it was a Democratic president, President Obama, who I was very happy to support, who unfortunately used his executive branch to overcome and to overpower himself into the legislative branch quite often through executive orders and such. And one of those examples, of course, is how he used and defended Mr. Brennan as the head of CIA for something that was, at least on the facts, if you look at the facts, and it was pretty clear that the CIA did what they did, and it was also clear that the Panetta review, the documents that were within the Senate Intelligence Committee, they didn’t get there by hacking. I mean, the Senate staffers had legitimate access to that documents, so it wasn’t that one was trying to undo the other. It was clear there was a one way from the executive branch to the legislative branch.
JS: Well and you mentioned Abu Ghraib, and one of the things that we understand from the Senate torture report and from other open-source information is that part of the reason that there was support, wide support reportedly within the CIA for the destruction of these tapes is because of the images from Abu Ghraib and the impact that had on public discourse in the United States, but also Senate and House action on this issue.
MK: Well, you know, it’s one of those situations where you can’t undo something especially in the digital world. Those pictures were out there already. I’m not sure how, when, where and how the first pictures were put on the public atmosphere. But the fact that it was out there already that’s too late and for the CIA to turn around and say well since we were the ones originated those bad pictures, we don’t want the rest of it to show up in history by destroying that.
It only begs the question of how much worse pictures were out there? And how incriminating could it have been that the CIA decided they’d rather break the law blatantly and the free access, the record law, the public access laws that we have on the books, and that they would destroy the evidence instead of letting it either stay within a confidential classified setting or at least allow for some people to read that.
And I think the other part of this that we need to do focus on is the fact that we’re talking about the United States of America and our moral standing in front of the world.
This whole Gina Haspel nomination comes down to one point and one point only: Is she going to represent the most ideal version of what American government is all about, which is transparency, public accountability, holding each other accountable and always striving for the best in the public interest versus always having something that she may be hiding or maybe doing things in a covert ways that may not be helpful to us and yet we have no way of holding them accountable? So that’s why, rather than take that risk and put this woman in charge for the next two, four, eight years, why don’t we just stop this from going forward, find somebody that has the credibility, put that person in place so that Americans confidence now in our system can be a little bit more enhanced?
JS: Mark Keam, thank you so much for sharing your insights and joining us here on Intercepted.
MK: Thank you, Jeremy, for all the work that you’re doing.
JS: Mark Keam is a state delegate in Virginia. He was also the former senior counsel to Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.
JS: That does it for this week’s show. If you’re not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log onto theintercept.com/join.
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.