UT Documents


I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Transcript of Interview with Tim Shorrock

Salon Radio with Glenn Greenwald - Interview with Tim Shorrock

Glenn Greenwald: My guest today is Tim Shorrack, who's an investigative journalist, and I think, the leading expert on the relationship between the government and America's private sector in terms of the government's intelligence and surveillance activities. And Tim has a new book, essentially on that topic, entitled "Spies for Hire, the Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing," and Tim also recently wrote a piece for Salon last week that received a lot of attention on potential plans of the Congress to establish a Church Committee-like enterprise to investigate Bush surveillance and other activities and possible crimes. So, Tim, I'm really excited to have you, thanks for joining me.

Tim Shorrack: Thank you.

GG: So I want to begin by making an observation and then asking you a question, and my observation is this: you know, one of the interesting aspects of, about being able to write politically and sort of focus on these issues full time, is you realize how many things you don't know about, when all you're doing is kind of paying attention in sort of a standard way, by reading the New York Times and, you know, being a kind of high information citizen. One of the things that I really realized, since I started writing politically full time in 2006, is that there's, it almost is true there's, the most consequential things about our government, that our government does and that determine what kind of country we have, are in a lot ways the least discussed issues in mainstream political discourse.

There's almost an inverse relationship between how important something is politically and how much attention it receives in our mainstream political discussions. And, you know, one of the things that I've come to realize, really only quite recently, is that, is just how sprawling America's surveillance state has become - how limitless and out of control it is. And, I think, more importantly, how inextricably linked it is to what the private sector is doing, what telecoms are doing, what private military and intelligence-like corporations are doing, and how so many of these activities now reside in the private sector. These awesome intelligence and surveillance actions on the part of our government. It's very hard, though, to write about it, or to convey the magnitude of it. So, if we could just begin by having me ask you to sort of to describe what that, this behemoth is and what it's become, and sort of what the scope of it is in a kind of summary way. I think that'd be really helpful.

TS: Okay. Well, we have the most powerful collection, intelligence collection, of agencies in the world based in the United States. Let's start with the National Security Agency, which has, you know, this whole network around the world where they track, pick up telephone calls, cell phone calls, emails, all of this and try to download them and then monitor them and run them through databases. They can track anybody in the world. We've seen examples of how they've done this in Afghanistan and Iraq where they've used cell phone communications to track people to an exact spot and then blast them, and they can follow them around from place to place.

The United States can do this there; of course, it can do that here. It has extensive, the technology is as you say, awesome. There's another intelligence agency called National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which is responsible for imagery and mapping and they too have incredible technology at their fingertips where they can, they send out U2's, and overhead spy planes, and also satellites that pick up imagery in incredible detail, and they can do, they do this and it's often used in Iraq to track, you know, to track insurgents and to track people that are fighting the United States, but of course that technology too can be used here in the United States and is used here in the United States.

And when you combine those two technologies - the eavesdropping the NSA does and the imagery that the NGA does - you have, they're starting to combine them in like single platforms, so you can actually watch people in real time. That's an incredible and incredibly powerful and also incredibly potentially dangerous technology to be in the hands of our security agencies as well as in the hands of the private sector.

And there's also one other agency, which is called the National Reconnaissance Office, which is the part of the Pentagon that manages all the spy satellites that they launch around the world, and they operate ground stations where all the data and information from the NSA and the NGA is combined and their analysts put it together and create intelligence, what they call actionable intelligence, out of all the information they receive and then they send the reports on to other agencies and up the chain of command, up to the President of the United States.

And, as you also said, all this technology and much of the analysis is provided by private sector companies. And, you know, they're active in all these areas, and so, we don't only have telecom communication, telecommunications companies that are cooperating with the NSA in terms of giving them access to their telephone, global telephone networks - we've got these, large number of companies which supply information technology and supply many of the analysts that do all this work inside the agencies. And so it's a, the line between private and public has disappeared, in my mind.

GG: So, let me ask you about that last observation. Can you give some sense for the trend in terms of, I mean I assume it's always been the case at least since World War II and during the World War II, that government and private companies have cooperated to one degree or another. But can you give some, convey some sense for what the trend is in terms of what proportion of our intelligence and surveillance activities are now undertaken by private corporations, as opposed to government agencies?

TS: Well, last year at Salon, and I reported this in my book of course, I got documentation, unclassified documents, showing that 70%, seven oh percent, of the entire intelligence budget is spent on private contracts. And when I went to that, took that number and tried to, you know, confirm it with the national intelligence officials, I got, I didn't get a, they wouldn't confirm it yes or no, but they did say, well, that's kind a historical figure, and also it covers everything from pencils to satellites, therefore, indirectly confirming the 70% number, but that number has been, this 70% has been there for quite a long time.

We've always spend a lot of money on corporations building things like U2 spy planes, the satellites that spied on the Soviet Union, on the, all the expensive cameras that went in those satellites. But over the last 10 to 15 years, a lot of that money that's spent in the private sector has begun to flow to actual analysis of intelligence, into covert operations that are undertaken by the CIA and Pentagon Military Intelligence Agency, for what's called, you know, human intelligence.

And so more of that percentage now is being spent on actual spying and surveillance and analysing data and so as a result the corporations have become a much much bigger player in the actual intelligence enterprise. And, both in, they supply the technology and analyze the intelligence that comes out of it, but also, they provide, you know, consulting, they help manage these agencies, that the Office of Director of National Intelligence, which is supposed, which is by law now supposed to be managing all of intelligence, a huge portion of their staff is contracted, and supplied by large corporations, like Science Applications International Corporation has one big contract to provide personnel there. And so they're thoroughly integrated up and down in the intelligence and that's what's different: is that in the past they used to be primarily supplying technology and then they would hire individuals to come back to an agency to consult with, but now it's spread across all areas of intelligence. So that...

GG: And so, right, and so, just in terms of the numbers, when you say 70% of the overall intelligence budget roughly is spent on, private corporations, is basically paid to private corporations to perform these functions, what amounts are we talking about?

TS: Well, we're talking, if the budget is 60 billion, and it's at least 60 billion now, I think. There's even estimates, estimates I've seen on the last couple of days, based on recent reporting, that it may be up to 66 billion dollars. And so that's the total intelligence budget and that includes of course supplementary funds that have been provided by Congress to the Bush Administration to, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So we're getting close to 70 billion. So that's about, if you take that 70%, that's, you know, that's 45 - 50 billion dollar industry. That is how much money is going into the private sector.

GG: I ask that because I know that during the debate over telecom immunity and whether the telecom industry ought to be immunized for their participation in illegal spying programs, you know, it was often raised, the question was, well, what motive would telecoms have to agree to participate in programs that they knew were illegal? Why wouldn't they just tell the Bush Administration that they would, why wouldn't they just refuse? And it seems rather evident that if you're a high level executive at a telecom industry or any of these companies which could get part of that 60 billion a year pie, that last thing you would want to do is alienate the federal government and the first thing that you would want to do is cement your relationship with them. Is that, do you agree with that?

TS: Absolutely. And I think that what goes for the telecoms goes for these other companies too and I've been arguing in my book that, you know, when we talk about responsibility and, you know, legal protection, that the telecoms were clearly involved in supplying, you know, basically pipes to their international communication systems, to the NSA and other agencies. Well, and, they knowing did it when the program operating without warrants. They knowingly did it, you know, probably with some kind of assertion from the Bush administration, some kind of protective language from the Bush administration that what they were doing was legal. But the companies that supply the IT, the information technology and analysis must have known also they were dealing with information and data and intelligence that was obtained without warrants. And so I would say they're also culpable in the same way that the telecom companies are.

GG: Right. Well, let me ask you, let's take a step back a little bit, and, you know there's been some discussion, I started off by saying that these issues rarely get discussed I mean, there's been some discussion of having the government outsource what ought to be, you know, military and intelligence activities as a result of things like controversies over Blackwater in Iraq and private military contractors and there's been some discussion as a result of the telecom issue and the fact these telecoms are working so closely hand in hand with the NSA.

But at the end of the day, you know, in terms of this trend that you've described, where, it used to be that corporation would get paid to develop technology and then turn it over the government to administer, but now the telecom, the private corporations themselves are actually carrying out these functions, and the line between where the government ends and the corporations begins has almost blurred to the point of non-existence. Why do we really care? I mean what difference does it make if, you know, it's the NSA carrying out a certain program, or if AT&T is doing, of if the US military is doing something versus Blackwater, or if someone in the DNI is a private corporation employee rather than a government employee? Why do we really care about who's doing it?

TS: Well, let's start with the DNI, okay? Okay, with many of their employees, and we're talking senior level people, are actually working for these corporations. So in the last couple years, within the intelligence community outsourcing and contracting has actually become a big issue. Like at the CIA, there is concern because some companies were actually recruiting in the CIA cafeteria, and they were offering jobs to people, you know, at double or triple the pay, was having, it was having an impact on the CIA workforce and the CIA was starting to feel, well, you know, they actually, Director Hayden actually said, you know, the CIA has become the farm team for the contractors.

Well, if you get a high-level contractor at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and contracting itself is a political issue within the agency, and say the Director of Nation Intelligence walks out of this office and talks to his administrative aides, I see, I wonder if we should be outsourcing anymore, I wonder if we should cap it or something. Well, that aide who works for SDIC or one of these other companies, it doesn't really quite seem to be in his interest say, oh absolutely, we should stop contracting, we've gone way too far.

I mean you have this sort of built-in conflict of interest there, and that's at all levels I think. And that's just, that's one part of it. But I think, YK, when you have these corporations, like, I've done a lot of work on this new proposal by the Bush Administration and the intelligence agencies to create an office called the National Application Office that would basically be a clearing house to make it easier for domestic law enforcement and the FBI to obtain information and intelligence from spy satellites, from military spy satellites.

And, the government report that was, that formed the basis of that policy was written by a study team that was appointed by the DNI as well as the Department of Homeland Security. It was led by a high-level executive from Booz Allen Hamilton, this corporation that has a very key advisory role in intelligence, and half the staff came from Booz Allen, a couple of, the rest of them came from some other large companies like L3 Communications and Northrop Grumman and there was two or three government people in there in this study team. And you know naturally they came to the conclusion that such an office, National Application Office was necessary.

But what they don't say of course is that Booz Allen itself has a big stake in that because they provide services that allows intelligence agencies and military agencies to combine unclassified and classified information in one platform so to speak. And, so, of course, if they expand it, they're going to win business, and it's going to affect their bottom line - they'll make profits off of this very policy they're advocating. And I think there's lots of other examples of that kind of policy-making by corporations where, yes, it's just advisory role, but the agencies take it very seriously and they move on it and they act on it, and yet these corporations have a stake in the outcome, and I think that's really dangerous.

GG: That's interesting and, as you describe it, it's easy to see how that happens. What about the issue of oversight? You know, obviously, Congress, at least in theory, has the power to exert fairly stringent oversight over executive agencies with regard to spying and all other intelligence activities. They don't really exercise it these days but at least in theory they do have that ability. what if, you know, we are, instead of having these agencies engaged in these spying activities, and monitoring the activities of Americans, and collecting dossiers and things like that, these private corporations are essentially doing it instead. How does that affect whether there's oversight on these activities?

TS: Well, because most of these contracts, at least 80% in intelligence are classified, and they're you know, top secret often, Congress has had very little information, actually, about the size of the contracting work, how much contracts various agencies let out every year, and they've been asking for this information for a couple years. I think that it cripples their oversight capacity because so many programs are folded into what these companies do, and the oversight is limited anyway over intelligence. And so because it's all folded, these contracts are folding into a secret, secret compartments, within a larger secret budget, it's very difficult for Congress to actually get in and look at the details of these, of these contracts, especially the bigger contracts, what they're actually doing for the NSA and the CIA and other agencies. And it's become an issue over the last couple years annual intelligence spending bills which are just vetoed every time by President Bush because of various language the Congress puts in

But over the last years, particularly on the House side they've been demanding more transparency, more information about contracting and the whole size of the contracting work-force and, you know, what kind of jobs are outsourced and so on.

And, interestingly last year in 2007 House Intelligence budget report they actually said flat out that the government has no standards to determine whether something is inherently governmental or not, or whether it should stay in the government or be privatized or outsourced. And that was after 10 of expanding outsourcing, and so, they really have no, the government doesn't have any standards, and Congress doesn't have the information, and this year's bills are now pending, and they've asked for, you know, more transparency once again. And they've actually tried to set some standards for, you know, what should be done and what should not be done by private corporations. And there is a part of the bill that's in, that both the Senate and the House have approved, that would ban the CIA from using contractors for interrogation. Only the CIA; it doesn't apply to military intelligence agencies, which is also, which also do a lot of interrogation. But at least they've drawn the line at the CIA doing it. But, that's, once again, President Bush is going to veto it, because he thinks it puts too much controls on their, you know, intelligence effort, or as Cheney calls it, the 'dark side'. They don't want any controls, basically.

GG: Right, well, one of the things that you've written about I find really interesting is the idea that by transferring more and more of these activities away from the public sector, away from the government, into the private sector, you're basically draining the entire institutional memory of the intelligence agencies and the other defense contractor, defense agencies. And so that the real knowledge about how these programs function exists and resides in the private corporations, and no longer in government, career government employees, so that the government is reliant on, so dependent on, these private entities. And one of the, there was an article yesterday that I read about briefly, but that really illustrated how, kind of dangerous and even creepy this is. Which is, that Congress has been attempting for quite some time as you just suggested, to find out information from the telecoms about what they did with regard to Bush's spying program, because the Executive Branch won't help them.

And so, the Congress goes and says to Verizon and AT&T and these other companies, here's a subpoena, here's a letter, here are questions that we have about what you've been doing, we want you to tell us, the government, the congressional branch, the people's representatives, what it is that you've been doing, and these corporations say right to the Congress, we're sorry, we cant talk to you about that, because that involves national security, and that not something that we ever discuss, we wont answer your questions. And they've been telling state legislatures who are inquiring about spying programs on their citizens the same thing: national security prevents us from speaking about these things. It's almost as though, not almost as though, it is the case that these private corporations act like government entities. I mean they, in fact, more powerful than government entities, they know more than the Congress knows about what the government does and how Americans are spied on, and they exert superior authority to decide what will be disclosed and what wont be disclosed.

TS: That's right, and it's all within this framework of secrecy and you're right, it really is, you know, it's sort of an awesome situation where you have corporations, and they're a permanent part now of our intelligence apparatus, it's not like they're just outsourcing, you know, a few task, they are a part of it, they're integral, as you say. And they can, when Congress, I forget with committee it was, asked AT(&)T and Verizon and Qwest and other companies for information on wiretaps that they provided help with with the government. This was in 2007, most of them, with the exception of Verizon, for some reason, they all refused, you know, as you said, saying it's secret, we're told this is state secret, it's all classified, we can't give you any information. Verizon gave a lot of information, sent a very long letter to the, I think it was to one of the House committees - it wasn't Judiciary, it might have been one of the Commerce committees - sent them fairly extensive logs of and, you know, details about all the different wiretap programs they'd been involved with with the Bush Administration, with the exception of NSA, of course, they won't talk about that.

But they're, it's all this veil of secrecy hides all these activities and also, I believe, it really is a cover for, it prevents accountability Because, you know, Congress can't look at it and even when the case is, when people sue the government, sue the NSA, they use this state secrecy privilege and that's gone pretty far in the courts. The courts have basically gone along and said if it's a state secret the courts can't hear it. And of course now by Congress passing the immunity bill, those cases will never go forward anyway. But I think it's really, people, Listeners should understand that we're not just talking about, you know, outsourcing this and this and this, we're talking about a very close relationship between the private sector and our highest ranked, highest levels of intelligence.

GG: Right, now, speaking of that relationship, you wrote an article prior to, right after, I think, the President nominated Michael Mukasey(sic) to be the Director of National Intelligence, but before the Congress confirmed him for that position, in which you laid out in amazing details, with all sorts of public sources, you know, confirming it indisputably, just how inextricably linked Mike McConnell was to the telecom industry, and specifically to it's efforts to grow this framework between the private sector and the government. The same, the very same Mike McConnell who now that he's in government, is the one we all listen to about how the telecom industry that he used to serve needs immunity and needs all these protections and how important it is to continue to expand this relationship. Talk about what Mike McConnell did and what Booz Allen was in these issue.

TS: In that article which I believe appeared just as he was entering the nominating process back in January 2007, going back to his record at Booz Allen, he had been an advisor at Booz Allen, he had come there right after being Director of the National Security Agency under the Clinton Administration, and then he went directly to Booz Allen, where he became their top expert on this, you know, protecting national security communications systems. So he was very involved within communications and that, as you said, the telecom industry. And within a couple of years, he rose up the ranks and became actually the director of all of their military intelligence programs within Booz Allen. And Booz Allen of course has been working closely, advising the military, the Pentagon, various agencies there, since World War II. So it's had a very close relationship with the Department of Defense.

And of course the Department of Defense controls about 80% to 85% of the intelligence budget. All these agencies we talked about at the beginning of the show, NSA, NGA, NRO, for example, the big collection agencies are under the command and control system of the Pentagon. And, so, McConnell was running those programs as a Booz Allen executive, but playing an advisory role. If you look at his biography from the time when he was at Booz Allen, it actually states that he advised all the key agencies including the NSA, all the key collection agencies, and the Joint Chiefs, and the, you know, Secretary of Defense. And so he was right up there, he knew all about these programs and if you look at his record, you know he became Director of National Intelligence around February '07, and, you know, right away he starts talking about the need to have immunity for these companies, the telecom companies, within a few months he had actually stated, he was the first person to state publicly from the government side that indeed, they had received private sector support. And he became sort of the administration's key defender of giving them immunity and talking about the importance of having the telecommunication industry involved in intelligence.

But, to me, it was striking how quickly he could talk about the details of these surveillance programs that the NSA was running. Obviously he didn't have much of a learning curve. And as I showed in that report, Booz Allen under his directorship had been very involved in some of the most secretive aspects of Bush's so-called war on terror, including this so-called terrorist surveillance program that was run out of the Defense Research, DARPA Administration, that was run by Admiral Poindexter of Iran-Contra fame. And, you know, Congress started learning about this there started to be reports about it in the press that they were developing this massive database of American, you know, Americans, tracking their financial transaction and travel and so on. And people in Congress got a little bit leery about it, saying this is too much violation of our privacy laws. And they cut off funds for it, but the program continued to exist within black budgets within these classified budgets of the NSA.

So McConnell was very involved in these programs for the last dozen years, and I think his record as DNI shows that he is paid, he's really, very, his real loyalty to the private sector in the companies that have been involved. One term I picked up from him in some of his testimony before the House, before the Senate, a couple times he mentioned this, I talk about this in the book, he uses this term 'communications intelligence', and basically I think what they've done is moved from sort of being outside communication, being outside the intelligence system of the, that runs around the globe, to being an integral part of. And they use these privately controlled communication networks to spy on people. And they've burrowed into it. There was a 2000 report that the NSA did for the incoming Bush Administration where they said, one of the things they said there was from now on we have to live on the Internet. And by that, they meant, tracking everything that goes through, including telephone calls and e-mails, and these, the new forms of communication, at the time, cell phone, you know, Internet phone like we're talking on right now, and making sure they're collecting all of that, in addition to the communications that move over radar and move through the air, that are beamed from one country to another.

GG: Right. And I guess the most recent FISA bill, was most notable and disturbing aspects of it, was it really authorized the government to tap right into the telecommunications networks that are physically located in the United States without warrants for the first time. And it sort of established their permanent presence within the physical networks in the way that you were just describing in close cooperation...

TS: Yeah, that's right, it really gives a legal cover to this, and it makes it a permanent kind of effort where these companies are more or less permanent part of our intelligence infrastructure.

GG: Right. Now let me ask, I just wanted to, and we just have a little bit of time left, by asking you about the piece you wrote last week for Salon about the prospects that the Congress in the next session will convene some sort of Church Committee, to investigate all these intelligence abuses. Now, I have to say I read your piece, and obviously there was a lot of good work that went into it, and good journalism and there's something there, there's obviously people in Congress who would like to do this, and they might be even dreaming about it or fantasizing about what this might look like, but I have to say I'm quite pessimistic about the prospects that the Congress, certainly under the current Democratic leadership would do anything of the kind.

I mean, they would basically have to swim against the conventional Beltway wisdom that it's better to look to the future and forget about things that have happened in the past. they've shown no inclination whatsoever to investigate these sorts of things, and in fact, they've done the opposite as you said before where, they concealed and covered up these things by immunizing the law breakers. And many of them, many of the Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harmon and Jay Rockefeller were briefed, at least to some degree, about these programs and seem to have done nothing to stop them, and in some cases actually expressed their support. So, how likely do you think it really is especially all the laws of secrecy that we've been talking about layers have been put on top of it to ensure there's no transparency, how like is it that we'd have meaningful unearthing process that we had in the mid 1970s with regard to many of these surveillance programs?

TS: I share your skepticism and I try, my report was worded very carefully because I didn't to, you know, exaggerate the discussions that are going on. I thought it was significant that a former Church Committee staffer had written a memo outlining how such an investigation could work and had had discussions with these groups I named, in fact, you know, some aides to some to these, to Pelosi and others, had, you know, at least played a bit part in some of these discussions. But, you're right, the Democrat leadership completely folded on the FISA immunity issue, after making lots of noise, and, you know, even Obama talked about it as a candidate, and said he would not go for immunity, you know. But he went, in the end he voted for it, and many of these people were briefed, to what extent we still don't know, but they did approve these programs including the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, better known as torture, that clearly people like Jane Harman knew about.

So I think the chances that Democratic leadership will try to do anything that will expose their own leaders, top leaders, to that kind of scrutiny is unlikely. So I think that it's really going to take public pressure as well as, you know, maybe some more, you know, the media breaking more stories about domestic surveillance and how extensive it really is. And of course, they running into the whole issue of secrecy. Reporting that story was extremely difficult. I found people who know a lot about these programs, they just will not talk. They're afraid to. These are highly classified, compartmentalized, you know, even this dispute between Ashcroft, the Justice Department and the Bush White House over the approval of the surveillance program in '04. Even the Justice Department people who exposed that - James Comey for example, he talked about that confrontation in the hospital - they won't talk about the details because it's so highly classified, you know, even years later.

So it's really difficult to penetrate that sort of cloak of secrecy and get beyond, but it's going to take public pressure and I think we in the journalism community have a responsibility to keep digging into this because that's the way the Church Committee got started. Sy Hersh had this incredible story in, I forget what year it was in the 70's, about the CIA's domestic spying on Americans and dissidents, people opposed to the war. And we know that they'll been compiling these lists but we just got to keep picking and I think the important thing about the Church Committee that I try to bring out a bit in the article was that they didn't look only at the Nixon Administration, they went all the way back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, at the twilight of the, the beginning of the Cold War. The very beginning of the dawn of the Cold War I should say. And they unraveled all kinds of programs that had never seen public light and they, you know, exposed the NSA's warrantless wiretaps of Americans which led to FISA and in an investigation like that where you have subpoena power and you can go back and, you know, interview government officials and former government officials they could dig out a lot but I think it's going to take the same kind of pressure, you know, bloggers like yourself put on Congress around this immunity bill.

GG: Yeah, and I think you're right. Obviously Congress has the ability the establishment media has the ability, and with very rare exceptions, they, they're failing to do it and so I do think it takes the work of independent journalists like yourself and you're definitely doing your part. I think your reporting on these issues has been truly excellent and a truly great resource for me. I haven't read your new book yet, but I intend to, and I hope other people will as well. It's "Spies for Hire, the Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing," and with regard to this issue that's received way too little attention given it's importance your journalism is definitely leading the way. So I appreciate that and I appreciate your taking the time today to talk to me.

TS: Thank you very much, I really enjoyed being on your show.

GG: My pleasure.

[Transcript courtesy of Peter Grey]

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Transcript of interview with David Sirota

Salon Radio with Glenn Greenwald - Interview with David Sirota

GG: Welcome to Salon Radio with Glenn Greenwald.

My guest today is the author and columnist David Sirota, whose latest book is "Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington." Thanks for joining me today, David.

DS: Thanks for having me, Glenn.

GG: My pleasure. So I wanted to begin by asking you about the central argument, not just in your book, but in a lot of your political writings which I think is a controversial topic though a thought-provoking one. And as I understand it it's this: that there is not just discontent in the United States, but such severe discontent, such pervasive discontent with the government, with our corporate structure, with the ruling elite, that you actually think that we're on a path to, as you call it in your book, in the title, an uprising on the part of the citizenry. Is that a fairly accurate summary of how you see things, and if so can you elaborate on that a little?

DS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it is an accurate way to put it. I think we are actually in the midst of an uprising. In the beginning of the book I say that an uprising is the state of the country when, between the typical disengaged chaos that marks a lot of history, and then those moments of full-fledge social movements that really bring about exponential change. And in between those times are uprisings, this sort of primordial soup of activism and anger and ferment. And I think we're in that uprising, and we're seeing those uprisings on the both the right and left.

GG: Now one of the principle pieces of evidence that you cite for, in support of your belief that there's an uprising is public opinion data which does fairly impressively demonstrate that there is widespread dissatisfaction among the citizenry. More than 8 out of 10 Americans believe that the country is fundamentally on the wrong course - historically high numbers in that regard. Most of our political and other elite institutions are held in the lowest esteem they've ever been held in, and that data is fairly indisputable I think.

At the same time I think a lot of people would object, and I might even be one of them, that there really isn't very much evidence that that abstract dissatisfaction, that that anger that is apparent if you go and find people and ask them how they feel about the government and our other institutions, that really isn't translating into any discrete or concrete action, whether that's because people have been convinced of their own impotence or the futility of that kind of behavior. I mean, beyond just this sentiment out there, what do you actually see if anything that suggests people actually believe that that anger can be translated into something meaningful?

DS: Well, I think that first and foremost, you see people at record numbers with record intensity, I think, getting involved just in the upcoming election, so I think that's one example of it. I think you see more and more people engaging online either in politics or just in expressing themselves politically. I mean, I think you've got an increase in the amount of people simply getting their news from different places, looking away from the traditional media, understanding traditional media is part of the problem.

And then I think you see a lot of the examples that are in my book, people taking matters into their own hands. I mean, I think you see a potentially renewed and reinvigorated labor movement. This year was the first year that labor added a significant amount of members since 1983. You see a third party become a very, very powerful force, the Working Families Party, in one of the biggest states in the country, New York. You see more and more share-holder resolutions being put forward to try to change company behavior. And on the right you saw, and it may be a little dissipated now, but I think you saw a pretty serious uprising and indeed a public uprising when it came to the issue of immigration. An uprising of such intensity that it managed to stop, I think, the immigration reform bill.

So I agree with you that not everybody in the country is angry and taking action; I think most people are angry in some way shape or form at the government. But not everybody's taking action but the old rule of rule of thumb in organizing – Solinsky's rule – is you only really need 5% of any given public in any given region or area or congressional district to really make a huge amount of change. I think we're at that 5% threshold.

GG: Let's put it a little bit into historical context. I mean one of the things I think is most impressive about the history of the United States is that truly fundamentally change has occurred in, almost continuously, in all sorts of unparalleled ways. You know you look at the emancipation of slavery, and the full integration of African-Americans into all of our civic institutions, the granting of the right to vote to women, the change in, fairly radical and rapid, in how gays and lesbians are perceived in the country. So a whole slew of very fundamental changes, social changes that have occurred in the United States.

And yet I think when you look at most of those changes that have occurred that aren't just incremental and on the margins but are truly central to how our country conceives of itself and how it functions, there's really, the hallmark of all of that change is a lot of upheaval, is turmoil in our political process. I mean a civil war was fought to free the slaves. You know, all kinds of people had to march in the streets in order for civil rights for African-Americans even to be possible. During Vietnam War there were massive protests and violent demonstrations outside of conventions and all sorts of social upheaval that I think largely if you look now is missing. Is that kind of upheaval necessary for fundamental change? I mean is it enough for people to simply organize in kind of passive and peaceful ways, or is a more tumultuous blow to the system necessary in order to result some fundamental change?

DS: Well, it's a very good question and I don't think we know the answer to it. What I can say is I think that your historical premise is right that a lot of change has come as a result of a lot of tumult and the question is whether our country expresses that tumult differently today than it did in the past or whether we're not at the precipice.

I think – my gut tells me that our country expresses its anger in the political arena differently than perhaps it did in other eras. We have new tools, again, like the Internet is the best example of one, new tools for people to express themselves politically that we didn't have 15, 20 years ago in any well-formed way. And I think that that has certainly changed the political culture of protest and activism. But I don't think it necessarily has dampened it. I don't think it has weakened it. I mean, I think you see big protests every now and again, a number huge protests against the war, a number huge protests for immigrant rights – what I can say is that we also need to remember that when change comes in this country it actually comes in exponential fashion.

The New Deal was passed, most of the New Deal was passed in two and a half to three years. A lot of the Great Society passed, again, in 4 to 5 years. So I think that with the economic crises facing the average person today – the housing, the credit crisis the corporate melt-down, the on-going off-shoring of jobs, the overall war on the middle class - with that intensifying I think people are becoming politicized around issues that weren't seen as political before. I mean housing policy and banking policy was never really seen as a super-political issue and now I think people are realizing in their day-to-day lives that they are political issues and some of them, again not all, but some of them are saying, I'm angry and I just can't just afford to watch TV and mutter about it, I've got to do something.

GG: Right, well, with regard to that idea, well, let's do something, I think one of the things that surprised a lot of people, even politically engaged people, high information political observers, was the 2006 election, because that was an example where it was a pretty extraordinary shift in the populace in terms of how people thought politically. People who had never voted Democratic in the past voted Democratic. There was a real watershed election in terms of just the results of no Democratic incumbent being defeated, both Houses of Congress shifting from the Republicans to the Democrats, multiple state legislatures doing the same, it's really a historically unusual election in terms of how lopsided it was and clearly so much of what motivated that was anger and dissatisfaction over the Iraq War and a desire to punish Republicans for that war and to give control to Democrats in order to end that war.

And yet as we all know, nothing of that sort happened. I mean that political sentiment didn't translate into any action. It's almost like the political class got into power after the 2006 election and just completely ignored what the citizenry had so clearly expressed. What is it that accounts for that complete disconnect between the citizenry and the political class, and are people likely to reach the conclusion that well no matter angry I get, no matter how involved in the process I become, no matter successful I am in changing who has their hands on the levers of power, nothing really changes and so this sort of defeatism gets spread.

DS: Right, and I worry about that. What I would say is that the way to explain what happened is that we have to first and foremost remember our government is, does first and foremost one thing: it makes war. We – our federal government has used war as its major tool of foreign policy engagement for most of our country's history. So stopping a war is a very difficult thing.

Now I completely agree that the Democrats in Congress, after campaigning on a promise to end the war, it is really just unbelievable, that, at one level, that they continue to cut blank checks for the most unpopular war to the most unpopular president in history. I mean it's just, it's really, at one level, it's incredible.

At another level it's predictable, in that we have to understand that it takes a long time to build the kind of social movement needed to stop a government from doing what its number one priority has been for the last century or so. And I think that this speaks to the idea that we're facing I think a collision of an effort to build a number of movements and America's new, I think, instant gratification culture, brought up in this twenty-four hour news cycle. You know, we have sort of indoctrinated to believe that change happens overnight and if it doesn't happen overnight that it'll never happen. But you know, the civil rights movement is just one example – the civil rights movement didn't happened in 1964. The civil rights movement was the product of decades and decades and decades of building an activism against a government who, that had basically been a proponent of Jim Crow laws for most of its history.

So these things take a long time and so what I would say is I agree with you, I worried about demoralization among people who feel like the war should be over – and I think it should be over – but feel like the war should be over and if it's not over right now it means it can never be over. We have to think of a longer view, a historical view. Not to say we should be patient – we should be impatient and we sound continue to push – but we shouldn't disengage and throw up our hands and say it's not worth it when we know that the movements to stop wars like this take a long time.

GG: Right. Now, one of the things you write about a lot is the way in which both parties are, and the political process generally as a result, are so dominated by corporations. I mean you can look at you know essentially any issue, even ones that aren't immediately, where the relationship to corporate interest isn't immediate apparent, and what you find at the center of them is essentially that exact problem where, you know, law-makers literally in Congress turn over the process of writing laws to the corporations and lobbyists, and citizens really haven't found a way to break through that process except in isolated cases.

One of the things that I find so interesting and a little mysterious about that process is, what is it that accounts the ability of these corporate interests and their lobbyists to maintain such on a stranglehold on our political processes? I mean if you look at things like contributions to congressional candidates and the like, it's certainly true that corporations and lobbyists donate a fairly substantial amount of money to various candidates and incumbents, but because of campaign finance laws and the like, it's fairly limited in terms of its scope. It isn't explainable only by their ability to contribute to candidates and therefore candidates are incentivized to carry out their agenda. Can you talk about you think are some of the systemic causes of how our political system, both Democrat and Republican, has, have been so annexed by corporations and their lobbyists and this sort of anti-middle-class, anti-populist agenda?

DS: Well, it think it has to do with money but I think you're right, contributions are not the only examples. Contributions are only one representative example. But money is really a much bigger thing than a campaign check. I mean, today you've got 527's and political action committees that basically threaten to run huge amounts of ads, third-party ads, against members of Congress who don't do what they want, and huge amounts of ads for the Congress people who do do what those interests want. So I think that's another piece of it. And then of course there's the whole issue of party. How much money can flow into state and national parties based on how a party uses its power on different issues.

So I think, I think it's the campaign finance structure as a whole. And then I also think that it is, what you write about so much, which is the creation of the echo chamber, which basically sets the parameters of debate around major issues. You have a traditional media that is largely corporate-owned and so when it purports to be objective, that's absurd. I mean a corporate-owned media has an ideology when it comes to issues regulating corporations. And so that corporate media, through all sort of ways, conscious and subconscious, sets the parameters of debate around major economic and foreign policy issues to make sure that the parameters are narrowed, so that any of the possible outcomes are those which do not challenge corporate power and big money. And you know it's through everything from the manipulation of where the actual center of American public opinion is.

You know the media tells us the center is one place even though we know through public opinion data says that the center of public opinion is far away from that place. Everything from that manipulation to berating anybody who has a progressive, power-challenging position of economic issues. The issue of trade for instance. You know, you talk about the issue of trade and if you don't want NAFTA, if you want to reform NAFTA to protect ordinary workers in both, in America and abroad you're labeled a protectionist or worse you're labeled anti-trade, when in fact we know the debate is about are you for one kind of trade or are you for another kind of trade. It's all of these ways: so it's campaign finance system and the propaganda system that is owned by those who have an interest in preserving the status quo.

GG: And you know one of the things that I find interesting is, there was an article from the Wall Street Journal from I think two or three days ago actually, that found what has been true over the last, really, eight years is that the income inequality the income gap in the United States has been growing and continues to grow and this latest report from the IRS found that the top 1% of income earners in the United States now earned more than 22% of the gross adjusted income in the United States, which is the highest since the IRS began compiling those statistics in the mid 1970's and according to a lot of economists probably the highest since 1929.

You know, I wonder if there is some sense among the corporate class and sort of the economic elite in the United States – there's almost some limit that they want to impose on themselves in terms of pursuing policies that widen this gap, out of fear that when the gap gets too wide, and economic distress becomes too acute, it can actually fuel the kind of uprising that you're describing into something much more threatening. Do you think that the corporate class and the elite think that way that strategically, that long term, or is it just kind of self-interest and greed that spawns them to keep pursuing policies that breeds this inequality without regard to the consequences?

DS: Well I think they have deluded themselves into believing that - believing the rising tide lifts all boats nonsense. And another iteration of that is, what's good for big business is good for America. You hear in these debates, you know, we have to grow the whole pie, we shouldn't focus on how to divide up the pie. That is the logic of, that justifies, or the illogic I should say, that justifies the policy, all the different policies that exacerbate this inequality. And I think that the folks at the top, the folks who are winning in this situation have created this defense mechanism to tell themselves, no, no, we really know that if we continue growing the pie instead of talking about how to divide it up, that's the way we'll lift everybody up. It's of course, it's nonsense, and we know it's nonsense now because we're now at this age and historical moment where worker productivity keeps rising, corporate profits have been rising, and wages have stayed stagnant.

I mean that's, in the past, because the economy, the rules of the economy were different, the laws were different, to protect workers and to protect all sorts of other economic interests, and because there was higher union membership, when worker productivity rose, and workers were making more things in a more efficient way, and when corporate profits were rising corporations were doing well, the workers would get some share of the benefit, that wages would rise. Now again we're at this moment where that's not the case. The productivity rises, profits rise, but workers' wages stagnate or go down. That means that the rising tide does not lift all boats and so what I think we have to do and I think what this uprising is really all about is the realization that the rising tide lifts all boat nonsense of the ruling class is nonsense and people are saying, you know what I've had enough of this, this doesn't work, this is actually hurting the country, and I think that realization – who can harness that realization into a political program will be the winners of the uprising.

You see the right trying to harness it by making it into scapegoating immigrants. I think it's awful but they have a very clear, that side of the uprising has a very clear message to try to scapegoat and use this moment. And I think progressives are more and more are saying, we can use this moment to define the us-versus-them not as foreigner versus native, ethnicity versus ethnicity but the have-not's versus the have's.

GG: You know one of the most valuable insights that I think you offer in the book is this challenge to the conventional wisdom that people on the left and people on the right, not political leaders, but people outside of the Beltway, are really diametrically opposed and you illustrate some of the important similarities in their sentiments. I mean I noticed that when I first started blogging, for example, that a lot of the rhetoric and a lot of the tone from the right-wing bloggers and the left-wing bloggers, despite their being, you know, vastly apart on very discrete and specific issue, the underlying sentiment was very much the same.

That we have this establishment media that spouts 'conventional wisdom', irrespective of what the truth is. That political leaders inside the Beltway are out of touch with the common American and are serving the establishment's interest and not the interests of citizens. This sort of populist anger that you're describing is very much not just present on the left and right but it really has a lot of common roots even though it manifests in different ways. But obviously there's been ways the establishment has kind of kept that from coalescing. I mean, there's these wedge issues that keep citizens that have common interests apart from one another. Do you see any prospect for those wedge issues to start losing their efficacy and, I mean, is there, are there signs that there's political developments that suggest these common interests can be represented in some way inside Washington, inside our political class?

DS: I think absolutely. I mean I think that as the economic and national security questions get more and more tense, and more and more real for regular people, that there's the possibility of forging coalitions around, right-left coalitions, around common issues, common agendas.

I mean I think that you know when I worked in the US House for instance with Bernie Sanders, the self described socialist, one of our best allies in that institution was Ron Paul the libertarian, around issues like trying to cut corporate welfare around issues like civil liberties. So I think there is the possibility for those coalitions inside the Congress and I think there's possibilities for coalitions among organizations and activists outside of the government to put pressure on the government. You saw that with the FISA fight, the fight over warrantless wiretaps. I think you may see it in many different ways as it relates to corporate power in general, issues of corporate power.

I mean I'll just tell you an example from my book. The guys at the border, the Minutemen, I mean they will tell you, they will say to you, I think our government is bought off and wants the status quo on immigration. And I think, while I disagree completely with their prescription, I think they're absolutely right. The government, in cahoots with big business, wants Americans and foreign workers in a wage-cutting competition to the bottom, and the people and the interests that perpetuate that status quo, rather than looking for any kind of solution, a humane solution, one that's fair, instead of looking they want that status quo. And it's the same kind of rhetoric you hear for instance from the union organizers in Seattle who are trying to organize Microsoft workers. Progressive unionist guys, they'll say, I think the government is bought off and is helping drive down the wages and benefits and job security of workers in the high-tech industry. So we see that the impulse across the spectrum is very, very similar. Now the prescriptions are different. That's the challenge. Can we find prescriptions to organize around that both the right and the left can organize around? I think on some issues we have examples where they can and on other issues it's going to take some work.

GG: One of the primary motivations or the sources of energy behind the Obama campaign of course is premised in this recognition that there's extreme dissatisfaction, not just on the left and not just among Democrats, but across the political spectrum with unaffiliated voters, independents, people who have never been involved in the political process before – this extreme dissatisfaction with the political culture generally, and obviously there's an attempt to, and it has been a fairly successful attempt on the part of the Obama campaign, tap into that with the whole change messaging and the idea that there's this outsider to the system who's going to come in and fundamentally re-work it. And clearly that has been a major part of what explains the success of the Obama campaign to defeat, you know, one of the most impressive political machines in the Clintons, and now to challenge the whole Republican structure. What is your view of the Obama campaign in terms of how authentic that message is? Or is it really just kind of an exploitation for political messaging purposes of some discontent that an Obama administration really wouldn't do very much about.

DS: Well, I think that the Obama campaign reflects the recognition that there is an uprising going on and that Obama has done a good job of positioning himself as a part of that uprising and in some ways a leader of the uprising. That where he's trying to position himself. What I would say is that how much he represents the uprising if and when he becomes president, will be a reflection of how much the uprising pressures him, and forces him to enact and champion real change. You know in the primaries, that controversial statement where Hillary Clinton said that Martin Luther King needed a president to pass civil rights legislation. You know I think that fundamentally misunderstood how power and politics works. You know, Lyndon Johnson did not wake up one morning after a career of opposing civil rights legislation and say, you know I'm going to be a nice guy, I've decided I'm going to be for civil rights now. This is not how it works in this country.

The way change happens is not through the messianic view of presidents, the paternalistic view of presidents, where they supposedly hand down change from Mount Olympus. What happens is is that uprisings and social movements change the political topography underneath politicians, make a politician, a consummate political calculator like Lyndon Johnson, wake up one morning and say, you know what, it's more politically safe for me to be for civil rights legislation than for me to be against it now. That effort, that work to change the political topography underneath the politicians has to continue, has to happen, and intensify, whoever is president. And if Obama does enact change, does champion real change in office, it will be because we have done that work and we have put that pressure on him. If we don't, I don't think there will bereal, substantive policy changes on a whole host of issues.

GG: Yeah, you know I think it's interesting, I've seen a lot of that debate recently of course with both the dissatisfaction that was expressed over Obama's reversal on the FISA bill and warrantless eavesdropping and retroactive immunity. This sort of sense that, well, there's really a danger in criticizing Obama too excessively or too vigorously, because to do that is to jeopardize his political prospects, sort of undermine his chances for success. Of the course the reality is that Obama as a politician like any other politician, responds to pressure points, and responds to the prospect of being rewarded and for being punished.

And so if you cede to the establishment, to the Fred Hyatts of the world and editorial boards across the country and TV stars, if you cede to them the prerogative to put pressure on politicians by saying if you stray too far from the establishment agenda, then if you become too populist or too radical, then we're going to demonize you and we're going to undermine your political prospects, then politicians are only going to respond to that. They're going to embraced the establishment agenda. The only real way to get them out of that form of thinking is to create an alternative pressure point that comes from populist movements or from organizing or from Internet complaints or from citizen anger, that says if you stray too far from our agenda, that's where the real punishment will lie and ultimately politicians need to realize that the price that they pay from betraying citizens is greater than the price that they pay from betraying the agenda of the ruling class. I mean is that is that fair way of looking at it, and do you think that...?

DS: Absolutely. I think it is a fair way of looking at it, and what I would say that we have to ask ourselves two things. One, what is an election really for? Is it for itself or is it an instrument of change? That what it's supposed to be for. Elections are supposed to be the instrument by which we make change and one of the ways to use the election as an instrument is to know as an election approaches, a politician gets more and more worried and more and more considering of popular public will, because the election is the moment of accountability.

And so if we as progressives don't use elections as a tool to pressure politicians, we are abdicating a huge amount of responsibility. I mean, we should see elections as the opportunity for us to most be able to pressure a politician to take positions and to take stands. As the election get closer the politician is going to become more and more nervous and that is an opportunity for a movement. Now to the argument that well, if you seize that opportunity too aggressively, using election too much as an instrument of just pressure, and you don't see that there is a need to win the election, then you will help lose the election. Well, you see, I even disagree with that premise. We saw this in the 2006 election. At the beginning of 2006, it's in my book, you can chart it chronologically, the Democratic Party was saying, we're not talking about the war at all. Nancy Pelosi is in the paper, we're not talking about the war, and there was a massive wave of pressure through protests, through Internet pressure, through campaign and primary campaign of Ned Lamont, to force that issue into the political debate and ultimately the Democratic Party was forced to take a much stronger position against the war. Its candidates were taking much stronger positions on the war because they were pressured to take those positions and that was the single most important reason that they won the 2006 election. So in other words the pressure on the party, on the politicians to take stronger stands, was decisive in winning the election, not losing the election. What would have lost the election is if there was no pressure, if there was no pressure because the establishment said if you put too much pressure on you'll lose the election. If we listened to that, we wouldn't have won the 2006 election.

GG: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. You know, there aren't many opportunities in American society to get people focused on and engaged with political issues. National elections are really the one time when the country focuses on those issues more than any other, and to squander that opportunity or to abdicate one's responsibility to use that process to effect the change that one thinks is necessary strikes me as really self-defeating and...

DS: It is and I would say if you believe you are pushing a majority issue, a majority policy, that the government and the politicians in question are not embracing, and if you can prove that – which with public opinion and actual data you can actually prove that on some issues – if you are pushing a majority position, if you are pushing politicians to take a majority position then your pressure only serves to help them win the election because they need a majority to win the election.

GG: Yeah, I think that's absolutely right and as you suggest earlier what is viewed as the majority or as the centrist position gets deliberately skewed by, you know, our political media and the by the political establishment. And so that kind of pressure can actually illuminate where the center really is for a candidate. I think you're absolutely right. Well, David I really appreciate your taking the time. I think your book is truly really interesting and raises all the right questions about what the real state of the country is and how that can be funneled into meaningful change, and I think it's provoked some really great debate and I hope it will continue to do so.

[Transcript courtesy of Peter Grey]

Monday, July 28, 2008

Transcript - Interview with Daniel Ellsberg

Salon Radio with Glenn Greenwald -- Interview with Daniel Ellsberg

GG: Welcome to Salon Radio With Glenn Greenwald. …

My guest today is Daniel Ellsberg who was the key figure in the Pentagon Papers controversy in the early1970s and who was one of the key figures in government in the 1960s and early1970s and today is really one of the most incisive commentators on a whole variety of current political issues.

DE: It’s really a pleasure to be with you Glenn. I’ve been following your work at Salon and even before that for the best window into what’s happening constitutionally in this country.

GG: Thank you. I appreciate that. I think a lot of people especially younger Americans are familiar with what you did as a citizen to stop the Vietnam War but not familiar with a lot of the details. So could you summarize what your role in that controversy: can you just describe what your background in government was and how you came to be involved with and have access to some of these sensitive documents on the Vietnam War?

DE: I worked for the RAND Corporation as a consultant to the Defense Department on issues of the command and control of nuclear weapons and nuclear war plans. I moved from that into the government as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense in 1964 working on the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the secret decisions to get us involved in a big way under President Johnson. Once that had happened I volunteered to go to Vietnam in the State Department, where I was eventually a special assistant to the Deputy Ambassador. I used my previous training as an infantry officer, I was a company commander in the Marine Corps in peacetime in the 1950s, to walk with troops in combat, and I saw the war up close.

I saw most provinces in Vietnam as part of evaluating pacification programs in the two years I was there, before I came back with hepatitis. I then worked at the RAND Corporation on a study for Secretary of Defense McNamara on Vietnam decision-making that came to be known as the Pentagon Papers after I released it to the newspapers and to the Senate a couple of years later.

GG: During the time when you were working at the Pentagon and you went to Vietnam in the 1960s, is it fair to say that you on the hawkish side of the political debate, that you were in favor of the war, that you thought it was a good idea, you had worked on escalating it?

DE: No, well, yes and no. [laughing] I was certainly a Cold Warrior. That was my profession, trying to defeat communist expansion as I understood it, not very well, at that time. I went to Vietnam having been there very quickly in1961 and perceived it as a losing proposition, very much, under the dictator we had installed, President Ngo Dinh Diem. We clearly had no prospect of defeating the Communist-led liberation front, which had the prestige in Vietnam of having defeated the French in the northern part of Vietnam. So I saw it as not the place to plant our cold war flag, if possible, but when the President did do that I thought it was my duty, responsibility, to get into the war to do the best I could to make something out of it, without much hope.

I think there were a few months when I was first there when I thought that our large-scale involvement should make it possible for us to achieve something there. Within months it was pretty clear that we were not going to achieve any kind of success of any kind, and people were being killed and we were losing Americans to no justifiable purpose or effect. And that was seen, I think, by most people who went to Vietnam. I can’t speak for them. Three million of them went. I think within months or a year – I was there two years – most people came to realize there was going to be no success and that the war should really be ended. The question really was, what to do about that?

When I came back from Vietnam my efforts for a couple of years, still within the system, now as a consultant again, were to work with Presidential candidates, both Republican and Democrat, trying to convince them that we ought to get out of Vietnam. I also worked with Congress people on that. To no effect.

And eventually, having worked with President Nixon and [his National Security Assistant] Henry Kissinger in the first months of their administration on Vietnam as a consultant, I learned from those contacts in the White House in 1969 that President Nixon was going to walk in the same footsteps as all of his predecessors, footsteps that were very well documented in the Pentagon Papers. I had full access to the Pentagon Papers as a researcher who was working for the Pentagon on learning “Lessons from Failure in Vietnam.” I was studying those at the RAND Corporation and read them as a record of four presidents’ lies, crimes, breaking treaties, deceiving Congress and the public into war in much the same way as we were deceived into the Iraq War. There’s a very close parallel there.

And I hoped when I learned that Nixon was going to continue the war and even expand it and was making secret threats, including nuclear threats, at that time, that Congress might better resist that or be skeptical of it if they understood the background. So I copied and gave the Senate [Foreign Relations Committee] the 7,000 top-secret pages of the study. The official name of which was “History of United States Decision-making on Vietnam, 1945-1968.” So it ended before Nixon came in, and unfortunately it didn’t prove the point that I wanted people to get, that President Nixon was pursuing the same kind of course and that the war would continue as it did. But at least it would show people that maybe they should be skeptical of what they were hearing from the President and exercise their own judgment: and maybe even take a risk of their careers in opposing it.

As far as I was concerned I was totally influenced by the example of some of the young Americans I met who were going to prison not just to protest the war but to refuse to participate in it, knowing that it was wrong. Well I felt the way that they did and I thought if they can do that--and I thought it was right for them to do that, to be willing to go to prison--then it should be right for me too. And I expected by giving these top-secret documents even to Congress, as I did, and later to the press that I would be prosecuted and go to prison for the rest of my life.

I had a wrong understanding of the law, which was shared by nearly everybody. We don’t actually have an Official Secrets Act—yet, although I think that might well lie in our future--which criminalizes any unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Almost nobody knows that we don’t have such a law, so [laughs] when they pass it I’m not sure they will notice. But in fact I was the first person to ever be prosecuted for leaking unauthorized documents. Did you know that, by the way?

GG: I didn’t. I knew that there were efforts in the 1990s to have an Official Secrets Act passed like the one they had in Britain where it is criminal to leak any classified information and President Clinton was opposed to that bill, to his credit. But I didn’t know that you were the first one prosecuted and I actually want to ask you about that.

You had said the Pentagon Papers ended in terms of the scope in 1968 which was three, almost four years earlier than the time that you were leaking them. What was the very grave concern in the White House on the part of the Nixon administration about what the impact of these papers would be? Why were they so affected by what it was that you were doing?

DE: Nixon and Kissinger immediately hated the precedent of anybody revealing secrets like that because they were rightly afraid that people would leak their own secrets. So they were anxious to have me prosecuted: even though no one ever had been, which I’m sure they didn’t realize.

GG: You mean prosecuted as a warning or a deterrent to others who might want to expose their wrong-doing?

DE: That was the reason for their prosecution. In terms of getting the actual material out, as the tapes from the Oval Office have shown, they were actually happy about that.

That mainly showed that the Democrats had gotten us in, the Democrats had done the lies. And although, oddly, Rumsfeld, who was in the White House then, and Haldeman were a little uneasy about the fact that it did reveal that presidents do lie, Nixon was actually not worried about that. He bet on the likelihood that the public would still credit the statements of the incumbent president no matter how much demonstration there was of past lying. And basically he was right. I didn’t succeed in convincing people that President Nixon was doing the same, until later.

But, though the public and even I didn’t know it at the time, Nixon did understandably become totally worried that I had documents on him beyond the Pentagon Papers. And I did have some. I didn’t have, unfortunately, as much as he feared. But to stop me from putting out documents on his nuclear threats and his plans to escalate he took a number of actions that at that time were clearly illegal.

I was overheard on warrant-less wiretaps. Nixon started a group nicknamed the White House Plumbers, supposedly to stop leaks. But the leaks they were afraid of were leaks that I might yet make, hadn’t done yet. To stop me from doing that, this group burglarized the office of my former psychoanalyst looking for information that I wouldn’t want known, that could blackmail me into being silent about further revelations.

I was already on trial at this point facing twelve felony counts, fifteen with my co-defendant Anthony Russo, including a conspiracy count; I had twelve counts, which added up to a possible sentence of 115 years. In the midst of that trial he sent people into the doctor’s office; later he sent some of these same people, with a bunch of Cuban, former CIA employees, assets from the Bay of Pigs, in order to “incapacitate me totally,” to kill me-- according to the prosecutor—or, I think, just incapacitate me, to keep me from talking.

These crimes had to be kept secret, so he in effect bribed a number of them to commit perjury about what they knew about earlier crimes in front of the grand jury [after they had been caught in the Watergate offices a few weeks after the attempted assault on me]. That constituted further crimes that had to be kept secret, obstructions of justice, and he was digging himself in further and further, safely he thought, unless somebody talked. And [John] Dean did talk and that ultimately brought the house of cards down. And it did lead to the ending of my trial, but more importantly it did face him with impeachment and prosecution and got him out of office, and actually had an effect in shortening the war.

GG: So much of what you just said is so fascinating as a historical matter and then also so relevant in so many self-evident ways to our current political crises. The eavesdropping is just one aspect and the deceit about how we got into the Vietnam War and stayed in it is another. But one of the things I’ve always found most interesting about your story is that you were really someone who was quite embedded in the political establishment. You had extraordinary classified access and top-secret clearance. You had been at high levels of the government for the entire decade. You had graduated from Harvard. You were at the RAND Corporation, the sort of peak of the military-industrial complex in some way.

And for you to take the risk that you did – and as you said, you expected to end up in prison for life – is a really extraordinary decision that we’ve seen very little of over the last years. We’ve seen a little bit of it. But really we’ve seen very little of people risking their own personal interests to expose severe government wrongdoing. What was the thought process that really led you to take that risk? You said that you were inspired by some of the young people, but the risk that you were taking was of an entirely different magnitude. What pushed you to do that?

DE: The risks they were taking were, actually… exposed them to a few years of prison, which [laughs] is long enough to deter most people. But they had very, very little incentive in the sense of any sense that by sitting in the doorway of an induction center or by refusing to send back their change of address to a draft- board--which was enough to send you to prison if it was deliberate-- that it would have any effect on the war. Now it did have a big effect on me. I felt the power of that on my own life, the example of somebody willing to take that risk. I wouldn’t have thought of doing something that would put me in prison forever without that example.

Why the Pentagon Papers, in turn, have not encouraged people to do [something similar], with its demonstration that it did in the end have some effect, through Nixon’s actions against me and the vulnerabilities that that exposed him to, why more people haven’t done that, [I don’t really know]. I’ve been asking people for several years in the government through every channel I can--which is inadequate; they don’t let me get in front of an audience in the State Department and Defense Department any more, I wish they did--but when I can, as in the Harper’s article I wrote a couple years ago, which is on my website, ellsberg.net--I’ve been saying to such people:

“Don’t do what I did.

“Don’t wait until the new war has started in Iran, or Iraq in the past. Don’t wait till the bombs are falling and more thousands of people have died, before you do what I wish I had done in 1964 or 1965, years before I did do it: go to Congress, go to the press—both, by the way, not just Congress or they won’t act, as I found—go with documents and tell the truth. And do it at risk to your own clearances, your careers. These are not light risks. But there’s a war’s worth of lives at stake.”

I frankly don’t have an answer as to why more people, or actually any others, have not done that. You’re asking what my own thought process was on that. It was really quite simple at the time. I had been willing as a Marine and I actually did in Vietnam as a civilian take the kind of risks of my life that hundreds of thousands of people took in Vietnam and hundreds of thousands have taken now in Iraq, risks to my body, risks to my life. That was regarded as very normal in the service of your country, not pathological, just ordinary patriotism.

Why people who have risked their lives and their bodies – in many case the same people, in the government or Congress– why they are not willing to take any risk at all, as far as I can see, of their clearances, their jobs, their office, I don’t understand. It’s easy to see why a lot don’t do it, the costs are great. But why nobody?

I think we should demand more of people in terms of their willingness and their obligation to carry out their oath of office. You know, I took that oath as a Marine Corps officer and as a Defense Department official and as a State Department official, over and over, and it’s the same oath that every officer takes and every member of Congress. And that’s not an oath to the President. We don’t have a Fuehrer, that we swear a blood oath to. And it’s not an oath to secrecy. The oath of office is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Now I would say that every member of Congress who recently voted for this FISA Amendment Act--I would say very frankly--violated that oath, just as innumerable members of the Administration have violated that oath of office. And…they should stop doing that.

GG: Well I certainly as you all know, agree with that assessment but what I think is particularly interesting in your case is that I think there’s this sense that unfortunately has now arisen…you talked earlier how one of the things that Nixon or at least Haldeman and Kissinger feared was that the release of the Pentagon Papers would undermine this sense of Presidential infallibility, that was the real harm of it, but that if…

DE: Nixon disagreed. Nixon knew that that sense of Presidential infallibility is so strong, people desire to believe the President or at least not get into a public confrontation with him. Nixon thought even the Pentagon Papers wouldn’t affect it, and he was basically right.

GG: Right, although certainly the Watergate abuses [DE: right]. and the things the Church Committee uncovered eventually led to things like the FISA bill which was based on the premise that we don’t trust the President to eavesdrop without judicial supervision because it had been abused. And yet what we just saw again is a complete abandonment of that realization by once again vesting with the President the power to spy on Americans and our conversations without warrants, to cover up the crimes that have been committed over the past five years when we know that the President has been spying on our communications without warrants. We don’t bother to find out how he spied or to what end that power was used and don’t bother hold him accountable in a court of law.

As somebody who was actually subjected to surveillance of that kind, whose psychiatrist’s office was broken into by the federal government in order to obtain damaging information on you and keep you in check or blackmail you or otherwise render you incapable of challenging the government and our political leaders in some way-- exactly the kind of abuses that FISÅ was intended to prevent and that Congress just once again enabled--how did you react, kind of, as a citizen? I know you said that you felt they violated their oath to the Constitution, anyone in Congress who voted for that. Could you elaborate on that a little as well?

DE: Well, I couldn’t help noticing as far back as 2001, when the so-called PATRIOT Act was passed, that acts that had been taken against me which were crimes had suddenly been legalized. The break-in to my psychoanalyst’s office, even without a warrant, is as I understand it, covered by the “sneak and peak” provisions of the PATRIOT Act. The use of the CIA against me in a psychological profile, which was illegal then, against their charter, was now legalized. The CIA has now been “freed” to cooperate directly with the FBI and with law enforcement to be part of a kind of secret police, a political police. The overhearing by warrant-less wiretapping is of course something that they had been doing all this time [and is now legalized by the FISA Amendment Act]. So acts that confronted Nixon with impeachment and were clearly repudiated when they were discovered back in the 1970s and led to the ending of my trial but more importantly later consequences for the president, those acts in the wake of 9/11 have been legalized.

There’s a contrast here. If the President had done these various things for a day or a week or a month in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I think very few people would have bothered or felt like criticizing that in an emergency, of necessity, when they didn’t know what was happening. But to keep these things going secretly for six or seven years is a different matter.

And worst of all, as you point out, Congress when actually called on moved to legalize these things now. I’m not a lawyer--I’m a defendant [laughs]--but it’s a question in my mind whether you can simply amend the Çonstitution by majority votes like this, whether they can really make these things legal against the Fourth Amendment and other amendments of the Constitution. But at least Congress did what they could with the amendments to the FISA act to legalize these things when the President called on them to do it.

So here’s the difference in the situation. As I say, I thought it was ominous even in 2001. I think it’s worse than ominous now. There has been a kind of fait accompli. I call it a coup; and with the complicity of Congress. Namely: there was a theory that President Nixon espoused, when he told David Frost after he was out of office: “When the president does it, it’s not illegal.” That was a philosophy that he acted on; but it was rejected then, as clearly incompatible with our form of government, with our Constitution, with democracy, with freedom as we understood it and practiced it.

This president has done the same acts, maybe on a larger scale but pretty much the same (and for that matter even Johnson had done it). He’s done it with a clear-cut philosophy that Nixon shared, “When the President does it, it’s not illegal.” As you put it there’s a two-tier system here, “laws that apply to the rest of us don’t apply to the President, he is beyond the law.” And Congress has with this vote essentially ratified that and confirmed it. So it seems to me it’s not a straw in the wind anymore; the government has changed, as I see it, with the complicity of Congress. The Supreme Court isn’t fully aboard yet on some five-four decisions, but one more Supreme Court Justice under McCain would switch that.

Let me refer back to Benjamin Franklin’s comment about our government when he was coming out of our Constitutional Convention. And he was coming out and a woman asked him—because the proceedings having been secret up until then-- “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” And he said, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Well, as of now, as of July 2008, I would say we haven’t kept it. We don’t have a republic in the sense of the constitutionally-limited kinds of powers that the Constitution required. When people go to the polls in November…and especially in light of the fact that even Barack Obama--who I support, and I think it’s essential, necessary that he be elected--but with his support of this FISA amendment he’s indicated very clearly that it is not his intention to roll back this usurpation of presidential powers, he’s accepting the powers that Congress and this president are going to bequeath him-- so I think [in November] the people will be choosing between two…what?… not presidents in the sense of the Constitution…but two kings, two people with dictatorial powers.

GG: Two emperors.

DE: Am I going overboard when I say that? What is your opinion?

GG: I think it always seems that hard core indictments of one’s own time and one’s own political system are exaggerated because people only see the extremism of their time retrospectively. I think it strikes people as hyperbole because they just think we don’t have a king, we don’t have an emperor, just instinctively believe that. But if you just look at the very definition of what an empire is, of what a monarchy is, and the sort of defining attributes of what those systems of government are, certainly we’re a lot closer to that in terms of how we now function practice than we are to the constitutional republic that we began as.

DE: The republic has been threatened by these actions and by the complicity of Congress over these seven years, but I think a turning point, a tipping point, has been reached here. You know, “republic” isn’t a definitely defined thing. There was the Union of Soviet Socialist “Republics,” there was the German Democratic Republic, the East German satellite dominated by the Stasi, the secret police. Well, I’d say that the National Security Agency has just been set free of legal restraints to do a kind of surveillance that the Stasi couldn’t technically dream of at that time.

And that means that the ability of this government to blackmail anybody--the way, for example, that Nixon precisely hoped to blackmail me, by illegally gaining information about my private life, that’s exactly what he had in mind – they could do that against every Congressperson, every journalist and source, every political activist. [DE: I question whether you can long preserve a real democracy with that kind of capability, that unlimited knowledge of private affairs, in the hands of the government.]

GG: And of course we don’t know the extent to which they’ve been doing that, if they’ve done it at all because it has been kept behind a wall of secrecy. One of the reasons why I think you’re such a relevant person on these issues and why I was so anxious to talk to you including as the debut guest for what we’re doing is because one of the things that happened in the 1950s and the 1960s and into the early1970s was there was this accumulation of executive power where we believed in the presidency as this infallible office and there was very little oversight. And it was only this political turmoil of Nixon’s impending impeachment and high political officials going to prison and true oversight and investigation by the Church Committee and other Congressional investigations and real political dissatisfaction did we at least reverse at least a little bit of that and start to impose some restraints on presidential power and restraints on what the president can do.

One of the reasons that I’ve been so disturbed and concerned about this bipartisan attitude among Obama supporters and certainly among all the McCain supporters is that whoever the next President is you should just let all this go or write it off as just a good faith error or just something that we don’t want to spend time investigating is because if you do that you lose what historically has been the only real mechanism for reversing some of these really bad trends and for creating some remedies.

If we just decide that when Barack Obama is inaugurated or John McCain is that we are just going to forget about everything that has happened these last seven years which is what a lot of people are suggesting, how will it even be remotely possible to reverse some of those trends over the last seven years? Won’t we essentially then just be buying into this form of government that you call a kingdom or a monarchy or an empire more or less irrevocably? What mechanisms exist for reversing some of it if we just decide that we’re going to overlook it all and not apply to the rule of law and just sort of let it go?

DE: Unfortunately, as of right now, the prospects for changing that--for upholding the rule of law--in terms of what has been happening and the powers that the president will continue to have in the next administration, are not too promising. It’s not that I think, I have no reason to believe that Obama is against the Constitution and against the rule of law, in the sense, by the way, that David Addington--the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, who has been the chief architect of many of these policies--and Cheney and Bush themselves, are, I think, enemies of the Constitution, in the sense that the oath of office refers to when one swears to “uphold the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

I think that in that sense Cheney and Bush have been and are domestic enemies of our actual Constitution, as written. And I don’t say that rhetorically. I’m not saying that they’re traitors or disloyal in their feelings toward this country, or that they don’t want the best for this country. I think they want the best for this country, but what they think is best is something other than our Constitution of the last two hundred years. It is something like an elected dictatorship.

They have a right to believe that. But they don’t have a right to act on that as they have [after taking that oath]. The question here is, as you’re raised, how can we change that if we don’t hold them to account somehow? Well, I think we have to be very creative here in finding ways to repudiate that point of view and roll it back and restore our Constitution. Perhaps some way other than impeachment: which is the straightforward way, but which by every indication the Democrats are simply determined not to give us and are not going to do it now this year, unfortunately.

And Obama has indicated as of now… with his advisor Cass Sunstein, who I think you demolished when you interviewed him the other day--I would have been dizzied, listening to him if I was in your place, and as an advisor to Obama…there were just wild descriptions of what democracy requires--but with that kind of advice, we have to assume that Obama, who also wants to bring people together and to reach across the aisle and to look towards the future, none of those indicate he will be interested in pursuing these issues.

It does give us a strong incentive to try in the remaining months to get Congress to at least assert in some way or other the kind of investigation that Conyers has not yet made in the Judiciary Committee, and that none of the committees have, that define these things as illegal and unconstitutional and to educate people as to what the Constitution requires.

GG: Just on that point, I certainly think that if you were to sit down with Obama and in an academic setting or conversational way and ask him about his views on many of these constitutional issues, that he would say many of the right things and believe them. I don’t think that he’s an advocate of or a believer in this monarchical Article II perversion that has governed our country for the last seven years. The problem though is that if you look at some of those investigations – the Church Committee and the Watergate Committee and things of that sort, what you had was a very aggressive action on the part of the Congress, at least ultimately, and Democrats and Republicans alike because it was really an investigation of things Nixon and the White House had done. What you have here by contrast and I think critical contrast is something that the Bush administration did but that it purposely involved many of the top Democrats in Congress by briefing them, by getting their tacit or explicit approval and so the appetite for really uncovering what happened I think is greatly diminished if not eliminated completely by the fact that the people who are running the Congress on behalf of the Democrats feel to some extent or another feel implicated in some of those actions.

DE: I had come to that suspicion earlier. I actually heard John Conyers, head of the Judiciary Committee, say in a meeting that he was open to the idea and that he would propose to Speaker Nancy Pelosi a Select Committee like the Ervin Committee which looked into the Watergate abuses or the Church Committee that looked into the abuses of the intelligence community in the 1970s – both of them, by the way, prior to impeachment investigations, they were just investigations of crimes by whoever, not necessarily the president. Of course they enlightened us very much and they did lead to legislation that was useful in their time.

There should have been and there should now be a Select Committee – the point of a Select Committee being that it crosses jurisdictional lines, it doesn’t just keep things in the Intelligence Committees: which, I would say, deserve investigations themselves, possibly by a prosecutor. Hard to get, but that’s what you need. It’s clear now that these Committees were made aware of clear-cut blatant crimes that were proposed and were ongoing. I’m talking about torture, rendition and the illegal surveillance. The leaders were made aware of that. They not only didn’t expose it, they approved it. They didn’t even tell, as the law required, their colleagues on the committees.

What other crimes have we not yet learned that they have approved, that are going on?

So they are totally complicit. So at least the Judiciary Committee--which I understand was not brought in on the negotiations about this FISA deal though it clearly had been in their purview--they should be brought in across committee lines. They should have a special staff, with better lawyers then the committees now have by the way – I would love to see you in on such an investigation, like a Watergate investigation--with good budgeting and enough time to look into this.

We can’t count on Obama--not because he’s complicit himself, he wasn’t, and like you he’s a constitutional lawyer - but what President has ever eschewed and cut back powers that were bequeathed to him? It seems engraved on the desk in the Oval Office, “You must leave this office at least as powerful as when you entered it.” They all seem to sign on to that, though it’s not, in fact, their oath of office.

GG: Right.

DE: So we just can’t count on any president to do that by himself, or we can’t count on the present Democratic leadership in Congress. We do need a Democratic Congress rather than Republican because the Republicans are even worse, as in the case of presidential candidates. But that’s not enough. We have to change the attitude of the Democratic leaders in Congress, to bring them more in line with their oath of office and with the Progressive Caucus and away from these Blue Dog Lieberman Democrats that have dominated what they’re doing. Maybe you want to comment on that. You have raised possibilities for political action that may actually change priorities in Congress and I think that’s of extreme urgency.

GG: We’re a little over time and this is an ongoing segment now, three times a week, I will absolutely have you back on again very shortly. And we can talk about, having kind of explored the road how we got here, we can talk more, focus on more how if at all it’s possible to start reversing it.

DE: Yeah, we haven’t talked about how to fix it, that’s important. But just to define the situation we’re in, I’d like to sum up what I’ve been saying, by saying, unhappily, that when I pledge allegiance as of now, after that recent [FISA Amendments] vote, I will be pledging it “to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stood.”

And that’s a situation I want to change.

GG: And, hopefully, “can stand again.” “Can stand again,” I think, is the aspiration, to be able to add on to that phrase.

DE: We’ve got to get it back.

GG: Yeah.

DE: As Langston Hughes said, O, let America be America again--/ The land that never has been yet--/ And yet must be—”…

He said…I just looked that up again, actually, because it stuck in my mind.

“ O yes,/ I say it plain,/ America never was America to me,” (as a black man) “And yet I swear this oath--/America will be!”

GG: Well it’s a very eloquent and inspiring note to end on.