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Topics

James Risen Prepared to "Pay Any Price" to Report on War on Terror Amid Crackdown on Whistleblowers

October 14, 2014
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Guests

James Risenan investigative journalist with The New York Times. In 2006, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his stories about warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency. He has been pursued by both the Bush and Obama administrations as part of a six-year leak investigation into his previous book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. His new book is Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War.

We spend the hour with veteran New York Times investigative reporter James Risen, the journalist at the center of one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades. In 2006, Risen won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting about warrantless wiretapping of Americans by the National Security Agency. He has since been pursued by both the Bush and Obama administrations in a six-year leak investigation into that book, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration." Risen now faces years in prison if he refuses to testify at the trial of a former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, who is accused of giving him classified information about the agency’s role in disrupting Iran’s nuclear program, which he argues effectively gave Iran a blueprint for designing a bomb. The Obama administration must now decide if it will try to force Risen’s testimony, despite new guidelines issued earlier this year that make it harder to subpoena journalists for their records. Risen’s answer to this saga has been to write another book, released today, titled "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War." "You cannot have aggressive investigative reporting in America without confidential sources — and without aggressive investigative reporting, we can’t really have a democracy," Risen says. "I think that is what the government really fears more than anything else." Risen also details revelations he makes in his new book about what he calls the "homeland security-industrial complex."


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour with the journalist at the center of one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades: veteran New York Times investigative reporter James Risen. In 2006, Risen won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting about warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency. His story would have come out right before the 2004 presidential election of President Bush over John Kerry. It might have changed the outcome of that election. But under government pressure, The New York Times refused to publish the story for more than a year, until James Risen was publishing a book that would have had the revelations in it. He’s since been pursued by both the Bush and Obama administrations in a six-year leak investigation into that book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.

James Risen now faces years in prison if he refuses to testify at the trial of a former CIA officer accused of giving him classified information. In June, the Supreme Court turned down his appeal of a court ruling forcing him to testify in the criminal trial of ex-CIA analyst Jeffrey Sterling, who prosecutors believe gave him information on the agency’s role in disrupting Iran’s nuclear program. In State of War, Risen showed that instead of hampering Iran’s efforts, the CIA effectively gave Iran a blueprint for designing a bomb. James Risen has vowed to go to jail rather than testify at Sterling’s trial, which is set to begin in January.

In a story broadcast Sunday, General Michael Hayden, who led the CIA until 2009 and, before that, led the NSA, told Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes he does not think Risen should be forced to divulge his source.

MICHAEL HAYDEN: I’m conflicted. I know the damage that is done. And I do. But I also know the free press necessity in a free society. And it actually might be that I think, no, he’s wrong, that was a mistake, that was a terrible thing to do, America will suffer because of that story. But then I have to think about: So, how do I redress that? And if the method of redressing that actually harms the broad freedom of the press, that’s still wrong. The government needs to be strong enough to keep me safe, but I don’t want it so strong that it threatens my liberties.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, the Obama administration must now decide if it will try to force James Risen’s testimony and risk sending one of the nation’s most prominent national security journalists to jail. President Obama has already developed a reputation as the most aggressive in history when it comes to targeting whistleblowers. His Justice Department has brought eight cases so far, more than all previous administrations combined. On Friday, federal prosecutors hinted they may decide not to press for Risen’s testimony, under new guidelines issued earlier this year that make it harder to subpoena journalists for their records.

James Risen’s answer to this saga has been to write another book. Released today, it’s titled Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. He writes the book is his answer to how, quote, "to best challenge the government’s draconian efforts to crack down on aggressive investigative reporting and suppress the truth in the name of ceaseless war."

James Risen, welcome back to Democracy Now!

JAMES RISEN: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us.

JAMES RISEN: Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your new book is Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. You’re quoting John Kennedy here.

JAMES RISEN: Yes, yes. And I think that’s what we have done since 9/11. We’ve paid an enormous price in the name of what we—we started this war after 9/11, this global war on terror, in order to seek justice or retribution or whatever you—however you want to characterize the attitude of America right after 9/11. But today it’s become essentially a search for cash, and there’s lots of people involved in the war on terror today who are doing it because they’re ambitious, because they want status or power or money. And I think of it kind of in the historical sense. The historical context is kind of like in the Middle Ages when you had the Thirty Years’ War or the Hundred Years’ War in Europe, where you developed a whole new class of mercenary soldiers, who all they did their entire careers is go from one country to another to fight wars for money.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, as you expose a great deal in Pay Any Price, you yourself are under, as I just documented, enormous pressure.

JAMES RISEN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you continue to write these front-page pieces for The New York Times, write this book, Pay Any Price, as you face the possibility of years in jail?

JAMES RISEN: Well, it’s what I do. It’s my job. You know, it’s what keeps me sane, is to keep going. If I just gave in to them, then I would be, you know, failing in what I want to do. I want to keep finding out the truth. It’s the thing I’ve tried to do my whole life, is be a reporter and be a writer. It’s the only thing I know how to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, in a moment, we’re going to talk extensively about these stunning revelations in Pay Any Price, but if you could go back to what you revealed, before Edward Snowden, and how it eventually came into The New York Times, that won it and you a Pulitzer Prize?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, well, the—I guess you mean the original NSA stories. We, in 2004, Eric Lichtblau and I, had a number of different sources who began to tell us early on in 2004 that they were very—they knew something really big, they knew the biggest secret in the government, but they couldn’t tell us, because they were so nervous. They were very tortured by what they knew. And it took months of kind of patience and talking and reporting for Eric and I to figure out exactly what it was that they were talking about, and finally we were able to piece it all together. And in the fall of 2004, we had the story ready to go.

I had a great confrontation over the telephone with Michael Hayden, who you just saw, where I read him the—I got him on the phone kind of by bluffing the PR person at the NSA and said, "I need to talk to him right now." And I was shocked that he got on the phone. And I read him the top of the draft of the story, and he goes, "[gasps]." And that’s when I knew we had it. And so, we had the story ready. But then, by, you know, then, Hayden and the government started to crack down on The New York Times and pressured them to hold the story ’til—even though it was ready about two or three weeks before the election, in mid-October 2004. And then, after the election—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, wait.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you just explain, what does it mean when the government pressures, you know, the leading newspaper in the United States?

JAMES RISEN: Well, they—

AMY GOODMAN: What does that look like? Do they march through the offices of The New York Times into Bill Keller the executive editor’s office?

JAMES RISEN: No. Well, usually what they ask is for us to go to them. The first meeting was between—I think it was probably early October, late September of 2004, between me and the Washington bureau chief at the time, Phil Taubman, and John McLaughlin, who was then the acting CIA director, and his chief of staff, John Moseman. And we met at the CIA director’s downtown office at the old executive office building. And it was a very funny meeting, because at that time they didn’t want to acknowledge that the story was right. They didn’t want to officially acknowledge. And so, they had all these hypothetical—we had this very weird hypothetical conversation, where they kept saying, "Well, if you were to—if the government was doing what you say they were doing, it would be very bad for you to reveal that." And then they—then, that was just the beginning of a whole series of meetings with the editors and us, the reporters, in which they said that this is the crown jewel of the U.S. counterterrorism operation, and that if you reveal this, this will damage national security. And so, that was essentially the argument that they used then and they used throughout the entire process.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it went higher than you and the Washington editor.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, it kept going higher and higher and higher.

AMY GOODMAN: And the election is coming closer and closer and closer.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah, and they met with Taubman and Keller. And then we had—you know, we in the newspaper, the editors and reporters—met to discuss the story, and Bill Keller decided to hold it. And then the election—you know, so he decided to not run it before the election. And then, after the election—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it could have changed the election? I mean, explain the nut—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —of your revelation.

JAMES RISEN: Basically, the story was that we found out that the U.S. was spying on Americans—the NSA was spying on Americans electronically, listening to their phone calls, international phone calls, back and forth with people overseas, and gathering lots of—doing lots of data mining on their phone and email, and also getting the content of their email, and doing that without court approval. They were going around the FISA court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which had been set up specifically for that purpose of providing secret warrants for spying on—for eavesdropping on spies and terrorists or suspected spies and terrorists. And the government had decided to go around the law, go around the courts, and not tell anyone else that they were doing that, except a couple hand-picked people in Congress, who were like the chairmen of the intelligence committees. And they were keeping this secret from everyone so they could do it on a vast scale. And we believed that what we were—the people who talked to us about it believed that it was unconstitutional. And that’s why we were pursuing it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Bill Binney for a minute, who we had on Democracy Now! William Binney was the National Security Agency whistleblower, spent nearly 40 years at the NSA, but retired about a month after September 11, 2001, due to concerns over unchecked domestic surveillance. Speaking on Democracy Now! in 2012, Binney explained what happened.

WILLIAM BINNEY: After 9/11, all the wraps came off for NSA, and they decided to—between the White House and NSA and CIA, they decided to eliminate the protections on U.S. citizens and collect on domestically. So they started collecting from a commercial—the one commercial company that I know of that participated provided over 300—probably, on the average, about 320 million records of communication of a U.S. citizen to a U.S. citizen inside this country.

AMY GOODMAN: What company?

WILLIAM BINNEY: AT&T. It was long-distance communications. So they were providing billing data. At that point, I knew I could not stay, because it was a direct violation of the constitutional rights of everybody in the country. Plus it violated the pen register law and Stored Communications Act, the Electronic Privacy Act, the intelligence acts of 1947 and 1978. I mean, it was just this whole series of—plus all the laws covering federal communications governing telecoms. I mean, all those laws were being violated, including the Constitution. And that was a decision made that wasn’t going to be reversed, so I could not stay there. I had to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: That was National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney. So he leaves, and he ultimately has a gun put to his head by federal authorities in his shower—he’s a diabetic amputee—his kid and his wife also being held at gunpoint.

JAMES RISEN: Right, yes, unfortunately, and I have a chapter in my new book about the NSA whistleblowers early on, including Bill and Diane Roark and Tom Drake and some of the others. And it’s remarkable what happened to them at the NSA. What we found out, years later—I did not know Bill, I didn’t know Diane or Tom. They were never our sources. But what we found out was, the government thought that they were our sources for our New York Times story, and they were persecuted as a result, even though they had never come to the press. And I detail in the new book, Diane Roark, in particular, suffered amazing persecution. And she tried—even though she tried to go through the channel—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who she was—is.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, Diane Roark—along with Bill, Diane Roark was the House Intelligence Committee staffer in charge of oversight of the NSA, and right at the time of 9/11. And Bill, right after he found out about this new program, went to her, her house in suburban Washington, and told her what he had heard about. And Diane was outraged and shocked, and she couldn’t believe that it was authorized. She thought this must be some kind of rogue program that nobody really knew about. And so, she went to the chairman of the—she went to her bosses, the staff director of the House Intelligence Committee and the minority staff director, to warn them that they’ve got to tell the chairman and the vice chairman of the committee what’s going on.

And then she gets this message back: "Don’t talk about this anymore. Don’t investigate it. And keep your mouth shut." And she realizes that the chairman and the vice chairman already know about it and are keeping it secret. And so, she then tries to—goes on this long odyssey within the government of going to all these powerful people that she knows inside the government to try to warn them about this illegal and unconstitutional program. And every time she goes to someone that she respects and who is very powerful, she realizes they already know, they’re in on the secret, and they’re keeping their mouths shut. And finally, about a year later—a couple years later, after our story comes out, the government thinks that she’s our source, and they raid her house, and they raid Bill’s house and a few other people, like Tom Drake.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the piece doesn’t get published before the election. You try again right after the election.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, we convinced the editors, well, if you’re not going to run it now, let us try again after the election. And so, after the election, they said OK. And so Eric and I go start working on the story again. We get it re-edited by our editor, Rebecca Corbett, and we have it all ready to go again. You know, we do a lot more reporting. I remember we, Eric and I, knocked on doors, and we went to this one guy who we knew, at his house late at night right before Christmas—we knew he knew about this, and we knock on his door, and he just starts yelling at us for bothering him. And he was clearly scared. He didn’t want to talk. But we had the story ready to go by mid- to late December of 2004, and then the editors killed it again for the same reasons, that it’s national security.

And so, by that time, the story was dead. I knew it was—they were not going to run it at all. And so, I had a previously scheduled book leave to work on my book, State of War, and so I decided I’m going to put it in my book. And so I did. And then, when I came back from book leave in the summer—spring or summer of 2005, you know, and I finished the book throughout the summer, and I think by late summer, I told the editors, "It’s going to be in my book, so you should think about running it."

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Bill Keller in 60 Minutes with Lesley Stahl, when she asked him, then the executive editor of The New York Times, about a meeting he was summoned to at the White House that made Keller decide not to run James Risen’s story.

BILL KELLER: The president said, you know, "If there’s another attack like 9/11, you know, we’re going to be called up before Congress to explain how we let that happen, and you should be sitting alongside us." It was, in effect, you know, "You could have blood on your hands."

LESLEY STAHL: He was saying, if anything goes wrong, we’re going to blame you.

BILL KELLER: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times. What was your answer to him? I’m sure he said that to you.

JAMES RISEN: Well, we had lots of talks over about 14 months. And actually, their talks—you know, the talks we had, me and Eric had, with the editors were very high-minded. It was an interesting debate. And we debated kind of this issue of national security versus civil liberties in a lot of ways. I always thought afterwards, you know, you could have put those debates we had inside the paper on television. They were pretty interesting. But ultimately, what really, I think, convinced Bill was, in the fall of 2005, when they were—after I told them it was going to be in my book, and they decided to re-engage on the story—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that’s putting it politely. It’s going to be very embarrassing—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, right.

AMY GOODMAN: —as their top national security reporter reveals his revelations not in the pages of the Times, but in your book.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah. Well, what they said was, "We’ll think about putting"—after I told them it was going to be in my book, in the late summer of 2005, what they said was, "OK, we’ll think about putting it in the paper." But they weren’t committed to it. They wanted to negotiate again with the government. And so, there were a whole series of new meetings with the government, and which was very frustrating to me. What the government told them that fall was: "Risen and Lichtblau have it wrong. We’re not listening to anybody’s phone calls. We’re only getting the metadata, you know, the calling data." And when the editors came back and told us that, we told—Eric and I said, "They’re lying to you." And finally, after a while, Eric and I were able to convince them, you know, that they were being lied to, and I think that had a major impact on their final decision to run the story.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, the story comes out, and you win a Pulitzer Prize for your book. But there is something else that the Times decided not to publish—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —that is what you are being prosecuted for now.

JAMES RISEN: Right. There was another story, a CIA operation involving the Iran nuclear weapons program, in which the CIA had used a Russian defector to give nuclear blueprints to the Iranians. And the idea was that they were supposed to be flawed blueprints that would then send the Iranians down the wrong track on building a bomb. But the Russian told them immediately, "Oh, I can see the flaws," because he was a scientist, he was a nuclear scientist. He says, "I can see the flaws. The Iranians are going to see the flaws." And then he sent a letter. When he gave the blueprints to the Iranians, he gave a letter to the Iranians saying, "You’re going to see that there are problems in these blueprints." And so, it’s quite possible that the Iranians were able to—by being tipped off, were able to find good information in them and ignore the bad information.

And that was in my book. I had written that for the paper in—before, and the editors had decided not to run it because the White House asked them not to on national security grounds. And after my book came out, the government began leak investigations of both the NSA story and other things in my book, including that story. I think they finally decided not to come after The New York Times on the NSA story, because it would have meant a major constitutional showdown. And I think they decided to find something else in my book to come after me on, to isolate me from The New York Times. And they picked the Merlin operation.

AMY GOODMAN: And they want to know your source.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, they want to know who my sources are for that story.

AMY GOODMAN: Did it surprise you that it went from the Bush administration to the Obama administration?

JAMES RISEN: Yes. I thought that once the Obama administration came into office, that the whole thing would be dropped. And I was very surprised that the Obama administration continued to pursue the case, when, in 2009, they issued a new subpoena. And they’ve continued to pursue this ever since.

AMY GOODMAN: You told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, President Obama is "the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation"?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, I think that his record speaks for itself. He’s gone after—he’s prosecuted more whistleblowers and gone after more journalists than any president in history. He’s done—I think that record is going to be a major part of his legacy, of trying to erode press freedom in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist James Risen. He has just published a new book—it’s out today—called Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. When we come back, we’ll talk about what he calls "the homeland security-industrial complex." Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re spending the hour with James Risen, investigative journalist with The New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His new book, just out today, is Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. You’re being pursued by the U.S. government. Will you reveal the name of your source?

JAMES RISEN: No.

AMY GOODMAN: Because?

JAMES RISEN: I just think that the—you know, you cannot have aggressive investigative reporting in America without confidential sources. And without aggressive investigative reporting, we can’t really have a democracy, because the only real oversight for the government is an independent and aggressive press. And I think that’s what the government really fears more than anything else, is an aggressive investigative reporting in which we shine a light on what’s going on inside the government. And we can’t do that without maintaining the confidentiality of sources.

AMY GOODMAN: Has President Obama, Eric Holder or anyone else in the administration signaled to you that they may not demand that you testify and reveal your source?

JAMES RISEN: No.

AMY GOODMAN: These reports that were in The Washington Post on Friday, and Michael Hayden saying, former NSA head saying, that perhaps you shouldn’t be prosecuted, do they encourage you?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, well, I’m glad to hear that, but we’ll see. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: In June, Attorney General Eric Holder met with a group of journalists to discuss press freedom issues and was asked about the Justice Department’s subpoena of you, of James Risen, to testify in the trial of ex-CIA analyst Jeffrey Sterling. According to the Times, Holder said, quote, "As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail. As long as I’m attorney general, someone who is doing their job is not going to get prosecuted." James Risen?

JAMES RISEN: Well, we’ll see. I’m not sure what that means, you know, and it’s all still in the courts right now. So...

AMY GOODMAN: And Holder is resigning.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah. So, we’ll see. It’s very unclear what’s going to happen next.

AMY GOODMAN: Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, you have a series of stunning revelations. Why don’t you begin by laying them out?

JAMES RISEN: OK. Well, you know, I set out to—to me, what the war on terror became, as I said earlier, this enormous search for power and status and cash. And I began to realize that what we had in the war on terror was we had deregulated national security. That’s essentially what Dick Cheney meant when he said the gloves come off. That means deregulating the whole national security apparatus, taking all the limits off of what we can do in national security. At the same time, we poured hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars into brand-new counterterrorism programs. And the FBI, the CIA and the new Homeland Security department, all the—and the Pentagon, they all had more money than they knew what to do with. And so, they began—to me, it’s kind of like the banking crisis. You had enormous money going into a deregulated industry, meaning the counterterrorism industry, and you had lots of unintended and bizarre consequences. And so, that’s what I’ve found, is the crazy programs that developed; the bizarre nature of the whole war on terror, if you pull up the hood and look inside of it, is just stunning.

And I open the book with this, to me, kind of a metaphor for everything that we have, what’s going on now, is, in 2009, there was a small ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 60, which is where the dead of the Iraq War lay buried. And it was a small group of pro-war people who were celebrating the sixth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, and which they—what they call Iraq Liberation Day. It’s the day that the statue of Saddam was pulled down in Firdos Square. And I saw Paul Wolfowitz there. And the woman who ran that—who was sponsoring that day’s ceremony was Viola Drath, who was an aging Georgetown socialite. And she was very pro-Iraq War. And then, two years later, she was found murdered in her apartment—in her house in Georgetown. And her husband, who had been going around Washington dressed as a general in the Iraqi army, was arrested for her murder. He had claimed that he had been named a general in the Iraqi army by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. And after he was arrested, the police found a receipt from a printing place in Washington where he had counterfeited the letter and the certificate of being a general in the Iraqi army. And he was a total fraud. He’s now been convicted of her murder. And I thought that was a metaphor for the fact that this war on terror is—a lot of it is just a fabrication, that we are now trying to unravel and deal with.

And so, I began to look and to see all of the various things that have happened in this war. One of the first things I came across was how the United States had airlifted billions of dollars to Iraq for use by the Iraqi—the new Iraqi government, and billions had been stolen and moved to Lebanon by Iraqi leaders. Then I began to look at the case of Dennis Montgomery, who was a—

AMY GOODMAN: But before you go to Dennis Montgomery—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —the billions of dollars from the U.S. went from Iraq to Lebanon.

JAMES RISEN: Right. It was stolen—

AMY GOODMAN: Where?

JAMES RISEN: It was stolen from Baghdad and moved secretly to a bunker in Lebanon, where it was being held by wealthy and powerful Iraqis, because they wanted to steal it and use it for themselves, and also probably with some Lebanese money launderers who were watching over it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this billion dollars of taxpayer, U.S. taxpayer, money is—

JAMES RISEN: Well, it was actually Iraqi government money that had been held in the United States, but the U.S. government was airlifting it by the U.S. Air Force. So, it was just a—you know, no one was doing any oversight of any of these programs.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Montgomery?

JAMES RISEN: Dennis Montgomery is a fascinating character, who—he was a computer software person, self-styled expert, who developed what he said was special technology that would allow him to do things with computers that other people couldn’t do. One of the things that he developed was this imaging technology that he said he could find images on broadcast network news tapes from Al Jazeera. He said that he could read special secret al-Qaeda codes in the banners on the broadcasts of Al Jazeera. And the CIA believed this. And he was giving them information based on watching hours and hours of Al Jazeera tapes, saying that "I know where the next al-Qaeda attack is going to be based—is going to happen." And the Bush administration and the CIA fell for this.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was in the news zipper at the bottom of the Al Jazeera broadcasts?

JAMES RISEN: Well, he says it was in the banner. But anyway. And so, it was this great—if you talk to him, he argues, well, they—that’s what they were looking for. You know, they convinced him to look for this. You know, it depends on who you talk to. But it was one of the great hoaxes of the war on terror, where they actually grounded planes in Europe, the Bush administration, based on information they were getting from Dennis Montgomery’s so-called decryption of Al Jazeera broadcasts.

And then there’s a whole number of other things, like Alarbus, which was this covert program at the Pentagon where a Palestinian involved in that was actually trying to use the bank account set up by the secret program, Pentagon program, to launder hundreds of millions of dollars. And the FBI investigated this, but then tried to keep the whole thing quiet.

AMY GOODMAN: How much did the U.S. government give to Dennis Montgomery?

JAMES RISEN: Millions of dollars. And then he used—he was a heavy gambler and eventually, I think, had a lot of financial problems as a result of that. So, it’s a strange—to me, the Dennis Montgomery story is one of the strangest, because what it shows is, early on in the war on terror, as I said, the CIA and all these other agencies had so much money to spend on counterterrorism that they were willing to throw it at everything. They were so afraid of the next terrorist attack that they were willing to believe anybody who came up with some idea. And I called that chapter about Montgomery, you know, "The Emperor of the War on Terror," because nobody wanted to say that the emperor had no clothes.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it had very real effects, aside from spending all that money.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: For example, planes being sent back.

JAMES RISEN: Yes, yes. There were planes grounded. International flights between the United States and Europe and Mexico were grounded. There was talk at the White House even of shooting down planes based on this information.

AMY GOODMAN: Because they could be used, as with September 11th, as weapons?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, as missiles or whatever. And so, it was crazy. It was absolutely insane.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was only the French government who then did a study?

JAMES RISEN: Yes, yes. Yeah, the French government finally—you know, the U.S.—the CIA and the Bush administration didn’t want to tell anybody what was really happening, where they were getting this information. You know, "This supersecret information about Al Jazeera, we can’t tell you." And finally, the French intelligence service and the French government said, "You know, you’re grounding our planes. You’ve got to tell us where you’re getting this information." And they got—they finally shared the information with them, and the French got a French tech firm to look at this, and they said, "This is nuts. This is fabrication." And after a while, the CIA was finally convinced maybe the French were right, and they stopped talking about it. They didn’t do anything else. They just like shut it down eventually, but never wanted to talk about what had really happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Then Dennis Montgomery, revealed as a con man—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —in jail for that?

JAMES RISEN: Well, no, he’s not in jail. But it was a—he actually got more contracts after that, with the Pentagon and other agencies. And he continued to operate for a long time. You know, he kind of went from one agency to the other.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to James Risen, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist for The New York Times. His new book, just out today, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. When we come back, war corrupts, endless war corrupts absolutely. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re spending the hour with James Risen, the investigative reporter for The New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. It also won him, well, becoming a target, not only of the Bush administration, but of the Obama administration, for year after year, right through to today. He could face years in jail for not revealing a source on one of the stories that he has exposed around a program called Merlin and the U.S. giving flawed blueprints for a nuclear trigger to Iran. This issue of facing years in jail, how are you preparing for this?

JAMES RISEN: Well, as you said, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. And it bothered me a lot more at first. I was more nervous about it when it first started. But now it’s just like kind of background noise in my life, and so I’m just kind of used to it now, because I know exactly—I have no doubts about what I’m going to do, and so that makes it pretty easy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re covering the very people who could put you in jail.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, sometimes, yes. As I said earlier, that’s the only way to deal with this, is to keep going and to keep—the only thing that the government respects is staying aggressive and continuing to investigate what the government is doing. And that’s the only way that we in the journalism industry can kind of force—you know, push the government back against the—to maintain press freedom in the United States.


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