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How the NY Times and the U.S. Government Worked Together to Suppress James Risen’s Post-9/11 Reporting

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we continue with Part 2 of the speak with the Pulitzer Prize-winning inquisitive contributor James Risen, who left The New York Times in Aug to join The Intercept as comparison inhabitant confidence correspondent, and, this week, published a 15,000-word story headlined “The Biggest Secret: My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror.”

In the story, Jim Risen gives a personal critique of his struggles to tell poignant stories involving inhabitant confidence in the post-9/11 duration and how both the supervision and the top Times editors suppressed his stating on stories, including the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, for which he eventually would win the New York Times a Pulitzer Prize in 2006. He describes how his story would have come out right before the 2004 presidential election of President Bush over John Kerry, potentially changing the outcome of that election. But under supervision pressure, the Times caved, refused to tell the story for some-more than a year, until Jim Risen was edition a book that would have the revelations in it.

In this new piece for The Intercept, James Risen also describes meetings between top Times editors and officials at the CIA and the White House. Risen was not only followed by the Bush administration, but by the Obama administration, as well, Eric Holder, profession general, as partial of a six-year trickle review into his book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. His refusal to name a source would take him to the Supreme Court. He almost wound up in jail, until the Obama administration blinked. His answer to that tale was to write another book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War.

So, Jim Risen, in this second partial of the conversation—at the finish of Part 1, you took us to the brink, to the Obama administration blinking.



AMY GOODMAN: Not—and explain what they motionless in 2015. we mean, this is—I wish to stress, we mean, this is after posterior you for years. You were followed by the Bush administration, as well. But all by this time, you’re still stating on these administrations for _The New York Times.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, that was—that was very odd, given infrequently we would have to call the FBI or the Justice Department or the CIA for critique about stories, while we was under subpoena, while they were trying to put me in jail. And it was very weird, given we had to have this like twin personality, of, one, trying to continue to report, while you’re also the theme of this large investigation. And it was very odd. It was very formidable for me to concentration on stability to report, given of—because of all that going on. And infrequently it felt like we was—I had two opposite lives. And so, that was weird.

But we consider the thing that we never—you know, a lot of people in the press have kind of given Obama a pass on the way he dealt with press leisure issues. And we consider that’s a big mistake. we consider Obama was every bit as anti-press as Bush was. And we consider there was something deeply inbred in the way he noticed the press that allowed him to transparent the way he was vouchsafing the Justice Department go after whistleblowers and reporters. And we don’t consider it was—you know, a lot of reporters at the time tried to write stories that, “Oh, this is just, you know, a delay of old stories that the Bush administration had started looking into, or that, you know, the Obama people are being forced to do this given of worried vigour or whatever.” we just consider that that’s an excuse. They actively followed these cases they had. They grown a very hardcore proceed to the press, and they used the Justice Department as a arms against the press.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we mean, the Obama administration followed some-more whistleblowers than all prior administrations combined.


AMY GOODMAN: And we wish to now go to the former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, portion a three-and-a-half-year visualisation for leaking personal information to you, the New York Times, to you, James Risen, about a unsuccessful U.S. bid to criticise Iran’s nuclear program, the piece you described progressing in your first partial of the interview. You after unprotected how the unsure operation could have actually aided the Iranian nuclear program. In 2015, Jeffrey Sterling was convicted of 9 transgression counts, including espionage. His case was the theme of the documentary short The Invisible Man. This is a clip.

JEFFREY STERLING: They already had the appurtenance geared up against me. The moment that they felt there was a leak, every finger forked to Jeffrey Sterling. If the word “retaliation” is not suspicion of when anyone looks at the knowledge that I’ve had with the agency, then we just consider you’re not looking.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer, who is African-American, portion a three-and-a-half-year visualisation for leaking personal information to you, yet you would not exhibit your source. Talk about the stress of what happened to Jeffrey Sterling.

JAMES RISEN: Well, we can’t plead who—you know, anything about who competence have been my source or not. we can’t plead my sources or anything about that matter, given it’s still something that we just exclude to discuss, anything about anyone who competence or competence not have ever been a source of cave in this case.

AMY GOODMAN: But in this case of just the way you have covered whistleblowers and what happened to Jeffrey Sterling as partial of the Obama administration’s bureau of whistleblowers, can you comment?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, we think—I think, as we pronounced in my piece, we consider it was very ashamed what’s happened in this case and in all the other cases where they’ve incited trickle investigations into large magician hunts. And we news in the story how, you know, before the Valerie Plame case, there really was no—you know, the supervision didn’t do this kind of assertive bureau of leaks, that they allowed leaks to leak. You know, trickle investigations fundamentally didn’t go anywhere before the Plame case in 2004, and that it really was Patrick Fitzgerald and his shrewd proceed to the—subpoenaing reporters in the Valerie Plame case that we consider had the unintended effect of heading to many some-more trickle investigations and to the subpoenaing of reporters and to the targeting of people via the government. So, we consider that had a—and then, after the Plame case, the Obama administration came in and took a zero-tolerance proceed to all leaks and finished it, instead of something that was a backwater thing—something put on the back burner of the Justice Department, as it had been for years, unexpected they finished trickle prosecutions and trickle investigations a top priority.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Risen, the issue of who gets prosecuted, who gets jailed and who eventually gets distinguished and gets off the hook, you write about this in your piece for The Intercept, “The Biggest Secret.” And you speak about a story that really finished your reporting. This is before the Sep 11, 2001, attacks. You write, “[O]ne occurrence left me doubt possibly we should continue as a inhabitant confidence reporter. In 2000, John Millis, a former CIA officer who had turn staff executive of the House Intelligence Committee, summoned me to his tiny bureau on Capitol Hill.” Talk about—take it from there. Take it from after he sealed the door.

JAMES RISEN: Sure. John Millis opened—he took out a personal document, which was an examiner general’s report from the CIA on how John Deutch, who had been the CIA director, had mishandled personal information on his mechanism and how the review into that had been mishandled by top senior CIA officials, and that zero had been done, basically, about Deutch. And it was a very harmful IG report, which had been—never been finished open before. And Millis review me the whole story of—the whole report. And we went back over it whenever we indispensable to, so we could write it verbatim, write it down exactly, what was in the report. And we wrote a story about that report, which was very bomb at the time, given it lifted questions about the way that this review had been rubbed inside the CIA and how fundamentally zero had been finished to Deutch and how George Tenet and other people at the CIA had kind of, you know, put this whole thing on the back burner.

And Millis, a few months later, committed suicide. And we was—I went to his funeral, which was attended by hundreds of CIA people. And we felt—I wasn’t certain possibly my—you know, the story we had finished and the trickle from him had anything to do with his committing suicide, but we felt like we was in a very weird, dangerous universe that we didn’t utterly understand. And he—for this piece that we just wrote, we talked to his widow. And she concluded that it was OK to say, finally, that—tell this story about him, and also she pronounced that she doesn’t trust his self-murder had anything to do with that trickle or that story. But it was a genuine strange, bizarre pause in my career. You know, as you may remember, after that, Deutch—you know, we consider the review after that into Deutch’s doing of personal information unexpected got reignited, after my story. And finally, we think, as we recall, President Clinton gave him a atonement on the way out of office.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have both John Deutch and you have David Petraeus.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah. Yeah, Petraeus was—as you remember, he was CIA director under—for Obama and was—came under review for, you know, his mishandling of personal information, in a very concerned story. And he just got a slap on the wrist in the end, didn’t go—didn’t have to go to jail. And it’s turn transparent that top officials, if you’re absolute adequate and rich enough, and if you’re in a—well-enough connected, you know, trickle investigations will not hurt your life, and you won’t face jail time. But if you’re lower-level officials via the government, you know, they can—they will go after low-level people who are not powerful.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Jim, you have the whistleblowers, and you have the reporters. And we wanted to go back to your story about Michael Hayden trying to conceal the story, the former conduct of the CIA. Before that, he led the NSA, the National Security Agency. He was speaking in 2014 to 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl and pronounced that he didn’t consider that you, James Risen, should be forced to hold your source.

MICHAEL HAYDEN: I’m conflicted. we know the repairs that is done. And we do. But we also know the free press prerequisite in a free society. And it actually competence be that we think, no, he’s wrong, that was a mistake, that was a terrible thing to do, America will humour given of that story. But then we have to consider about: So, how do we calibrate that? And if the process of redressing that actually harms the extended leisure of the press, that’s still wrong. The supervision needs to be clever adequate to keep me safe, but we don’t wish it so clever that it threatens my liberties.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Michael Hayden. Your thoughts, Jim, as he was the one who brought down the produce on your story, and now he’s observant you shouldn’t have to exhibit your source?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, we mean, we remember when I—when he pronounced that, we suspicion that was a good—I’m blissful he had seemed to have had a change of heart about the press. And we know he is now a flattering big censor of Trump. And so, it’s interesting. You know, people can change. They can change their minds, which is good. And I’m—that creates me some-more hopeful, we guess. It’s possible—you know, we don’t know possibly he always felt that way about, you know, promulgation reporters to jail or not, but it’s good that he felt that way at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: And we wish to stay back in that duration of 2000 and go to the story, that you write about here, of Wen Ho Lee. Now, if people were wondering what the CIA and the FBI were doing before 9/11, let’s speak about the story of this Chinese-American scientist at Los Alamos, Wen Ho Lee, a story that you extensively covered.


AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened and what you schooled from this story.

JAMES RISEN: Well, we—I was operative on a story. It was fundamentally about the Clinton administration and possibly or not they were being too soothing on China on—and it led into a story about Chinese espionage. And it kind of—in other words, we kind of came at this story indirectly, first looking at Clinton administration policies towards China on technical issues, and then the way they were doing espionage. And then, specifically, we began to hear that they were—had been soothing on this specific espionage case that concerned someone at Los Alamos, and eventually wrote a story about this supposed espionage case at Los Alamos and involving a Chinese-American scientist as the categorical consider at the time.

And looking back, we comprehend that the way we—I wrote that story and wrote the following stories, we wasn’t doubtful adequate of the way the government—of what the supervision was observant or doing in the case and its doing of the case. And we really trust that we should have been some-more skeptical. And it was a very formidable training knowledge for me. And we consider I’ve schooled from the mistakes that we finished in that case.

AMY GOODMAN: I wish to play an mention from my interview in 2005 with Bill Richardson, then the Democratic administrator of New Mexico, former envoy to the United Nations and former secretary of energy. As appetite secretary, Richardson fired Wen Ho Lee, who was under review for espionage. Lee was eventually privileged of those charges.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Richardson, this isn’t only a case of leisure of the press and reporters defence their sources, it is also a case of the drop of the repute of a man, Wen Ho Lee, who served almost a year in prison, who, a sovereign judge has pronounced you, last month, were the illusive source of the leaks. What do you contend to that sovereign judge? And you contend you mount behind all you did in this case. What do you mount by?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, we mount by that we wasn’t. And secondly, this was a man that was convicted on several depends of tampering with personal information. So—

AMY GOODMAN: But the minorest of counts. we mean, what he was originally—

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, no, it was not minor. This is where you’re wrong. It was not minor. There were very supportive nuclear secrets that presumably were compromised and were improperly taken from his computer. Now, the visualisation of the judge, we believe, is speculative. But we mount behind the very clever actions that we took to strengthen the nuclear secrets.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you contend that the sovereign judge is wrong in observant that you’re the illusive source of the leaks?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Absolutely. He’s totally wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, in the case of Wen Ho Lee, though, originally, they pronounced he could be a reason for the possible—well, like President Bush used in the justification for the Iraq War: He could be the source of a nuclear explosion, a bombing of the United States. And ultimately, when the judge liberated Wen Ho Lee, he pronounced he had been egregiously misled by supervision officials about what Wen Ho Lee was obliged for. And he was irate. He was enraged—the judge, we mean.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, that’s his opinion. we trust that we acted scrupulously in defence the nuclear secrets. He was convicted on several counts. There were some mistakes in that case. It concerned the whole sovereign government. And we mount behind all that we did.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former New Mexico Governor Richardson, who fired Wen Ho Lee, who was partial of—it was not only the government, but also, we guess, your stating in The New York Times, that led to this kind of magician hunt against Wen Ho Lee. we mean, he would be followed by FBI agents when he rock-climbed. They would be unresolved from rocks nearby, given they just were following him. They destroyed, ultimately, his life. And in the end, he was not charged with any of the bizarre charges, simply mishandling supervision information.

JAMES RISEN: Mm-hmm, right. Yeah, we know. It was a—as we said, we consider the critique of the stories that we did is valid. And it was a—as we said, it was a genuine training experience. And we consider it helped me turn some-more doubtful of the supervision and, in a way, helped me equivocate some of the problems on the pre-war intel on Iraq. we consider the fact that we had left by that knowledge and had turn some-more doubtful of the supervision helped me turn some-more doubtful of the supervision just before the fight in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, of course, you had the fight in Iraq, and you were then asking critical questions. Your pieces weren’t making it to the front page of The New York Times in the way Michael Gordon and Judith Miller’s pieces alleging weapons of mass drop were. Would you contend that The New York Times was really campaigning for fight on its news pages?

JAMES RISEN: Well, you know, it felt like—at the time, it felt like they didn’t wish the stories that we was writing. It was—they didn’t wish to hear, or they didn’t really—I wrote a series of stories that were doubtful about the pre-war intelligence, and they would possibly get cut or buried or, you know, held for prolonged durations of time. And it was very frustrating. And that was, you know, going on in late 2002 and early 2003. And that, for me, was like the preface to what happened on the after stories, on the CIA-Iran and then the NSA. So, we had this whole duration where we was very frustrated, that eventually led—you know, that disappointment eventually led to what we did with my book and the NSA story. So, it was all partial of a continual duration for me of low frustration.

AMY GOODMAN: So, as we hang up, your reflections on the role of the press, and quite your paper, that is so critical—your former paper, The New York Times—in holding those in energy accountable, in being not a partial of the state, but—not a party to the parties, but detached from them?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, we think—as we pronounced in my piece, we consider there’s some churned results from all these battles in the post-9/11 age. we consider the press, in general, including The New York Times and The Washington Post and a lot of other major news organizations, hasn’t really schooled the lessons of the pre-war WMD debacle in the press. we consider we are still hyping militant threats and hyping WMD threats, in some cases. And we consider that leads—that has a major domestic impact, and it creates it very formidable for anyone in Congress or the White House or any domestic personality to hurl back some of the many draconian laws and policies that have been put in place given 9/11, including the domestic espionage programs.

On the other hand, at The New York Times, we consider the fight over the NSA story really helped chaperon in a change in the way that they bargain with the government. The paper is now much some-more assertive on inhabitant confidence stating and much reduction peaceful than ever—than it was before the NSA story, to determine to hold or kill stories at the government’s request. You know, they need a much aloft bar. You know, they still negotiate on stories, when the supervision wants to negotiate, but we consider they’re much some-more peaceful to contend no to the supervision today. And we think, you know, the knowledge on the NSA story had—was a big cause in changing that, the way they consider about that.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Jim, one of the things you write about is the fact that you found out, by the case against you, by discovery, that there was, to contend the least, a major FBI file on you. Can you speak about what you learned?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, we found—my lawyers filed a FOIA, you know, Freedom of Information Act, ask with several agencies. And they wouldn’t give me any information about the stream case, but they were—to my good surprise, they—we started getting these old files on old trickle investigations that they had finished of my stories, progressing stories. And we was—it was extraordinary to see all these old trickle investigations that we never knew had taken place. And the reason we never knew about them is given they forsaken them and they never followed them. And one of the papers showed—you know, had the—said it was—the FBI was recommending that it be sealed and close down, given they hadn’t, you know, really found anything. And we consider there was a—as we pronounced before, this progressing period, where no one really wanted to go to the mats—go to the pad on trickle investigations. They just—everyone knew that there was this spontaneous bargain between the press and the government. And they just would go by the motions of trickle investigations. And it’s only been in the last few years where that’s changed, and that’s—it’s finished Washington a much some-more formidable place to do assertive reporting.

AMY GOODMAN: Were they surveilling you? Were they following you, Jim Risen?

JAMES RISEN: Not as distant as we know. Not earthy notice all the time, as distant as we know. But we do—there was—I news a very bizarre occurrence that’s happened recently, actually, in the last couple years, where we was—the FBI set up what I’ve been—what’s been described to me as an waylay of what they suspicion was going to be a assembly between me and a source. And that assembly didn’t happen, so the waylay didn’t take place. But we had been given justification that they were meditative about posterior that, in a way to try to find out—find a source of mine. And so, that was very disconcerting to find out that.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the FISA Reauthorization Act, that they have punted to Jan 19th, the stress of this?

JAMES RISEN: Well, you know, after our NSA story in late 2005, Congress began to finally fastener with how to bargain with the NSA domestic espionage program. And in 2008, they upheld what they called the FISA Reauthorization Act—or FISA Amendments Act, we mean. And that fundamentally gave Bush, unfortunately, many of what—it finished authorised many of what he had been doing under the domestic espionage program. And that FISA Amendments Act then was still in place—has been reauthorized, we think, a couple times and has—then, when Edward Snowden came out with his documents, there were some tweaks to that, tying certain things, but it’s fundamentally still the FISAAmendments Act of 2008, is still generally the law. And so, we consider they’re just reauthorizing that.

For a while, there were some Republicans, over the last few years, who were libertarian, who were against to domestic spying, but there’s been very little constituency, unfortunately, in the United States for polite liberties. And it’s very easy politically to manipulator on militant threats, and it creates it very formidable for politicians to fight back and actually revoke the energy of the government.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, James Risen, we wish to appreciate you so much for spending this time with us. James Risen, The Intercept‘s comparison inhabitant confidence correspondent, best-selling author, former New York Times reporter. His new piece for The Interceptis patrician “The Biggest Secret: My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror.” We’ll couple to it at democracynow.org, as good as Part 1 of the hour review with the Pulitzer Prize-winning publisher James Risen. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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