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“Scoundrel Time,” Lillian Hellman’s book about her experiences during the Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt, is one of the books “Scheer Intelligence” host Robert Scheer thinks best describes the current political climate in the U.S. Scheer has spotlighted various dissenting Western voices on the Ukraine war, none of which support Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the European nation but merely question the West’s role in the conflict. CIA veterans Ray McGovern and John Kiriakou, who join Scheer on this week’s episode, are two such voices who have been maligned for their opinions on the subject.
Each guest has extensive credentials and experience relating to the topic, and though their opinions vary from one another and from Scheer, the conversation explores crucial topics at a dangerous time in global politics. McGovern worked as CIA analyst for nearly three decades, preparing The President’s Daily Brief for three U.S. presidents. He’s also one of the founders of the group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), and has been on “Scheer Intelligence” recently to discuss the roots of the Ukraine war. John Kiriakou, the former CIA analyst who served prison time in relation to blowing the whistle on CIA torture, has come under extensive criticism for his work for the Russian media platform Sputnik News. Kiriakou has repeatedly condemned the Ukraine war on the airwaves, and yet has been called on to resign—this despite the fact that the channel is nearly inaccessible at this point in the West.
On the most recent installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” the three spar about how the Ukrainian conflict is being covered in the U.S., where this war is heading, and what the conflict means for U.S.-China relations, as well as the potential for nuclear war. Listen to the full discussion between McGovern, Kiriakou and Scheer as they expertly pick apart many myths that are being dangerously propagated about Ukraine, Russia, and the West.
Robert Scheer (00:00):
Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence. It’s funny, I got the name of this show, I said, “It’s sort of the poor man’s Central Intelligence Agency.” I was using Scheer Intelligence to see my own little check. And in fact, I began journalistic life at Ramparts magazine before I went to work in the establishment, LA Times, doing stories, criticizing the CIA, criticizing the intelligence agencies. And today we’re going to have a show with two people who spent the better part of their productive lives at the CIA. One is Ray McGovern. He joined, well, just about when I went to work for Ramparts, you went to work for the CIA. So we were on-
Ray McGovern (00:52):
Robert Scheer (00:52):
… the opposite side. You stayed there until 1990, that’s 27 years with the CIA. You were not a whistleblower. You, in fact, worked under the Bush administration. You were the CIA person preparing the National Intelligence estimates and you prepared the president’s daily brief. You received the Intelligence Commendation Medal when you retired, which you returned in 2006 to protest the CIA’s involvement in torture. Which brings up our other guest, John Kiriakou, who exposed that torture program, refused to participate in, was actually involved in the capture of then the highest ranking alleged Al-Qaeda suspect. The man who is still in Guantanamo and in prison, but has not had a day in court. You refused to be trained in torture. You didn’t believe in it. Of course, as we know, from the US Senate Torture Report, the part that’s been released … the basic report has not been released. But in a heavily redacted version of the introduction we find that torture never produced any actionable intelligence.
Ray McGovern (02:16):
Robert Scheer (02:16):
But nonetheless, here you have Ray McGovern who gave back his Intelligence Commendation Medal in response really to the revelations that came from you. What I want to do, you are two guys who tried to serve your country, did so, were honored for that … you, John, and promoted after the capture of what was supposed to be the highest known captured Al-Qaeda member. What happened was that you have run into a really … I don’t know, I think of Lillian Hellman when she wrote about the McCarthy period. She had a book called Scoundrel Time. And really, you’re in a period now where you guys are in danger of being considered fake news, making up news. You’re going to be made non-person. In fact, just doing this discussion with you, and I’ve interviewed you both before, the whole program could be dismissed as fake news. We haven’t lived in a time like this where suddenly people who really know a great deal and are speaking honestly … in John Kiriakou’s case, he served two years in jail for having revealed aspects of the torture program. But the fact of the matter is, you’re being made into non-persons. In fact, you now can only get a forum if you go on something … well, we don’t have RT anymore.
Robert Scheer (03:54):
We had Sputnik, or you go on some smaller shows, an anti-war or libertarian website, some few left on the left and so forth. So let me just bring that up. How did two highly regarded CIA people get to be so disreputable in the eyes of mass media?
Ray McGovern (04:17):
John, I think you’re more disreputable than I. Why don’t you go first?
John Kiriakou (04:26):
But you’ve been arrested more times than I have.
Robert Scheer (04:31):
It’ll help if you guys identify because your voices, even though I know you don’t … I know Ray comes from the Bronx where I’m from. John, you come more from around I guess Virginia, right?
John Kiriakou (04:43):
No, from Pittsburgh.
Robert Scheer (04:44):
Oh, Pittsburgh. Okay. Well, that’s close enough.
Ray McGovern (04:46):
Yeah, he talks funny.
Robert Scheer (04:48):
When you speak and you’ll both know each other … and I forget the name of the organization, Veteran-
Ray McGovern (04:56):
John Kiriakou (04:57):
Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
Robert Scheer (04:58):
For Sanity. Anyway, use your first name when you speak, okay?
John Kiriakou (05:04):
Sure. I’m John Kiriakou or I’m John, I’ll use my first name. Yeah. I think Ray would probably agree with me that this war between Russia and Ukraine has put many of us in an awkward position. Not just many of us formerly in the intelligence services, but many of us on the political left. Because if you say anything right now that’s not directly in the mainstream, you are dismissed. You’re dismissed as an apologist for the Russians, as pro-Putin, as someone who hates America or doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You really can’t have an alternative view and if you do, if you publish that view, you’re easily banned from Facebook, from Twitter, from any number of different platforms. It’s as though, if you have anything to do now with the media, including the progressive media, you have to toe the line on this war or you’re silenced.
Robert Scheer (06:17):
Well, that’s a pretty ominous situation to be in. As I say, as someone who spoke out and wrote critically about the Vietnam War and continued to do that sort of thing, I personally have never been in a period as intimidating as this one, and the use of this notion of disinformation or fake news to totally disparage anyone who may disagree with you. We don’t even seem to have any visible peace movement cautioning about sending in all these arms into Ukraine, whatever you think about it. I gather from you, John, you condemn the Russian invasion clearly, right?
John Kiriakou (07:01):
In fact, despite the fact that I work for the Russians … I have a daily radio show for two hours on Sputnik Radio, which is a Russian government-funded radio network. I said on the very first day of the invasion, that I unreservedly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, because I believe that all wars are wrong. They’re violations of international law. That’s not to say that I don’t understand the Russian reasoning for crossing the border. I understand that the Russians objected to the US-sponsored coup in 2014, that the Russians believed that ethnic Russians in Ukraine were being discriminated against, et cetera. But I’m still viewed as a Russian apologist, even though I’ve made clear my personal position. It’s funny, somebody said to me the other day, “Well, if you were really against the war, you would resign.” I said, “Yeah, that’s easy for you to say, but are you going to pay my bills? Are you going to put my kids through college?”
Robert Scheer (08:12):
Well, you should mention by the way that this is not a minor matter with you, because you lost your pension speaking honestly about torture. We talk about war crimes in the Ukraine. I mean, clearly the US policy of systematic torture in black sites all over the world is one of the great crimes of modern history. And you suffered, you lost your CIA pension, your inability, you can’t get on these other shows. In fact, your work at Sputnik is kind of a Potemkin radio program. Meaning, it doesn’t really exist since-
John Kiriakou (08:54):
Robert Scheer (08:55):
… no one in this country, I mean, hardly anyone in this country can hear Sputnik.
John Kiriakou (08:59):
Yeah. That’s a good point. That’s a good point, Bob, that I actually wouldn’t have thought to bring up myself. Before the war you could listen to my show pretty much anywhere. We were on YouTube every day. We were on Spreaker, Spotify, iTunes, iHeartRadio, TuneIn. We had 35 to 38,000 downloads a day. So that’s a pretty healthy daily audience, 35 to 38,000. We’ve been stricken from every one of those platforms. And now the only way you can listen to our show is on the Sputnik news website or on a 1,000 watt terrestrial radio station in Washington, DC, that you can barely pick up if you just cross the street. We’re down to about 500 listeners a day. So you’re right, it’s a Potemkin village kind of radio station, in that almost nobody listens to it.
Robert Scheer (10:06):
Yeah, and that’s not totally a matter of choice. They can’t get the signal. I want to bring in Ray McGovern because as opposed to John, at least you kept your pension and you were honored. You actually worked with Henry Kissinger when Nixon was president. John did also work with … you worked with John Kerry, the senator.
John Kiriakou (10:29):
Yeah. Yeah, I did.
Robert Scheer (10:30):
And you worked on the Hill and so forth. But Ray McGovern, you became an advocate for peace. Let’s face it. You now are … I’ve interviewed people for this show who don’t talk to you, who are in the CIA and have written you threatening emails and so forth. And whatever happened to Ray McGovern? So tell us, how did you become such a dangerous figure? You seem like a nice old guy. What happened here? You’re taking a lot of gold from Putin, is that what’s going on? What’s happening?
Ray McGovern (11:13):
I wish. No. A mention was made a little earlier to Scoundrel Time. When I entered the CIA, there were scoundrels around but most of them existed in the operations part where they tried to assassinate Castro and did assassinate some other folks. We were kept hermetically sealed away from those guys. But as time went by and Bill Casey came in under Reagan as CIA director, and as he chose Bobby Gates … who said all the right things about the Russians and how the Russians would never give up power, the Communist Party, they recruited people in managerial positions who were scoundrels, who wanted to get promoted. They were in power at the first experience I had, that I lived through. It wasn’t Afghanistan. It wasn’t Ukraine. It was Iraq. And that turned me because I saw my former colleagues deliberately falsifying, making up, manufacturing evidence to justify a war. Now, it doesn’t get any worse than that, okay? Not only from a professional point of view but from an ethical point of view. So that was the first time. Now, were we given any play in the media? Well, I’ll tell you, when Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity was founded, and that was January 2003, we wrote a memo to the president, President Bush.
Ray McGovern (12:53):
We chose to assume that he didn’t know what’s going on. But we told him the same day as Colin Powell spoke that it was drivel, that it was all made up. And that if he didn’t widen the circle of his advisors beyond those clearly bent on a war, it would be a catastrophe. Now, we take no pleasure in the fact that we were right on that. But that was the monstrous thing of the first, quote, war of choice and it was quote, justified, end quote, by evidence that later the Senate committee said was made up, was uncorroborated and was … what was the last word? What was it? It was made up, that was the word. So that was the first. Now, we weren’t given much play after our initial thing. Our initial thing went out on the AFP wire, and that’s why we got some play. Since then we’ve been pretty much shunned, not only on that but on Afghanistan. We wrote a memo to President Obama saying, welcome to Vietnam, Mr. Obama. You’re letting these generals and these sycophants like Bobby Gates run roughshod over you and you’re making some really bad decisions on Afghanistan.
Ray McGovern (14:14):
We told him that. He didn’t understand. When Hillary Clinton came to George Washington University and I wangled the ticket from my friend Larry Wilkerson, I simply stood up and turned my back to her. Because I couldn’t let everyone there think that she was the darling that was going to be president. She was the cat’s pajamas, as we should say in the Bronx. So it became pretty corrupt. When you talk about scoundrel time in Washington, it began under Bobby Gates and Bill Casey. But progressively these people projected or promoted into positions of influence and power were worse and worse. And that’s why we have now on Ukraine a situation where I don’t know who’s in charge. Biden is certainly not in charge. What kind of information he’s getting from his CIA director or from the National Intelligence director, I don’t know. They seem a little bit more sane than the rest of them, but that’s damning with faint praise.
Robert Scheer (15:15):
Well, I do want to get to a point here, when you guys joined the CIA … and when you were working with Kissinger. You were still in the CIA then, Kissinger and Nixon went to China and they negotiated peace and the end really of negative relations with China, and admission of China back into the UN and diplomatic relations. China is still a communist country, so is Vietnam. But we get along quite well with them, particularly, we like Vietnam even more than China. No one ever said that Kissinger was a Mao Zedong agent. They were getting along with the most ruthless communist leaders. The same thing was true of negotiation of arms control with Brezhnev, with Khrushchev, with the Soviet communist leadership. The irony in this situation is that we have red-baiting now with Russia and Putin without a red. We’ve got an image of Putin … No. Well, I mean, because when we said a red, there were communist parties and they had some ideology and they had some clarity about what they were doing. There was a lot of argument about whether you could ever negotiate with these folks.
Robert Scheer (16:40):
And some of our most ruthless cold warriors, Richard Nixon, of course right there, negotiated peace with them. Now we’re in a position where to say, “We should be negotiating with the Ukrainians, with Putin,” and so forth, that’s heresy now. There is no peace movement. There was a peace movement saying we could have arms control and get along and negotiate with Mao Zedong, even with Joseph Stalin at one point. But now to suggest that maybe just throwing arms in and risking nuclear war, you advocate that, my God, you’re the worst kind of traitor.
Ray McGovern (17:25):
Robert Scheer (17:25):
How did we get to this point? And it really goes to this word intelligence. We did figure out in the worst days of the CIA that you could actually negotiate with these folks, that there might be a common stake in arms control and limiting war and so forth. That’s gone out the window now. The image now of Putin and Russia, this is, they have no validity in any of their demands, of any of their concerns, and they just are evil incarnate. And that is, I would suggest, a very dangerous moment.
Ray McGovern (18:05):
Well, let me comment on that because my proudest moment working in the analysis-
Robert Scheer (18:11):
This is Ray. Yeah, go ahead.
Ray McGovern (18:13):
Yeah. I’m sorry. This is Ray McGovern. I was chief of the Soviet foreign policy branch back in the ’70s. My proudest moment was proving with my analysts, of course, that the Soviets and the Chinese were at each other’s throats. They were likely to come to blows, which they did in 1969. And that, if you were Kissinger and Nixon, if you were smart enough, you could exploit this hostility. That’s what they chose to do. One of my nice memorabilia is a nice note I got back from Kissinger saying, you got it right. We’re going to do this. They went to China, and there were really impediments to movement toward strategic arms negotiations with Moscow. They disappeared. And before you knew it, we had an agreement in Moscow in May 1972 called the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which formed the foundation of strategic stability for the next 30 years, count them, three decades until the junior Bush get out of there. So our input, our analysis said, look, you can take advantage of this, was key. This was one of the things we could do and were able to do back in the day. How about now? Well, I find myself in the same position looking at Russian/Chinese relations.
Ray McGovern (19:44):
I see there’s been another tectonic shift. Tectonic I use advisedly. China and Russia are together now. I don’t think Putin would have risked doing what he did in Ukraine, were he not to have full backing from Xi Jinping, the president of China. That changes the world, folks. Putin is not going to lose in Ukraine and NATO is going to keep stoking the fires until we all wear out, until we’re all dead. So this is really important because when we talk about China and when we talk about Ukraine, all these things are interrelated. And the numskulls that are heading up the State Department and the National Security Council don’t seem to have it in their heads that China and Russia are together. As a matter of fact … and this is the last thing I’ll say on this, on June 16th of last year when Biden met with Putin in Geneva, the only thing we know about how that went is when Biden’s trying to get on the plane. They said, “Come on, Joe. Get on.” “No.” “Joe.” “No, no. I want to say some more to the press.” “Okay. What do you want to say?”
Ray McGovern (20:53):
“Well, I told … this is not appropriate, to say exactly what I told Putin, but he’s got a real problem. China is squeezing Russia. China has a long border. They’re aspiring not only to be the biggest economic power or military … Oh, Putin has a real problem with China.” Now, I don’t know who told Biden to tell Putin that. But I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Putin turned around to his advisors and said, “This guy doesn’t get it. Let’s spend the rest of the year showing how close we are.”
Robert Scheer (21:30):
Yeah. And whatever the tensions between China and Russia … and this is really something the mass media seems to have missed. I don’t quite get it, but NATO is now an alliance in a new Cold War that will and could extend certainly to China, but maybe to India. We don’t know. I mean, the whole idea that there’s a zone of security basically built on Europe, with the US really calling the shots, it represents the development of a unipolar world again. I mean, which we thought we had after the end of the Cold War. What are you basically saying? You’re saying to these other folks, if you want to have security, you better tighten some other alliances.
Ray McGovern (22:20):
What I’m saying, Bob, is not a unipolar. That was what we had after World War II and pretty much after the Soviet Union fell apart. Right now it’s a bipolar world, okay? Bipolar in the psychiatric sense as well as in the political sense. No, really. We have the lily-white West against people of color who happen to represent the majority of people in this world. We have China, we have India. We have South Africa. We’ve got Brazil and we’ve got … well, we’ve blackened the Russians so much that they’re people of color now. And there are more of them than there are of us. It’s a no-win situation for us lily-white people from the West to think that we can predominate, that we think there can be a unipolar world again. It’s bipolar and the cards are stacked against us, as I’ve just tried to explain.
Robert Scheer (23:22):
Yeah. No, it’s interesting. You mentioned about how we think of Russia and obviously, it’s a basically white population. However, the anti-Slavic current … after all, Hitler played on the anti-Slavic as well, along with antisemitism, was a lesser people. And that doesn’t sit well but that keeps coming up. Somehow the Russian troops, whatever you think about … obviously, I personally am very opposed to any military invasion. I don’t believe in war, I believe in peace. But nonetheless, Russian conscripts are now presented as savage whereas Ukrainian troops are enlightened. There is an echo of that. But what I think should be pointed out here, is that we are acting as if all the options are with NATO. And there’s something weird about a military alliance replacing basically the UN as the center of peacekeeping. Is it not the case, John? You haven’t talked much.
John Kiriakou (24:38):
Yeah, I think that-
Robert Scheer (24:41):
Let me just say something before, as I introduce you, John. One of the things that we have is this Orwellian phenomena of the love of having an enemy. You devoted much of your life to what was supposed to be the enemy that replaced communism, which was the terrorist. Muslim terrorism, right? You were out there catching these Muslim terrorists and so forth. Now we’ve gone back to what? We don’t have quite the communist. It’s just all Russia. Russia is not that powerful economically that it’s going to be able … so you have to then latch on to China or something. But take it from there.
John Kiriakou (25:20):
Yeah. I think you’re both raising very important points here. It’s something that I saw beginning … many years ago when I was still at the CIA. I’ve been gone now for, wow, 17 years? A little bit more than 17 years. But even back in the early 2000s, when we had an opportunity to establish really a new kind of relationship with Russia. Where it would have been actually quite easy to cooperate on a very deep level on issues like counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, counter-proliferation. We both had a terrible time in Afghanistan. Afghanistan produces 93% of the world’s heroin and most of that heroin goes to Russia and to Iran. We could have really worked together to make the world a better place. Not even mentioning the fact that Russia is a Christian country. It wanted at the time to open to the West for its own economic development. We were willing, I guess, to discuss these issues on a limited basis, if we could bring the Russians in as a junior partner, as a mentee to be Westernized. They valued their independence. They weren’t interested. We know now, as another example, that both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin talked to American presidents about joining NATO, and they got the cold shoulder. We didn’t want them in NATO.
John Kiriakou (27:07):
Well, in my own view, NATO is irrelevant at this point. There was no reason not to bring the Russians in. At the very least it would have been good for peace and good for economic development. Your other point, Bob, I think is right on, we always seem to need an ism in this country to rally against, whether it was anarchism or socialism or for a very long time communism. It was fascism for a little while during the Second World War. Then it was Islamism. It’s like, we just can’t seem to function unless we have an enemy.
Robert Scheer (27:47):
Well, I think there’s a big issue here and in what remains of our time we should consider. That’s the whole idea of an American Rome, taking this notion of American hegemony. NATO seen in that light becomes a very important instrument of power. The combination of the US and NATO is really saying to the rest of the world, our way or the highway. It’s very clear, the talk now is going after China. And what is really at issue … because we have claimed all along, going back to the founders, that we really believed in trade and your economic output and your ability, and a notion of capitalism, even when it was a very primitive capitalism. The big shock of modern history is that the most effective capitalists turned out to people who also called themselves communists, is one of the most bizarre twists in human history. It turns out, we don’t really welcome the Chinese Communists as capitalists, even though they carried us right through the pandemic and everything else. So you have this weird mixture of a political militaristic operation like NATO, and all this talk about what ideal life of freedom and democracy you’re bringing to the world. But your real goal is to hobble another economic system, but it has the same characteristics of a marketplace, China.
Robert Scheer (29:29):
The odd thing is, you’re backing into forming this alliance between an underpopulated Russia, rich in resources, an overpopulated China, poor in those very same resources. You’re creating a real monster in reality, an economic one. And that really to my mind is what NATO is all about now. It’s a political, economic, militarist alternative to hold some notion of global power.
Ray McGovern (30:03):
Well, Bob … this is Ray McGovern again. There’s a very important stratum of society that’s profiting by all this, profiteering I should say. Cui bono? Well, what Eisenhower warned about 60 years ago, the military industrial complex. I mean, Raytheon, if I were CEO of Raytheon or Lockheed, I’m making money hand over fist. Yet, you have to have an enemy, whether it’s an ism or whether it’s a country. Now, the country of choice happens to be Russia right now. It’s going to be China. Our strategic documents out of the Pentagon say that expressly, that is, China is enemy number one. Russia doesn’t even make it in the top five. We couldn’t believe it. But we have done Russia, Russia, Russia gate for five years. We’ve conditioned the American people to believe that Putin is Hitler incarnate. And that’s what’s enabling our current government to play on this fear of Russia, to make sure that there’s no agreement to stop slaughtering all those Ukrainians that are being used as cannon fodder. We could stop that war, Biden could stop it next week if he wanted to. But no, the military, industrial, congressional, intelligence, media, academia, think tank complex … which is what the MIC, Eisenhower spoke of, has turned into, we’ll prevent that. When I say media right in the middle of all that [Mickey mat 00:31:42], I mean, the media is controlled by the rest of the Mickey mat.
Ray McGovern (31:42):
It is the cornerstone and that’s why they are beating the drums for war. The naive sophomores that are working for Biden don’t seem to realize what nuclear war would amount to, and that’s the real danger here. We can see that in the testimony of the top intelligence leaders who say, “Oh, we don’t want a nuclear war. Putin might resort to nuclear weapons if his back is up against the wall.” Conclusion, Putin’s backed up against the wall. That policy conclusion is crazy and it makes me very worried.
Robert Scheer (32:30):
Well, we’re going to wrap this up. But I want to ask you guys … you’re both former CIA people. In reality, even when you got to prison for having criticized the torture programmers, John did, you’re always going to be CIA people in the eyes of the CIA. Meaning that you can’t write something about anything they’ve done, without getting it cleared at the CIA. You’re always under … Why don’t we just talk about that a little bit? Because one of the things that I remember as a journalist, I would always run into intelligent people from the CIA. They had everything figured out except they would say, “Oh, but the president doesn’t listen to me,” or something. What’s interesting now is that we aren’t having too many people speak up. Most of the people you see on television who are former CIA or former military people, they’re supporting the war. They’re supporting things and you guys are left as these odd balls. Why are there so few of you, and did you have to get cleared for your remarks on this show today? Can you speak your mind? How does it work?
John Kiriakou (33:53):
If you don’t mind if I start, Ray?
Ray McGovern (33:56):
Sure. Go ahead.
John Kiriakou (33:58):
I’m proud to say that I just finished my eighth book and I submitted it to the CIA for clearance. For whatever reason, they sent me an email and said they needed extra time because a sister agency wanted to take a look at it. I knew that was nonsense. So I objected and I said, I didn’t sign a secrecy agreement with any sister agency. I did what I was supposed to do by submitting it to the CIA. Then much to my surprise they called me on the phone, which they never do. Because they like everything to be in writing so they can use it against you later. They called me and I said, “Listen, I don’t care that the FBI thinks they get a chop on my book. The FBI doesn’t get a chop on my book.” The CIA officer told me, “Well, it’s not the FBI, it’s NSA.” I said, “Well, what’s NSA care about what I write about surveillance and surveillance detection?” “Well, I don’t know,” he said. “We just need two weeks.” Well, they took five weeks. And then when I got the book back, of course, I had missed my publisher’s deadline and they had redacted six pages. So I wrote back and I said, you redacted six pages and you say that it’s classified. I want you to know that I got the information off of your website. I’ve got this information 10 years ago.
John Kiriakou (35:33):
Well, you can appeal. You have to print the information from our website and send it back to us and you can appeal it, but we’re going to need another 90 days. So I called the publisher and I said, “Look, they’re doing this on purpose. I don’t know why. I must have angered them somehow. What do you want to do?” He said, “You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to publish it with the pages blacked out. On the cover of the book we’re going to put a starburst and we’re going to say, the book the CIA doesn’t want you to read.” I said, “Okay, let’s play their own game.” Now with that said, I’m pretty good at sending everything that I write for clearance to the CIA. But there are some things that I think the CIA shouldn’t have a vote on whether or not I get to publish. So there are some things that I feel strongly about that I don’t bother to send. Once they sent me a nasty letter and I had my attorney write them a nasty letter back, and they dropped it. Otherwise, for something like this or an interview that I gave earlier today to a Middle Eastern television outlet, I do not get cleared.
John Kiriakou (36:50):
Because my argument is, I don’t know what you’re going to ask me. I don’t know in what direction the conversation is going to flow, so there’s nothing I can submit for clearance.
Robert Scheer (37:02):
Well, let me ask a basic question, because this is the question that is always raised about any totalitarian country. Certainly the question Orwell was dealing with in 1984 is … how many people right now in Russia, we know there have to be people who are afraid of Putin’s power and they hold their silence. They don’t say what they know and so forth. Obviously, we know that. We certainly know that’s true in Communist China. There’s a top-down control, power in the Communist Party and so forth. But I’ve always been mystified by the large number of intelligent people in a relatively free society … we can debate about how free we are. Certainly in war time we’re not very free and you’ve gone to jail for your views, John Kiriakou. But still I always wonder, how many of your colleagues back in the CIA, then and now, know a different story than the American people are told? For example, we spent all those years fighting international communism, and yet anybody with half a brain who’d read anything knew that there weren’t two communist governments in the world that were really getting along well. The Sino-Soviet dispute was a reality and what have you?
Robert Scheer (38:29):
So I would just ask you right now … even though you are the two odd men out now, or very few people are saying what you’re saying. And maybe my career here at NPR will be at an end because I dare to have you on. I don’t know, or I’m wildly exaggerating. But nonetheless, how many folks … and what scares me about the current moment is that there seem to be very few people in the CIA, the Pentagon, certainly in the State Department, who are questioning. That they all seem to be giddy, drunk really on a notion of an American innocence, that we finally are on the right side. This is all about human freedom. There’s no other way to do it. Do you get the feeling that we’ve had some kind of almost religious conversion?
Ray McGovern (39:28):
Well, Bob, this is Ray McGovern, let me speak to that. In all seriousness, I have to confess to being profoundly saddened. I would even say, scandalized. These are my friends. These are my colleagues. Some of them I trained in analytic techniques. What’s happened? They must know better. So I don’t know how to judge them, but I have to come to grips with the reality. People my age should know better. People trained analytically should know better. There’s a lot of self-censorship. There’s a lot of mob psychology where, our agency couldn’t have tortured so many people. Well, they did, for God’s sake and it’s public knowledge. So in answer to your question, it’s really, really hard for me to deal with the fact that I don’t get to talk to too many of my former colleagues because they’re afraid that the conversations will be monitored. This goes way back to when I first retired. I’d like to just say a word about my dealings with classified information and permission, so to speak, from the agency to publish. I served, as you know, as briefer to the president of the United States. I am very, very careful not to reveal anything of any substance having to do with those briefings. That is sacrosanct and I would never violate that trust. Now, I don’t write books. I’m a journalist, okay?
Ray McGovern (41:06):
I learned at the feet of Bob Perry after I retired and I was a current intelligence journalist with access to all kinds of sensitive information when I was working with the CIA. So being a journalist, you don’t really have time to check things out. You just have to be careful not to reveal any secrets that really would risk sources and methods. So that’s how I conduct myself, it’s okay. They only send me maybe two warning letters a year. I just ignore them because they don’t have a leg to stand on. That little contract I signed that said, I won’t reveal any information that is prejudicial to the national security, is just the contract. It’s not the Constitution. I took a solemn oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That is the First Amendment and that trumps things when things hit the fan and things are serious, like what we have now in Ukraine. Again, you don’t need to reveal sensitive information. One last thing here, when Bill Casey came in under Ronald Reagan, he said at his first cabinet meeting, among other things he said, “I can’t believe it. I come in here and I find out my analysts of the Soviet Union are using 80% public sources, newspapers, books to analyze what’s going on. They should be using spies.”
Ray McGovern (42:39):
Well, give me a break. That’s the way it always was. And with the immediate availability of information now, it’s 90%. So can McGovern figure stuff out without having satellite photography or intercepted messages poured into his inbox? Normally I can, and my record speaks for itself.
Robert Scheer (43:02):
John, you want to get the last word in here?
John Kiriakou (43:06):
Ray is absolutely correct here. On our first day at the CIA, we put our right hands up in the air and we swore to protect the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Both Ray and I took that very seriously. I want to protect secrets just like anybody else does, but the Constitution is more important. But let me comment just for one second, Bob, on your earlier point or the beginning of this question. Like Ray, these people were my friends, my colleagues. We went through a lot together. I trusted their intellect. These really are some of the best and brightest in the country. I’m still in touch with many of them. I’m shocked and saddened that they believe all of the CNN and MSNBC propaganda that people from the Democratic National Committee are spouting. I just don’t understand why it’s hard, impossible, to really analyze these situations. There’s a hatred of Russia in government that I just simply don’t understand.
John Kiriakou (44:29):
I mean, going back 10 years, I remember 10 years ago my ex-wife who I was married to at the time, told me that we had not faced an enemy in generations as strong and as evil as Russia. I said, “Are you insane?”
Robert Scheer (44:49):
This is your ex-wife, who was in the CIA.
John Kiriakou (44:51):
Who was in the CIA. I said, “What are you talking, to the DNC?” But they really believe this stuff and I just don’t understand why.
Robert Scheer (45:03):
Go ahead, take it, Ray. Go ahead.
Ray McGovern (45:04):
Yeah. I just want to comment on that. John, you’re absolutely right. I talk about the Trump derangement syndrome. Now, my wife always warns me whenever I’m interviewed, always tell the audience what you think of Trump. I think Trump was the very worst president the United States ever had, and that’s saying something, okay?
John Kiriakou (45:26):
Ray McGovern (45:26):
But that doesn’t mean he is wrong about everything. And what he was right about is that the security services in our government, including our alma mater, did everything they could to prevent him from becoming president. That was the interference in the 2016 election. Then when he was elected president, they demonstrably did everything they could to emasculate him and make it impossible for him to succeed, specifically in working out a decent relationship with Russia. So when you’re subjected, as everyone in this country has been, to five years of Russia, Russia, Russia … and when worst of all you blame Russia for four years of Trump, my god, what worse could you accuse anyone of? So that I think is the cumulative effect where now they’re prepared to believe that the Russians eat babies alive, especially in Ukraine.
Robert Scheer (46:24):
Well, I keep threatening to wrap this up, but I do think it’s a fascinating moment. Because obviously, I’m very clear on this, I’m opposed to any kind of preventive war, any kind of war of choice. And then the people who get killed are almost always innocent people. That was true with the carpet bombing of Vietnam. It was true of extending the Korean War and getting the Chinese involved. I mean, it’s always the case that war takes control of reason. And what is making people giddy now is … I remember talking to Zbigniew Brzezinski about all this. We wanted to give the Russians their Vietnam and Afghanistan. Now we think we’ve actually done it, only it’s different Russians. They’re not the communists anymore, but we have this idea that we finally have the good war. But on the other hand, Vietnam started as the good war. We were saving people who were going to be persecuted by North Vietnamese Communists. They were going to be prevented from praying to their God. It was assumed most of them were Catholic. It was only 10%. Everybody forgets that when we went into Vietnam, we thought we were on the side of the angels, protecting people. What happens is that war has a way of hurting everyone and making monsters of everyone, and innocent people get killed by both sides.
Robert Scheer (48:13):
I keep using this word giddy, and I want to end this by just having a last … I might as well go to the 50-minute mark. I want to end it by just a last word of caution about nuclear war, which Ray McGovern brought up. Back when you were briefing presidents of the United States, Ray McGovern, there was an awareness that nuclear war is different. It’s different. It’s the end of all humanity on this planet. Now you almost don’t hear that. I’m going to let you end this show, both of you, with just a short response. But really, what happened to our fear of nuclear war? I mean, it’s real there now, particularly if your whole policy is to humiliate Putin and have a regime change. Why do we think this enemy that we’re describing as worse than Hitler would not use these weapons?
Ray McGovern (49:10):
Well, let me simply say it this way, nuclear usage is when it stops being giddy. The problem is that giddiness is a function of sophomores. Sophomores are the people, well, they’re rising juniors now. They’re the people advising Biden. They don’t know from nothing, as we used to say in the Bronx. Now you and I, Bob, go back to the time when we hid under desks, right, to escape the radiation and all that kind of stuff? My proudest moment was being in Moscow for the signing of that Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. That gave us a balance of terror, but it was a balance. Now we have people mouthing off about limited use of nuclear weapons. We have a situation in Russia where they do not have a good early warning system. We have submarines with these little nukes now. I’m aghast at the lack of appreciation of the momentousness of this situation. I think you’re absolutely right. When we have the head of National Intelligence testifying, as she did just last week saying, “Look, we don’t want a nuclear war. We think that one of the things that could lead to a nuclear war is if Putin is defeated in Ukraine.” Therefore … She didn’t say this, to her credit, because she’s not a policymaker.
Ray McGovern (50:41):
But the policy is, therefore, let’s put Putin on his back. Let’s defeat him in Ukraine. My God, you do the syllogism. It doesn’t make any sense to a mature human being who knows anything about nuclear war.
Robert Scheer (50:58):
Well, John, probably you don’t need to add to that, or do you want to?
John Kiriakou (51:05):
No, I concur. I’m afraid of nuclear war and I’m sickened that the people whose intellects I trusted are not.
Robert Scheer (51:16):
Okay. On that note, let’s end this. This is it for this edition of Scheer Intelligence. I want to thank the folks at KCRW for posting this show; Christopher Ho; Joshua Scheer, our executive producer; Natasha Hakimi, who writes the introduction; the JWK Foundation, which helps with some of the funding, and the memory of a very independent journalist, Jean Stein. Thank you guys for hanging in there. You may be only a couple of them but I think we got to listen to you a bit. So let’s end it on that, and see you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.