Deep State Original SI Podcast

James Bamford: Israel, Hollywood and the Theft of American Nuclear Secrets

Journalist, author and filmmaker James Bamford dives into his latest book exploring the NSA’s hypocrisy in scapegoating whistleblowers when the spy agency is the world's main source of the malware that threatens to destroy us.
James Bamford. Photo credit: Flickr

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There has been no journalist that has been more effective in penetrating the self-serving secrecy of the NSA and the security state than James Bamford, the Emmy-nominated filmmaker and best-selling author. He joins host Robert Scheer on this episode of Scheer Intelligence to discuss his latest book, Spyfail: Foreign Spies, Moles, Saboteurs, and the Collapse of America’s Counterintelligence. While Bamford has engaged in his share of muckraking on the NSA in his previous works, his new book focuses on an even more pernicious aspect of the intelligence apparatus: their carelessness in allowing foreign governments access to some of our own government’s most treacherous cyberwar creations.

While the government often likes to claim people like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are the dangerous actors in revealing the inner workings of the U.S. security state, Bamford’s journalism exposes the irony in shifting the blame. Nefarious surveillance and military equipment has been co-opted by foreign governments by way of the NSA yet not much has been done about it. “[T]here’s all this effort to silence whistleblowers when there is no effort to really stop foreign countries from accessing the material that NSA has and then… use it against American citizens,” Bamford said.

Bamford specifically highlights Israel as one of those foreign powers and that might explain the limited mainstream attention given to this latest book. He explores the multi-faceted relationship Israel has to the U.S. with regard to lobbying, Hollywood and espionage. Bamford explained, “Israel has been spying in the United States for a long time and it’s been not only not written about, but it hasn’t been prosecuted and that’s one of the problems.” Names like Arnon Milchan—the Hollywood producer, Israeli spy and Robert De Niro confidant—also came up as an example of someone who has engaged in committing espionage in the U.S. yet has faced no repercussions. Despite his hand in maintaining apartheid in South Africa, being an arms dealer and propagandizing it in the U.S., justice never seems to reach him, Bamford said.

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Robert Scheer


Joshua Scheer


Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guest and this word intelligence, we have a Central Intelligence Agency. We have all sorts of people who claim they’re giving us an intelligence in the sense of information around the world. And our guest today, James Bamford, is, for My Money, the leading expert on our intelligence deep state. However you describe it, community. I had the conceit to write a book called They Know Everything About You trying to describe Life, what we learned from Snowden and life here. But I it’s not anything like what has been produced by James Bamford. He is the author originally of the that started a lot of this whole discussion, the puzzle palace examining the NSA, which really hadn’t been examined. It was very favorably reviewed in all major publications. The Shadow Factory took it further. It’s really the three books and Body of secrets others have followed. And what we’re here to discuss is his most controversial book, and I measure its controversial quantity by the fact that the mainstream media has tended to ignore it. Excerpts have been printed in lots of places. He has a very big publisher. 12. Full disclosure I was once published by them. I have a lot of respect for what they do, but this new book, Spy Fail and the It’s Foreign Spies, Moles, Saboteurs and the Collapse of America’s Counterintelligence and. It’s what it really does. And the one hand reminds us of the immense power to destroy privacy, to spy and so forth unleashed by the modern technology. And yet how easy it is for like the development of nuclear weapons. Actually, once it was hard to develop, but once you have it, others can follow. Eric Schmidt, one of the leaders of Google, once said it would be on every shelf, even a third three. But you know, of dictatorships can be able to steal it. But in this case and the book begins with the really the best discussion I’ve seen. Our own NSA, it’s not just the Snowden revelations, but information is pouring out of what is supposed to be. Our most secret organization used to be referred to by journalists as no such agency. They were that secret about it. So why don’t you just begin with that story with the opening chapter of your book. And I should mention that you’re a columnist for The Nation magazine.

Bamford: Well, I write for the Nation, but I’m not. Oh, you call this a low frequency.

Scheer: So I want to get to some of your more recent articles in any way. But this book is five. Let’s discuss that.

Bamford: Yeah. Which you were mentioning, was the loss of information. You know, people remember Ed Snowden. I was first wanting to interview him in Moscow after after he fled the United States and did a cover story for Wired magazine on on Edward Snowden. And he walked out of NSA with depending on, you know, who you’re talking to. NSA says it’s a million pages of documents or whatever. And what I write about is how how much information has just flown out of NSA. At least with Snowden, it was for a useful purpose. It was for disclosing illegal activities on the part of NSA. But NSA has lost in the last few years over half a billion pages of top secret information. I mean, there’s a lot, you know, on Trump in Mar a Lago and whatever 100 documents or whatever down there, a couple hundred. We’re talking about over half a billion pages of documents classified above top secret that have been lost from the NSA. One NSA employee, they found the documents were stuffed all over his car and his backyard shed and so forth. And so that’s one of the problems that NSA has, is the lack of accountability. And after they discover all these these problems, there is virtually nothing that’s done. But in addition to the the documents, the NSA also lost three quarters of all its cyber weapons. So somebody stole three quarters of all NSA cyber weapons and they managed to get into the hands of the North Koreans and and the Russians. So the North Koreans took a lot of that information of the the cyber weapons and put it on their own cyber weapon. And then they launched it and it created this worldwide cyber pandemic called WannaCry. So you have all of these problems with the NSA and not a single person was fired. The director didn’t get any stars taken away. There was no problem. And yet, you know, if you’re a leaker or if you’re at Snowden, they’ll come out, you know, with guns blazing to put you in prison. But. So NSA has a really poor record of keeping all these documents in while they keep the American public’s. And well, they hit the American public unknown about all this information. It manages to get out to the Russians and the North Koreans and so forth.

Scheer: So well. Well, the reason I brought up the development of the atomic bomb is, you know, once you solved this problem, learned how to do it, people you defined as bad actors can get a hold of it. And in the case of the surveillance society, this was the warning from Eric Schmidt. Even stuff you can get legally allows to be dictators and so forth. You go wild with it. But in the case of what you offered, the example in North Korea, this was very sophisticated mechanism of cyberwarfare, of invading other systems, very secret systems. This was the crown jewels of the NSA, as I understand it, and as you describe it in spy Fail, this was the stuff they had developed to penetrate other systems right around the world.

Bamford: Yeah. Yeah. Know, the NSA develops these cyber weapons that are really unique and they spend enormous amount of money developing. And what they’re useful for is planning in whatever target communication systems they’re looking for. And so that’s why it’s kept very secret. It’s like the digital equivalent of a loose nuke. And. North Korea was able to get a copy of one of the cyber weapons, and they used it themselves on one of their own weapons to attack basically the world. They didn’t know what they were going to do with it. They put it on this weapon. They launched it. They were hoping to create this ransomware program to get a lot of money. And it basically went haywire and circle circulated around the world and created enormous havoc. It shut down hospitals all over, all over the UK, all over Europe, and then it kept going through Russia, China, all the way around the world. It was the worst cyber attack in world history. And it was created because NSA lost its cyber weapons. You know, and again, no.

Scheer: Of cyber weapons were actually put up for auction on the Internet and people were trying to sell them. And I mean, here what’s if there’s one thing that is really clear in your book, there are many themes and concerns. But one is that this business, this ability to know what other people are thinking, to blackmail them, to intimidate them, to make fake news, to distort elections, all of the dirty tricks, everything, basically. A lot of it started with our own intelligence agencies, particularly with the NSA. But the fact is, others can can do it, too. And given what’s happened with the NSA, they actually have made it possible for all of these people they call bad actors. Certainly, North Korea is somebody they would define that way to do the dirty tricks that the NSA can do if it wants to.

Bamford: Write against them. It gives these other countries, Russia and North Korea, the ability to get into U.S. communications of private, you know, U.S. citizens, communications and so forth. So So that was one of the key problems that I found with NSA written three books on NSA. This is my fifth book. It’s partly on NSA, not fully on NSA. So a long history of writing about NSA and most of what NSA tries to do in terms of keeping their information secret is to try to keep the secret from the American public. And what this shows is that the NSA doesn’t do much in terms of trying to keep it secret from our adversaries. The Russians, North Koreans, for example, used the NSA’s cyber weapons for attacking the United States.

Scheer: So in this connection and again, the book is incredibly well documented, and I don’t know somebody wrote in that that’s the most documented. And when you really know your stuff, no one doubts that. And you you know, it’s said and you make a very interesting point, though. Much of this information that they trying to protect about what they do, we have a right to know and indeed a need to know. I certainly would argue that Edward Snowden told us about the Orwellian implications of this technology. And in your most recent column in The Nation magazine, you make a point. Why don’t we discuss that just briefly as an example? Julian Assange, the Biden administration, is trying to extradite him from England. He faces, what, a century and in jail. Historically, whistleblowers like Daniel Ellsberg or Edward Snowden have faced very stiff charges of penalties and so forth. And the headline on your piece is Julian Assange and Aaron Milchan, The Lopsided Scales of American Justice. And you introduce us in your book to a fascinating kind of blowback because in this case is coming from a country that’s defined as an ally, Israel that gets military aid, gets financial aid and so forth. And someone you compare Assange to an and MILCHAN And why don’t you tell us about that? Here we are is an example of an ally spying on us and our spying on on Israel and in great detail. And it runs actually through your book Israel pops up all the time as a country, which sometimes you think maybe we have a love hate relationship with them when we talk about meddling in politics. And your book, they are meddling in our politics, but we’re also meddling in theirs because we are actually heavily influenced by the right wing American supporters of Israel. Right. Rather than the more dovish ones. So there’s just this is a central part of your book. I it’s a source of, I gather, some controversy. And I don’t know your book has not been received and reviewed by the mainstream media, and it’s basically been ignored, I think. And I think the Israel part may be part of a reason for that.

Bamford: Right. Well, this is the book where I decided to, you know, not use any restraint in. Going after Israel because there’s been so little done on what Israel has been doing in terms of espionage in the United States. So I knew there would be a lot of pushback because whenever anybody writes negatively about Israel, it’s it’s a problem with mainstream media and trying to and trying to get published. But, you know, I have four bestsellers and enormously good reviews. So, you know, I’m not going to worry about whether somebody is going to, you know, not like the fact that I’m writing about Israel. So a lot of the a lot of what I write about in this book deals with Israel since Israel has been spying in the United States for a long time and it’s been not only not written about, but it hasn’t been prosecuted and that’s one of the problems. And that’s the area that I was talking about in the Nation article, where there’s a very well-known Hollywood producer, Arnon Milchan, and he’s the he’s basically one of the most well-known producers in Hollywood for a long time. He won two Best Picture Academy Award or Oscar Awards, and he’s got $4 billion. A lot of the movies that come out come out from his production company. But what never gets published is the fact that his background, he started off with Israeli intelligence and then he became the arms dealer for apartheid Africa, South Africa, during apartheid. I mean, the the racist government down there. And then he became the propagandist for the apartheid government. And that’s how he got into the United States, was propagandizing the apartheid government of South Africa in U.S. media and entertainment. He’s actually admitted all this stuff on Israeli television. But what his main job was after, after he did that was to become Israel’s principal nuclear spy in the United States. So his job so, you know, he’s got two jobs here, basically over job, which is being a producer, Hollywood producer. The cover job was running a Israeli front company that supplied Israel with a lot of the material it needed for its nuclear weapons, including almost a thousand times. These are the sort of the blasting caps or the triggers for nuclear weapons. And Israel really wanted them and they’re illegal to be sent to any foreign country. So Israel needed a secret way of getting them. And he used they used milchan to set up this front company and get almost a thousand of these crates. The FBI finally discovered this was going on and they arrested his front man, the guy that was running the the front company, an American, and he was facing 105 years in prison. And he escaped from the United States. And they didn’t do anything from on to Milchan Netanyahu at the time. Was they basically running the the embassy in Washington was, I think, the acting. Ambassadors. Second to the ambassador. He had a high position and he worked out a deal where nothing would happen to Milchan. And that’s pretty much the story of his life. The U.S. government keeps turning a blind eye to what he does and what the Israeli government’s been doing in terms of spying in the U.S. The reason I brought it up with in the Nation article was the fact that here you have Julian Assange, who’s facing a lifetime in prison for basically leaking information that showed how the U.S. was illegally killing people in in Afghanistan and Iraq and so forth. And, you know, there was nothing that nobody was coming to his defense in terms of the U.S. government. But when it came to Milchan and his basically admitted espionage, they turned a blind eye to it. So those are the things that I wrote about in this book, is how these Israeli espionage operations in the United States have been going on for years and nothing is ever done about them. And there is virtually nothing ever done in the U.S. media about them.

Scheer: Well, and you’re very specific and you involve a lot of people well-known here, including former Congresswoman Jane Harman, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, who’s running for the Senate now and so forth, and Congressman Howard Berman. So these names pop up and talk about the influence. But what what’s so interesting about it, we learn about Adam Milchan really not from the American media. We learned about it because of the trial of Netanyahu in Israel. And this is interesting because to the credit and in your book, you do give credit to the prosecutors in Israel who have the temerity to go after, you know, the prime minister and and they confront him and they bring this up and Milchan ends up being one of their witnesses.

Bamford: Right. He’s the key witness on one of the one of the three key charges against Netanyahu.

Scheer: He supplied the vein, we should say, and he supplied jewelry according to this trial. And then he testified about whether this is bribery and and so forth. I mean, so it’s an interesting case where somehow, if not for the Israeli judicial system, which, by the way, is under attack now in Israel, you know, by Netanyahu, but it’s not for their system. We in the United States would not have learned how this all happened.

Bamford: Right. Yeah. As I mentioned, that Milchan felt very confident. He spent most of his life living in California, working in Hollywood as a as a producer, very successful producer. And he didn’t really have any worries about the FBI knocking on his door. They never have. He’s done all these things. He’s admitted to doing these things. And because the U.S. never wants to create an issue involving arresting and, you know, a top Israeli, he’s gotten away with it. What he didn’t anticipate was that the Israelis would come knocking at his door. This all started with with his espionage. Basically, what happened was he had always had this desire to tell people that he was this big Israeli spy. But, you know, he felt he get in trouble with it if he said it in the United States publicly. So he he went to Israel and they had him on a television show in Israel that was broadcast only in Israel and it was in Hebrew. You figured nobody’s going to be watching it in the U.S. So he he talked about his. Time enough. South Africa, as you know, the arms dealer for the racist government down there and the propagandist for the apartheid government. And then he he talked about his time as a espionage agent in the U.S., a nuclear espionage agent for for Israel. And it got out to including the the the transfer of the protons, the illegal blasting caps or triggers for the nuclear weapons. So somehow somebody in the State Department happened to see it or hear it or learn about it. And they took away his ten year visa. He had a ten year visa that was annually renewed. So all of a sudden he was in a panic because, I mean, that’s where he makes his livelihood is in California. That’s where he’s lived most of his.

Scheer: Quite a livelihood. By you estimate. He’s worth about $4 billion, right?

Bamford: Yeah. For it’s over $4 billion in wealth, enormous wealth. Yet he couldn’t he couldn’t afford to give any money to his assistant, his front man who is facing 105 years in prison. He never got any money.

Scheer: Nor did he, according to your book, Pay taxes in the United States or Israel or or managed to a blessed.

Bamford: Came out in the trial. Yeah. I just have to bring this to present day. So he goes to Israel. He talks about his activities as a basically as a spy for Israel in the United States, nuclear spy and. And so somebody at the State Department here is that they take away his his.

Scheer: Name is just to be a footnote in what is the acquisition of triggers to expand the nuclear explosion. This is not small fry stuff, right?

Bamford: No, these are the these are the these are the protons or the. The trigger for a nuclear weapon. I mean, it’s what you want to use to make the H-bomb or the A-bomb, whatever you have go bang. It’s what we used on our on the bombs we used over in in Japan and so forth. So these are critical and they’re very difficult to get and very difficult to make. And that’s why the Israelis used Milchan to use his front company to secretly and illegally acquire these great times. And you’re almost a thousand of them and send them to Israel. So this came out during the during the broadcast. They took it as clearance or his US ten year visa away. And so Milchan panicked and he went to Netanyahu and he says, you got to get do something to get my clearance back or I’m sorry, my, my visa back. And Netanyahu agreed to help them. He basically went to the U.S. ambassador and then he went to the secretary of state, John Kerry, and they managed to get Netanyahu after a number of tries, managed to get the MG visa restored. But then Netanyahu wanted some repayment, according to the indictment, in Israel. And so Milchan began giving him all kinds of gifts, totaled a quarter of $1,000,000 worth of gifts, including $40,000 bracelet for Netanyahu’s wife and cases and cases of dumping your pink champagne and expensive cigars.

Scheer: And Bubba, the champagne, according to your book, is $300 a bottle or something.

Bamford: Or 350 or something like that. Yeah.

Scheer: So very explosive Cuban cigar. We still have embargo and encirclement of Cuba. Somehow these cigars still get sold to rich people. Right. He was particularly sought after by Netanyahu, the diplomatic, the Cohiba and the drink. What? The orange flavored cognac.

Bamford: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I forget the name of that. But yeah, he’s very specific. Matter of fact, when Milchan, I think, tried to give him a cheaper cigar one time or cheaper box of Cuban cigars, he got very angry. Netanyahu got very angry. And so from then on, he kept giving them the very expensive Cohiba, his or whatever it was he was getting, giving them from the Cuban cigars. So. So that was, you know, that was going on Milchan didn’t give much thought to it. He was very unhappy. He kept doing it. And Netanyahu asking for all these things and Milchan kept giving it to him. And then the the Israeli police basically discovered it and they. They were going to charge. They originally were going to charge Milchan as a coconspirator, and then they agreed to have Milchan testify against Netanyahu instead of being charged. And that’s what happened. Basically in the past few weeks. That’s why I wrote about the the story and the well, I wrote about it in my book. And then I, I also wrote about it in the Nation article.

Scheer: And the connection. Roger, there’s a connection with Julian Assange.

Bamford: Yeah. And that’s why I wrote about in The Nation article. I compared junior side because they were both let me back up when the. The FBI basically started looking into Milchan a bit after after this whole issue of his visa came up and the Israelis were looking at him as a potential criminal defendant also. So all of a sudden, Milchan moves from California to England. I mean, you can speculate that maybe he wanted to get out of town before the FBI came knocking or he didn’t want to go to Israel because he was afraid of the Israelis police. So he went to England and he said he can’t come to England to testify. So they actually did his testimony in in England through a video conference, basically. And so that’s why I wrote that article for The Nation the same week that Milton’s testifying in in England, in this criminal case against Netanyahu, where nothing nobody the FBI never went after Milchan. You know, not too far away was just sitting in a prison facing extradition and 100 years in prison or whatever. So is the contrast there where, you know, you have milchan who who is an Israeli and was involved in nuclear smuggling. His partner we got was was facing 105 years in prison. And and he goes scot free because he’s Israeli, basically, and Julian Assange and unfortunately.

Scheer: No, he goes scot free because he’s a very wealthy and well-connected Israeli. Because in your book you mention the sad fate of some other over another Israeli who was an American jail and didn’t get in prison and didn’t get any great support. Right.

Bamford: And well, Paula, but Pollard was an American. I’m talking about Israel.

Scheer: I’m sorry. SMYTH What was the other? He wasn’t an American. I did. But the person who went to live in LA. You have the sad story of what happens to two other people who didn’t have this wealth in connection.

Bamford: I think. Well. The only thing I could think of was his his partner there, but who didn’t have the wealth connection or the Israeli link.

Scheer: I was living off his $2,000 Social Security. Yeah, yeah.

Bamford: Yeah. That was his partner. That was the guy, the American that Milchan talked into being his front man on on his on his company. And so the FBI went after him and threatened him with 105 years in prison. And then he fled the United States and hid out in Spain for 16 years before he’s finally discovered, arrested and brought back to the United States. And then he he, you know, told the FBI fully about Milton’s involvement. And, you know, after he got back to the United States, they put him in jail. And again, they never went after Milton, the guy who was running the the operation. So, you know, that’s why I was focusing a lot on Israel, because this has happened numerous times where the Israelis have come over to the United States. They’ve launched a espionage operation and nothing has ever happened to the to the Israelis. Yeah. And, you know, and you when you write about those things, just it doesn’t endear you to a lot of mainstream media or, you know, viewers or readers that, like nothing bad written about Israel.

Scheer: Well, you know the book, we should talk about that before we end this. You know, you it’s interesting. You were able to criticize the NSA and have these bestselling books and it didn’t hurt. I mean, you there was some attempt to bring some charges against you at one point that didn’t go anywhere but the prosecution twice.

Bamford: Yeah. The NSA threatened me with prosecution twice for what I was writing about in the in my first book, The Puzzle Palace.

Scheer: You know. But but generally, your work has been highly and justifiably celebrated. And and you took you know, you’re the let’s let me be clear here. You’re very bright in my whole world. You’re very important as a journalist because you really you know, as I say, I wrote a book that doesn’t compare to what you’ve done cause they know everything about you. And that based basically on Snowden and studying this. But you really took on, whether you call it the deep state or the military industrial intelligence complex or whatever, you know, And once again in this book, I should give the title of it. So get spy fail. James Bamford What you do is you show us the Orwellian aspect of it all, how language, how imagery, how everything gets distorted, and and that there really are no rules of the road and there is no basic respect for individual rights or privacy is all about invading people’s domain, their heart, their sovereignty, and manipulating, controlling whether it’s done by North Korea or Russia or Israel or Egypt or I mean, and what I want to get back to is that most of this. Was made possible technologically. After all, the Internet was itself an invention of the Pentagon to survive nuclear war, have communication, and a lot of this stuff came out of our shop, right?

Bamford: Well, sure. You mean the NSA?

Scheer: Well, I mean the whole world that we. I guess what I want to capture. And if we could take a few more minutes. You’re. You’re writing. And in this book in particular, it made me squirm. I mean, it’s very readable. You’re a great writer, very accessible. You don’t mystify things and so forth. But I you know, I found it hard to go to sleep. It just makes a mockery of any notion of the individual as the center of authority and power and so forth. It just shows how really how manipulated to the degree to which were. And again, bringing up Orwell, which kind of runs through this book, the whole distortion of language and imagery. And you make a very powerful point at the beginning. It’s sort of logical that it ends up in Hollywood and you have DeNiro, for instance, critical to this. You have other movie stars, you have the manipulation of imagery. And, you know, one reason he was successful, he had a lot of money coming in, but still pretty women. What are the other movies he made?

Bamford: He just wasn’t the best or the best picture Oscar for 12 Years A Slave and for Birdman. And he’s had just an enormous number of movies, 120 movies or something.

Scheer: But he also had a lot of he had failures. And I think Sid Sheinberg, who was famous at Universal, said the best thing you can do for Hollywood is keep this guy away because he comes up, right?

Bamford: Well, that was one of the things that I thought was interesting about doing this, and I was sort of fun to write was because, I mean, Israel was in there a lot, but so is Hollywood. Hollywood’s in this book a lot. And so the nexus between Hollywood and the intelligence community and NSA and all that stuff was pretty fascinating. So, you know, when you have one of the top producers in Hollywood being a spy and then now there are other links between NSA and the and the CIA and Hollywood. So it made for a very fascinating thing to write about the connection. And as you mentioned, yeah, it’s this Orwellian aspect I first wrote about in the Puzzle Palace, the first book about NSA, and I was amazed that nobody ever done. You know that deep dive on NASA before because of its enormous ability to get it basically into everybody so that not only everybody’s email and telephone communications are basically in their head with what they’re thinking. And that’s that’s very scary. And it gets worse and worse as the years go on. And that was one of the things that when I interviewed Snowden, he was most upset about the fact that the technology keeps going in the direction we’re. It’s not just reading what you’re reading, but actually to see what’s in your head. And the next thing is just see what you’re going to do. In other words, you’re by putting all these things together and they’re able they would be able to tell what you’re going to do in the future.

Scheer: Yeah. And, you know, after all, was Hollywood that celebrated a lot of this movie, like Zero Dark 30, even. You know, I think gave a green light to a torture. And even though it turned out to be inaccurate as a description of how they captured bin Laden. But in your book you show I was really surprised because I sure remembered Hollywood, at least there were some people who spoke up against apartheid in South Africa and favored you know, I admired Nelson Mandela. I remember going to parties, you know, or events where, you know, Harry Belafonte was speaking. So in your book, you present a very different image, a real cynicism that day about South Africa. And I read again around this fellow Milchan, and he worked with some very respectable people. Right.

Bamford: Of course. Yeah. And he worked very frequently with Robert De Niro and De Niro. He told De Niro years ago about his his espionage is selling his smuggling Creighton’s times to Israel, and De Niro did nothing about it. He also you know, a lot of Hollywood knew that he was involved with South Africa.

Scheer: And the this is the old South Africa, you know, the old South Africa of apartheid.

Bamford: South Africa. Yeah, the South Africa that put Mandela in prison. And he was the one Milchan was the one who supplied them with the weapons to keep the, you know, the blacks in South Africa under the thumb of the South African government, the apartheid government, you know, the torture, the killings, the the weapons that were used for all that came. A lot of it came from Israel. And Milchan was the arms dealer. And he was very wealthy. And he had a lot of he inherited a company that had offices around the world. And he would hide the this propaganda that he he used to propagandize positive propaganda for the for the apartheid government. He used his companies around the world to promote the apartheid government. And he came to the U.S. and started doing that in the entertainment business. He started a play in New York that bombed because it was so pro apartheid government. And finally, after doing all that, he became the the nuclear arms dealer for Israel in the U.S. But he’s never gotten charged with that by the U.S. And he still gets all these accolades in Hollywood, despite, you know, this incredible background.

Scheer: So finally, let’s you know, we have these people that are made villains because they supposedly weakened us. People like Assange and Daniel Ellsberg originally, although he came to be treated somewhat more favorably later, Edward Snowden. And when I reading your work, you realize that the the whistleblowers. Or, you know, it’s almost tried to say it, but, you know, they’re providing a public service because much of what I have read in your books and you are really the most important point chronicler of this is that this stuff is out of control and it’s out of control everywhere. And it’s totally destructive of any notion of individual freedom and human liberty and the sacredness of sort of a free press. I mean, it’s all aimed at intimidation, destroying privacy, destroying any zone of sanity, manipulation. And I guess this is the controversial question I want to put to you. Is it I mean, yes, Korea’s North Korea’s awful places are. But is it are US government or liberal community? You know, the people you know, after all, in your book, you describe Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman as people who were in the leadership of House of Representatives are supposed to be observing the intelligence community controlling it. Yes, we had was Dianne Feinstein. We finally got a report on torture, but we haven’t been able to read it. It’s still secret. We only read the introduction at the end of the day. This stuff that’s supposed to make us safe is almost trite, I guess I’d say, to bring it up, because Eisenhower warned about it. George Washington warned about it. But the fact of the matter is, reading your book, I felt I’m in a mad world. I’m in a crazy world. I’m in a world in which right now, while I’m talking to you, you’re worried that information is going to be used to destroy any semblance of harmony for what remains of my life. I mean, that they have power. And at the center of it, reading in your book are people that I have interviewed and actually liked John Kerry’s. Dear Jane, I met these people. I’ve known them, and yet they look the other way. They basically my final question to you, you looked where others where it was. You know, I remember an editor at the L.A. Times told me, know, people don’t look at it because it’s too good to check A, you’ve looked at it under the rug, whatever you want the analogy, but you have looked. Why wasn’t there a book on the NSA before yours? Why hasn’t anyone written about Hollywood or about Israel in the way you do in this book? It’s easy to attack now, Putin’s Russia or certainly North Korea. What your book gets us up against that because you have a kind of a novelist style. What in the world that you’ve covered? What causes other people to not reveal its. Well, why does this secret.

Bamford: Well, two different issues. One is the NSA. The other one is Israel. I really like like you mentioned the first book about NSA. More on NSA than any other living human being, I think written three, three, four books. Parts of several other books. And I’ve done you know, I mean, I’ve written a great deal for mainstream media. I’ve written huge amounts for The New York Times and for The Washington Post and for L.A. Times and and all the other publications. And it’s just that I. For some reason decided to focus on NSA, where everybody else was focusing on the CIA or or whatever. The NSA was always much more difficult because it was much more difficult to get sources from the NSA than it was from the CIA. It was much more difficult to understand how the technology works. You know, the technology for eavesdropping and privacy invasion. It’s much more difficult to understand the technology and and to get sources. So that’s sort of what I specialized in. And and, you know, that’s how I ended up writing all these books and articles and documentaries. I’ve done documentaries for PBS on NSA and Iraq and other things. So, you know, it’s been a focus of mine just because I’ve been very interested in it and other people haven’t done it because, you know, I’m not sure why, but it is difficult. It is very difficult to get these NSA people to talk to you. And I’ve spent a lot of my life, you know, doing that and. One of the things that really interested me was the fact that having written all this, I knew a great deal about NASA, obviously having done all this writing. But then when I went to Moscow to interview Snowden, I spent three days hanging out with Snowden, with Ed Snowden. I was just astounded by everything I didn’t know that I didn’t know about before he released all this information. I mean, he released a great deal of detail that I had never even imagined before.

Scheer: So then you talk about that a little bit. What did you you were the leading journalistic expert we had on the NSA. What did you learn from Edward Snowden and from what he revealed?

Bamford: Well, I just learned a tremendous amount on on how the NSA goes about targeting Americans, for example, the the secret way that they used to get cooperation from the telecom companies, from the tapping, the undersea cables, all these technologies that the NSA uses. The NSA used to have a very simple way of eavesdropping on communications, and that was by putting big dishes out and satellites would broadcast whatever the signals are, the telephone calls or whatever, and they pick them up, international communications and so forth. And then when the digital age came in the nineties, telecom companies switched to undersea cables, and that made it much more difficult for the NSA to get access to that same information because much of it switched from satellites to undersea cables. So that opened up an entire world where NSA had to start making cooperation, cooperative agreements with the telecom companies, which are basically illegal. And so that was what created this enormous storm about NSA and their involvement with the telecom companies. So this is an area that, as you mentioned, that I’ve been writing about for a very long time. And so I’ve watched that transition. And if you’re working for a newspaper or whatever, you’re doing something on Russia today, you’re doing something on some other topic tomorrow. My focus has always been pretty much strictly on intelligence and in intelligence on the technical side of intelligence.

Scheer: But do take away.

Bamford: Some in an area that I happen to become a an expert in.

Scheer: Yes, but the takeaway for me as a as citizen, as a reader. Yes, you’ve you’ve done great work and we can learn a lot. And that’s why we want to have a free press. But the fact is, how can I use the example of Ellsberg? I had been in Vietnam before the Pentagon Papers came out writing. I had written about it. I had studied, but I needed the revelation of the Pentagon paper and Daniel Ellsberg to know what my government really knew in real time. Right. And how they lied to us. And and and that’s the value of these whistleblowers like Julian Assange or Edward Snowden, particularly a whistleblower like Stone or Ellsberg, who’s inside and tells us, however, there’s another group that’s supposed to help us understand. That’s the Nancy Pelosi’s. That’s the Adam Schiff. That’s the Jane Harman that are your book. They are people we elect, you know, And in Israel, there are, you know, Netanyahu or others, they were elected. These are people that we elect. And they’re Dianne Feinstein, who was head of the, you know, the Senate committee. They’re supposed to make sure our Constitution is not being violated. Right. And our individual rights are being protected, then we would need the whistleblowers when they turn around and attack the whistleblowers.

Bamford: It’s having the Senate Intelligence Community Committee, House and Senate Intelligence Committees started out. You know, they were brilliant when they started out with under Frank Church and so forth, the Senate Intelligence Committee. It really did a good job of investigating. I mean, that was one of the things that I mean, I was an early whistleblower. I was in law school and went down to a and my two weeks active duty. I spent three years active duty during Vietnam. And then when I was in law school, I was in the Reserves and I had to go down and do two weeks of active duty at a listening post in in Savannah Sica, Puerto Rico. And I discovered that NSA was actually eavesdropping on on Americans, which came to the big surprise to me. And since I was in law school and I was actually working as a prosecutor or student or. [00:51:24][57.3]

Scheer: [00:51:25] You know. [00:51:25][0.2]

Bamford: [00:51:25] Student prosecutor, basically, yeah, I knew about wiretapping laws and so forth. And so I was trying to understand how the NSA has the ability to eavesdrop on Americans. And since the Church Committee came out right at that same time, I just call up the Church Committee and said, you may be interested in this, but the NSA’s eavesdropping on Americans down in Puerto Rico and they basically said, how fast can you get to Washington? And I was down there the next day and I testified in secret before the Church Committee, before Senator Church and several members in executive session. And they they sent a task force or a team down to Puerto Rico and they discovered I was telling the truth. NSA It did admit that they were eavesdropping on on Americans, but they said they stopped it two years previously. And when I went down there, I, I was only down there a month before I made the phone call. And so I said, well, they’re still doing it. And so they discovered I was telling the truth. And, you know, they took NSA over the coals for that. So that’s one of the things that got me started in the first place is the fact that I found that NSA was doing this illegal eavesdropping on Americans. And, you know, I became a whistleblower and and told on them and told on NSA. And so I thought it was a fascinating topic. And that’s how the Puzzle Palace came about, was writing about it. And then the government tried twice to prosecute me for writing about the NSA. But they I had a very good lawyer and we we showed that I didn’t violate any law. So, uh, so they went away.

Scheer: Right. But the argument one always hears is they they’re good people and they want to make us safe. And they took the same classes that we took. And why we need a constitution, why we need separation of powers, why power corrupts. They’ve also read All World, Huxley and so forth. And yet we have a situation and you know, you can blame a lot of this on right wingers and you know you know casino owners and so forth or Trump supporters or what have you. And we meet those people in your book. There’s no shortage of them. But on the other hand, um, I don’t want to use the word villains, but the people who are responsible for concealing government serious government overreach and violation of individual freedom. In reading your book, there are people that I have broken bread with that I have had been able to socialize with. And frankly, people I voted for, you know, as the lesser evil. But I still voted for our men. And, you know, and it’s interesting because at the end of your book or not, the end at the end of the section on Israel, this a source of real optimism for me as a reader, because you point out that for all of the access of the Netanyahu and the Israeli government and by the way, that included people like Peres and Rabin himself in relation to some of the South African stuff, the fact is, the American Jewish community, you know, in this diaspora, you show the polling information that they don’t like this stuff. If they don’t want. That’s not the Israel they want to support. Right. And what you really learn from the people in government who say, oh, we have to protect the NSA, know the best way to protect and have an intelligence agency that doesn’t routinely lose information or harass people or destroy their freedom is to have transparency. Right.

Bamford: Well, that’s yeah, transparency is the ideal. And the only way we’re ever getting transparency is through whistleblowers these days.

Scheer: Yeah, well, that might be a you know, it’s such an interesting conversation. I, I don’t know, but I it seems to me such an obvious point. I wanted reading your book to call up somebody. Maybe I’ll do it. You know, what was Nancy Pelosi thinking? What is Jane Harman? You know, I used to attend meetings here of the Pacific Council on International Relations. I talked to her. She’s like a perfectly decent, intelligent person. What Why would you be involved in maybe concealing somebody who was damaging their work that was damaging world peace, the U.S. security? Why did they go along? I think that’s the basic question. I would like to end this with, you know, why right now? Why are people not speaking up about Julian Assange? Why do we want to punish Julian Assange when these major newspapers, five of them, including New York Times, issued a statement that he should be released? They printed his material. They acknowledged that this was a material that we needed. Right. And why why is your search almost no outcry, no support for Julian Assange or for an Edward Snowden? If you if you learn stuff from Snowden, you are leading expert in the journalism community, in the free press. You learn from Snowden about the extent of government overreach. How can one deny the value of Snowden’s revelations? You know?

Bamford: Exactly. Yeah. They were essential to me. I, I just couldn’t imagine, you know, if if that hadn’t come out, we’d be in such a worse position today than we are already. You know, it’s been ten years or so since he since he left. So in the ten years that he’s been gone, the NSA hasn’t really had any major whistleblowers. So you can imagine where they are today with the with the technology, considering, you know, how far we got up to the Snowden period. But like you’re saying, that’s what I was writing about in the Nation article and to some degree in the in the book also is the fact that here we go after whistleblowers for telling us what the government is doing to us and what they’re doing illegally. While you have members of Congress and the so-called Senate Intelligence Committee and so forth just closing their eyes and looking the other way and, you know, giving them a pass for what they’re doing. That’s what I keep showing time and time again, not only with regard to NSA, but also with regard to Israel.

Scheer: Well, let’s end on this. But you know, the truth shall set you free. We are raised from early childhood to to believe. And I think it is true. Sound government requires an informed public. And, you know, that’s why we believe in limiting power. And that’s why, you know, we’re critics criticize authoritarian, obviously totalitarian governments. And yet and I would I want to really mention this book again I’m haven’t done enough on it. Spy Fail, which is probably your least successful, commercially successful book. Is that correct? And yeah, yeah.

Bamford: I mean, there are several reasons, but we came out with a lot of we did have a lot of excerpts in Daily Beast. The Nation did a cover story. All right.

Scheer: I’m not talking about commercial. I’m talking about shaping the debate. You’re writing about NSA and the national security state has been you’ve been the most effective person in in the media world in casting a light on this surveillance society. You are. You know, you’re doing what Orwell demanded. We have, you know, transparency. You’ve done it and you made the country stronger. You now come out with a book that I find to be more frightening than your earlier ones, and that is that this treachery, this surveillance is routine everywhere. Every society has the technology, not just the will. You know, that was the value of the Korean example at the beginning at this country that is ineffective in so many ways can yet use this technology that was leaked to them. But some of it is even on the shelf. And we are now in a world in which truth has no standing because it can all be manipulated. We can all be spied on. You have these examples. Any professor who would speak up and you have examples of teachers and students and your book, your career is over. They are smeared. They’re they’re targeted, Right?

Bamford: You have a right to it. Yeah.

Scheer: Yeah. It’s a frightening look at the current state of the academic world. I mean, people.

Bamford: Are in the media. I mean, you ask, you know, why? You know, I’ve. Why there’s been problems with with the media? Well, one of the reasons is because I criticize the media so much in the book. I mean, I take the media over the coals in the book for.

Scheer: But in a measured way. This is not sloganeering. Very measured, very thoughtful. And, you know, then I wonder, you know, why why don’t people take it to heart? Why are they not concerned? You know, I mean, after all the question of proliferation of nuclear technology and triggers and, you know, all this stuff, this is this is afraid of the world or lying about countries or distorting what’s happening or, you know, forcing regime change. I mean, we’re we are in a I don’t know, we’re both too old guys. I’m older than you. I’ve never been more scared about the to use Jonathan shows the fate of the earth. I’ve never been more worried about the fate of the earth because, you know. Yes. Global climate change. But that’s even being exacerbated by all this warlike posturing and destruction and everything. And you know this. We thought with the end of the Cold War, we thought, what would the end of World War Two would be? The fashion. Then with the end of the Cold War, we enter a more enlightened time. Your book, Spy Fail, is really opens the curtain to a world of absolute chaos, madness and inevitable self-destruction, does it not?

Bamford: Yeah, I. That’s why I wrote it. And that’s. And again, when you step on people’s toes, like I step on a lot of media toes and, you know, write about the third rail, which is writing about Israel. So this book, I decided, you know, I was going to just write what what was the truth and not worry about whether somebody is going to not like it or come after me or whatever. So I I’ve been doing it in the past, and so I wasn’t going to treat Israel or the media any differently than I was going to treat the NSA or or the the agencies that do all the spying. So so, you know, but that’s what a journalist asiedu. Yes. Just write what they think is the truth and not worry about the consequences.

Scheer: [01:03:32] So last point, because you’ve mentioned the media. What is your basic criticism of the media?

Bamford: [01:03:39] Well, first of all, they with regard to Israel, they just give it a pass all the time. You know, we spend $4 billion a year. Hardworking taxpayers have to pay $4 billion a year to a country that spies on us, actually does an enormous amount of spying, as I point out in the book, but gets no there’s virtually no reporting on it. The New York Times, Washington Post, they just sort of bypass any critical reporting on on Israel. That’s the way it’s been in the past. And they sort of set the pace for the rest of the the rest of the media in general. So, I mean, that’s the value of the book. And the value of the book is to write what the media doesn’t want you to read or doesn’t have the courage to write about and and to write about it in depth. And that’s why I like writing about it. Nobody written about NSA before. I wrote about it in terms of in-depth book. And, you know, I wanted to apply that same honesty, I guess, to everything that I wrote. And now, you know, not that there’s you know, the mainstream media has basically been part of it all my life. I was the investigative producer for ABC News for ten years. I did documentaries for PBS. I’ve written for The New York Times numerous times, and The Washington Post and L.A. Times and all these publications. So. Mean, and part of that group. But that doesn’t mean I can’t write critically about them. So that’s what I do in this book.

Scheer: So if I were a student in your class or a student in my class, I would say, But wait a minute. The media is enshrined in our Constitution. The media has presumably even a financial stake in writing good stories and so forth. And I would ask you, do you think in your because you’ve been around for a while now. They seem to be not me. They seem to be worse than they used to be. And the odd thing is, I mean, since we mentioned Orwell and he runs through your book, the main warning from Orwell was the same as the warning from Eisenhower, from Washington, when he, in his farewell address, warned us about the imposters of pretended patriotism. And reading your book, the big message that came through to me was that if you’re going to make wars, if you’re going to constantly be in danger, you put yourself into aggressive situations of war and invasion and so forth. You’re not going to have troops. You’re not going to have a free press. And there’s a scene in there. Even with Netanyahu cornered by his own corruption, by his incompetence exposed. Everybody says to this investigator, he says, Yeah, we could talk about that or we could talk about all the weapons that are targeted against Israel. We could talk about all the dangers revealed. He doesn’t want to talk about the pink champagne. Yes. Let’s talk about the jewelry gifts, you know, so that they always in a wartime. That’s what the NSA up to this moment, you know, they can lie to Congress, you know, as Clapper did. They can do all this. Why? Because they have the very thing that Orwell talked about. They’ll have enemies and they’ll invent enemies. They’ll embellish enemies, and they do it all over the world. Right. And that that’s the real enemy of representative democracy or even rational sound governance. No.

Bamford: Well, like you mentioned, I think it keeps getting worse and worse. And I think that’s why you need courageous journalists out there to to write about it and courageous whistleblowers to leak the information. You need those two things, because I think mainstream media hate using that term because it’s so generic, you know, just fails the American public in so many different ways. And so does Congress. I mean, the Senate Intelligence Committee, at least from what I’ve seen, has basically been a joke for a long time. They you know, we wouldn’t need all these whistleblowers if they actually did what they were supposed to be doing. So. So, again, that’s why I think that I give a lot of credit to journalists and whistleblowers. My I spent a lot of time with well, I visited Julian Assange in his encampment in the Ecuadorian embassy twice and. You know, So these are the people that I admire that actually risked their lives and to get us the information we need. Snowden and Julian Assange and and so forth.

Scheer: Well, from your lips to God’s ears, as they say, let’s hope more people get that. And I think it’s important because. You know, otherwise. And some journalists fall into that. We can do it. But, you know, you’re as tough and as good a journalist as we have. And without the whistle blower, without some imperative for truth, without a legal system that requires truth, no, you’re going to be lied to pretty much all at a time.

Bamford: But it takes, you know, another person I’ve had a great deal of admiration for and spent a fair amount of time with was Daniel Ellsberg, for example. And, you know, his whistleblowing helped and an entire war. So that’s why it’s so incredibly important that, I mean, for me, having written on the most secret agency in the United States, I needed not just whistleblowers, but sources who could tell me things. And, you know, they’re very hard to get. And so anyway, the bottom line for me is that I hope that there will be more courageous people out there both blowing the whistle and writing about what these people are blowing the whistle about.

Scheer: On that note. Okay. I really appreciate it. The book is Spy Fail. James Bamford Definitely. Get it. Read it. I want to thank Laura Condor, Gerri and and Christopher Howard. Okay. CW, the NPR station in Santa monica for these shows and the station for posting it. Joshua Scheer, our executive producer, who before I was not paying attention to your book, and he made me read it, and I really appreciate that. Thank you. Also this year. And Diego Ramos, who wrote the introduction. Max Jones, who does the video. And I want to thank the JKW Foundation in memory of Jean Stein for having giving us some funding to be able to do this. And she was a great civic citizen and whistleblower herself. Okay. On that note, she tweeted.

Bamford: In honor of being on your show, Bob admired you from your days a way back in the sixties with Ramparts and so forth. So, you know, I’m glad we finally got a chance to meet at this point know.

Scheer: And by the way, one good thing we did at Ramparts is we published Senator Frank Church when he was one of the first to come out against the war before the church. So.

Bamford: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Scheer: All right, well, great.

Bamford: Thanks again.

Scheer: Yeah, y and we’ll try to get this up this weekend.

Bamford: Okay. Thank you.

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