James Bovard, author of Attention Deficit Democracy, discusses the FBI’s flagrant abuse of national security letters that apparently entitles them to even more eavesdropping power, the lawsuits and sabotage efforts likely heading WikiLeaks’ way, how media sycophancy enables the know-nothing Congress and why Bob Barr’s 2008 Presidential Committee needs help paying its bills.
MP3 here. (20:23) Transcript below.
James Bovard is a contributor to The American Conservative magazine and policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation. He is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal and many other books.
Transcript – Scott Horton interviews James Bovard July 30, 2010
Scott Horton: All right y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio. I’m Scott Horton. I’m joined on the phone by my friend Jim Bovard. He’s the author of The Farm Fiasco and The Fair Trade Fraud and Feeling Your Pain and Freedom in Chains, Terrorism and Tyranny, The Bush Betrayal, and Attention Deficit Democracy is so good – it’s a couple of years old now, but still – man what an awesome book, Attention Deficit Democracy. I’m sure I’ve left half of them off the list there, but that’s Jim Bovard’s work. He is the most accomplished libertarian journalist in history and of course he’s a fellow over at the Future of Freedom Foundation as well. Hey Jim, how’s it going man?
James Bovard: Hey, Scott, thanks for having me on the air.
Horton: Well I appreciate you joining us again on the show today.
Bovard: Hey, it was a really great interview that you did yesterday with Julian Assange. It’s great that you guys are putting the transcripts online. You know, I’ve been hearing a lot of stuff in the Washington press corps and the Washington Post about kind of telling you that the release a couple of days ago wasn’t as big as the Pentagon Papers. It’s nice to see from your interview there’s a whole lot more coming, and you know this game is only starting and it’s getting better all the time.
Horton: Well, thanks very much. Two things there: First of all, Angela Keaton gets the credit for producing this show and getting all the guests lined up, like you right now, but like Julian yesterday as well – she gets all the credit for that. And then, secondly, the transcripts are thanks to a small group of volunteers I’ve been able to put together. I think at least some of them have told me not to say their names or whatever, so I guess I won’t say their names, but anyway there are about five people who are working together to put together the transcriptions and then go over them and get them in final draft form for me, and then, as you mentioned, they got that Julian Assange interview transcript together, ready to post in real time with the archive of the audio last night. So I’m very thankful to all of them for that. It’s really something having the transcripts up.
Bovard: Yeah, and it’s so helpful for folks who might not want to listen or folks who are more print oriented, kind of like geezers like myself.
Horton: Well and it’s a matter of time too, you know.
Bovard: That’s true. That’s true.
Horton: You listen to a half-hour interview, you can read it in four minutes, you know?
Bovard: That’s true, and something which is nice about being able to read it is that you can annotate it.
Horton: Right, yeah, copy, paste.
Bovard: And there are certain quotes – like the thing a half an hour ago, I did a blog on your interview, and it was nice to be able to pull out a couple of sentences from his comments and just pop them right in there, so…
Horton: Right, well and you think about some of the things I get, former CIA agents and former National Security Council staffers and other people who will say on the show – a lot of those things could be news stories themselves, and I think now that we’re getting them in print, and especially fast like this, maybe we can get to building some news releases around them. You know, because Flynt Leverett on this show, the things that he says – that’s a news story itself, that this guy Flynt Leverett told this guy Scott Horton X and such.
Bovard: Well, yeah, but the downside to all this is it means you’re going to have more trouble with groupies.
Horton: Yeah! Well that’s always been a real problem around here, believe me.
Bovard: Well, I saw it happen at that Future of Freedom conference. My goodness, you know, it was dangerous standing close to you. You know? I felt like I had to do my middle-linebacker, you know, always be on defense.
Horton: Well, it’s nice to know you have my back, Jim.
Bovard: All right.
Horton: Hey, by the way, when are they doing another one of those Future of Freedom Foundation conferences? That thing was awesome, man.
Bovard: Good question. Don’t know. That’s a good question for Bumper [Future of Freedom Foundation president Jacob Hornberger] next time you talk to him. They’ve been cooking some other stuff up, so I don’t know.
Horton: You know, people go on the YouTube and look – that was in 2007, right?
Bovard: There was one in 2007. There was one in 2008.
Horton: Okay. Well maybe that was the 2008 one. Or maybe – I don’t know. Yeah, I guess that was 2008. So, anyway, go and look at the YouTube y’all, and there are excellent speeches by Ron Paul, and Stephen Kinzer, and Andrew Bacevich, and you’re one of them too, aren’t you?
Bovard: I was one of them. There was Glenn Greenwald…
Horton: Karen Kwiatkowski. Yeah, Greenwald. Anthony Gregory gave a great speech about why it’s immoral to drop high explosives on peoples’ heads from your airplane. Yeah, it was awesome – always is. And of course Jacob’s speech was great too.
Bovard: Yeah, he’s a first-class hell raiser.
Horton: All right. Well, so, we got to cover some news or something important or something, so let’s talk about this WikiLeaks thing. That’s kind of where we started here with the Julian Assange. I’m trying to be hopeful that – and this was going to be one of my questions for him before I ran out of time yesterday, and I don’t know, he doesn’t have any inside information on this, I guess. But what I’m hopeful about, Jim – and I wonder whether you think that this will be the case, is that WikiLeaks will inspire competition, and more people, more computer geniuses with encryption skills and whatever are going to figure out ways to do their own little separate WikiLeaks.
Bovard: That would be great. I mean, as long as there’s some type of quality control. Because I would assume at some point that people inside of the government are going to be trying to feed false information through the different people that are sending information to the various –
Horton: Well, the more the merrier, right?
Horton: I mean that’s where we get our checks and balances in the market. And, well look, as we’ve been discussing, as I think you brought up – yeah, because you’re talking about the Washington Post there and the way that they treat this thing – we have to come up with our own journalism. Ray McGovern yesterday called it the “Fifth Estate” – “the Ether” – and the establishment can’t do nothing about it. It’s the Internet. It’s CampaignForLiberty.com (I’m looking at your article, “The Fraud of ‘Big-Picture’ Thinking” right now). It’s Antiwar.com. It’s WikiLeaks.org and Salon.com/Opinion/Greenwald. And this is the future of journalism in the world.
Bovard: I hope you’re right. I’m not entirely confident the government cannot find some way to sabotage it. I would also – I will be curious to see what they try to do as far as lawsuits; I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in Congress tries to pass a law that would somehow attach liability to people who pass on government confidential documents. I mean, there’s all kinds of peril laying out there, and it was surprising to see some of these liberal mainstream journalists prior to this most recent leak kind of taking shots at WikiLeaks. I mean, it’s almost as if some of the liberals thought that they should be a team player, and I’m thinking, you know, it doesn’t make sense to trust the government to tell us the truth because the government’s had plenty of opportunities and it hasn’t done it.
Horton: Yeah, well, we’re doomed.
Bovard: Well, I don’t know that we’re doomed, but I expect that there’ll be a lot of surprises and tussles coming up here. But it’s very encouraging to hear that those folks have got a lot more surprises in the pipeline, and you know, the thing that’s shocking to a degree is how much the established media – you know, there have been individual journalists who have done a great job in Afghanistan – people like Carlotta Gall for the New York Times and some other folks, but so much of the mainstream press coverage – well, it’s been government-fed, which is why that Rolling Stone story was such a shock. It’s like the evidence was out there, but it was almost as if some of the journalists were bending over backwards not to connect the dots.
Horton: Yeah, well and you’re right. I mean, you do have Carlotta Gall and a lot of other good reporters at the Times and even at the Post and other places, but it’s the narrative that sticks, you know? No matter how many times Carlotta Gall reports about, I don’t know, Pakistani help for the Taliban, or whatever, and it’s the kind of thing that people who are paying attention already know – the narrative really never changes from, whatever, “It’s hard work but we’re making progress – all we got to do is surge some more troops in there and everything will end up going our way.”
Bovard: Well, yeah. I mean there is a fair amount of that. The interesting thing about Gall is she had the first bombshell story on the U.S. use of torture after 9/11, using it there in Afghanistan, but if memory serves, the New York Times editors basically sat on the article for a long time and then kind of buried it in the middle of the A section or the front section, and did not give it anywhere near the play. And if the New York Times had not flinched on that, it might have been more difficult for the Bush administration to make an institution of torture in so many different places around the world. And it’s surprising to me that Carlotta Gall has not gotten a lot more credit for what she’s done, because – well, anyhow, that’s another story.
Horton: Well you know when you talk about the Democrats turning on WikiLeaks. I was just looking at Greg Sargent’s blog, actually at the Washington Post – Glenn Greenwald had a link over to it – and it’s this Jason Chaffetz, a Republican congressman who voted against the Afghan war funding, is being attacked for betraying the troops by his Democratic opponent. And on down the chain of BS we go, just switching roles back and forth between these two stupid parties.
All right, y’all, it’s Jim Bovard the genius on the show, on the line. We’ll be right back after this.
* * * * *
Horton: All right, y’all. Welcome back to the show, it’s Antiwar Radio, I’m on the phone with former Kelly Girl typist Jim Bovard.
Horton: He’s the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, it’s really a great book, you guys really ought to read it. I know I sit here and I tell you about all these books you got to read all the time. I can’t even read all the books I got to read, and that’s my job. But this is one that you actually go and get and read, not just hear about: Attention Deficit Democracy. And, yeah, he knows it’s not supposed to be a democracy, it’s just a stupid title.
Bovard: [laughs] Oh thanks, that’s a great plug.
Horton: Yeah, yeah, quote that one on the back of the next one, you know?
Bovard: Sounds good to me.
Horton: All right, so let’s talk about –
Bovard: – Bob Barr has a blurb, but go ahead.
Horton: Oh, yeah, yeah, no doubt. Hey, by the way, did that guy ever give you the money he owed you? Ok, nevermind.
Bovard: Oh, now there’s a question. Things are proceeding on the litigation front.
Horton: Well the guy is a former federal prosecutor, so I don’t expect him to have any honor or anything, but I guess we’ll see how that goes. Well, yeah, and speaking of that, I want to pick on the FBI.
Bovard: Go for it.
Horton: I know they’re one of your favorite government agencies to pick on. These guys – well, two things. First of all, it says that they want to just be able to seize whatever information they want from any ISP in the country without any warrant. But I thought they could already do that, because of the Patriot Act, because of the National Security Letters and administrative subpoenas and so forth, so I was hoping you’d set me straight as to exactly how that works. And then the second thing is, all the cops were cheating on the test about when you’re allowed to seize what – to see whether they’re allowed to be cops in the first place.
Bovard: Well this is – yeah, the second story, the FBI agents probably apparently cheated en masse as far as being able to answer the question about when they’re allowed to do these – seize people’s private information without a warrant, but that’s a harmless error because it works out well for the government. And the second one – front page of the Washington Post today – the Obama administration is pushing to allow the FBI to seize far more personal information about people’s computer use without using a warrant. This is basically a change in the standard which the National Security Letters would be used for.
National Security letters have already been a complete disaster. The FBI has used those to put the Fourth Amendment through a shredder. We have no idea how many innocent people’s privacy has been violated by that, because there have been some very good inspector general reports, but the actual damage to privacy is far greater, and the government leaves out all the details, so we don’t know what the government did with the information it got. And so the folks in the Obama White House think the answer is to give the FBI a much bigger vacuum cleaner and basically change the law to make it much clearer that the FBI is entitled to far more sweeping information on people’s Internet use, the times and dates they sent email, the subject lines, and also possibly a person’s browser history. So if someone out there clicks on Antiwar.com, that could go on their permanent federal FBI record.
Horton: Well look, I think everybody ought to understand already that it does go on their permanent National Security Agency file forever, if not the FBI, at this point.
Bovard: Well, it’s really hard to know – well, you know, sometimes bureaucrats share, and we have no idea how much information is being passed back and forth.
Horton: Right, I mean, that’s the real concern, right? I mean, hell, Jim, if we left it up to the FBI to build the Cray supercomputer to enslave us all, we’ll be free forever, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that you change an “and” to a “to” in some legislation somewhere, and now the National Security Agency’s powers over all of us are available to the cops who actually can use these things in court against us, and the National Security Agency – I guess they could contract out a secret hit with the CIA to kill you or whatever, but they don’t have any police power over us here other than through the FBI.
Bovard: Well, the FBI or perhaps other federal agents or federal agencies, because we don’t really know how much else, how many other laws are being broken right now. It’s been a long time since federal law enforcement was on a leash, and we really don’t know who they’re ravaging. But it’s appalling to see the Obama Administration, “Mr. Constitutional Lawyer,” coming in there and just pushing these things, which are just one more wish list for law enforcement and the intelligence types and one more trampling of privacy. I mean, it is an outrage that these folks want to give more power to the government on this when they have not yet disclosed how the government abused the power it already had.
Horton: And even if you check out the Priest-Arkin version of the national security state in the Post, they’re saying, “It’s out of control.” I think that was the title of the first piece of that last week was “Out of control, National Security State” – no one’s in charge, certainly not elected representatives of anybody.
Bovard: Well and Congress is supposed to have oversight. I would wager heavily that probably less than a third of the members of Congress even read that Washington Post series. Because members of Congress almost never read. I mean, you know, it’s like – well, anyhow.
Horton: Well, you know I’m actually going to interview Barbara Lee later today.
Bovard: Oh good!
Horton: It was supposed to be at the beginning of the show, and that was going to be one of my questions for her, is, “How dim is the average member of Congress?” I mean not even in the sense of, “Do they disagree with me about X, Y or Z?” Lord knows Barbara Lee and I disagree about all kinds of things, I’m sure. But it seems to me like most of these members of congress, Jim – and I know you’ve covered most of them live there at the Capitol – it seems like they don’t even care about stuff. They’re not even interested in what’s going on.
Bovard: Right. Yes. I mean, something that you might want to do with Barbara Lee is ask her what her assessment is of how much the average congressman knows about what the government is doing either in foreign policy or in the surveillance stuff. And ask her if her fellow members of Congress ever read anything about these things, because that might get a very interesting answer.
Horton: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s pretty obvious to listen to these people talk that they’re a tenth as informed as the average reader of Antiwar.com. You could even tell, in the Bush years, there were times where you could tell that George Bush actually knew less than the readers at Antiwar.com. Whatever it was they were telling him didn’t include a lot of the story.
Bovard: Scott, Scott, Scott, this is damning with faint praise as far as your readers –
Horton: Well, no, I don’t mean – I mean what he’d even been briefed on.
Bovard: “Knows more than George W.” I mean, this is something to pat yourself on the back about. It’s like being a Rhodes Scholar these days.
Horton: No, no, you know what I mean, where he’s just talking about – I wish I had a good example, but, you know, going on about Iran and Iraq, and you can tell he really doesn’t know that he’s been fighting for Iran in Iraq for years on end. I mean, most of these guys knew they were lying when they said something like that. Nobody ever even told him, you know? All he had to do was get a laptop and start googling, he’d have found out a lot more than Condoleezza Rice ever let him know.
Bovard: Well, and the thing that’s unfortunate – it was so rare in an interview with Bush that some journalist would ask him a question that would actually test his factual knowledge, because that would tell us a lot more as far as whether he had any clue in Hades as far as what was going on. But the journalists almost never did that. There was a short little Irish lady who interviewed him in the summer of 2004 and Bush just had a snit because she was pushing him on torture, and the White House just about fell apart on that.
Horton: Right, yeah, how dare she? And you know, this is the symptom of the whole larger thing – I hate to even bring this up. But I obviously don’t want to talk about the subject, but it’s an example/side-issue thing – is the upcoming marriage – apparently, I hadn’t read anything but a headline, can’t avoid them – the upcoming marriage of the daughter of two presidents ago. And this is like some kind of like the – when I was a kid and Lady Diana got married to Prince Charles or whatever. I mean, really, I’m supposed to care about Bill Clinton’s daughter? This is news? It’s like we do live in England with this kind of weird pseudoroyalty that they got from Arkansas.
Bovard: Well, yeah, and it’s similar to the British Royalty because it’s fairly inbred.
Horton: [laughs] Yeah, indeed. I always did think that – well, never mind, I’m not going to say it.
Bovard: [laughs] Okay.
Horton: I had something really funny I was going to say, but never mind.
Bovard: Okay, well, we’ll just try to keep up to you.
Horton: It would have been worth that laugh I got out of you.
Bovard: All right, well, you know I was waiting for a zinger.
Horton: Well, yeah, there was a zinger but I stifled it, man.
Bovard: A Bill Hicks cyber zinger – You know, I was looking for some Bill Hicks caliber right there.
Horton: Yeah, no. There’s nothing Bill Hicks caliber here, man. Anyway, we try. Well, so, hey, here’s this too, man, is the Iraq war – you think that’s ever going to end?
Bovard: Well, there’s still quite a few Iraqis alive, so um…
Horton: Yeah, I guess we still got a job to do.
Bovard: Well, and it’s fascinating how the mainstream American media has basically gone with this notion that the U.S. won – and it’s like a hell of a definition of victory.
Horton: And it really has worked – You know Biden here says the headline, “U.S. Troops Halted Chaos and Destruction in Iraq.” They really got away with that. We really live in a world upside down.
Bovard: Well, it almost makes you cynical.
Horton: Yeah, almost – well good thing you’re not yet. Everybody go look at JimBovard.com, would you? And thanks, Jim.
Bovard: Hey, thanks for having me on, Scott.
Horton: We’ll be back.