The Intercept

28 May. 2023


Nights of Plague,” Orhan Pamuk
Like many other people during the pandemic, I searched for books that could help me understand the impact of a mass disease outbreak on society. Above any book of epidemiology or history, however, I found that this novel by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk about an outbreak of plague on a fictional Mediterranean island to be the most enlightening about how disease can sap the human spirit and break open divisions within a society. His writing is darkly humorous and full of pathos — highly recommended for anyone looking for a novel to immerse themselves in this summer. – Murtaza Hussain

Cuatro Manos,” Paco Ignacio Taibo II
The novel “Cuatro Manos” was published in 1997 and features major historical characters and events from 20th century Latin America. Taibo, a renowned author and activist in Mexico, guides us through a story of two journalists in the 1980s. They begin to investigate unpublished and undiscovered works by Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, written during his exile in Mexico City. The book jumps between the past and the present. And the two journalists’ travels through Latin America overlap with drug traffickers, a Spanish anarchist, a Bulgarian communist, and a shady CIA agent. It’s a light, fun novel, but it may require the reader to stop at every few pages and independently research historical events Taibo narrates, like the CIA’s alleged involvement in the killing of Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton. – José Olivares

Harrow,” Joy Williams
On the banks of a fetid lake called Big Girl, a cadre of aging rebels plots acts of ecoterrorism. They don’t consider themselves terrorists, though, reserving that appellation for bankers and war-mongers, “exterminators and excavators … those locusts of clattering, clacking hunger.” You can hardly blame them. In this vision of a near-future beset by ecological collapse, oranges and horses are long gone, but Disney World has “rebooted and is going strong.” A girl named Khirsten, or Lamb, who may or may not have been resurrected as an infant, stumbles upon the group after her mother disappears and her boarding school abruptly shuts down.

This is the rough plot of “Harrow” by Joy Williams, but the plot is not really the point. Williams is a worldbuilder, crafting mood and meaning out of layered fragments. Her writing is often called “experimental,” but if anything, oblique prose is the truest way to capture life under the yoke of apocalypse, the dizzying absurdity of deciding to forsake Earth for profit. Sometimes, lucid revelations peek through — “I think the world is dying because we were dead to its astonishments pretty much. It’ll be around but it will become less and less until it’s finally compatible with our feelings for it” — though for the most part, the world of “Harrow” is a labyrinth of decay. But don’t be mistaken: The book is very funny. Apocalypse is a slow creep, and while the Earth might not end with a bang, at least in “Harrow,” it ends with one final, reverberating laugh. – Schuyler Mitchell

Red Team Blues,” Cory Doctorow
I just started “Red Team Blues,” and I can’t put it down. I’ve always loved Cory Doctorow’s novels, and this one is no exception. The protagonist, a 67-year-old retired forensic accountant who lives alone in his RV called the Unsalted Hash, spent his career tracking down assets of the ultra-rich by unwinding their shady networks of shell companies. He took one final job from an old friend and found himself both incredibly rich and in a world of trouble, trying to escape with his life. This book is a cryptocurrency techno-thriller (full of characters who are skeptical of crypto bros and insist that “crypto means cryptography”), and it’s full of money laundering, tax havens, lawyers for the 1 percent, organized crime and murders, hacking and open source intelligence, and so much more. This is the first book in a new series that I definitely plan on reading as they come out. – Micah Lee

In Memory of Memory,” Maria Stepanova
Appropriate to its contents, the title so easy to remember, yet always escapes memory. – Fei Liu

Long Way Down,” Jason Reynolds
I don’t often reach for poetry, but I had 15 minutes before I boarded a flight and had neglected to pack a book. The cover was riddled with awards and, most importantly, it was right next to the checkout. “Long Way Down” captures an emotional journey of grief built around a young man’s descent in an elevator after his brother is shot and killed. The book is an intense, quick read (I finished before we landed), written in captivating staccato narrative verse. The anxiety was palpable and fierce, and the structure truly enhances the reading experience. I found myself reflecting on Reynolds’s motivation for structural decisions, just as much as his word choice. Overall, “Long Way Down” is a powerful study in the traumatic and lasting impact of violence on individuals and communities. – Kate Miller

The Melancholy of Resistance,” László Krasznahorkai
I’ve been — very slowly! — reading “The Melancholy of Resistance” by László Krasznahorkai, a Hungarian writer best known in the U.S. for Béla Tarr’s grueling film adaptation of his novel “Sátántangó.” Written during the collapse of Eastern Bloc communism, “Melancholy” tells the surreal tale of a rubbish-strewn town visited by a mysterious circus exhibiting only the body of a giant whale, which slowly incites the townspeople to madness. As the town’s petty tyrants scheme to use the chaos to their advantage, Krasznahorkai’s novel becomes a striking parable about the appeal of fascism in uncertain times, while his darkly funny stream-of-consciousness prose captures the devilish internal logic of anxiety. “His followers know all things are false pride, but they don’t know why.” Sound familiar? – Thomas Crowley

The Actual True Story of Ahmed and Zarga,” Mohamedou Ould Slahi
I found myself laughing, loudly, overcome with appreciation and awe during the first few pages of my friend Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s first novel, “The Actual True Story of Ahmed and Zarga.” Mohamedou opens the book by swearing “on the belly button of my only sister” that the story we are about to hear is a thousand percent true and that we must have already heard it before. What begins to unfold is a mystical tale so rich in detail, tradition, Mauritanian culture, and moral guidance that you feel Mohamedou himself is speaking all this to you, and only you, while slurping his hot tea and conjuring the tale with his hands. It’s impossible to put the pages down once you start across the desert with Ahmed, battling djinns, dreams, snakes, and the changing ways of the world as he races to find his missing camel named Zarga. While Mohamedou is best known for captivating the world with best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary” and as the subject of the film “The Mauritanian,” both about his time wrongly imprisoned and tortured at GTMO, it is this stunning novel, rich with wordplay, wit, and unwavering conviction, that lets us know his true heart. – Elise Swain

The Lathe of Heaven,” Ursula K. Le Guin
Have you ever woken up from a dream so intense that it affected you in real life? George Orr’s dreams change lived reality, so he wants to stop sleeping, and the only person who can cure him is his misguided psychiatrist whose ambitions to make their dystopia, and his own position in it, “better” means that Orr can’t be treated just yet. Le Guin’s topical themes of techno-utopianism, alternate realities, collective false memories, living nightmares, consent, and more make me forget that it was published in 1971. The novel also has aliens, untranslatable words, a Beatles song, plague history, and Hollywood-thriller plot scaffolding (a cinematic climax and almost forced coupling of the passive protagonist who falls in love with the lawyer helping him). Two video artists made a film adaptation in 1980 on a shoestring budget — with Le Guin’s active involvement — that was produced by NYC public television and aired on PBS. I haven’t watched it yet (it’s available on YouTube), but in my dream soundtrack for “The Lathe of Heaven,” I hear the late Pauline Anna Strom’s prelude-to-a-portal “Marking Time” over the opening credits. – Nara Shin


The Undertow: Scenes From a Slow Civil War,” Jeff Sharlet
I’ve been reading Jeff Sharlet’s reporting on the varieties of Christian authoritarianism for more than 20 years. In books such as “The Family” and “C Street,” Sharlet exposed the political ambitions and hidden influence of shadowy and well-financed Christian extremists. Looking back, after the Trump presidency, his writings now seem prophetic. In “The Undertow,” Sharlet sets out to understand the movement that coalesced, under Donald Trump, into full-blown messianic fascism. How do we stop this slow-motion slide toward political violence, the strange lure of civil war?

The Last Honest Man,” James Risen’s political biography of Sen. Frank Church, should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the dangers of the national security state. Risen’s book might also illuminate the underlying causes of the national pathology described in “The Undertow.” – Roger Hodge

Black Women Writers at Work,” Claudia Tate
In this powerhouse of a collection, Claudia Tate interviews iconic Black women writers, from Gwendolyn Brooks to Ntozake Shange, about their process, inspirations, critiques, and audience. I was personally thrilled to read about the differences between the structures of their writing processes, as well as their thoughts on craft — it’s a trove of knowledge for any writer, poet, or playwright. Black women writers are often lumped together as a monolith; this book breaks apart that belief throughout every single interview. – Skyler Aikerson

A World Without Soil,” Jo Handelsman
No time to write! Only to read and garden! – Fei Liu

Nineteen Reservoirs: On Their Creation and the Promise of Water for New York City,” Lucy Sante
Best known for “Lowlife,” her masterpiece history of low-class New York City’s metaphorical underground, Lucy Sante of late turned her sights on the underwater. Specifically, in “Nineteen Reservoirs,” she tells the stories of upstate New York valleys and ravines, hamlets and farms, all drowned one by one to expand the water supply of the growing metropolis downstate. Sante writes with the verve we expect from her, transmitting an astounding amount of rapid-fire details and facts with delectable prose that keeps it humming and makes it easy reading. – Ali Gharib

Mussolini’s Grandchildren,” David Broder
When it became clear last year that my country was about to elect its most rightwing government since Benito Mussolini gave fascism its name, I found it hard to explain to non-Italians how we had gotten there, so I pointed them to David Broder’s words instead. After speaking with Broder for a story about how new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni had inspired a surge of far-right threats and attacks against journalists and critics, I picked up his book, “Mussolini’s Grandchildren,” a lucid if terrifying history drawing the direct and rather explicit line between Mussolini’s regime and Meloni’s political triumph. It’s a history even many Italians watched unfold almost without noticing, deluded by the notion that fascism is for the history books alone, or maybe just wishing to look the other way. It’s also by no means an Italian story alone. – Alice Speri

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,” Tom O’Neill
I am reading “Chaos” alongside “Women in Love” by D. H. Lawrence. I recommend listening to The Fucktrots while reading. – Daniel Boguslaw

Strange Tapes” zine
DIY zines oft offer a kaleidoscopic peek down the subcultural spiral. No matter how fringe a particular hobby may look, the deeper you dive into a given genre, the more singular the subject matter becomes. Strange Tapes is a zine devoted to the celebratory archaeology of unearthing VHS ephemera: analog jetsam that’s washed up on the shores of thrift stores and swap meets, or in the dregs of dusty attics and musty basements. The tapes covered range from promotional and instructional videos, to recorded home movies and Z-grade filmmaking efforts. Interspersed with reviews of the tapes are interviews with independent filmmakers, collectors, and other personalities. “Strange Tapes” is a zine for those who marvel at the sheer range of humanity’s knowledge base, and the accompanying desire to share those singular skill sets with the world at large, whether those proficiencies are in the realm of ocular yoga or canine choreography.  – Nikita Mazurov

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice,” Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
A love letter to the sick and disabled queer and trans community of color in Canada and beyond. This collection of essays discusses everything from chronic suicidal ideation, accessible queer spaces, invisible femme labor, tips for sick and disabled artists who are traveling, and much, much more. Listening to this audiobook (narrated by the author) was such a beautiful, impactful experience; Piepzna-Samarasinha writes with sizzling rage and deep love for their communities in a way that will set you on fire. – Skyler Aikerson

Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora,” Reem Assil
For the past several years, I’ve been learning to recreate the Syrian dishes I ate growing up, begging my mom to commit to writing (or at least a voice note) the recipes she knows via muscle memory and FaceTiming her when something just doesn’t look right. More recently, I’ve sought to expand my repertoire of dishes from Syria and the broader Levant by digging into cookbooks written by chefs from the region. “Arabiyya” by Reem Assil is the most recent addition to my collection, which also includes “The Palestinian Table” by Reem Kassis and “Feast: Food of the Islamic World” by Anissa Helou.

Assil, who was born in the United States to a Syrian father and Palestinian mother, weaves personal stories about her food experiences as a diaspora Arab with recipes that run the gamut from pickled vegetables to a slow-cooked lamb shoulder. I’ve so far attempted her shawarma mexiciyya (Mexican shawarma) — a fusion dish that she describes in English as al pastor-style red-spiced chicken — and her kafta bil bandoura, or meatballs in Arab-spiced tomato sauce. The shawarma recipe features my all-time favorite spice, Aleppo pepper, which I threw into the meatballs as well. (I don’t quite yet have my mom’s nafas yet, but I’m slowly but surely trying to wean myself off the dictates of a written recipe.) This summer, I’m looking forward to trying my hand at making saj, a flatbread named for the dome-shaped griddle it is prepared on, and musakhan, a Palestinian dish that involves sumac-spiced chicken. – Maryam Saleh

How to Stand Up to a Dictator,” Maria Ressa
Maria Ressa’s new book, “How to Stand up to a Dictator,” is both a memoir by a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and a stirring call to action against the toxic power of social media companies and the autocrats that they enable around the world. – James Risen


Joyland,” Saim Sadiq
I’ve thought about “Joyland” at least once a day since it opened in New York earlier this month. I’ve already seen it twice — that’s how obsessed I am with this gorgeous, emotional tour de force of a film. Haider is an unemployed, acquiescent young man who lives in a joint household in Lahore with his free-spirited wife, his conventionally masculine older brother and his family, and his elderly patriarch father. Haider finds a job as a backup dancer for a fierce trans burlesque performer, who he has an instant crush on. What happens from there sends a ripple effect through his family, as they each strain against the stifling scripts of gender and sexuality that they impose on themselves and each other.

“Joyland” is a deeply human story about untangling desires from obligations to embody the most honest version of ourselves for a chance to experience connection as we are. It’s a movie you feel just as much as you watch. – Rashmee Kumar

Return to Seoul,” Davy Chou
This movie is so unusual, a mixture of a transnational adoption documentary and a film noir, created by the French director Davy Chou. “Return to Seoul” follows the journey of a Korean adoptee played by the elusive Park Ji-min, who wasn’t an actor at all until taking the lead role in this film. Park’s character decides on a whim to return to the country where she was born, and the result is a film that goes sideways at every issue and scenario it lands on. Yes, it’s the saga of an adoptee who seeks out her birth parents, but that’s just some of what happens. It unfolds with visual and existential twists you don’t expect, keeping you in suspense until the last note. It also provides an imaginative variation on the discourse about the emotional dislocation that foreign adoption can involve. If you want to know more about that after the credits roll, I highly recommend the landmark “Adopted Territory,” written by anthropologist (and friend) Eleana J. Kim. – Peter Maass

The post What We’re Reading and Watching appeared first on The Intercept.

27 May. 2023
Simi Valley, CA - February 06:Dr. Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, Monday, February 6, 2023.  Kissinger was on hand for the 112th birthday celebration of former President Reagan.    (Photo by David Crane/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Feb. 6, 2023.

Photo: David Crane/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

In 2002, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his wife attended an elegant dinner party hosted by Barbara Walters. Other participants included Time editor Henry Grunwald, one-time ABC Chair Thomas Murphy, and Peter Jennings, then the anchor of ABC “World News Tonight.”

At one point in the evening, as New York magazine recounted, Jennings addressed Kissinger and asked him, “How does it feel to be a war criminal, Henry?”

Kissinger did not respond. However, Grunwald informed Jennings that this inquiry was “unsuitable.” Walters, who considered Kissinger “the most loyal friend,” later said, “I tried to change the subject, but it was a very uncomfortable moment. [Kissinger’s wife] Nancy reacted very strongly and hurt.”

There are several notable things about this.

First, the people at the top of American society absolutely love Henry Kissinger. He is their beloved compatriot, and they are anxious to protect his delicate feelings.

Second, Jennings sincerely believed that Kissinger was a war criminal and, unusually, was willing to say this in private. Yet he didn’t have the courage to say this in public, to his audience of tens of millions of Americans. Presumably he then would no longer be invited to these sorts of parties.

Third, Kissinger’s fancy, famous, rich pals will not exactly dispute that Kissinger is a monster. Rather, bringing it up is an embarrassing social faux pas, like, say, mentioning how everyone knows that your buddy is cheating on his wife, who is sitting next to you. Why would you want to spoil the mood just when we’re all feeling toasty from the Chambertin Grand Cru and having such a lovely time?


Survivors of Kissinger’s Secret War in Cambodia Reveal Unreported Mass Killings

Think of how Kissinger lives, ensconced in the silken embrace of wealth and power, when you read Nick Turse’s new reporting on his actions while in office. Kissinger, it turns out, was responsible for even more misery and death in the U.S. bombing of Cambodia than was already known — which is truly saying something.

At the top of the pyramid, Kissinger enjoys endless banquets and oceans of acclamation. During the Nixon administration, Kissinger was beloved by Hollywood, often literally. He spoke at the 1996 funeral for a less prominent war criminal, Thomas Enders, an event also attended by David Rockefeller (John D.’s grandson, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank), Paul Volcker (chair of the Federal Reserve who said, “The standard of living of the average American has to decline”), Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat (an Argentinian billionaire), and Gustavo Cisneros (a Venezuelan billionaire).

At the height of the Iraq War, Vice President Dick Cheney reported that “I probably talk to Henry Kissinger more than I talk to anybody else. He just comes by.” Hillary Clinton referred to Kissinger as “a friend, and I relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state.” (Clinton rearranged her schedule giving an award to designer Oscar de la Renta so both she and de la Renta could attended Kissinger’s 90th birthday.) In 2014, he attended a Yankees game with noted humanitarian Samantha Power, who later received an award both named after and presented to her by Kissinger.

He served on the board of the fraudulent company Theranos with Jim Mattis, the Marine Corps general who’d go on to be Donald Trump’s secretary of defense, and George Shultz, who was secretary of state for Ronald Reagan. Kissinger joked that he didn’t ask questions of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, because “We were all afraid of her.”

This week, the Washington Post granted Kissinger’s son David — president of Conan O’Brien’s production company — space to tell us that to enjoy his 100th birthday, Kissinger is participating in “centennial celebrations that will take him from New York to London and finally to his hometown of Fürth, Germany.” One of the kickoff events was held at the Yale Club in Manhattan:

Then consider those down at the bottom of the pyramid: the Cambodians, Vietnamese, Laotians, Timorese, Pakistanis, Latin Americans, and many more, whose lives and bodies were torn to shreds by Kissinger. (The “many more” here includes U.S. soldiers, whom Kissinger referred to as “dumb, stupid animals to be used.”) Here is what Turse writes about one such person he met while reporting in Cambodia: 

Round-faced and just over 5 feet tall in plastic sandals, Meas Lorn lost an older brother to a helicopter gunship attack and an uncle and cousins to artillery fire. For decades, one question haunted her: “I still wonder why those aircraft always attacked in this area. Why did they drop bombs here?”

But Meas Lorn will never, ever get an answer. Turse describes an encounter with Kissinger when he was able to pass her inquiry along:

When pressed about the substance of the question — that Cambodians were bombed and killed — Kissinger became visibly angry. “What are you trying to prove?” he growled and then, when I refused to give up, he cut me off: “Play with it,” he told me. “Have a good time.”

I asked him to answer Meas Lorn’s question: “Why did they drop bombs here?” He refused.

“I’m not smart enough for you,” Kissinger said sarcastically, as he stomped his cane. “I lack your intelligence and moral quality.” He stalked off.

“Play with it.” It is bracing indeed to understand that the people who run this country find this kind of human being charming and delightful. It makes you wonder if there are any killers from history who they would not celebrate, assuming the killers had conducted their slaughter with the aim of keeping America’s elites rich, warm, and safe behind a phalanx of guns.

The post Henry Kissinger, History’s Bloodiest Social Climber appeared first on The Intercept.

27 May. 2023
A woman rests next to anti-abortion posters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after the Court announced a ruling in the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization case on June 24, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Court's decision in the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health case overturns the landmark 50-year-old Roe v Wade case, removing a federal right to an abortion. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

A woman rests next to anti-abortion posters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Getty Images

“Once a fetal heartbeat could be detected, typically around the sixth week of pregnancy … ”

When I read this phrase in the New Yorker, referring to Texas’s first abortion ban, I shot off a letter to the editor. “This is misleading,” I wrote. “There is no heartbeat at six weeks because the fetus does not yet have a heart. As San Francisco OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Kerns told NPR: ‘What we’re really detecting is a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity. In no way is this detecting a functional cardiovascular system or a functional heart.’” I noted that “a six-week fetus is about the size and shape of a baked bean.”

If the vaunted New Yorker copy desk could let this bit of anti-abortion bunk stand without comment, what was going on? I combed the media. Not just the National Review—which calls corrections like Dr. Kerns’s “mendacity”— or the Catholic press but also mainstream local and national news outlets including CNN, The Associated Press, Reuters, U.S. News & World Report, and PBS were parroting the same descriptor of the inaccurately — and of course strategically — named “fetal heartbeat” laws being debated or enacted in states from Idaho to Iowa, Georgia to New Hampshire.

The chorus resounded from websites, television, and radio from coast to coast: South Carolina was debating a law that “bans most abortions after early cardiac activity can be detected in a fetus or embryo, which can commonly be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy”; in Georgia, a “law banning abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically around six weeks”; Nebraska’s legislature made an “unconventional move … after conservatives failed to advance a bill that would have banned abortion once cardiac activity can be detected — generally around six weeks of pregnancy.”

A number of the reports got it half right, adding that when the so-called heartbeat is first detected, many women do not even know they are pregnant.

Maybe it’s correction fatigue, brought on by Donald Trump’s 35,500-plus lies and the subsequent atrophy of truth in politics and media. In any case, there are signs of increasing credulity — or laziness. In May 2021, the AP published an in-depth piece headlined “‘Fetal heartbeat’ in abortion laws taps emotion, not science,” by staff reporters Julie Carr Smyth and Kimberlee Kruesi. A year later — the week the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson came down, upholding Mississippi’s 15-week ban and nullifying the constitutional right to abortion — Smyth was tasked with penning a Q&A explainer of current heartbeat laws.

Like the previous article, this one put “fetal heartbeat” between quotes every time. Unlike the first, however, the explainer toggled between truth and fiction. In the second paragraph, Smyth hit the “fetal heartbeat” shortcut key: “Such laws, often referred to as ‘fetal heartbeat bills,’ ban abortions once cardiac activity is detected, which can happen around six weeks into pregnancy.” This deception by omission — there is no cardiac activity without a heart — is repeated at paragraph 8. At paragraph 12 comes the caveat that the widely used legislative language of unborn humans and beating hearts “does not easily translate to medical science” — there’s a link to the previous year’s piece — “because at the point where advanced technology can detect that first visual flutter … the embryo isn’t yet a fetus, and it doesn’t have a heart.” Paragraphs 16 and 22 refer again to “cardiac activity.”

But the other side also fiddles with the facts, notes Smyth. Abortion rights proponents often call these laws six-week abortion bans. “That, too, is misleading,” she writes, because the texts “make no mention of a particular gestational age after which abortion is illegal.” Ecce balance.

Always better at propaganda than its opponents and, also unlike its opponents, instinctively sentimental, the anti-abortion movement was quick to appropriate the heart as both the metaphor of love and compassion and the critical sign of life itself.

Even before Roe, the opponents of abortion had conflated science and religious morality through language, transforming a blob of disorganized embryonic cells into an “unborn child.” “To take the life of an unborn child, regardless of the number of days it has been forming, is murder,” read a 1967 pamphlet called “Abortion: Yes or No?” But it was in 1983, a decade after Roe, with virtually no anti-abortion victories to show — 88 of 96 abortion bills introduced in state legislatures and Congress were defeated, and public opinion stuck heavily in support of abortion rights — that a fortunate stroke of political instinct matured into strategy.

The anti-abortion movement was quick to appropriate the heart as both the metaphor of love and compassion and the critical sign of life itself.

That year, a banner headline in the National Right to Life News proclaimed: “Science: The Pro-Life Movement’s Emerging Ally.” The next year came “The Silent Scream,” a 28-minute film that the Right to Life Committee called the “‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ of the pro-life movement,” and rightfully so: It is probably the most influential piece of propaganda in the history of the abortion debates. Narrated by the late abortion doctor turned anti-abortion spokesperson Bernard Nathanson, the film presents the sonographic record of a 12-week vacuum aspiration abortion as visible testimony to the alleged pain and distress of the “little person” at the moment of its destruction.

New technologies “have convinced us that beyond question, the unborn child is simply … another member of the human community,” intones Nathanson, “indistinguishable in every way from any of us.” Deftly moving between technical explanations of sonography and embryology, and emotionally charged descriptions of abortion and the alleged suffering of the preborn “child,” “The Silent Scream” epitomizes the movement’s dominant rhetorical strategy going forward: serving up scientific bullshit generously sweetened with sap.

In 1992, the strategy was refined: The heart became the synecdoche for the body and soul of the unborn. Right to Life launched a media campaign with the tagline “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart.” The accompanying graphic, reproduced on flyers and political buttons, was an EKG zigzag flatlining across a red valentine-shaped heart.

Then in 2011, veteran antiabortion and anti-LGBTQ+ activist Janet Folger Porter transformed rhetoric into legislation. The former legislative director of Ohio Right to Life and founder of Faith2Action (“formed to WIN the cultural war for life, liberty, and the family”) conceived and lobbied indefatigably for the first state “fetal heartbeat” law, which Ohio enacted in 2012. Porter fueled the campaign with heart-shaped balloons, teddy bears, and red roses. Its slogan fused science and sentiment: “If a heartbeat is detected, the baby is protected.”

The idea spread quickly. National Right to Life released a one-minute video. Its images are intrauterine closeups; its opening soundtrack is a rumble resembling the background noise of a Weather Channel hurricane report, with a woman’s voice above it: “You are listening to the sound of the heartbeat of a living unborn baby.” Within a decade, more than a dozen states had adopted the language of Folger’s bill almost identically.

There are exceptions to the press’s rote adoption of right-to-life language, New York Times’ coverage among them. For its part, the reproductive justice movement is finally upping its rhetorical game, renaming the heartbeat legislation “forced pregnancy” or “forced motherhood” laws. But the forced motherhood movement is constantly, often quietly, escalating the discursive battle. The “unborn baby” has now been promoted in legislative texts to the “unborn human individual.” If babies in utero are at least dependent on their mothers for protection and sustenance, a “human individual” can be construed as a person separate from and equally deserving of rights as its mother.

Anti-abortion propaganda is making its way into the legal record. It was a triumph for the antis when Justice Samuel Alito, in the Dobbs opinion, repeated soundly disproven claims as “legitimate interests” justifying the revocation of the constitutional right: that abortion is unhealthy and unsafe (presumably more so than pregnancy, which it isn’t); that it is a “particularly gruesome or barbaric medical procedure” (which it isn’t); and, the fantasy promulgated by “The Silent Scream,” that abortion causes fetuses pain.


Politics, Not Science, Will Win the Battle for Mifepristone

In ruling for the plaintiffs and against the Food and Drug Administration in its approval of mifepristone, Texas federal Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk further enshrined antiabortion rhetoric in legal precedent by calling a pharmaceutically induced pregnancy termination a “chemical” abortion. The antis’ derogative sounds more painful and harmful, and creepier, than the mainstream usage, “medication” abortion. 

Will the media fall in line? On the website of Wyoming Public Radio in March, a news item began this way: “Wyoming recently became the first state to explicitly ban the use of pills for abortion. The new law comes as chemical abortion is in the national spotlight due to a legal battle over a specific medication in Texas.” Throughout the text, “chemical abortion” is used interchangeably with “medication abortion,” without qualification or quotation marks.

The post The Press is Falling for Anti-Abortion “Fetal Heartbeat” Propaganda appeared first on The Intercept.

26 May. 2023

The vast majority of wetlands in the United States — more than 100 million acres — are no longer protected by the Clean Water Act, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday in Sackett v. EPA. Wetlands are critically important to clean drinking water and flood mitigation; they’re also effective at sequestering carbon and a boon to drought resilience, storing water during dry periods. But in a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court brushed off peer-reviewed science and plain old common sense that you can’t protect the water downstream, which even the majority agreed is covered by the law, if you’re polluting it upstream.

The case was filed by a wealthy Idaho couple, Michael and Chantell Sackett, who were annoyed that they were required to get a special permit from the Environmental Protection Agency to build on their land because of its proximity to Priest Lake. The Sacketts’ land contains wetlands, but because the wetlands are separated from the lake by a road, they argued the permit was unnecessary. It’s almost certain they would have gotten the permit had they applied, but they opted to sue instead. The court took the Sacketts’ case as an opportunity to open up a broader discussion about what exactly the Clean Water Act is meant to protect, changing the law completely and removing protections from any wetland not immediately connected to a body of water.

Even Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who broke with his conservative colleagues, accused the majority of having effectively “rewritten” the Clean Water Act, which was originally passed in 1972 and updated in 1977.

“Since 1977, when Congress explicitly included ‘adjacent’ wetlands within the act’s coverage, the Army Corps has adopted a variety of interpretations of its authority over those wetlands — some more expansive and others less expansive,” Kavanaugh wrote. “But throughout those 45 years and across all eight presidential administrations, the Army Corps has always included in the definition of ‘adjacent wetlands’ not only wetlands adjoining covered waters but also those wetlands that are separated from covered waters by a man-made dike or barrier, natural river berm, beach dune, or the like.”

In the majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court applied a new interpretation of the word “adjacent,” removing protections for any wetlands that are not immediately adjoining lakes, streams, rivers, or oceans, which will have a profound impact on coastal communities around the country. “Wetlands are essential for protecting disadvantaged communities, which are often in low-lying areas, from flooding,” Nick Torrey, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said. Torrey added that wetlands are also critical to the many fishing businesses in the southeast, where he practices. “We have a saying: No wetlands, no seafood,” he said.

“The court’s approach today was to disregard several decades’ worth of precedent interpreting the Clean Water Act,” Sam Sankar, senior vice president at Earthjustice, said. For the past 40 years, the court has interpreted the word “adjacent” to mean what it does to everyone else; in this ruling, five justices said “well actually” adjacent means adjoining, so if there is anything in between a wetland and the water, that wetland doesn’t need to be protected.


Dissent Episode Six: The Clean Water Act Comes Under Attack

It’s not a decision underpinned by science, but rather a legal invention known as the “clear statement rule,” a term the justices use when they want to assert their power to ignore Congress’s wishes and interpret the law solely as written. “The court is increasingly using the clear statement rule to narrow laws written years ago by Congresses that sought to create environmental protections like the Clean Water Act,” Sankar said.

In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the majority used the clear statement rule as a “thumb on the scale for property owners — no matter that the Clean Water Act is all about stopping property owners from polluting.” Referring to conservative justices’ reliance on the rule to weaken environmental regulations, Kagan added, “These pop-up ‘clear statement’ rules give the court a way to cabin the anti-pollution actions Congress thought appropriate by appointing itself as the national decision-maker on environmental policy.”

The clear statement rule is a close cousin of the “major questions doctrine,” another bit of legalcraft that the court has increasingly used to gut regulations on industry. “The Supreme Court maybe invoked it only five times in its whole history before 2021, in cases that were actually quite exceptional,” Richard Revesz, dean emeritus at New York University School of Law and administrator of information and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, said. “But in the last couple of years, it’s a doctrine that’s been invoked promiscuously by opponents of regulation and the court has shown great interest in embracing it. It basically says if an agency decision is going to have vast economic or political significance, it needs to be authorized explicitly by Congress.”

The court invoked the major questions doctrine last year in West Virginia v. EPA to curtail the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Now in Sackett v. EPA, it has invoked the clear statement rule to apply a narrower interpretation of the Clean Water Act than Congress intended. It’s an interpretation that benefits not only the wealthy couple who brought the case, but also polluting industries. “Mining, oil and gas, development, anyone that pollutes, and a whole lot of them joined or sent in separate briefs in support of the Sacketts,” Jon Devine, director of federal water policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

Organizations representing industries ranging from animal and industrial agriculture to mining, timber, residential development, and fossil fuel filed briefs in support of the Sacketts. Dark-money-funded anti-regulatory organizations like the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Atlantic Legal Foundation also weighed in on the couple’s behalf. Supporters of the case cheered the ruling as a “win for property owners.” The Sacketts were represented by the libertarian law firm Pacific Legal Foundation, which counts the Koch-funded Donors Capital Fund as well as Searle Freedom Trust, Exxon Mobil, and the Sarah Scaife Foundation among its donors.

According to Sankar, the ruling represents an end run around the legislative process; these interests have been trying to weaken the Clean Water Act for years. “This ruling is the result of a decades-long push by many of these industries,” he said. “They couldn’t cut back on the Clean Water Act by persuading Congress. They tried and failed. … But they succeeded in building a judiciary willing to take this kind of action to rewrite the laws when they’re not able to do so legislatively. What the court has done is rewrite the law in an extraordinarily aggressive way, going beyond even what the Trump administration would have done.”

The Trump administration’s proposed “Waters of the United States” rule would have stripped protection from about half as many wetlands as the Supreme Court’s Sackett ruling did.

In the wake of the decision, environmental advocates are calling on Congress to make explicit that these wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act. “The court has spoken and now we need to look at ways to restore these protections,” Jim Murphy, director of legal advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation, said. “The primary way is to go back to Congress and have them make clear through legislation that these protections are in place as they were intended to be.”

Murphy said that shouldn’t be a hard sell, as clean water tends to be popular with voters. “Seventy-five percent or so of Americans support strengthening the Clean Water Act across the board,” he said.

States can also act to safeguard wetlands within their borders, thus protecting clean drinking water and improving flood protection for residents. “States are already authorized by federal law to protect more than the limited number of wetlands that the Supreme Court now allows,” Devine said. But nearly half of U.S. states have opted instead to follow the Clean Water Act, so wetlands that are no longer protected due to the Sackett ruling are not protected by those state governments either. Those laws can be changed, but it will take time. “We’re going to need to engage in that fight,” Devine said. “We can’t take as acceptable the gross loss that this opinion would allow.”

The post In a Gift to Polluting Industries, Supreme Court Rolls Back Clean Water Act Protections appeared first on The Intercept.

26 May. 2023

The U.S. government is frustrated that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is prioritizing social spending for the benefit of his people over addressing matters that are important to the U.S., according to an excerpt of a leaked top-secret intelligence document. Part of a cache of classified intelligence records that were leaked on the platform Discord earlier this year, the document highlights the growing discontent by U.S. officials toward Mexico’s president, who has significantly limited U.S. law enforcement agencies’ role in the war on drugs, as fentanyl trafficked by Mexican criminal groups has worsened the overdose crisis in the U.S. and violence in Mexico.

“President Lopez Obrador’s federal budget for 2023 gives priority to social spending and signature infrastructure projects, rather than the investments needed to address bilateral issues with the US such as migration, security, and trade,” reads the document from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “Lopez Obrador’s meager investment in migration, security, and trade-related organizations will probably undermine Mexico’s ability to follow through on commitments to stem the flow of irregular migrants and fentanyl to the US and boost economic competitiveness in North America.”

López Obrador’s 2023 federal budget, presented to the Mexican Congress last fall, does increase funding for social programs, including a significant raise for the pension provided to older Mexicans. It also prioritizes large infrastructure projects, which are mostly concentrated in southern states of the country.

“The crisis of fentanyl is due to the negligence of pharmaceuticals in the U.S.,” said Carlos Pérez Ricart, a professor at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City. “I don’t know what [the Director of National Intelligence] thinks the alternative is. Do they expect us to end our social spending and infrastructure policy to tend to a problem that belongs to the U.S.?”

The document, from February of this year, is part of a trove of records leaked to a Discord server, allegedly by Jack Douglas Teixeira, a member of the Air National Guard, and posted online by DDoSecrets, a collective that publishes leaked documents. While reporting on the documents has mostly focused on intelligence on the war in Ukraine, some records include U.S. insight into other regions. Last month, the Washington Post reported on documents showing U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communication between Mexican cartel members. After the Drug Enforcement Administration carried out an operation in Mexico and U.S. prosecutors filed charges against 28 members of the Sinaloa Cartel, López Obrador responded with anger toward the U.S. intelligence gathering efforts, saying it was “abusive, arrogant interference.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Drug Enforcement Administration did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did López Obrador’s spokesperson.

During his tenure, López Obrador has done away with much of the security collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico — a decadeslong relationship that ramped up in the mid-2000s — by placing stringent limits on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and other U.S. law enforcement agencies operating in Mexico. Yet the Mexican president has continued to closely cooperate with the U.S. on migration. Just this month, he reached a deal with the Biden administration, allowing the U.S. to deport non-Mexicans to the country.

“It seems a little naive,” said Pérez Ricart of the Director of National Intelligence’s apparent frustration with Mexico’s approach to migration. “Mexico, in a large part, is doing the U.S.’s dirty work in terms of migration.”

López Obrador took office in 2018 in a landslide victory, calling his populist political project “the Fourth Transformation,” a reference to three major leaps in Mexican history: the independence from Spain, the Reform (a mid-1800s war between conservatives and liberals), and the Mexican Revolution. His election was a welcome change for many Mexicans, who had grown tired of the decadeslong rule of the two center- and right-wing parties.

Since then, his relationship with the U.S. has been erratic and wracked with contradictions. López Obrador has spent the past five years walking a tightrope: He has had to balance the interests of the U.S., the Mexican business class, and his base — providing concessions to all. Support for López Obrador among Mexicans remains relatively high, with approval ratings at 65 percent, most likely due to the social welfare programs he has introduced. López Obrador’s government has raised the minimum wage and provided cash and food assistance to older Mexicans, as well as scholarships for students nationwide.

López Obrador’s government has also placed major emphasis on infrastructure and development projects in Mexico. The projects include a new international airport and a railway that will connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, which seeks to compete with the Panama Canal. Another major project, called the Maya Train, is reaching completion. The controversial project, which seeks to traverse the Yucatán Peninsula, has received ire from left- and right-wing critics alike for its environmental damage. It has already taken out vast sectors of the rainforest.

“What AMLO has been doing has been investing in infrastructure projects in the south of the country,” Earl Anthony Wayne, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 2011 to 2015, told The Intercept. “That’s less of a priority for us” — the United States — “because we trade mostly with the center and northern parts of the country where all the productive enterprises are.”

TIJUANA, MEXICO - OCTOBER 18: Officials from Mexico's attorney general's office unload hundreds of pounds of fentanyl and meth seized near Ensenada in October at their headquarter in Tijuana, Mexico, Tuesday, October 18, 2022. No one was arrested in connection with the seizure. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Officials from Mexico’s attorney general’s office unload hundreds of pounds of fentanyl and meth seized near Ensenada in Tijuana, Mexico, on Oct. 18, 2022.

Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Mexico’s president has also continued to acquiesce to the U.S. government’s demand for migration enforcement, at much risk to migrants and asylum-seekers. In 2018, his government created the National Guard — replacing the Mexican Federal Police, a force historically plagued with corruption — and later tasked it with stopping migrants from traveling north.


Trial of Mexico’s Former Top Cop Neglected U.S. Role in War on Drugs

His government also readily agreed to Remain in Mexico, a policy that forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico until their day in court — risking kidnapping, extortion, rape, torture, and death — and accepted migrants expelled from the U.S. under Title 42, a Trump-era policy that allowed U.S. officials to turn away asylum-seekers to supposedly prevent the spread of Covid-19. President Joe Biden kept Title 42 in place for the first three years of his presidency, finally lifting it this month.

Meanwhile, López Obrador’s investment in social programs could also be seen as a way to curb migration, even if the U.S. doesn’t see it that way. “What is most striking is they’re not linking social spending to migration,” said Stephanie Leutert, the director of the Central America and Mexico Policy Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin, referring to the Director of National Intelligence document. “They’re not thinking about the many Mexican migrants who still have to leave because of a lack of security in parts of the country, but also a lack of development and lack of opportunity.”

Leutert speculates the Director of National Intelligence’s frustration could be toward the Mexican government’s meager funding of refugee programs and minimal attempts to root out corruption within the migration enforcement apparatus and the trafficking networks. Former ambassador Wayne agrees.

“Would it be better if they invested more in their refugee and migration services? Yes,” said Wayne. “So it is certainly true that there’s room for more investment in their whole migration services and how they handle this.”

As the fentanyl epidemic continues to ravage the U.S., with nearly 71,000 overdoses in 2021 alone, the U.S. government wants Mexico to more aggressively combat criminal and narcotrafficking organizations.

In 2006, when the Mexican drug war was launched, the Mexican government deployed the military to the streets to combat organized crime. The U.S. agencies played a leading role in operations against criminal groups and also supplied weapons and training to Mexican forces.

López Obrador ran on a campaign to reduce the country’s militarization and declared the Mérida Initiative, a 2008 security agreement, dead. In 2021, however, the Biden administration and the Mexican government signed a new security agreement called the Bicentennial Framework, similar to the Mérida Initiative.

Still, López Obrador has indeed limited U.S. security involvement in Mexico. In 2021, he did away with the leading unit that was trained by, and collaborated with, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The dissolution of the Sensitive Investigative Unit, which was part of the Mexican Federal Police, was a major blow to the bilateral security cooperation. The Mexican Congress also significantly limited the Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies’ operations in Mexico after the attempted arrest and prosecution of the former secretary of national defense. The reduction in bilateral security collaboration has led Republican representatives to call for U.S. military intervention in Mexico to combat cartels and to designate them as terrorist organizations.

Under López Obrador, the Mexican government has also given a lot more power to the Mexican armed forces, which have historically been plagued with allegations of corruption and human rights abuses. The armed forces are now in charge of airports, hospital construction, and other civilian institutions, along with major infrastructure projects. Last fall, the National Guard, which was supposed to be under civilian control, was integrated into the military under the secretary of national defense. It was a significant step forward toward the further militarization of the country.

“The impression I have is that for many years, the bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico prioritized the interests of the U.S.”

Violence in Mexico, meanwhile, continues to soar, in part a consequence of arms trafficking from the U.S. to Mexico.

“The impression I have is that for many years, the bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico prioritized the interests of the U.S. It prioritized that drugs do not reach the U.S.,” Pérez Ricart said. Yet the U.S. has offered little to address Mexico’s concerns, such as the flow of weapons into the country. “This is called ‘cooperation?’”

The post The U.S. Is Unhappy That Mexico Is Spending Money on Its Own Citizens appeared first on The Intercept.

26 May. 2023

Progressive Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow are outspoken critics of the bloated defense budget and the MAGA wing of the Republican Party. Next month, though, both Raskin and Maddow will headline an event sponsored by defense industry giant Lockheed Martin and Palantir, a $26 billion defense contractor founded and chaired by Peter Thiel, the polarizing billionaire and megadonor to Donald Trump.

The appearances by Raskin and Maddow will come as part of TruCon, the conference of the Democratic Party-aligned Truman Center, which runs from June 1 to 4 in Washington, D.C. TruCon’s website describes the conference as an opportunity to see “[t]hought leaders across government, policy, and national security fields speak on the most pressing issues facing America today.”

“Obviously, the real test of integrity is to argue with folks you disagree with, not to cover your eyes and ears and look away.”

For Mark Thompson, a national security analyst at the Project on Government Oversight, the big question for Raskin and Maddow at the conference will be whether they hold their tough positions against defense contractors. If they don’t speak out, Thompson said, it would indicate that sponsors can buy the silence of their outspoken critics.

“If I were Jamie Raskin or I were Rachel Maddow — what a great opportunity to name these companies and say where they’re coming up short,” said Thompson. “Do you, a company, buy my silence or tacit silence by sponsoring this event? Obviously, the real test of integrity is to argue with folks you disagree with, not to cover your eyes and ears and look away.”

According to a source close to Raskin, the conference sponsors were announced after the member of Congress accepted the invitation. Maddow, Palantir, Lockheed, and Truman did not respond to requests for comment.

At TruCon, sponsors are promised access to influential conference participants, according to promotional materials. “Elevate your brand, connect with your customers, feed your employee pipeline in meaningful, exciting ways,” reads a Truman brochure marketing sponsorship opportunities for the event. The brochure repeatedly references the advantages of aligning a company’s “brand” with the Truman Center and TruCon.

For Palantir and Lockheed, which are listed as the two top sponsors on the event website, that means enjoying high-level recognition and association with prominent progressive and other Democratic Party-aligned figures.

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 9: Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., testifies during the Weaponization of the Federal Government Subcommittee hearing on "Weaponization of the Federal Government" in Washington on Thursday, February 9, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., testifies during the Weaponization of the Federal Government Subcommittee hearing on February 9, 2023.

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Raskin and Maddow — an honoree and keynote speaker, respectively, at the conference — have both been harshly critical of the defense industry at large and specifically Lockheed and Palantir.

Raskin co-sponsored a House resolution in 2020 denouncing “wasteful Pentagon spending and supporting cuts to the bloated defense budget.” The bill, which did not make it to the floor for a vote, highlighted that “the Pentagon had no way to track replacement parts for the $1,400,000,000,000 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program” — a Lockheed project widely considered to be the biggest military procurement boondoggle in history.

For Lockheed Martin, the F-35 is only one of the many upsides the company sees thanks to the Pentagon’s enormous expenditures on contractors. Over half of the nearly trillion-dollar defense budget goes to contractors, and Lockheed Martin is the top recipient of Pentagon dollars, receiving about $75 billion in the 2020 fiscal year. That figure amounts to over one and a half times the entire combined State Department and Agency for International Development budget for the same year, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project. Lockheed derived 73 percent of its net sales from the U.S. government in 2022.

When Lockheed CEO James Taiclet was asked last year about whether his company’s government contracts — as compared to the State Department’s budget — represented a reasonable balance, he deflected, saying simply that “it’s only up to us to step to what we’ve been asked to do and we’re just trying to do that in a more effective way.” It was, he said, “up to the U.S. government.”

The company, however, pours staggering sums of money into influencing the government: Lockheed spent $13 million lobbying the federal government last year. Its biggest area of focus was the defense budget, according to OpenSecrets.

For her part, Maddow has been an even more outspoken critic of Pentagon contractors than Raskin. In March 2011, she told her MSNBC viewers, “Defense spending is untouchable because civilian lawmakers defer so deeply to the military, and to the former military officers laced through the contractor world, that if you squint, you would swear that Congress is some lackey puppet parliament in a country where the government has taken over by a junta.”

Maddow has also denounced Thiel, whom she lit into during MSNBC’s coverage of the 2016 Republican National Convention, where Thiel spoke.


How the LAPD and Palantir Use Data to Justify Racist Policing

Referencing Thiel’s company Palantir, Maddow said, “He also runs one of the biggest surveillance companies in the world that does lots of business with the CIA and the NSA and lots of other government agencies, and mass surveillance is a controversial thing in Republican politics.”

Palantir provided software used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in support of the Trump administration’s controversial detention, deportation, and family separation policies — policies denounced by both Raskin and Maddow

Truman doesn’t seem to have concerns about associating with Palantir and Lockheed. Two Palantir employees are on Truman’s advisory council — Mehdi Alhassani and company Vice President Wendy Anderson — and both of them, alongside Lockheed, are listed as funders in Truman’s most recent annual report. Truman President and CEO Jenna Ben-Yehuda hosted Taiclet, Lockheed’s CEO, for a “fireside chat” last September. The following month, Truman hosted a panel featuring Anderson, the Palantir executive.

The embrace of prominent defense contractors might seem out of step for a group whose website claims it supports “international engagement through diplomacy first and foremost, and by force only when necessary.” Thompson, though, offered a simple explanation for the turn to weapons money.

“It’s typically tawdry but it’s the way business is done in this town,” he said. “If Truman wants to be a player, they have to do events, they need money for events, and they need to barter away their sense of themselves in order to sponsor these events.”

The post Jamie Raskin and Rachel Maddow, Brought to You by Peter Thiel and Lockheed Martin appeared first on The Intercept.

26 May. 2023

Ever since Congress created a federal debt limit, it has managed to raise it before U.S. borrowing reached the limit. For the first time, it looks as though that may not happen, and the government could conceivably default on its obligations. Today on Deconstructed, Jon Schwarz is joined by the economist Stephanie Kelton to talk about the history that brought us to this moment, why both political parties may take us over this ridiculous and dangerous brink together, and what it all means for now and the future.

Transcript coming soon.

The post Economist Stephanie Kelton on the Debt Limit, a Potential Catastrophe We’re Risking for No Reason appeared first on The Intercept.

25 May. 2023

In March, two former Ohio Republican Party leaders were convicted on racketeering and bribery charges in a scheme that federal prosecutors described as the state’s largest-ever corruption case. In total, five Republican operatives were indicted in the plot, which involved a power company bankrolling efforts to elect industry-friendly lawmakers and a new state House speaker who would support a $1.1 billion bailout of a failed nuclear power plant.

Now, despite the departure of the convicted Ohio Republican state House speaker and state party chair, the vestiges of Ohio’s GOP are still trying to undermine democracy in the state — and getting help from powerful outside groups.

In November, Ohio voters could decide on ballot measures covering abortion, cannabis legalization, and qualified immunity, the legal principle that protects government officials, including police, from many civil suits. Before those proposals are voted on, however, a separate measure put forward for an August special election could determine their fate. The measure would amend the state constitution to require more votes to approve the November ballot measures.

The constitutional amendment is deeply unpopular — it was first introduced in January and faced bipartisan opposition — but the proposal counts a major national political force among its supporters: Chicago-area billionaire Richard Uihlein, a GOP megadonor who supported groups involved in the January 6 attack in Washington and subsequent efforts to overturn elections.

The amendment is one of a raft of efforts in states across the country where extremist Republicans are taking drastic measures to circumvent the will of the public on issues like abortion, criminal justice, and education.

“It’s a broader project of enforcing political power for the hard-right-end of the Republican party.”

“It’s hard to come up with a better example of one individual — who, by the way, is of course not from Ohio and has no connection whatsoever to Ohio — using nothing but raw financial power to interrupt democracy,” Eli Szenes-Strauss — political director at Public Wise, a watchdog organization that has tracked Uihlein’s spending on election denial efforts — said of Uihlein. “It’s a broader project of enforcing political power for the hard-right-end of the Republican party.”

Uihlein’s support for the amendment to preempt the ballot measures is being funneled through a new political action committee formed in March called Save Our Constitution PAC, which is running ads in support of the change. Uihlein, founder of the shipping company Uline, gave the PAC $1.1 million last month. The contribution has not yet appeared in public financial disclosures and was first reported by the Columbus Dispatch. Uihlein has also funded smaller independent expenditures backing the measure, according to Public Wise, which also operates a PAC. (Neither Save Our Constitution PAC nor representatives for Uihlein responded to requests for comment.)

One of the country’s biggest conservative political donors, Uihlein was the primary funder of the group that organized the rally that preceded the January 6 attack on the Capitol. In the days after the attack, he and his wife gave more than $5 million to groups seeking to overturn the results of the presidential election. Last month in Wisconsin, the Uihleins poured money into a competitive state Supreme Court race and backed a conservative candidate who lost.

Critics of the constitutional amendment have pointed out that voting on the proposal in August, instead of November, could mean that Republicans pushing the measure are violating a recently passed election law — that was advanced by Republicans. The August vote, however, will go ahead as planned unless the state Supreme Court decides otherwise in response to a pending lawsuit.

An advocacy group called One Person One Vote filed the suit against the Ohio Ballot Board earlier this month, arguing that putting the measure on the August ballot would violate the GOP’s new voting law that went into effect this year. The law prohibits elections with statewide ramifications from occurring outside of the regular primary or general election, partially because of the low attention voters pay to elections held in off-months.

One Person One Vote filed a second suit on Tuesday against the ballot board, claiming that it adopted a “misleading, prejudicial ballot title and inaccurate, incomplete ballot language that improperly favor[s] the Amendment in flagrant violation [of] Ohio’s Constitution and laws and this Court’s jurisprudence.”

The irony of Republicans trying to break their own law by holding an election in a summer month when voters won’t be paying attention was not lost on political observers: Republicans could use low turnout to advance a measure that would allow a minority to stop constitutional changes with support from the majority of Ohio voters.


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The proposed constitutional amendment asks voters to relinquish “the power of our majority vote and elevate minority rule in Ohio,” Ohio Capital Journal columnist Marilou Johanek wrote last week. Giving a minority of voters the power to block the majority could have an affect on hot-button issues, as in the case of abortion in Ohio, where a majority of voters — nearly 60 percent — support abortion rights.

Should it win in August, the constitutional change could make it harder to pass two other proposed November ballot initiatives that would legalize recreational cannabis and make it easier to hold police accountable for violating people’s civil rights. The second proposed change would prohibit the use of qualified immunity as a legal defense to civil actions brought under the amendment.

“Call it the tyranny of the minority over the will of most Ohio voters on abortion rights, on fair legislative districts, on commonsense gun safety, on minimum-wage increases,” Johanek wrote. The measure’s GOP sponsor and his colleagues “openly admit their plan is to thwart a likely pro-choice amendment on the November ballot with a preemptive legislative amendment to obliterate majority rule.”

Republicans claim the measure is an effort to fight outside special interests pushing a pro-abortion agenda. Those claims are belied by the fact that a billionaire from Illinois is funding the Republicans’ own anti-abortion effort.

“I’ll give them this, they’re very good at what they do,” said Szenes-Strauss, of Public Wise. “If I worked for them, I’d be pleased with their progress. It’s just a rolling effort to find a place where your money can make sure that people don’t do with democracy things that you’d rather they not do.”

The post Jan. 6 Megadonor Helping Ohio GOP Preemptively Overturn Will of the Voters appeared first on The Intercept.

25 May. 2023

An Intercept investigation, years in the making, reveals previously unpublished, unreported, and underappreciated evidence of hundreds of civilian casualties that were kept secret during the conflict in Cambodia and remain almost entirely unknown to the American people. This week on Intercepted, host Murtaza Hussain talks to Nick Turse, an investigative journalist and contributing writer for The Intercept, about his work to uncover the mass violence Kissinger ordered and oversaw in Cambodia while the U.S. carpet-bombed the country between 1969 and 1973. Turse’s investigation, “Kissinger’s Killing Fields,” is based on previously unpublished interviews with more than 75 Cambodian witnesses and survivors of U.S. military attacks in 13 Cambodian villages so remote they couldn’t be found on maps. Their accounts reveal new details of the long-term trauma borne by survivors of the American war.

“It was very hands on. Kissinger was picking where bombs would be dropped in Cambodia,” Turse says. “The authentic documents associated with these strikes were burned and phony target coordinates and other forged data were supplied to the Pentagon and eventually Congress.” Experts say Kissinger bears significant responsibility for attacks in Cambodia that killed as many as 150,000 civilians — six times more noncombatants than the United States has killed in airstrikes since 9/11.

[Intercepted intro theme music.]

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.

Murtaza Hussain: Welcome to Intercepted. I am Murtaza Hussain.

Ted Koppel: The consequences in Cambodia were particular – no, no, no, were –

Henry Kissinger: This is a program that needed doing. Because I’m going to be a hundred years old.

Ted Koppel: Right.

Henry Kissinger: And you’re picking a topic of something that happened 60 years ago. You have to know that it was a necessary step.

MH: There is perhaps no man more emblematic of the dark side of American empire than Henry Kissinger. 

This week, the former Secretary of State, whose role in grotesque human rights abuses across Asia and Latin America has made him a figure of revulsion to millions, will mark his hundredth birthday. Though Kissinger has never been held accountable for atrocities he committed as a powerful U.S. official during the Cold War, that has not stopped journalists and historians from documenting and uncovering the long list of crimes for which he is responsible. And that list is still growing, even today.

Nick Turse, a contributing writer and investigative reporter for The Intercept, has spent decades researching and writing about Kissinger, including in the book, “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.” Nick has published a new trove at The Intercept of previously unreported evidence showing hundreds of civilian casualties that were kept secret during the war and that remain almost entirely unknown to the American people.

Nick joins me now to talk about Kissinger and his foreign policy legacy. Welcome to Intercepted, Nick. Great to have you back. 

Nick Turse: Thanks for having me on. 

MH: So, Nick, first: can you start by telling us a bit about your work? In 2013, you published a book about war crimes and survivors in Vietnam and Cambodia, and interviewed the victims of many U.S. attacks, during the period of the U.S. War in that region. How did you develop an interest in this issue, and what led you towards the subject matter?

NT: Yeah, this goes back a long way. It began when I was a graduate student many, many years ago at Columbia University. I was working on a project on post-traumatic stress disorder among U.S. Vietnam veterans. I used to go down to the National Archives on a regular basis to find documentary materials to match up to interview material that we had, to place a veteran at a specific time, a specific place in Vietnam, to verify what they were doing at the time.

And on one of these research trips to the National Archives, I was searching for several different data sets of documents, and I came up empty on every one of them, and I knew I couldn’t go back to my boss empty handed. So, like many historians before me, I threw myself on the mercy of an archivist there and said, “I have to have something to bring back. Is there anything you can think of that would help me out here?” And he asked me a question that ended up changing my life: he asked me if I thought that witnessing war crimes could cause post-traumatic stress.

I told him that was an excellent hypothesis. I asked what he had on war crimes. And, within an hour, he had delivered to me about 30 archival boxes filled with the U.S. military’s own investigations of massacres, murders, assault, mutilation — horrific crimes committed by U.S. military personnel. And, also, these allegations were made by recently returned veterans or currently serving U.S. military personnel. They were collected by a secret Pentagon task force, and that launched me on my research.

That was about ten years of work going through those documents, writing a dissertation from them, and then – with The Los Angeles Times and, later, on my own – going to Vietnam to track down witnesses and survivors to get the fullest sense I could of these cases.

MH: Many of our listeners probably have some understanding of Henry Kissinger’s role in the U.S. War in Vietnam and broader Southeast Asia during the period of the Cold War. But, you know, he’s turning 100 years old this weekend, and every generation needs to have a bit of a refresher, or at least underlining some of the key points of his involvement in some of the war crimes we’ll be talking about, and which you wrote about in your recent story.

Can you tell us in brief a bit — for those who may not know, or those may want to be reminded – who Henry Kissinger was during this period, and what role he played in the White House’s war policy in Southeast Asia?

NT: Henry Kissinger served as President Richard Nixon’s National Security Advisor. And Kissinger was – by his own admission, if you listen to him talk about the war, read his writings on it – the chief architect of U.S. war policy in Southeast Asia; that’s Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

It was unprecedented, before or since, for a national security advisor to have this type of sway, to wield this much power, but he really achieved almost co-president status alongside the actual president Richard Nixon. So, Kissinger was uniquely responsible for attacks that killed, wounded, or displaced hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, and destabilized that country, laying the groundwork for the Khmer Rouge genocide that followed.

For people who don’t know the story: Nixon had won the White House promising to end America’s war in Vietnam but, instead, he expanded the conflict into neighboring Cambodia. Fearing a public backlash and believing that Congress would never approve an attack on a neutral country, Kissinger and his deputy Alexander Haig hatched a plan.

A month after Nixon took office in 1969, they came up with an operation codenamed “Menu” that was kept secret from the American people, from Congress, and even top Pentagon officials, via a conspiracy of cover stories, coded messages, and a dual bookkeeping system that logged airstrikes in Cambodia as occurring in South Vietnam.

There was a colonel named Ray Sitton who served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he would bring lists of targets to the White House for approval. Kissinger would tell him, “Strike here, strike there,” it was very hands-on. So, Kissinger was picking where bombs would be dropped in Cambodia, and then Colonel Sitton would backchannel the coordinates into the field, circumventing the military chain of command.

And, then the authentic documents associated with these strikes were burned, and phony target coordinates and other forged data were supplied to the Pentagon and, eventually, Congress.

MH: So, a kind of interesting detail of history is that Richard Nixon himself wanted an honorable end to the war in Vietnam, or his political career responded to the frustrations of many Americans with the way the conflict was going. And, in many of his public statements, he seemed to reflect those frustrations, and talked about the need to end the war.

I want to play a clip for you, it’s from the 1968 presidential campaign ad for Richard Nixon. And here’s the clip:

Richard Nixon: Never has so much military, economic, and diplomatic power been used so ineffectively as in Vietnam. If, after all of this time, and all of this sacrifice, and all of this support, there is still no end in sight, then I say the time has come for the American people to turn to new leadership, not tied to the policies and mistakes of the past. I pledge to you, we shall have an honorable end to the war in Vietnam.

MH: A lot of Nixon’s rhetoric around this time reminds me a bit of Iraq War-era U.S. politicians who often reflected or spoke about Americans’ frustrations with the Iraq War, and the war on terrorism, generally. And yet, they didn’t seem to be able to deliver any promise of winding it down, or bringing it to quote-unquote, “an honorable conclusion.”

So, in the case of Nixon, I’m very curious. After he was elected on this promise, what happened thereafter which halted any attempt to end the war? And can you tell us about Kissinger’s role in the prolongation of the war and, particularly, in his position as National Security Advisor to Nixon?

NT: Yes. You know, Nixon came to office, as we heard in the clip, promising peace with honor. But, really, what Nixon and Kissinger at his side did was expand the war, from Vietnam into Cambodia. There had been limited, U.S. covert actions in Cambodia. There had been numerous airstrikes, but nothing like what would follow.

You know, Kissinger, along with Haig, designed this secret bombing that went on at Cambodia beginning in 1969. It was carpet bombing, B-52 strikes. A tremendous tonnage of bombs dropped on a neutral neighbor of Vietnam. Nixon and Kissinger also launched a process known as “Vietnamization,” where they would allegedly turn the war over to South Vietnam. This led to, also, a ground invasion by South Vietnamese of Laos. It led to the Cambodian Incursion, which was U.S. and South Vietnamese troops invading Cambodia, but they avoided that particular language, called it an “incursion.”

So, in every aspect, Nixon widened the war. And, you know, if he was truly interested in peace with honor, I mean, they could have wound up the war when he first took office. Instead, about the same amount of Americans died under Nixon’s watch as had died from 1965 till 1969, when he came to office.

So, prolonged and expanded the war, is really how it turned out in point of fact, although his rhetoric often talked about achieving peace, and also turning the war back over to the Vietnamese.

MH: So, Nick, another person who, like you, spent a lot of time in Cambodia going over the legacy of this conflict was Anthony Bourdain, who you also quote in your recent story. The late chef and television host wrote in his 2001 book: “Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag, sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a glossy new magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia, the fruits of his genius for statesmanship, and you’ll never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Miloševi?.”

NT: I included the Bourdain quote in my article, because I thought it was exceptionally eloquent. It’s very difficult to put it any better. I certainly understand where he was coming from in this.

You know, I traveled through the borderlands of Cambodia talking to people, and the trauma that they experienced during those times, during the war, is profound. And it’s something that, you know, even though they survived the bombing, you had to then live through a genocide by the Khmer Rouge. But the visceral response to the bombing had never left these people. They were still exceptionally traumatized, and they had so many questions for me, because they didn’t understand why this had happened to them.

They weren’t involved in the Vietnam War in any way, it was exceptionally foreign to them. These were rural farm folk who, you know, they didn’t understand what was happening. One day, helicopters just appeared in the skies over their homes. They’d never seen machinery like this, they didn’t know what it was, you know?

It just came out of the sky, and they didn’t know what to make of it. And then, very soon, the machine guns opened up and rockets were fired. And they didn’t have any frame of reference for what was happening, or why. And these were the questions that they asked me.

You know, when I think about the Bourdain quote, I also think about one particular case that I found in the U.S. records that really drives home what the American war meant for Cambodians. In one case that I chronicle – and this one is from U.S. records – Americans shot up a village with helicopters using machine gun fire and rockets. Then U.S. and allied South Vietnamese forces landed and looted the village. An American officer stole a motorbike and hauled it onto a helicopter.

But there were two dozen wounded Cambodian civilians on the ground, including children. The Americans saw, in particular, one young girl, she was shot and bleeding. Some of the Americans wanted to take her for medical care, but the officer who dragged a Suzuki motorbike onboard the helicopter said, “negative,” that they were weighed down by the bike and they had no room.

So, this little girl, maybe about five years old, shot, in desperate need of medical care, was left to die, so that he could bring back this looted motorbike and then present it to his commanding officer.

You know, when you read accounts like this, and you listen to testimony of Cambodians who lived through these types of events, it’s perfectly understandable where Bourdain was coming from, and the visceral reaction that he had.

MH: You know, Nick, I think a lot of people – well, some people will know this but, for background for those who don’t know – obviously, the U.S. was involved in a very intense war in Vietnam, but how did that war expand to Cambodia, and what was the background to U.S. involvement in Cambodia, which Kissinger was such a strong advocate for?

NT: So, from the very earliest days of the Vietnam War, long before most Americans knew that the country was at war in Vietnam, the war led across the border in Cambodia. There were quote-unquote, “accidental airstrikes.” There were also covert cross-border raids. The first airstrike, I think, that I remember finding in the records, was in 1962. Most Americans think that the Vietnam War began in 1965.

But, you know, there were these various incidents throughout the 1960s in Cambodia – covert cross-border raids, errant air attacks, or maybe ones that weren’t so errant – but it was very small scale. And, officially, the United States treated Cambodia as if it was neutral. But both the United States and their foes in Vietnam — the North Vietnamese and revolutionaries in the South — used Cambodia in various ways, and the war bled over, but it was exceptionally different once Nixon took office in 1969.

As I mentioned, Henry Kissinger and his deputy Alexander Haig designed this so-called “secret bombing,” these high-impact B-52 strikes in border areas. The idea was to attack enemy sanctuaries, North Vietnamese troops, Southern Vietnamese guerillas who were using Cambodian territory.

For years, Henry Kissinger said that the U.S. wasn’t bombing Cambodians, they were bombing North Vietnamese in Cambodia. And he told the U.S. Senate this during hearings in 1973. But, decades later, in one of his books, there’s a footnote that says he admits that the United States killed 50,000 Cambodians in the bombing. This was a question that I had for Kissinger, that I took to him. You know, how could you not be bombing Cambodians and kill 50,000 of them?

So, there was this major expansion of the war once Kissinger had become its architect, as far as the bombing goes. Then, instead of just cross-border raids, Nixon and Kissinger planned this Cambodian incursion. Which, you know, it was a euphemism for an invasion by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. Again, the idea was to attack enemy sanctuaries in Cambodia.

The Nixon White House was obsessed with this idea of something they called COSVN or, the terminology at the time was “The Bamboo Pentagon.” The idea was that the South Vietnamese guerillas had something akin to The Pentagon in the United States. Americans have this problem, the American military, they can’t conceive of anyone else operating in a different fashion than they do.

You know, the high command of South Vietnamese guerillas was likely several guys with a radio. But, you know, the U.S. military was looking for some sort of massive base complex with an array of officials in it. And the idea was that they could find this place, capture or kill all the people in it, and destroy the South Vietnamese revolutionary effort.

All they did was just push North Vietnamese troops back further into Cambodia, destabilize Cambodia, and set the stage, eventually, for the Khmer Rouge to take over Cambodia. The U.S. War, expanding into this neutral nation, completely destabilized it, and ultimately undermined U.S. efforts in Southeast Asia.

MH: So, Nick, one of the things I found very impressive about your reporting, and I found quite unique when reporting on stories which are often treated as historical interests, whether they’ve been addressed or not in any other fashion, is that you’ve surfaced some really new information in the story, in the form of documents and transcripts.

Can you tell us a bit about your reporting and what you uncovered, and how it shed more light on Nixon/Kissinger’s role in Cambodia?

NT: You know, I think the main takeaways of this story, the reporting from the ground at Cambodia and also the documents, they show that Henry Kissinger is responsible for more civilian deaths in Cambodia than was previously known. The exclusive archive that I was able to put together offers previously unpublished, unreported, and underappreciated evidence of hundreds of civilian casualties that were kept secret during the war, and remain almost entirely unknown to the American people.

This includes previously unpublished interviews with more than 75 Cambodian witnesses and survivors of U.S. military attacks, and it reveals new details about the long-term trauma that’s born by survivors of the American war there.

And, yeah, I was able to get this material by traveling to Cambodia. I searched the borderlands with Vietnam, looking for villages that were mentioned in U.S. military documents. I was carrying binders filled with photos of U.S. helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, asking villagers to point out the military hardware that killed their loved ones and their neighbors. My interviewees were uniformly shocked that Americans knew about attacks on their villages, and that one of them had traveled across the globe to speak with them.

You know, I’ve spent a career reporting in far flung conflict zones – South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Somalia, on and on – and I’m used to challenging reporting but, even though Cambodia was no longer a war zone when I went there, it was a real challenge. Just finding the villages was difficult work.

We would roll through thick, unruly forests, and rubber plantations, and rice fields, and then turn off paved roads onto red dirt paths, looking for villages that were unknown even to local officials. These tiny border villages weren’t on maps. Oftentimes, the names had changed since the early 1970s, so younger officials didn’t know the older names. But, if you actually found the village, people there didn’t know the new name.

You know, there was one village in the military documents that I had, it just had a phonetic spelling, something like, “Moroan.” There was no village in Cambodia called Moroan, but there was one called Morone. The trouble was, nobody knew how to get there. So, you know, we got fairly close, and spent two days driving around local roads, asking for directions, going this way and that. And, eventually, we turned off onto a red dirt track that ended up dead-ending to just a footpath, and walked about a mile or so, and found a village of simple wooden homes on stilts, and found the village chief.

I pulled out my documents. I described a particular attack that happened on May 1st, 1970, when U.S. helicopters attacked the village, killed 12 civilians, wounded five others. And the documents noted that, after the assault, the survivors fled the village, to a place called Con Tut.

And, in all the Cambodian border villages I visited, focusing on a lone attack from the U.S. documents just left people baffled. They’d endured so many airstrikes, so many attacks by helicopter gunships, that one attack never stood out to them. But, you know, as I was describing it, the date, the village chief gestured towards the far edge of the village, and he said, many people died in that area at that time. And then he said, afterward, the people left this village for another called Con Tut. So, I knew I had the right place.

And that’s how the reporting went. A lot of driving around, trying to triangulate locations from these decades-old, fractured, and imperfect information. And in each instance I came searching for one violent incident but, in almost every case, I heard accounts of relentless attacks, and years and years of trauma.

[Intercepted mid-show theme music.]

MH: You know, one thing I’ve noticed from reporting in areas where conflicts have taken place previously — sometimes years or even decades, but the survivors are still there — is that the trauma and memories really do linger, and leave a very indelible mark on the people who continue to live in those areas. Family members were lost or wounded, or merely were witness to what took place in their communities.

Can you tell us a bit about the interviews you had with these Cambodian survivors, and the legacy that this violence has left on their communities?

NT: The trauma that people experienced during the war was palpable, and whenever I went to one of these villages and talked to people, I would tell them that, you know, I knew that it was very, very difficult subjects talk about. And I understood if they didn’t want to delve into that history, but that, if they were willing to, I wanted to listen.

And you could see it in the face of people, and if you do this kind of interviewing, this kind of work, you can see the signs of decompensation, and people re-experiencing trauma, and, you know, as a reporter, as an interviewer, try to manage that as best as possible. Give people a chance to take some time, process it.

But, generally, even people who had a difficult time talking about this, at the end, you know, they would thank me. One, it’s part of the culture, but two, you know, people would go further, and say that they were grateful for the opportunity to speak about this. That, you know, they had lived through all of this trauma, and then the Khmer Rouge genocide that followed.

And because they stayed in these villages with all the same people, they all experienced it, it wasn’t something that they revisited. And after all those years of war and trauma, they weren’t eager to at the time. But yeah, they never had a chance to really process it or talk about it. And they said that my showing up and asking about it gave them an opportunity to, you know, finally – you know, it was, in many cases, I think, an excuse to talk about these things, confront them, bring them back up, and share these memories. With an outsider like me, but also with each other.

And, generally, there would be a lot of children from the village who would crowd around, and I asked my translator, who was with me, was it appropriate to have the children there listening to this? And he and the adults there thought it was. That the children didn’t know these stories, you know? People in the village just didn’t bring these things up, but they thought it was important for their children to hear about it.

And, because I would bring binders with photos of American aircraft, they could point out to them what each aircraft did, and their memories of it. This one flew exceptionally high, this one at a middle level, this right above the rooftops. And explain what life had been like during the war, and how they’d lived through it.

MH: I want to pivot back to talking about Henry Kissinger, specifically in his role and his legacy related to Cambodia.

But, before I do that, one thing I want to ask you very quickly about two particular incidents you reported on in your story. One was a looting incident of a village that took place in Snuol, Cambodia, in 1970. Another was a bombing attack in Neak Loeung, Cambodia, which took place three years after that.

For the case of this looting, it’s very interesting, because there was some reporting about at the time, if you look back in The New York Times and a few other places, it was somehow documented that this took place by the U.S. media contemporaneously. But the reporting was sort of – I wouldn’t say antiseptic, but it sort of just raised questions without pointing fingers, per se. It was like a neutral report about what, objectively, seems to be a very grave crime.

And, likewise, the bombing of this village as well. You know, it was so many villages bombed at this time, and the attention given to it did not seem commensurate in the U.S. press to the actual human impact on Cambodians.

Can you talk a bit about these two incidents? Just, first, what took place, specifically? And then, if you had any context or perception of how deep the impact was on these people, and how different it was from the U.S. press reporting at the time that existed.

NT: Yeah. The case that you mentioned, the looting of Snuol. Now, that was, as you say, it was reported at the time. What I think my story brings to bear is that there was an official U.S. military investigation of this, basically because U.S. troops were caught looting red-handed. The commander on the scene, someone that I talked to for the story, named Grail Brookshire. He was a colonel at the time, he retired as a one-star general.

He came out and told television crews who made it to Snuol as part of the Cambodian incursion – they went to this town – that his troops, unequivocally, were not looting. And these television crews had shot footage of U.S. troops smashing open Cambodian shops, stealing alcohol, soda, batteries, radios. They stole a motorbike from that area, too. I think farm equipment, like a tractor, tied it to a tank and hauled it out of there. It was clear at the time that the U.S. was lying about this, the military was lying to the press, even though U.S. troops were on camera looting this village, this town.

But what hasn’t been reported on is that the results of this U.S. military investigation, it was a complete whitewash. Or, rather, they said that looting took place, but instead they shifted the blame to civilian reporters who were on the scene, and said that if any looting took place, it was the reporters there.

And, you know, there’s absolutely no basis for this, it’s just conjured out of nothing, they were just looking for someone to blame. And they didn’t appear to have interviewed anyone but high-ranking U.S. military personnel.

One person they could have talked to – and one that I did talk to – was a man named Jack Fuller who, at the time, was serving in the Army and working for Stars and Stripes, the venerable U.S. Military newspaper. He was in Snuol, and his report in Stars and Stripes documents this, the looting taking place and U.S. soldiers carrying out this looting. They apparently never thought to speak with him.

I called him up – he’s passed away in the time since I spoke with him – but he laughed when I told him the allegation that was in the U.S. military documents. He said he saw no reporters on the scene looting, and he found it farcical that reporters would need to steal alcohol, since he said civilian reporters had easy access to it, it was cheap and available, and he’d never seen anything like that. So, I mean, that’s, I think, the main takeaway of my reporting on the looting of Snuol.

The bombing of, of Neak Loeung, that also was heavily reported on at the time. This was a case where a Cambodian town was hit by a devastating B-52 strike. Due to an accident or carelessness on the part of an American bombardier in one of these B-52 Stratos Fortress aircraft, 30 tons of bombs were dropped right on this Cambodian town, they hit the downtown squarely, and it was devastating.

I spoke to a survivor, someone who was living on the outskirts of Neak Loeung, who lost relatives there, and she told me that she had experienced her house shaking from bombing before, but this, she said, was like nothing else she had ever experienced. It was devastating.

And, yeah, the U.S. had no way to cover this up at the time, they tried to manage the story as best they could. And they came out and said that 137 Cambodians were killed in this, and that they were going to pay reparations to them, about $400.

It really wasn’t a lot of money. A lot of the people that died were the sole breadwinners for their family, and $400 was about four years’ salary for Cambodians at the time. So, you lost the lifetime earnings of someone and got a four-years’ term. What I found, the two major findings of my reporting, is that this was actually a tremendous undercount of the number killed. The U.S. actually knew that they had killed or injured many more people. The number was about 85 percent higher than the official number that they announced, but they kept this a secret.

They also paid out far less money to the Cambodian survivors than they had publicly announced. In classified State Department cables, I found that they paid about only half the amount. About $218 was paid to the survivors of this airstrike, even though they had announced that they’d paid $400.

So, you know, I found two major lies where the U.S. had manipulated the press and the public, and had kept the secret for decades.

MH: You know, I’m sure it’s something that you encountered, and it’s part of the difficulty of reporting and creating a robust historical record in areas where the U.S. carries out military operations, but, you know, it’s underdeveloped civil service and press and statistics, generally.

But what can we say, what do we know about the number of people who were killed in Cambodia during the period that this Kissinger-directed military operation was taking place? Is there an accepted figure, or a ballpark figure, or are there figures out there which you believe are not representative but commonly believed? What can we say about, uh, the actual scale?

And the reason I ask the question, too, is because we’re looking back on Kissinger’s legacy. And oftentimes when we think of the great criminals – no other word to put it – in history, we think about the number of people they killed, and oftentimes we have to estimate that. But I was curious, Nick, of your perspective, if there is one we can grasp onto. What was the actual human toll, in numbers, of people who lost their lives as a result of these operations?

NT: Yeah, I mean, it’s very difficult. I spent a lot of time trying to wrap my head around this, speaking to experts on it.

You know, there are numbers that range from the one that Kissinger gave, which is an exceptionally lowball estimate of 50,000 Cambodians killed. Which, you know, he takes some responsibility for. And there are estimates that range as high as half a million Cambodians killed by the bombing, which I think is probably on the high side.

What I ended up coming up with as a conservative estimate, and it’s not my estimate, it’s by Ben Kiernan, formerly the Director of Genocide Studies at Yale University, and one of the foremost authorities on the U.S. Air Campaign in Cambodia. He estimated that as many as 150,000 civilians in Cambodia were killed during Kissinger’s tenure, that Kissinger bears significant responsibility for attacks that killed 150,000 civilians or so.

Put that in context. That’s six times the number of non-combatants that are thought to have died in U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, during the War on Terror, according to an estimate by Air Wars, the UK-based airstrike monitoring group. So, you know, I think that’s a fair estimate, and 150,000 civilians, it might be a little bit low.

I talked to Greg Grandin, who’s a biographer of Henry Kissinger, and he estimated that, overall, Kissinger – who helped prolong the Vietnam War, facilitate genocides and Cambodia, East Timor, Bangladesh, accelerated civil wars in southern Africa, and also supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America – had the blood of about 3 million people on his hands in total. So, when you’re talking about the biggest criminals in modern history, this is a significant number of civilians that Henry Kissinger bears significant responsibility for their deaths.

MH: You write in your story, actually, that Kissinger helped prolong not just the Vietnam War, but also helped facilitate genocides in Cambodia, East Timor, and Bangladesh, accelerated civil wars in southern Africa and supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America. Of course, a whole episode about Kissinger’s crimes beyond Southeast Asia would take quite a bit of time to go over, because of the breadth of them.

But it’s interesting that, despite this very well documented track record – which I think is not really disputed by many people about Henry Kissinger’s legacy of human rights abuses – he’s still a member in good standing, even quite respected, of the U.S. foreign policy community, for lack of a better term. And, not only that, he was celebrated contemporaneously to many of these events.

In 1973, some of our listeners may know Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And, in 1977, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He’s still pretty much a regular, or is considered a wise elder of the foreign policy circuit. Hillary Clinton said that he was one of her mentors.

Can you speak a bit, given how much you know intimately about Kissinger’s actions and the human consequences of them, of what you make, or how you interpret, these efforts to not just sanitize, but actually glorify his career and legacy?

NT: Yeah, Henry Kissinger is the ultimate political survivor, you know? And you can go back to the Nixon White House. Almost that entire White House was consumed by the Watergate scandal, but Henry Kissinger was able to come out unscathed and, actually, was lauded at the time, and was not only held over by Gerald Ford, but promoted then, to Secretary of State. So, you could see that Kissinger has, has, has found ways to survive, and a lot of that has been through courting the press.

You know, Henry Kissinger had always, for lack of a better term, manipulated the press. Had contacted key members of the press behind the scenes, drew them in, became a trusted source. And he was able to, for decades, just massage and manipulate his public image, and sell this idea of a great statesman, a great thinker.

And, you know, he was able to convince the media and the public that he was an exceptionally wise man, and able to brush off and dismiss claims even though these allegations of war crimes have dogged him.

When confronted, he generally shakes these things off. He will, when asked to address crimes, he’ll say that it’s actually those who call him a war criminal that are the problem, have the problem. That they are using this terminology in ways that demean and diminish the idea of war crimes, and he just dismisses it out of hand. And so many in the media elite have bought into this, and that it’s overblown or hyperbole, but I imagine that most of these people have never gone out and talked to, visited the people that Henry Kissinger’s actions have affected so intimately.

MH: Yeah. That’s interesting, you mentioned that he’s crafted this image of himself as this great foreign policy thinker, whereas his track record, actually, in foreign policy accomplishment seems to be very mixed at best, and very, very poor on human rights concerns. I actually read a few of his books, and I found that the vast majority of them were quite basic, and I didn’t find that he was quite the genius that he made himself out to be.

But I digress. You actually spoke to, or you attempted to speak to Mr. Kissinger some years ago, and to confront him about some of these very, very negative and dark aspects of his record. What was his response, and what was that encounter like?

NT: I confronted Henry Kissinger about my findings back in 2010, just after I had reported in Cambodia. You know, it wasn’t easy to get to him. Kissinger isn’t a shrinking flower, but we don’t exactly run in the same social circles. You could find him at black-tie dinners, and Tony restaurants, and invitation-only events, but I had a real tough time getting to him.

You know, I’d call Kissinger Associates, the international consulting firm where he was the chairman, but he was never in. I emailed his representatives and it always went unanswered. I sent an interview request by certified return-receipt mail, but it went unacknowledged. I tried to gain an audience with him any way I could think of.

I have a PhD from Columbia University, and I was on faculty there at the time, and I requested permission to sit in on a lecture of his at Columbia, but one of the heads of the seminar series that was sponsoring his talk told me that Kissinger’s office had given explicit instructions not to allow any outsiders in. I would call his offices once a week, and they always told me that he wasn’t adding interviews to his calendar, he was writing a book. And then, a couple weeks later, I’d see the Financial Times or some other publication run an interview with him. So, I knew that he was specifically ducking me.

So, I came up with a plan. There was a state department conference on the Vietnam War back in 2010, and Kissinger was giving a keynote address, so I knew he’d be out in the clear and I’d have a shot. I decided I’d do an ambush interview.

And he gave a talk there, it was vintage Kissinger. I will always remember that he said that the great tragedy of the Vietnam War was that Americans lost faith in each other. You know, this is a war that killed millions of people in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, but this sort of tells you the Kissingerian mindset.

After he finished his talk, he took questions, so I was able to ask him one, publicly and on the record. I asked him to square public comments that he made to the U.S. Senate in 1973, that the U.S. didn’t bomb Cambodians, with the admission found in one of his books that his war had killed 50,000 Cambodians. And, you know, I said, “How can you kill 50,000 people, if you’re not bombing them?”

And, you know, Kissinger is a pro at obfuscation, and he responded with a wall of words that was designed to misdirect the audience and confuse the question. And I kept following up, but he had the advantage of having a microphone, and mine was taken away. You know, I couldn’t let it end there.

So, after the talk, I rushed down, and pushed myself into a scrum of Kissinger sycophants who were there waiting to shake his hand and take photos with him. And I’ll never forget, there was a guy in front of me, a State Department historian who had been listening to recordings that Kissinger had made while he was in the White House. And he told Kissinger that it was so sexy – those were his words – to listen to him, that the recordings had such sex appeal.

And when I got to Kissinger, I was the next one up, and it got less sexy real fast. And I took another shot at getting an answer from him. And, you know, I pressed him about the substance of my question, that Cambodians were bombed and killed, and he became visibly angry, and he asked me what I was trying to prove.

And, you know, I’ll never forget. He said – it was such an odd phrase – he said, “play with it,” to me. “Have a good time.”

But I still couldn’t let it go. So I asked him to answer the question that one of the Cambodian survivors had asked me. It was a woman named Mis Lauren, who had lost an older brother to a helicopter gunship attack, and an uncle and cousins to other attacks. And, for decades, this question haunted her. She said to me, “I still wonder why those aircraft always attacked us. Why did they drop the bombs here?”

You know, Kissinger was the architect of this American war, and I asked him to answer her question. But he came back to me with a sarcastic reply, and he said “I lack your intelligence and moral quality.” And he stomped his cane on the floor, and he stalked off, left the auditorium. And, the next two days, at the conference, I never saw him again. That was it, you know?

He was lucky, because the Cambodians in the villages I visited didn’t have the luxury of such an easy escape.

MH: So, Nick, Kissinger is about to turn 100 this week, and he remains a figure who was never held accountable for his many crimes. He remains someone who’s consulted by U.S. elites when they have questions about political and military strategy in the present day. He’s far from a pariah among the U.S. policymakers.

What can we say about the legacy of Kissinger? Not just in the areas where his own actions and views impacted people directly, but also in the later conflict, when he was not in government, particularly the War on Terror conflicts. How did his own ideas or ways of doing business, ideas of how to use U.S. military force shape and influence wars more closer to us in the present?

NT: I think my reporting in this story, the interviews and the documents, demonstrate a consistent disregard for Cambodian lives. A failure to protect civilians, to conduct post-strike assessments, to investigate allegations of civilian harm, and to prevent this damage from occurring again and again.

There’s also this consistent failure to punish or hold U.S. personnel accountable, from those in the field who carry out attacks, to those at the highest level of government, like Henry Kissinger. These policies not only obscured the true toll of the American war in Cambodia, but they set the stage for the civilian carnage of the U.S. War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and beyond.

I spoke with Greg Grandin, the author of “Kissinger’s Shadow,” a biography of Henry Kissinger. And he said – and this is something I agree with – that you can trace a line from the secret bombing of Cambodia to the recent and current U.S. wars. He mentioned that the covert justifications for illegally bombing Cambodia became the framework for the justifications of drone strikes and forever war. And the way he put it is that it’s “the perfect expression of American militarism’s unbroken circle.” So, I think this is the legacy that we’re talking about when we talk about Henry Kissinger.

It’s all the people that he killed in Cambodia; 150,000 as a conservative estimate. And then, his legacy is also all the lives that have been lost in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, during the 20-plus years of the War on Terror. In many ways, he facilitated all the carnage that came after.

MH: Nick, there’s so much more we could say about Kissinger and his terrible legacy, but we’ll leave the conversation here for today. Thanks for this excellent piece, and thanks for joining us today on Intercepted. 

NT: Thanks so much, Maz. 

MH: That was Nick Turse, a contributing writer for The Intercept, and an investigative reporter focusing on national security. His latest series on Henry Kissinger can be found on

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And that’s it for this episode of Intercepted.

Intercepted is a production of The Intercept. José Olivares is the lead producer. Supervising producer is Laura Flynn. Roger Hodge is Editor in Chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed our show. And this episode was transcribed by Leonardo Faierman. Our theme music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.

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The post Henry Kissinger’s Bloody Legacy appeared first on The Intercept.

24 May. 2023

Whether Israel’s escalating threats of war with Iran over its nuclear program are saber-rattling or something more serious is a mystery even to the CIA, according to a portion of a top-secret intelligence report leaked on the platform Discord earlier this year. The uncertainty about the intentions of one of the U.S.’s closest allies calls into question the basis of the “ironclad” support for Israel publicly espoused by the Biden administration.

The report — which was first covered by the Israeli channel i24 News and subsequently posted by DDoSecrets, a group that publishes leaked documents — reveals an undisclosed military exercise conducted by Israel. “On 20 February, Israel conducted a large-scale air exercise,” the intelligence report, produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on February 23, states. The exercise, it says, was “probably to simulate a strike on Iran’s nuclear program and possibly to demonstrate Jerusalem’s resolve to act against Tehran.” There have been several joint U.S.-Israeli military exercises in recent months, including one proudly billed by the Pentagon as the largest “in history.” 

“CIA does not know Israel’s near term plans and intentions,” the report adds, speculating that “Netanyahu probably calculates Israel will need to strike Iran to deter its nuclear program and faces a declining military capability to set back Iran’s enrichment program.”

That the U.S.’s premier intelligence service indicated it had no idea how seriously to take Israel’s increasingly bombastic threats to Tehran means that, in all likelihood, neither does the White House. But despite this lack of clarity, Biden has not opposed a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran — and his national security adviser recently hinted at blessing it. 

“We have made clear to Iran that it can never be permitted to obtain a nuclear weapon,” Jake Sullivan said in a speech earlier this month, reiterating the administration’s oft-repeated line. The rhetoric reflects what military planners call “strategic ambiguity,” a policy of intentional uncertainty in order to deter an adversary — in this case, around how far the U.S. might go to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But Sullivan went a step further, adding, “As President Biden has repeatedly reaffirmed, he will take the actions that are necessary to stand by this statement, including by recognizing Israel’s freedom of action.” 

Sullivan’s statement represents the strongest signal yet that the administration would not oppose unilateral action by Israel. The rhetoric has also been echoed by other administration officials. In February, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, said that “Israel can and should do whatever they need to deal with [Iran] and we’ve got their back.” 

“I believe the administration is playing with fire with this kind of rhetoric and with the joint military planning.”

“In the current context this constitutes glibness,” said Paul Pillar, a retired national intelligence officer for the near east, of Sullivan’s statement. Pillar is now a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies. “I believe the administration is playing with fire with this kind of rhetoric and with the joint military planning.” Last week, Axios reported that the U.S. recently proposed cooperating with Israel on joint military planning around Iran but denied they would plan to strike Iran’s nuclear program.

“Biden has dangerously shifted America’s policy on Israeli military action against Iran,” Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told The Intercept. “Previous administrations made it crystal clear to Israel – including publicly – that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program would be destabilizing, would not prevent a nuclear Iran and would likely drag the US into a war it could do well without.

“Obama’s clear opposition played a crucial role in the internal deliberations of the Israeli cabinet in 2010 and 2011 when Israel was on the verge of starting war,” Parsi pointed out. In 2009, after then-Vice President Biden said “Israel can determine for itself … what they decide to do relative to Iran,” Obama clarified that his administration was “absolutely not” giving Israel a green light to attack Iran.

Israel’s own military officials concede that an attack on Iran would likely metastasize into a broader regional war. Earlier this month, retired Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Amir Avivi reportedly said that “Israel might have to deal with the Iranian nuclear program,” adding that “this will mean an Israeli attack on Iran which will probably result in a regional war.”

In January, just weeks before Israel’s secret exercise referenced in the intelligence report, the U.S. and Israel conducted what the Defense Department touted as their largest joint military exercise in history. Called Juniper Oak, the exercise involved “electronic attack, suppression of enemy air defenses, strike coordination and reconnaissance,” which experts said “are exactly what the U.S. and Israel would need to conduct a successful kinetic attack on Iran’s nuclear program.” 


Hawkish Israel Is Pulling U.S. Into War With Iran

The unprecedented exercise was made possible by a little-noticed order by President Donald Trump just days before Biden’s inauguration. Using his authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Trump ordered Israel be moved from European Command’s area of responsibility, where it had been located since 1983 to avoid friction with its Middle East neighbors, to that of Central Command, the Pentagon’s Middle East combatant command. 

Under Biden, CENTCOM, whose area of responsibility includes Iran, has continued to coordinate closely with Israel. In March, Biden’s CENTCOM chief, Gen. Michael Kurilla, said in Senate testimony that the decision to move Israel from EUCOM to CENTCOM “immediately and profoundly altered the nature and texture of many of CENTCOM’s partnerships,” adding that “CENTCOM today readily partners with Arab militaries and the Israel Defense Force alike.”

“In fact, the inclusion of Israel presents many collaborative and constructive security opportunities,” Kurilla said. “Our partners of four decades largely see the same threats and have common cause with Israel Defense Forces and the Arab militaries in defending against Iran’s most destabilizing activities.”

Put simply, for the first time, the U.S. and both its Arab and Israeli allies are structurally aligned against a common foe: Iran.

At the same hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton, who had advocated for the relocation of Israel to CENTCOM weeks before Trump gave the order, raised the possibility of training Israeli pilots in the use of mid-air refuel aircraft. The lack of such aircraft, which allow fighter jets to travel long distances, is a key impediment to Israel’s ability to reach Iranian nuclear facilities.

“One of the opportunities I see is having Israeli Air Force personnel training alongside American personnel on KC 46 tankers, which we expect to provide them in future,” Cotton said. Kurilla, for his part, demurred, replying that training might be better “when they get closer to getting their aircraft … so they can retain that training and go right into the execution of operating them.”

Though Biden campaigned on reinstating the Iran nuclear deal — also called JCPOA, which Obama established and Trump pulled out of — the deal is all but dead. 

“With Iran, any concerns about a nuclear program have sometimes been overwhelmed by a desire — based on partisanship in the U.S. and heavily influenced by the government of Israel — to isolate Iran and not do any business or negotiations with it at all,” Pillar told The Intercept. “Hence you had Trump’s reneging on the JCPOA agreement in 2018, with a direct result of that reneging being that there is now far more reason to be worried about a possible Iranian nuclear weapon than there was when the JCPOA was still in effect.”

Should Iran acquire a nuclear weapon, it would likely trigger a dangerous regional arms race. Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has made clear that Riyadh would “follow suit as soon as possible” with its own atomic bomb should Tehran obtain one. 

But one key fact is often left out of discussions about Iran and the bomb: There’s no evidence that it’s actually pursuing one.

As the Pentagon’s most recent Nuclear Posture Review plainly states, “Iran does not today possess a nuclear weapon and we currently believe it is not pursuing one.” More recently, CIA Director William Burns reiterated that point in an interview with CBS in February. “To the best of our knowledge,” Burns said, “we don’t believe that the Supreme Leader in Iran has yet made a decision to resume the weaponization program that we judge that they suspended or stopped at the end of 2003.”

Iran’s policy could, of course, change. And tensions are rising in large part because of the U.S.’s recent posturing. For example, following the Juniper Oak exercise, Iran responded with its own military exercises, which Iranian military commander Maj. Gen. Gholam-Ali Rashid said they consider a “half war” and even a “war before war.”

In April, CENTCOM announced the deployment of a submarine armed with guided missiles in the Mediterranean Sea. This was likely a message directed at Iran, which quickly responded by accusing the U.S. of “warmongering.” 

Earlier, in October, CENTCOM issued an extraordinary press release featuring Kurilla, the CENTCOM chief, aboard a submarine armed with ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in the Arabian Sea — another message for Iran.

On May 9, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder announced that the military would be increasing its patrols in the Strait of Hormuz, through which many Iranian vessels travel. In his remarks, Ryder made particular mention of the P-8 Poseidon aircraft and the role it would play in bolstering maritime surveillance of the area.

The same aircraft made international news in 2019, when Iran disclosed that it almost downed a P-8 carrying U.S. service members that it claimed had entered its airspace, opting instead to shoot down a nearby drone. The U.S. military scrambled jets to strike Iran in retaliation, only to be called off by Trump 10 minutes before the attack when a general told him that the strikes would probably kill 150 people. The strikes would not, Trump said, have been “proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”

The post Leaked Report: “CIA Does Not Know” If Israel Plans to Bomb Iran appeared first on The Intercept.

24 May. 2023

President Richard Nixon was in rare form, though in reality, it was none too rare. “The whole goddamn Air Force over there farting around doing nothing,” he barked at his national security adviser Henry Kissinger during a phone call on December 9, 1970. He called for a huge increase in attacks in Cambodia. “I want it done!! Get them off their ass and get them to work now.”

As Nixon rambled and ranted — calling for more strikes by bombers and helicopter gunships — Kissinger’s replies were short and clipped: “Right.” “Exactly.” “Absolutely, right.” We know this because, while Nixon was fuming about “assholes” who said there was a “crisis in Cambodia,” the conversation was being recorded. It wasn’t the secret White House taping system that finally laid Nixon low as part of the scandal that came to be known as Watergate, but Kissinger’s own clandestine eavesdropping system. Later, it was up to Kissinger’s secretary Judy Johnson to transcribe that night’s exchange and add in the single, double, triple, and even quadruple exclamation points to capture the spirit of the call and accurately punctuate the president’s words.

Johnson was new on the job when she heard the December 9, 1970, exchange. She was just one of many Kissinger secretaries and aides who, during his years working for the White House, either listened in on an extension and transcribed conversations in shorthand or typed up the transcripts later from Kissinger’s own Dictabelt recording system that, according to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s 1976 book “The Final Days,” was hooked up to a telephone “housed in the credenza behind his secretary’s desk and … automatically activated when the telephone receiver was picked up.”

The transcripts offer a window into policymaking in the Nixon White House, Kissinger’s key role, and how so many Cambodians came to be killed by American military aircraft. Johnson was somewhat reluctant to talk about them and expressed surprise that they were publicly available.

Decades later, the heated December 1970 exchange didn’t stick out in Johnson’s mind, she told The Intercept. None of their conversations did. It was a long time ago and, she said, “there was a lot of stuff going on” at the White House. Johnson didn’t know whether Nixon was aware of Kissinger’s eavesdropping activities or why her boss recorded all his calls. Ask him yourself, she said. When I tried to interview him, Kissinger stormed off and his staff ignored follow-up requests for more than a decade. Johnson also cautioned that it was very hard to get an accurate sense of a conversation from the transcripts alone. There were nuances, she said, that were missing.

“Those conversations were strenuously edited,” said Roger Morris, a Kissinger aide who resigned in protest of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970 and had listened to many conversations between Nixon and his national security adviser. The men and women who took down the text didn’t completely eliminate the spirit of the conversations, but if you were listening to calls in their raw, original form, it was more disconcerting. “It was worse because the words were slurred and you knew you had a drunk at the other end,” he said of Nixon.

Did Johnson suspect that Nixon had been drinking when he called to direct policy and give orders? “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” she said. Any evidence is apparently gone forever. In a 1999 letter to Foreign Affairs, Kissinger claimed that the tapes of phone calls made in his office were destroyed after being transcribed. No notes or other materials involved in the transcription survived either, according to a 2004 report by the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff of the U.S. National Archives.

President Richard Nixon meets with National Security Affairs Advisor Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office. (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

President Richard Nixon meets with national security adviser Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office on Oct. 15, 1971.

Photo: Wally McNamee/Corbis via Getty Images

Johnson joined Kissinger’s staff in late 1970, before moving on to the White House press office in 1971 where she stayed until Nixon’s resignation in 1974. After a brief stint in the administration of President Gerald Ford, she moved to California and worked as a researcher for Nixon, who was then writing his memoirs. She might have been starry-eyed when she first arrived at the White House, she told me, but listening in on high-level phone conversations quickly disabused her of the notion that these were “super people.” She termed Nixon’s coarse talk “typical male language.”

Johnson took down Kissinger’s conversations using shorthand, she told me, repeatedly emphasizing how difficult it was to transcribe conversations like these perfectly. A “shit” or a “damn” might go missing, but there was no deliberate censorship and nothing was sanitized, she said. Morris recalled it differently. While Nixon’s remarks might be prettied up, he told me, it was Kissinger’s own acid-tongued ripostes that subordinates were supposed to excise to protect their boss. Privately, Kissinger called Nixon a madman, said he had a “meatball mind,” and referred to him as “our drunken friend.” 

“I just had a call from our friend,” Kissinger told his aide Alexander Haig moments after getting off the phone with Nixon on that December night, according to Johnson’s transcript. The president “wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia,” Kissinger told Haig. “He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves. You got that?” In a notation, Johnson indicated that while it was difficult to hear him, it sounded as if Haig started laughing.

When I mentioned these orders and asked about Nixon’s drinking, Johnson emphasized that there were buffers in place. Policy changes, she told me, weren’t as simple as a presidential order given by phone. Many discussions would occur before instructions were carried out. But Kissinger’s immediate and blunt relay of Nixon’s command suggests otherwise. The raw number of U.S. attacks in Cambodia does too. While they had no explanation for it at the time, The Associated Press found that compared with November 1970, the number of sorties by U.S. gunships and bombers in Cambodia had tripled by the end of December to nearly 1,700.

Was the reason for it — and the Cambodian deaths that resulted — a drunken president’s order, passed along swiftly and unquestioningly by Henry Kissinger? Nixon and Haig have been dead for many years, and Johnson passed away earlier this month. That leaves only Kissinger to answer the question — and to answer for the deaths.

The post Transcripts of Kissinger’s Calls Reveal His Culpability appeared first on The Intercept.

24 May. 2023

In September 1966, two U.S. helicopters crossed the border of South Vietnam and flew 20 miles into the neutral kingdom of Cambodia. Near the town of Snuol, they blasted a Cambodian army outpost with eight rockets, killing one soldier and wounding four others. The air assault was blamed on “pilot error,” and it was just one of many lethal U.S. helicopter attacks in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Three and a half years after the errant airstrike, U.S. forces would again attack Snuol, but this time it was no mistake. Instead, U.S. troops deliberately assaulted the town as part of America’s “Cambodian incursion,” an ill-fated invasion that President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, hoped would win the Vietnam War.

A previously unrevealed military investigation — declassified in the 1980s but buried deep in the files of Vietnam War-era inspector general’s documents in the nation’s archives — shows that after U.S. soldiers were caught looting Snuol in May 1970, the Army launched a pro forma investigation, worked to minimize the story, and even tried to blame the press corps for sacking the town. The Army, however, never questioned its own reporter on the scene: a journalist working for the venerable U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes. In an interview with The Intercept, he laughed at the notion that journalists had looted Snuol.

The Snuol revelations are part of an exclusive archive of U.S. military documents assembled by The Intercept as part of a reflection on the life and crimes of Henry Kissinger, who will turn 100 on Saturday. 

Kissinger, the architect of America’s 1969 to 1973 bombing of Cambodia and a proponent of the 1970 invasion, acknowledged that 50,000 Cambodian civilians were killed during his tenure crafting America’s war policy. Experts have conservatively estimated the actual total may be three times higher.

(Original Caption) 4/30/1970-Washington, DC-In a TV speech to the Nation from the White House, President Nixon announced that several thousand American ground troops have entered Cambodia to wipe out Communist headquarters for all military operations against South Vietnam. The president is shown here seated at his desk during the address.

In a TV speech to the nation from the White House, President Richard Nixon announces that several thousand American ground troops have entered Cambodia on April 30, 1970.

Photo: Bettmann Archive

The Sack of Snuol

On April 28, 1970, Nixon issued an order that was opposed by his secretary of state and secretary of defense but endorsed by Kissinger: The U.S. military would invade Cambodia. Two days later, in a televised address to the nation, Nixon announced the assault and offered a history lesson loaded with lies. Since 1954, when an international agreement formally ended a U.S.-backed French war to maintain their colonies in Indochina, he said, U.S. policy had been “to scrupulously respect the neutrality of the Cambodian people.” His statement belied the covert cross-border missions and secret bombings being carried out — and hidden from the American public and Congress — on his orders throughout the previous year. “In cooperation with the armed forces of South Vietnam, attacks are being launched this week to clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border,” he continued. “This is not an invasion of Cambodia. … Our purpose is not to occupy the areas. Once enemy forces are driven out of these sanctuaries and once their military supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw.” 

U.S. troops and armored vehicles streamed across the border but encountered few enemy soldiers and saw little pitched combat. Kissinger had “no doubt about the operation’s success” and publicly described it as a victory, but the CIA later determined that the capability of enemy forces in Cambodia had not been “substantially reduced,” while the National Security Agency deemed the invasion an “unmitigated disaster.”

Four Kissinger staffers resigned over their boss’s role in planning the invasion, arguing that it would achieve none of its objectives and lead to “blood in the streets” at home. They were right. As predicted, the “incursion” sparked widespread campus unrest across America, including at Kent State University, where members of the Ohio National Guard killed four students during a protest a few days later. 

A Kent State University student lies on the ground after National Guardsman fired into a crowd of demonstrators on May 4, 1970 in Kent, Ohio.  (AP Photo)

A Kent State University student lies on the ground after National Guardsman fired into a crowd of demonstrators on May 4, 1970, in Kent, Ohio.

Photo: AP

A week after the killings at Kent State, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover rushed Nixon and Kissinger a report on the private phone conversations of Morton Halperin, a Kissinger protégé and national security aide whose home phone Kissinger had ordered tapped. According to an FBI transcript, Halperin predicted that the “most certain consequence” of the invasion would be “that a large number of Cambodian civilians would be killed and labeled Viet Cong.” He, too, was right. 

As U.S. troops plowed through the countryside, the 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment was tasked with taking the town of Snuol. According to Army documents, Brig. Gen. Robert M. Shoemaker ordered that minor resistance should not necessitate the town’s destruction. “Try to avoid shooting into crowds of civilians,” his subordinate Lt. Col. Grail Brookshire, the commander of the 2nd Squadron, 11th Cavalry Regiment, told his men on the outskirts of the town, according to an account from New York Times reporter James Sterba, who was there to cover the battle. “In other words, if you’re taking light fire and there are civilians in the area, try to return the fire without losing all the fuckin’ civilians.” In a recent conversation with The Intercept, Brookshire emphasized that when his forces encountered a mixed group of North Vietnamese troops and “Cambodian refugees,” he would not allow his men to open fire on them. 

When they encountered enemy resistance as they entered Snuol, Brookshire nonetheless ordered his tanks to turn their guns on the town and called in bombers and helicopter gunships, leveling buildings to dislodge North Vietnamese forces. The next day, Brookshire’s men moved fully into Snuol. 

While it was a major battle in the U.S. incursion into Cambodia, the invasion of Snuol wasn’t significant in terms of the wider war in Indochina. Taking the town did not cost a single American life and left only five U.S. troops wounded. Leon Daniel, a former Marine and Korean War veteran who covered the operation for United Press International, rode into Snuol on one of the Army’s tanks. “The only dead I saw were obviously Cambodian civilians, but the U.S. Army claimed later it had killed 88 Communist troops in the area,” he wrote. “I doubt it.” All told, he saw four dead: a little girl and people he assumed were her family. They had all been killed by napalm. He also watched U.S. soldiers

helping themselves to what little was left in an area of shops that had been destroyed. The first items taken were beer and soft drinks because it was very hot. Other GIs took suitcases, mirrors and shoes. I saw a motorscooter strapped to one tank. … Other soldiers broke locks off a few sheds that were still standing. One shed was set on fire after it was looted of several cases of batteries.

Associated Press reporter Peter Arnett described soldiers smashing open the doors of shops to steal watches, clocks, and other items before setting the stores ablaze. “I saw one soldier run from a burning Chinese noodle shop with his arms full of Cambodian brandy … and two others wheeled out motorcycles and tied them to the turrets of their vehicles,” he recalled in his 1994 memoir “Live From the Battlefield.” “After about an hour of looting and merrymaking an officer came by and yelled, ‘Get your hands off that stuff, we’re moving on.’ The soldiers laughed and mounted their vehicles.”

Under white-capped clouds, a column of tanks and armored personnel carriers of the U.S. 11th armored regiment moves through the Snoul rubber plantation inside Cambodia toward the Snoul airfield where heavy North Vietnamese resistance was encountered, May 12, 1970. The plantation land had been cleared before the operation began and trees shown here were not demolished by tanks. (AP Photo)

U.S. tanks and armored personnel carriers of the U.S. 11th Armored Calvary Regiment move through a rubber plantation inside Cambodia toward the Snuol airfield on May 12, 1970.

Photo: AP

Looting or Lies?

While Arnett’s dispatch from Snuol was published in its entirety around the world, the versions carried by American news organizations were missing a critical piece of reportage: any mention of the looting. The AP had decided, in the wake of the killings at Kent State, to censor the story. “Let’s play it cool,” Ben Bassett, the late, longtime foreign news editor of The Associated Press wrote in a cable to the AP bureau in Saigon, explaining that “in present context [mention of the looting] can be inflammatory.”

With the AP’s Saigon staff up in arms, Arnett fired off a message to the home office. “I was professionally insulted by New York’s decision to kill all my story and picture references to the Snuol looting on grounds that it was inflammatory and not news,” he wrote, recounting the cable in his memoir. “To ignore the sordid aspects of America’s invasion of Cambodia would surely be a dereliction of a reporter’s duty and I find it impossible now to continue to compromise my reporting to suit American political interests.” Arnett, who had previously won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the war in Vietnam, then leaked the story of AP’s censorship to Kevin Buckley of Newsweek, who had also reported from Snuol.

With the press and Congress demanding answers, the Army launched a cursory investigation into “the extent of damage… and the veracity of news accounts” about U.S. troops’ role in the looting, according to the formerly classified Army records.

“My soldiers haven’t been looting,” Brookshire had told a TV crew. But footage showed otherwise. A soldier was filmed handing bottles to a colleague on a tank who said, “If you find any more sodas, get ’em.” Another was seen pilfering a radio. Still another was caught rooting through a shed.

“I don’t know what kind of Scotch it was because the label was in Cambodian,” one of Brookshire’s men told Gloria Emerson of the Times, “but it wasn’t bad at all.” As civilians drifted back into Snuol, they found a sea of debris: shattered glass, burned bicycles, twisted metal, and busted bricks, amid huge craters that had swallowed up homes and shops. “We want no shooting or killings by anyone here, and look what has befallen us,” one resident told Emerson. “We just want to earn our living,”

An armored personnel carrier of the U.S. 11th armored regiment rolls past wrecked structures in the ruined town of Snuol, Cambodia Wednesday, May 7, 1970. (AP Photo)

An armored personnel carrier rolls past wrecked structures in the ruined town of Snuol, Cambodia, on May 7, 1970.

Photo: AP

Blaming the Messengers

In June 1970, the Army concluded its investigation into the sack of Snuol. About half the structures in Snuol were “destroyed or damaged” by U.S. bombs, napalm, tank rounds, and small arms fire, according to an inspector general’s report. The Army also discovered more dead Cambodians than reporters had seen, noting that troops found 11 bodies “presumed to be civilians.”

“Reports of looting and pillage are confirmed by statements in the file,” a follow-up report by an Army staff judge advocate noted. That report corroborated accounts of soldiers stealing a “motorbike, cases of soft drinks, sunglasses and razor blades,” while disputing reports that GIs pilfered Cambodian currency, beer, and other items. 

The staff judge advocate’s report stated that there was “no evidence of a general rampage through undestroyed shops” and raised an alternate theory about the looting: Any theft “was done by civilian reporters in their wandering about the village.”

The Times’s Sterba never made it into Snuol, and Newsweek’s Buckley said that he left before the looting occurred. Gloria Emerson and Leon Daniel died in 2004 and 2006, respectively. However, The Intercept spoke with one reporter on the scene who should have been first on the Army’s witness list.

While the Army’s investigation failed to mention it, the military’s own newspaper, Stars and Stripes, had a reporter in Snuol. Army Specialist Jack Fuller — who went on to win a Pulitzer in 1986 and serve as editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune and president of the Tribune Publishing before his death in 2016 — rode into Snuol atop one of Brookshire’s tanks. He watched as 11th Cavalry troops began stealing radios, soft drinks, and alcohol.

“I knew it was a story,” he told The Intercept in a 2010 interview, speaking of his article, which included an account of GIs pillaging the town. “Looting of any dimension by American soldiers was a story for Stars and Stripes, in my view.”

Fuller laughed out loud when I read him the staff judge advocate’s conjecture about the civilian press looting the town. “I certainly saw no correspondents grabbing anything,” he said, noting that, unlike soldiers, members of the media had easy access to alcohol and no need to steal it. 

Fuller recalled running into Arnett after the flap with AP. “He said: ‘For god’s sake, AP kills my story and Stars and Stripes runs yours. Stripes has more courage than AP,’” Fuller told me, noting that he had mentioned the looting deep in his story, while Arnett reported it more prominently in his article. 

Arnett did not respond to email inquiries to be interviewed for this story.

(Original Caption) June 29, 1970 - Waiting for a helicopter to carry his unit back into South Vietnam, a 1st Air Cavalry Division GI reads a magazine (U.S. News and World Report) at a firebase inside Cambodia. The magazine deals heavily with the operation he has been personally involved in the past two months trudging through the Cambodian jungles looking for Viet Cong and North Vietnamese cache areas. He wears a headband which gained popularity with GI's around Vietnam.

A 1st Air Cavalry Division soldier reads a U.S. News and World Report at a firebase inside Cambodia on June 29, 1970.

Photo: Bettmann Archive

The Butcher of Snuol

In June 1970, an Army spokesperson announced that the looting in Snuol was limited to “several, perhaps five or six, cases of soda pop, which were consumed.” A motorcycle that was taken had been returned to its owner, the Army said, and a tractor would be returned once its owner was located. 

No mention was made of the theory that the press had pillaged Snuol.

The two-month Cambodian incursion left 344 American soldiers and 818 South Vietnamese troops dead. There were, however, “no reliable or comprehensive” statistics for Cambodian civilian casualties, although the Pentagon estimated that the operation rendered 130,000 Cambodians homeless. The invasion proved only a minor inconvenience for North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia. By the end of June 1970, most U.S. troops had left the country, and the North Vietnamese soldiers had moved back into the region around Snuol. By late October, America’s South Vietnamese allies were fighting their way back into the town.

Grail Brookshire did, however, get something out of the incursion. His troops’ looting of Snuol became a joke — and Brookshire gave himself a grisly, though tongue-in-cheek, nickname. 

In a conversation this month, Brookshire defended his troops and told The Intercept that they “got a bum rap” from reporters. He expressed a low regard for the press, then and now, and a belief that they are “part of the deep state.”

In 1972, having recently returned from four years’ reporting in Southeast Asia, Buckley gave a talk at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, during which a man in the back asked numerous well-informed questions. “He and others swarmed me when the event was over — and I asked him his name and where he had been,” Buckley told The Intercept.

“Grail Brookshire,” the man responded.

“You mean —” Buckley began, but before he could finish the sentence, the man interrupted. 

“That’s me, Grail Brookshire, the Butcher of Snuol,” he told Buckley. (When we spoke recently, Brookshire didn’t recall the particulars of this exchange from 51 years ago, but said it sounded like the type of “smart-ass remark” he would make.)

“You guys said my troops systematically looted the place,” Brookshire told Buckley. “My god, my men couldn’t do anything systematically.”

The post U.S. Blamed the Press for Military Looting in Cambodia appeared first on The Intercept.

24 May. 2023

Ny Sarim had lived through it all. Violence. Loss. Privation. Genocide.

Her first husband was killed after Pol Pot’s murderous Khmer Rouge plunged Cambodia into a nightmare campaign of overwork, hunger, and murder that killed around 2 million people from 1975 to 1979. Four other family members died too — some of starvation, others by execution.

“No one ever even had time to laugh. Life was so sad and hopeless,” she told The Intercept. It was enough suffering for a lifetime, but it couldn’t erase the memory of the night in August 1973 when her town became a charnel house. 

Ny was sleeping at home when the bombs started dropping on Neak Luong, 30 tons all at once. She had felt the ground tremble from nearby bombings in the past, but this strike by a massive B-52 Stratofortress aircraft hit the town squarely. “Not only did my house shake, but the earth shook,” she told The Intercept. “Those bombs were from the B-52s.” Many in the downtown market area where she worked during the day were killed or wounded. “Three of my relatives — an uncle and two nephews — were killed by the B-52 bombing,” she said.

The strike on Neak Luong may have killed more Cambodians than any bombing of the American war, but it was only a small part of a devastating yearslong air campaign in that country. As Elizabeth Becker, who covered the conflict as a correspondent for the Washington Post, notes in her book “When the War Was Over,” the United States dropped more than 257,000 tons of explosives on the Cambodian countryside in 1973, about half the total dropped on Japan during all of World War II.

“They caused the largest number of civilian casualties because they were bombing so massively with very poor maps and spotty intelligence.”

“The biggest mistakes were in 1973,” she told The Intercept. “They caused the largest number of civilian casualties because they were bombing so massively with very poor maps and spotty intelligence. During those months ‘precision bombing’ was an oxymoron.” Neak Luong, she concurred, was the worst American “mistake.”

State Department documents, declassified in 2005 but largely ignored, show that the death toll at Neak Luong may have been far worse than was publicly reported at the time, and that the real toll was purposefully withheld by the U.S. government.

In his 2003 book “Ending the Vietnam War,” Henry Kissinger wrote that “more than a hundred civilians were killed” in the town. But U.S. records of “solatium” payments — money given to survivors as an expression of regret — indicate that more than 270 Cambodians were killed and hundreds more were wounded in Neak Luong. State Department documents also show that the U.S. paid only about half the sum promised to survivors.

(Original Caption) Victims of U.S. Bombing Error. Phnom Penh: Cambodian civilians wounded in bombing error by U.S. warplanes at Neak Luong August 6, await transportation to hospital after having been brought here by Navy boats August 7. It's estimated some 300 civilian and military persons were killed or wounded in the attack.

Cambodian civilians wounded by a U.S. warplane at Neak Luong on August 6, await transportation to hospital on Aug. 7, 1973.

Photo: Bettmann Archive

The Price of a Life

The death warrant for Neak Luong was signed when U.S. officials decided that American lives mattered more than Cambodian ones. Until 1967, U.S. forces in South Vietnam used ground beacons that emitted high frequency radio waves to direct airstrikes. But the U.S. stopped using the beacons after a radar navigator on a B-52 bomber failed to flip an offset switch, causing a bomb load to drop directly on a helicopter carrying a beacon instead of a nearby site designated for attack. The chopper was blown out of the sky, and the U.S. military switched to a more reliable radar system until the January 1973 ceasefire formally ended the U.S. war in Vietnam.

At that point, the more sophisticated radar equipment went home, and the less reliable ground beacons came into use in Cambodia, where the U.S. air war raged with growing intensity. 

In April 1973, according to a formerly classified U.S. military history, American officials expressed concern that “radar beacons were located on the American Embassy in Phnom Penh” and raised “the possibility that weapons could be released in the direct mode,” striking the U.S. mission by accident. Within days, that beacon was removed. But while Americans at the embassy were safe, Cambodians in places like Neak Luong, where a beacon had been placed on a pole in the center of town, remained at risk. “It should have been put a mile or so away in the boondocks,” a senior U.S. Air Force officer told the New York Times in 1973.

On August 7, 1973, a secret cable shot from the beacon-less U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh to the secretaries of State and Defense and other top American officials in Washington. At approximately 4:35 a.m. in Cambodia, according to Deputy Chief of Mission Thomas Enders’s message, Neak Luong was “accidentally bombed by a yet undetermined [U.S. Air Force] aircraft.” 

Ny said that her cousin, who served with the U.S.-allied Cambodian army and spoke English, got on the radio shortly after the bombing and asked an American what had happened. He was told that the bombs were dropped in error, she said.

It later became clear that a navigator had again failed to flip the offset bombing switch.

Villagers in Neak Luong, hit  August 6 in misdirected U.S. bombing raid, dig through rubble searching for bodies and belongings  August 7, 1973. (AP Photo)

Villagers in Neak Luong dig through rubble searching for bodies and belongings on Aug. 7, 1973.

Photo: AP

“No Great Disaster”

Col. David Opfer, the U.S. Embassy’s air attaché, quickly flew to the town to survey the situation, he told The Intercept. “I remember that some of the injured people were very happy to see somebody arrive, and I sent some of the most seriously wounded people back to the hospital in Phnom Penh in my helicopter,” he said. (Opfer died in 2018.)

Opfer told the foreign press corps in Phnom Penh that the bombing was “no great disaster.” 

“The destruction was minimal,” he announced at a press briefing, even though Enders, in the secret cable, had already informed U.S. officials that damage was “considerable.”

In a November 2010 interview, Opfer reiterated that he didn’t consider the damage to Neak Luong significant, and that it was limited to a small area. “It was a mistake,” he explained. “It happens in war.”

Sydney Schanberg, who reported for the New York Times in Cambodia, recalled Opfer’s briefing. “He said the casualties weren’t severe,” Schanberg, who died in 2016, told The Intercept. “He said there were 50 dead and some injured.” Opfer admitted that he didn’t actually know the number. “Even then I wasn’t sure how many,” he told The Intercept.

Schanberg, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Cambodia, was skeptical of the pronouncement and set out to see for himself. He was thrown off a Cambodian military flight to Neak Luong, but Schanberg’s fixer Dith Pran got them to the town by boat, and they interviewed survivors until local officials detained the journalists for taking photographs of “military secrets.” The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, tried to wrest control of the story by arranging for a group of five Western reporters to take a quick look around with little opportunity to speak to townspeople. 

Schanberg and Pran, who spent a day and night under house arrest, watched their press colleagues through the window of the building where they were confined. “They didn’t see enough to write a detailed story and they hadn’t talked to anybody,” said Schanberg, noting that the pool reporters were only on the ground for about 20 minutes.

Ny Sarim told The Intercept that soldiers from the U.S.-allied Cambodian military also kept residents from making their way downtown, but that even from a distance, the damage was unmistakable. When she finally got through the cordon, she saw massive craters and twisted metal. “It was a total wreck,” Schanberg told me. “Everything had been hit.”

Schanberg’s August 9, 1973, front-page Times story on Neak Luong emphasized Opfer’s minimization of the damage; a second article and an editorial soon after detailed U.S. efforts to thwart Schanberg from covering the story.

In a confidential cable back to Washington, U.S. Ambassador Emory Swank mentioned “the New York Times correspondent’s accusation that the air attaché office attempted to block journalists’ access to Neak Luong” and defended the officer. “Colonel Opfer has done well in trying circumstances,” he stated, while casting the foreign press corps as “demanding and hostile.” Opfer told The Intercept that the Cambodian military had detained Schanberg and Pran. “They always get things mixed up and don’t tell it as it really is,” he said of the press. 

Schanberg took a different view. Opfer, he said, “was absolutely unskilled with the press. I felt bad for the man, in a way, because he was telling us what he had been told to tell us. A lot of the senior officers felt that we didn’t give anybody a fair break — but the Cambodians weren’t getting much of a break, were they?” 

(Original Caption) Victim of U.S. Bombing Error. Phnom Penh: Wearing head bandage, this young Cambodian youngster is one of some 300 casualties of bombing error on Neak Luong by U.S. warplanes August 6. He and other victims are awaiting transportation to hospital after having been brought here by Navy boats August 7.

On Aug. 7, 1973, a day after being injured in the U.S. bombing of civilians in Neak Luong, a baby waits for transportation to the hospital.

Photo: Bettmann Archive

A Grand Bargain

Officially, 137 Cambodians were killed in the Neak Luong bombing and 268 were wounded, according to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. Months later, Enders, in a confidential, December 1973 cable that went to Kissinger and then-Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, confided that the U.S. had actually paid out solatium for 273 dead, 385 seriously wounded, 48 who suffered “mutilation,” and 46 victims of slight injuries. All told, that figure — 752 people hurt or killed — was 86 percent higher than the official number.

Enders stated that the U.S. had not sought to verify the numbers, but that the tally had been certified by the Cambodian regime. The final number of wounded and dead, he noted, “is higher than the official count given by [the Cambodian government] to the press and therefore should not be released.”

In the December 1973 cable, Enders admitted that the U.S. had never established a policy for “the payment of medical expenses for persons injured by U.S. errors,” and that the bombing of Neak Luong was “the only such incident which has occurred in Cambodia.” But just a day after the Neak Luong bombing, a State Department cable referenced a “second accidental bombing” at Chum Roeung village that killed four to eight people and injured up to 33. The Pentagon blamed the “error” on a F-111 bomber’s “faulty bomb-release racks.” By then, the U.S. had dropped hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs throughout the countryside and killed, according to experts, as many as 150,000 Cambodians. 

Two weeks after the bombing of Neak Luong, Swank, the U.S. ambassador, publicly signed an agreement on compensation with the Cambodian government. “We desire to compensate, insofar as possible, the survivors of the tragedy,” he said in a brief speech, adding that the U.S. would pay $26,000 to rebuild the damaged hospital in Neak Luong and provide $71,000 in equipment. 

The next of kin of those killed, according to press reports following his speech, would receive about $400 each. Considering that in many cases, the primary breadwinner had been lost for life, the sum was low: the equivalent of about four years of earnings for a rural Cambodian at the time. The financial penalty meted out to the B-52 navigator whose failure to flip the offset switch killed and wounded hundreds in Neak Luong was low too. He was fined $700 for the error. By comparison, a one-plane sortie, like that which bombed Neak Luong, cost about $48,000 at the time. A B-52 bomber cost about $8 million.

In another confidential cable sent in December 1973, Thomas Enders made a final accounting of solatium payments to those who had lost a relative in Neak Luong. They had actually not received the $400 per dead civilian that they had been promised. In the end, the U.S. valued the dead of Neak Luong at just $218 apiece. 

The post Notorious 1973 Attack Killed Many More Than Previously Known appeared first on The Intercept.

24 May. 2023

TA SOUS, Cambodia — At the end of a dusty path snaking through rice paddies lives a woman who survived multiple U.S. airstrikes as a child.

Round-faced and just over 5 feet tall in plastic sandals, Meas Lorn lost an older brother to a helicopter gunship attack and an uncle and cousins to artillery fire. For decades, one question haunted her: “I still wonder why those aircraft always attacked in this area. Why did they drop bombs here?”

The U.S. carpet bombing of Cambodia between 1969 and 1973 has been well documented, but its architect, former national security adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who will turn 100 on Saturday, bears responsibility for more violence than has been previously reported. An investigation by The Intercept provides evidence of previously unreported attacks that killed or wounded hundreds of Cambodian civilians during Kissinger’s tenure in the White House. When questioned about his culpability for these deaths, Kissinger responded with sarcasm and refused to provide answers.

An exclusive archive of formerly classified U.S. military documents — assembled from the files of a secret Pentagon task force that investigated war crimes during the 1970s, inspector generals’ inquiries buried amid thousands of pages of unrelated documents, and other materials discovered during hundreds of hours of research at the U.S. National Archives — offers previously unpublished, unreported, and underappreciated evidence of civilian deaths that were kept secret during the war and remain almost entirely unknown to the American people. The documents also provided a rudimentary road map for on-the-ground reporting in Southeast Asia that yielded evidence of scores of additional bombings and ground raids that have never been reported to the outside world.

The road to Tralok Bek, Cambodia, in 2010, left. Meas Lorn, right, poses for a portrait in Ta Sous, Cambodia.

Photos: Tam Turse

Survivors from 13 Cambodian villages along the Vietnamese border told The Intercept about attacks that killed hundreds of their relatives and neighbors during Kissinger’s tenure in President Richard Nixon’s White House. The interviews with more than 75 Cambodian witnesses and survivors, published here for the first time, reveal in new detail the long-term trauma borne by survivors of the American war. These attacks were far more intimate and perhaps even more horrific than the violence already attributed to Kissinger’s policies, because the villages were not just bombed, but also strafed by helicopter gunships and burned and looted by U.S. and allied troops.

The incidents detailed in the files and the testimony of survivors include accounts of both deliberate attacks inside Cambodia and accidental or careless strikes by U.S. forces operating on the border with South Vietnam. These latter attacks were infrequently reported through military channels, covered only sparingly by the press at the time, and have mostly been lost to history. Together, they increase an already sizable number of Cambodian deaths for which Kissinger bears responsibility and raise questions among experts about whether long-dormant efforts to hold him accountable for war crimes might be renewed.

The Army files and interviews with Cambodian survivors, American military personnel, Kissinger confidants, and experts demonstrate that impunity extended from the White House to American soldiers in the field. The records show that U.S. troops implicated in killing and maiming civilians received no meaningful punishments.

Key Takeaways
  • Henry Kissinger is responsible for more civilian deaths in Cambodia than was previously known, according to an exclusive archive of U.S. military documents and groundbreaking interviews with Cambodian survivors and American witnesses.
  • The archive offers previously unpublished, unreported, and underappreciated evidence of hundreds of civilian casualties that were kept secret during the war and remain almost entirely unknown to the American people.
  • Previously unpublished interviews with more than 75 Cambodian witnesses and survivors of U.S. military attacks reveal new details of the long-term trauma borne by survivors of the American war.
  • Experts say Kissinger bears significant responsibility for attacks in Cambodia that killed as many as 150,000 civilians — six times more noncombatants than the United States has killed in airstrikes since 9/11.
  • When questioned about these deaths, Kissinger responded with sarcasm and refused to provide answers.

Together, the interviews and documents demonstrate a consistent disregard for Cambodian lives: failing to detect or protect civilians; to conduct post-strike assessments; to investigate civilian harm allegations; to prevent such damage from recurring; and to punish or otherwise hold U.S. personnel accountable for injuries and deaths. These policies not only obscured the true toll of the conflict in Cambodia but also set the stage for the civilian carnage of the U.S. war on terror from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria to Somalia, and beyond.

“You can trace a line from the bombing of Cambodia to the present,” said Greg Grandin, author of “Kissinger’s Shadow.” “The covert justifications for illegally bombing Cambodia became the framework for the justifications of drone strikes and forever war. It’s a perfect expression of American militarism’s unbroken circle.”

Kissinger bears significant responsibility for attacks in Cambodia that killed as many as 150,000 civilians, according to Ben Kiernan, former director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University and one of the foremost authorities on the U.S. air campaign in Cambodia. That’s up to six times the number of noncombatants thought to have died in U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen during the first 20 years of the war on terror. Grandin estimated that, overall, Kissinger — who also helped to prolong the Vietnam War and facilitate genocides in Cambodia, East Timor, and Bangladesh; accelerated civil wars in southern Africa; and supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America — has the blood of at least 3 million people on his hands

All the while, as Kissinger dated starlets, won coveted awards, and rubbed shoulders with billionaires at black-tie White House dinners, Hamptons galas, and other invitation-only soirées, survivors of the U.S. war in Cambodia were left to grapple with loss, trauma, and unanswered questions. They did so largely alone and invisible to the wider world, including to Americans whose leaders had upended their lives.

Henry Kissinger dodged questions about the bombing of Cambodia for decades and has spent half his life lying about his role in the killings there.

Henry Kissinger dodged questions about the bombing of Cambodia for decades and has spent half his life lying about his role in the killings there. In 1973, during his Senate confirmation hearings to become secretary of state, Kissinger was asked if he approved of deliberately keeping attacks on Cambodia secret, to which he responded with a wall of words justifying the assaults. “I just wanted to make clear that it was not a bombing of Cambodia, but it was a bombing of North Vietnamese in Cambodia,” he insisted. The evidence from U.S. military records and eyewitness testimony directly contradicts that claim. So did Kissinger himself.

In his 2003 book, “Ending the Vietnam War,” Kissinger offered an estimate of 50,000 Cambodian civilian deaths from U.S. attacks during his involvement in the conflict — a number given to him by a Pentagon historian. But documents obtained by The Intercept show that number was conjured almost out of thin air. In reality, the U.S. bombardment of Cambodia ranks among the most intense air campaigns in history. More than 231,000 U.S. bombing sorties were flown over Cambodia from 1965 to 1973. Between 1969 and 1973, while Kissinger was national security adviser, U.S. aircraft dropped 500,000 or more tons of munitions. (During all of World War II, including the atomic bombings, the United States dropped around 160,000 tons of munitions on Japan.)

At a 2010 State Department conference on U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia from 1946 through the close of the Vietnam War, I asked Kissinger how he would amend his testimony before the Senate, given his own contention that tens of thousands of Cambodian civilians died from his escalation of the war.

“Why should I amend my testimony?” he replied. “I don’t quite understand the question, except that I didn’t tell the truth.”

The Cambodian Campaign (also known as the Cambodian Incursion) was a series of military operations conducted in eastern Cambodia during mid-1970 by the United States (U.S.) and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) during the Vietnam War. A total of 13 major operations were conducted by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) between 29 April and 22 July and by U.S. forces between 1 May and 30 June. (Photo by: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

President Richard Nixon speaks about the Cambodian campaign in 1970 in Washington, D.C.

Photo: History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“Anything That Flies on Anything That Moves”

One night in December 1970, Nixon called his national security adviser in a rage about Cambodia. “I want the helicopter ships. I want everything that can fly to go in and crack the hell out of them,” he barked at Kissinger, according to a transcript. “I want gunships in there. That means armed helicopters. … I want it done! Get them off their ass. … I want them to hit everything.”

Five minutes later, Kissinger was on the phone with Gen. Alexander Haig, his military aide, relaying the command for a relentless assault on Cambodia. “It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves. You got that?”

Two years earlier, Nixon had won the White House promising to end America’s war in Vietnam, but instead expanded the conflict into neighboring Cambodia. Fearing public backlash and believing that Congress would never approve an attack on a neutral country, Kissinger and Haig began planning — a month after Nixon took office — an operation that was kept secret from the American people, Congress, and even top Pentagon officials via a conspiracy of cover stories, coded messages, and a dual bookkeeping system that logged airstrikes in Cambodia as occurring in South Vietnam. Ray Sitton, a colonel serving the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would bring a list of targets to the White House for approval. “Strike here in this area,” Kissinger would tell him, and Sitton would backchannel the coordinates into the field, circumventing the military chain of command. Authentic documents associated with the strikes were burned, and phony target coordinates and other forged data were provided to the Pentagon and Congress.

Kissinger, who went on to serve as secretary of state in the Nixon and Gerald Ford administrations, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom — America’s highest civilian award — in 1977. In the decades that followed, he has continued to counsel U.S. presidents, most recently Donald Trump; served on numerous corporate and government advisory boards; and authored a small library of bestselling books on history and diplomacy.

Born Heinz Alfred Kissinger in Fürth, Germany, on May 27, 1923, he came to the United States in 1938, amid a flood of Jews fleeing Nazi oppression. He became a U.S. citizen in 1943 and served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II. After graduating summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1950, he continued on to an M.A. in 1952 and a Ph.D. in 1954. He subsequently joined the Harvard faculty, working in the Department of Government and at the Center for International Affairs until 1969. While teaching at Harvard, he served as a consultant for the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson before his senior roles in the Nixon and Ford administrations. A believer in Realpolitik, Kissinger heavily influenced U.S. foreign policy between 1969 and 1977.

Through a combination of relentless ambition, media savvy, and the ability to muddy the truth and slip free of scandal, Kissinger transformed himself from a college professor and government functionary into the most celebrated American diplomat of the 20th century and a bona fide celebrity. While dozens of his White House colleagues were engulfed in the swirling Watergate scandal, which cost Nixon his job in 1974, Kissinger emerged unscathed, all the while providing fodder for the tabloids and spouting lines like “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

Kissinger was the chief architect of U.S. war policy in Southeast Asia, achieving almost co-president status in such matters. Kissinger and Nixon were also uniquely responsible for attacks that killed, wounded, or displaced hundreds of thousands of Cambodians and laid the groundwork for the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge leadership cannot be exonerated for committing genocide on the Cambodian people, said Kiernan, the Yale scholar, but neither can Nixon nor Kissinger escape responsibility for their role in the slaughter that precipitated it. The duo so destabilized the tiny country that Pol Pot’s nascent revolutionary movement took over Cambodia in 1975 and unleashed horrors, from massacres to mass starvation, that would kill around 2 million people.

Kaing Guek Eav (known as “Duch”) who ran the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng prison, where thousands of Cambodians were tortured and murdered in the late 1970s, made the same observation. “Mister Richard Nixon and Kissinger,” he told a United Nations-backed tribunal, “allowed the Khmer Rouge to grasp golden opportunities.” After he was overthrown in a military coup and his country was plunged into genocide, Cambodia’s deposed monarch, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, leveled similar blame. “There are only two men responsible for the tragedy in Cambodia,” he said in the 1970s. “Mr. Nixon and Dr. Kissinger.”

In his 2001 book-length indictment, “The Trial of Henry Kissinger,” Christopher Hitchens called for Kissinger’s prosecution “for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture” from Argentina, Bangladesh, and Chile to East Timor, Laos, and Uruguay. But Hitchens reserved special opprobrium for Kissinger’s role in Cambodia. “The bombing campaign,” he wrote, “began as it was to go on — with full knowledge of its effect on civilians, and with flagrant deceit by Mr. Kissinger in this precise respect.”

Others went beyond theoretical indictments. As a teenager, Australian-born human rights activist Peter Tatchell felt greatly affected by the U.S. war — and war crimes — in Indochina. Decades later, believing that there was a strong case to be made, he took action. “It surprised me that no one had tried to prosecute Kissinger under international law, so I decided to have a go,” he told The Intercept by email.

“It surprised me that no one had tried to prosecute Kissinger under international law, so I decided to have a go.”

In 2002, with Slobodan Miloševic, the former president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, on trial for war crimes, Tatchell applied for an arrest warrant at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in London under the Geneva Conventions Act of 1957, an act of Parliament that incorporated some components of the laws of war as defined by the 1949 Geneva Conventions into British law. He alleged that while Kissinger “was National Security Advisor to the U.S. President 1969-75 and U.S. Secretary of State 1973-77 he commissioned, aided and abetted and procured war crimes in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.” Judge Nicholas Evans denied the application, stating that he was not “presently” able to draft a “suitably precise charge” based on the evidence Tatchell submitted.

When the arrest warrant was denied, Tatchell tried to engage international humanitarian organizations to help or take over the case, he told The Intercept, but they “did not see it as a priority.” He tried unsuccessfully to contact potential American witnesses and engage U.S. human rights groups.

But Tatchell maintains that Kissinger should still have his day in court. “I believe that age should never be a barrier to justice. Those who commit or authorise war crimes should be held to account, regardless of their age,” he wrote, “providing they have the mental capacity for a fair trial, which I understand is the case with Kissinger.”

Illustration: Matthieu Bourel for The Intercept; Source Photograph: AP

Five Decades of Impunity

Kissinger and his acolytes frequently cast blame for the American war in Cambodia on the North Vietnamese troops and South Vietnamese guerrillas who used the country as a base and logistics hub, while giving short shrift to U.S. involvement there. “What destabilized Cambodia was North Vietnam’s occupation of chunks of Cambodian territory from 1965 onwards,” wrote former Kissinger aide Peter Rodman. But three years earlier — long before most Americans knew their country was at war in Southeast Asia — U.S. “bombs hit a Cambodian village by accident … killing several civilians,” according to an Air Force history. And the “accidents” never stopped. Between 1962 and 1969, the Cambodian government tallied 1,864 border violations; 6,149 violations of its air space by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces; and nearly 1,000 civilian casualties.

To Nixon and Kissinger, Cambodia was a sideshow: a tiny war waged in the shadow of the larger conflict in Vietnam and entirely subsumed to U.S. objectives there. To Cambodians on the front lines of the conflict — farming folk living hardscrabble lives — the war was a shock and a horror. At first, people were awed by the aircraft that began flying above their thatched-roof homes. They called Huey Cobra attack helicopters “lobster legs” for their skids, which resembled crustacean limbs, while small bubble-like Loaches became “coconut shells” in local parlance. But Cambodians quickly learned to fear the aircraft’s machine guns and rockets, the bombs of F-4 Phantoms, and the ground-shaking strikes of B-52s. Decades later, survivors still had little understanding of why they were attacked and why so many loved ones were maimed or killed. They had no idea that their suffering was due in large part to a man named Henry Kissinger and his failed schemes to achieve his boss’s promised “honorable end to the war in Vietnam” by expanding, escalating, and prolonging that conflict.

In 2010, I traveled to Cambodia to investigate decades-old U.S. war crimes. I searched the borderlands, looking for villages mentioned in U.S. military documents, carrying binders filled with photos of Cobras, Loaches, and other aircraft, asking villagers to point out the military hardware that killed their loved ones and neighbors. My interviewees were uniformly shocked that an American knew about attacks on their village and had traveled across the globe to speak with them.

To Nixon and Kissinger, Cambodia was a sideshow. To Cambodians on the front lines of the conflict, the war was a shock and a horror.

For decades, the U.S. government has shown little interest in examining allegations of civilian harm caused by its military operations around the world. A 2020 study of post-9/11 civilian casualty incidents found that most have gone completely uninvestigated, and in those cases that have come under official scrutiny, U.S. investigators regularly interview American military witnesses but almost totally ignore civilians — victims, survivors, family members, and bystanders — “severely compromising the effectiveness of investigations,” according to researchers from the Center for Civilians in Conflict and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. The U.S. military rarely conducted investigations of civilian harm allegations in Cambodia and almost never interviewed Cambodian victims. In all 13 Cambodian villages I visited in 2010, I was the first person to ever interview victims of wartime attacks initiated 9,000 miles away in Washington, D.C.

Over the last two decades, investigative reporters and human rights groups have documented systemic killing of civilians, underreporting of noncombatant casualties, failures of accountability, and outright impunity extending from the drone pilots who slay innocent people to the architects of America’s 21st-century wars in Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. A 2021 investigation by New York Times reporter Azmat Khan — which revealed that the U.S. air war in Iraq and Syria was marked by flawed intelligence and inaccurate targeting, resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent people — finally forced the Defense Department to unveil a comprehensive plan for preventing, mitigating, and responding to civilian casualties. The 36-page Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan provides a blueprint for improving how the Pentagon addresses noncombatant deaths but lacks a concrete mechanism for addressing past civilian harm.

The Defense Department has been clear that it isn’t interested in looking back. “At this point we don’t have an intent to re-litigate cases,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., when she asked last year whether the Pentagon was planning to revisit past civilian harm allegations from the forever wars. The possibility that the Defense Department will investigate civilian harm in Cambodia 50 years later is nil.

I share some responsibility for the delay in publishing these accounts. For 13 years — while I was reporting on drone strike victims in Somalia, ethnic cleansing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and civil wars from Libya to South Sudan — survivors’ accounts from Cambodian villages like An Lung Kreas, Bos Phlung, Bos Mon (upper), Doun Rath, Doun Rath 2, Mroan, Por, Sati, Ta Sous, Tropeang, Phlong, Ta Hang, and Udom were lodged in my notebooks. Other projects and imperatives, coupled with the vagaries of the news industry that doesn’t always view past atrocities as “news,” kept them there.

When I conducted my interviews, in 2010, the life expectancy in Cambodia was about 66 years. Many of the people I spoke with — their ages in this article pegged to the date we spoke — are likely dead. Few in these rural villages had cellphones 13 years ago, so I have no way to reach them. But their accounts remain vibrant and the horrors they recounted have not diminished. Nor has their pain necessarily passed on with them from this world. We know from Holocaust survivors, for example, that trauma can have intergenerational effects; it can be passed on, whether genetically or otherwise. Even at this late date, the pain of America’s war in Cambodia lives on — along with the architect of that country’s agony.

Map: The Intercept

Memories of Atrocity

Crossing a bridge over the Mekong River, I sped into the Cambodian countryside, along highways where SUVs passed tiny carts pulled by tiny ponies, motorbikes loaded with sheaves of bamboo or brightly colored textiles or baskets of squealing pigs, and ancient flatbed trucks piled high with rough-hewn, ochre bricks. I rolled through market towns of open-air butcher shops and wooden stalls selling cases of motor oil or motorcycle helmets or child-sized bags of rice or cases of Angkor Beer. I raced past thick, unruly forests and rubber plantations and rice fields where you could spot lines of water buffalo loping, single file, along the paddy dikes. Finally, I turned off the pavement onto a path of rutted, red dirt, looking for villages unknown even to the local police. At the end of one of these dusty, pitted trails, I found a hamlet straddling the border with Vietnam.

The air in Doun Rath was dry and musty during the day and punctuated, in the late afternoon, by the comforting smell of cooking fires that wafted up to wooden homes built on stilts to maximize air circulation on sweltering days like these.

I came looking for members of a ravaged generation who had survived both the American war and the Khmer Rouge genocide that followed. One of them, Phok Horm, spry and 84 years old at the time of our meeting, with close-cropped salt and pepper hair, told me: “Bombing was very common in this area. Sometimes, it happened every day. Sometimes there were dive bombers. Sometimes, the aircraft with the legs of a lobster would fly over and shoot at everything.”

In a photo taken in 2010, Phok Horm, 84, reflects on the attacks she survived in the village of Doun Rath.

Photo: Tam Turse

Vietnamese guerrillas operated in the nearby forest, Phok and fellow village elders recalled. They came to Doun Rath to buy supplies from residents already living hard lives, growing rice and selling it across the border in Vietnam, before the war flooded the hamlet with refugees from other bomb-ravaged Cambodian villages. But the guerrillas generally weren’t present during the attacks. “Many people here were shot,” said Chneang Sous, who was in his 20s during the conflict. “Most of them were Cambodian.”

When the shooting started, villagers would scatter, running for the uncertain protection of paddy dikes and, as the war dragged on, subterranean bunkers that families dug beside their homes. Min Keun, a teenager in 1969, remembered the regular intrusion of “lobster legs” in the skies over the village. “People would panic. They would run. Sometimes they made it. Sometimes they would be killed,” she recalled. “There was so much suffering.” Min and others remembered helicopters firing on fleeing villagers. Water buffalo and cattle were repeatedly machine-gunned. At night, the helicopters’ bright search beams lit up the darkness as they hunted for enemy forces. Bombs might fall at any time.

Around 1969, Phok’s husband was caught in the open during a “bombardment” and hit in the neck with shrapnel. He hung on for seven days before succumbing to his wounds. Chneang recalled an instance when an American Huey gunship popped up from behind a tree line, forcing villagers to bolt for safety. The helicopter raked the area with machine gunfire, killing his aunt and uncle. Nouv Mom told me that his younger sister was gravely wounded in a 1972 bombing. Vietnamese guerrillas arrived after the attack and took her away for medical treatment, but his family never saw her again. All told, survivors believed that more than half of all the villagers living in Doun Rath during the late 1960s and early 1970s were either killed or wounded by American attacks.

In nearby Doun Rath 2, former village chief Kang Vorn said residents led a simple life before the war, growing rice, beans, and sesame seeds. They began to see Vietnamese guerrillas around 1965, but the bombing didn’t begin until about 1969. Vet Shea, a one-eyed woman, recalled that the attacks intensified as time went on. “Sometimes we were bombed every day. Once, it was three or four times in one day,” she said. She herself survived a helicopter attack targeting farmers working in the nearby fields. “I ran flat out when I saw it,” Vet told me. “One person was wounded. A few others died.”

Thirteen elders of Doun Rath 2 did their best to recall the names of the dead. “Nul, Pik, Num, Seung,” said Sok Yun, an 85-year-old who relied on a weathered walking stick, as she ticked off the names of four villagers killed when their bomb shelter collapsed under a direct hit from an airstrike. Vet said her aunt was slain in another attack. Tep Sarum was just a teenager when a bomb hit his aunt’s house, killing her. Mom Huy, 80 years old at the time of our interview, said deaths and injuries from the bombs were common, while Kang, the former chief, estimated that at least 30 villagers were wounded by airstrikes but survived.

Just how many people in and around Doun Rath and Doun Rath 2 were killed by Nixon and Kissinger’s war was already lost to history when I visited. The U.S. documentary record is quite sparse, but it does exist. On the night of August 9 and the morning of August 10, 1969, according to an Army inspector general’s report, a U.S. “Nighthawk” helicopter team — consisting of one Huey, equipped with a spotlight and high-powered M-60 machine guns, and a Cobra gunship outfitted with a powerful Gatling gun, rockets, and a grenade launcher — was operating in a so-called free fire zone near the South Vietnamese border with Cambodia.

The previously unreported investigation reveals that while only some members of the helicopter crews mentioned sporadic ground fire that night, they all agreed that lights were seen in “living structures.” Helicopter crew members claimed that radar operators told them they were over South Vietnam, but the radar operators said otherwise. One of them, Rogden Palmer, speaking to investigators about the Huey commander, said:

[H]e told his Tiger bird (the cobra accompanying him) that he thought he saw a light. At this time I advised him that he was close to the Cambodian border, and he rogered my transmission. Night Hawk and Tiger started circling … about the same time I advised him that he appeared to be over the border. I don’t remember if he rogered my transmission, but I beleive [sic] he did. At one time I told him he was over the border.

Apparently undaunted, the Huey focused its searchlight on the houses and the Cobra gunship commenced a firing run, blasting three of what the Pentagon documents referred to as “hooches” — shorthand for civilian dwellings — with machine gunfire and rockets filled with “flechettes,” tiny nails designed to tear through human flesh.

The U.S. investigation determined that the helicopters “did engage a target in the vicinity of the Cambodian border which could have been the village of Doun Rath.” The survivors in Doun Rath and Doun Rath 2 didn’t recall this particular incident, emphasizing that attacks were so common for so long that they blended together. The report concluded that the “aircraft commander exercised poor judgement [sic] in engaging a target under these circumstances.” The inspector general, however, recommended that “no disciplinary action be taken,” and until I arrived decades later no one, apparently, had tried to investigate what actually happened in Doun Rath.

Fifty years on, most U.S. attacks in Cambodia are unknown to the wider world and may never be known. Even those confirmed by the U.S. military were ignored and forgotten: cast into history’s dustbin without additional reviews or follow-up investigations.

On January 6, 1970, for example, five helicopters breached Cambodian airspace and fired on the village of Prastah, killing two civilians and severely wounding an 11-year-old girl, according to an Army inspector general’s summary report. That perfunctory review found that helicopter gunships from the 25th Infantry Division had fired on enemy forces, who allegedly withdrew into Cambodia. The inquiry determined that the “gunships continued to engage and rounds did impact in Cambodia.” As to the question of civilian casualties and property damage resulting from the attack, the report stated only that “it was possible that civilian personnel … could have been struck by fire from the gunships and some crops could have been destroyed.” There is no indication that anything was done to compensate the survivors.

In the early evening of May 3, 1970, a helicopter circled the Cambodian village of Sre Kandal several times, scaring villagers and forcing them to flee, according to a formerly classified Army report. The file states that witnesses said a “helicopter of unknown type circled their village several times. They became frightened and started to run, at which time the helicopter allegedly fired.” According to Cambodians who the U.S. military encountered just after the attacks, three people suffered burns when a home was set ablaze in the attack and one person was wounded by shrapnel. One of the burn victims, his name likely engraved in the hearts of his Cambodian relatives but otherwise lost to history, later died.

The Cambodian Campaign (also known as the Cambodian Incursion) was a series of military operations conducted in eastern Cambodia during mid-1970 by the United States (U.S.) and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) during the Vietnam War. A total of 13 major operations were conducted by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) between 29 April and 22 July and by U.S. forces between 1 May and 30 June. (Photo by: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

U.S. helicopter gunships fly over Cambodia in 1970.

Photo: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“Everything Was Completely Destroyed”

Less than a month after Kissinger and Haig began planning the secret bombing of Cambodia, the U.S. launched Operation MENU, a callously titled collection of B-52 raids codenamed BREAKFAST, LUNCH, SNACK, DINNER, DESSERT, and SUPPER that were carried out from March 18, 1969, to May 26, 1970. The attacks were kept secret through multiple layers of deception; Kissinger approved each one of the 3,875 sorties.

Survivors say that living through a B-52 bombing is unimaginably terrifying, bordering on the apocalyptic. Even within the confines of a deep, well-built bomb shelter, the concussive force from a nearby strike might burst eardrums. For those more exposed, the earth-shaking strikes could be extraordinarily lethal.

One morning, at the end of a busted dirt and gravel road near the Vietnamese border, I found Vuth Than, 78 years old at the time, with a shorn head of bristly gray hair and a mouth stained red with juice from betel nut, a natural stimulant popular in Southeast Asia.

Both Vuth and her sister, 72-year-old Vuth Thang, broke down as soon as I explained the purpose of my reporting. They were away from their home in the village of Por when a B-52 strike wiped out 17 members of their family. “I lost my mother, father, sisters, brothers, everyone,” Vuth Than told me, tears streaming down her cheeks. “It was so terrible. Everything was completely destroyed.”

Exposed by North Vietnam’s Hanoi Radio and confirmed by the New York Times in May 1969, the secret bombing of Cambodia was officially denied and unknown to the public and the relevant congressional committees at the time. Congress and the American people were kept so deep in the dark that on April 30, 1970, as he announced the first publicly avowed U.S. ground invasion of Cambodia to strike at suspected enemy base areas, Nixon could baldly lie, telling the country: “For five years neither the United States nor South Vietnam has moved against these enemy sanctuaries because we did not wish to violate the territory of a neutral nation.”

It was only in 1973, during the Watergate scandal, that the secret bombing allegations came to the fore, prompting the first effort to impeach Nixon on the grounds that he had waged a secret war in a neutral nation in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Eventually, that article of impeachment was voted down in the name of political expediency. In the face of the other charges, however, Nixon resigned from office.

“That was in essentially unpopulated areas and I don’t believe it had any significant casualties,” Kissinger told me at the 2010 State Department conference, titled “The American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975,” when I questioned him about the bombing. It was effectively the same reply he offered British journalist David Frost during a 1979 NBC News interview in which Frost charged that Kissinger’s Cambodia policy set in motion a series of events that would “destroy the country.” Kissinger stormed out of the studio after the taping and Frost quit the project, alleging interference by NBC, which was then also employing Kissinger as a consultant and commentator. NBC later released a transcript of the interview but allowed Kissinger to amend his comments through an attached letter to NBC News President William Small.

“We did not start to destroy a country from anybody’s point of view when we were bombing seven isolated North Vietnamese base areas within some five miles of the Vietnamese border, from which attacks were being launched into South Vietnam,” Kissinger told Frost. In typical fashion of seizing on discrepancies and muddying debates, he accurately denied Frost’s contention that Base Area 704 was bombed — a mistake stemming from a typographic error in a Pentagon document — during the secret B-52 attacks, noting that “base area 740” was actually attacked. He said recommendations of targets were accompanied by a statement “that civilian casualties were expected to be minimal.”

There were in fact 1,136 civilians living in Base Area 740, according to the Pentagon; a formerly top secret Air Force report, declassified decades after the Frost interview, noted that only 250 enemy forces were present there. An Army document I discovered in the National Archives also notes that the military was aware that civilians “were wounded/killed by B-52 strikes in Base area 740” between May 16 and 20, 1970, around the time of the SUPPER attacks. According to the confidential case file, those slain and injured were “Montagnards,” members of an ethnic minority whose “hamlets were not accurately reflected on commonly used maps.”

Meak Hen, left; Koul Saron, center; and Meak Nea, right, speak with reporter Nick Turse in Tralok Bek in 2010.

Photos: Tam Turse

“I Was the Only Survivor of My Whole Family”

In 2010, the village was officially known as Ta Sous, but to its inhabitants it was still known by its name during the American war: Tralok Bek. “Every house had a bunker during the war. But during the day, if you were out tending to the cows, your life might depend on a termite hill and whether you could hide behind it,” Meas Lorn explained. “Planes dropped bombs. Helicopters strafed. Many people died,” said Meak Satom, a gray-haired man with a gold tooth. A B-52 strike in 1969 killed about 10 people, including a young friend, he recalled.

While I interviewed locals about the many attacks that occurred there during the war, Sdeung Sokheung said little. But when I brought out a binder filled with photographs of many different types of American aircraft, she zeroed in on an F-4 Phantom. Pointing at it, she said that as a girl, she had witnessed the bombing of Ta Hang village, about eight kilometers away, by that type of plane.

After finishing our interviews in Tralok Bek, I traveled winding dirt roads, past stunted bushes and the occasional thin, tan-colored cow, until we reached an area of dry, rock-hard rice paddies and towering palms. A few minutes later, in a rustic wooden home, I found 64-year-old Chan Yath, a woman with a substantial head of dark hair and teeth stained from chewing betel nut. I asked if there had been a bomb strike in the area during the war. She said yes; a family had been nearly wiped out. The lone survivor, she explained, was her cousin, An Seun. A younger woman was dispatched to find An and, 20 minutes or so later, we saw her — a tiny, aging mother of 10 — ambling along a narrow paddy dike path leading to the rear of Chan’s home. “During the time of a full moon,” said An, referring to a Buddhist holy day, she was off visiting her grandfather’s house. “At around 10 a.m., an airplane dropped a bomb on my home. My parents and four siblings were all killed,” she told me with wet eyes and a catch in her throat. “I was the only survivor of my whole family.”

During these same years, the U.S. was also conducting clandestine, cross-border ground operations inside Cambodia. In the two years before Nixon and Kissinger took over the war, U.S. commandos conducted 99 and 287 missions, respectively. In 1969, the number jumped to 454. Between January 1970 and April 1972, when the program was finally shut down, commandos carried out at least 1,045 covert missions inside Cambodia. There may, however, have been others, ostensibly launched by Kissinger, that were never disclosed.

From January to May 1973, between stints as deputy assistant to the president for national security and White House chief of staff, Al Haig served as the vice chief of staff of the Army. Retired Army Brig. Gen. John Johns told me that during this time, he was in Haig’s office at the Pentagon when an important call came in. “I was briefing him on something, and the red phone rang, which I knew was the White House,” Johns recalled. “I got up to leave. He motioned me to sit down. I sat there and heard him tell them how to cover up our intrusions into Cambodia.”

Johns — who had never before revealed the story to a reporter — was relatively sure that Haig was referring to past covert actions, yet did not know if the operations were made public or who was on the other end of the phone line. But Kissinger was responsible for many of the cross-border missions, according to Roger Morris, a Kissinger aide who served on the senior staff of the National Security Council. “A lot of the time, he was authorizing the ongoing covert excursions into Cambodia,” he told me. “We were running a lot of covert ops there.”

Illustration: Matthieu Bourel for The Intercept; Source Photograph: AP

“How Could the People Escape?”

After two days of driving local roads asking for directions, I turned off a highway onto a red dirt track that cut through lush farmland and finally spilled into a border village of simple wooden homes amid a sea of variegated greenery. During the war, these houses had looked much the same, said village chief Sheang Heng, a wiry man with calloused hands and bare feet wearing a loose dress shirt that had once been white. The only real change was that corrugated metal had replaced most of the old thatch and tile roofs.

In 1970, when Sheang was 17 years old, this village was on the front line of America’s Cambodian incursion. Halfway around the world, at Kent State University, members of the Ohio National Guard killed four students during a May 4, 1970, protest against this new stage in the war. While that massacre received worldwide attention, a larger one in Sheang’s village three days earlier went unnoticed.

On May 1, 1970, helicopters circled the Cambodian village of “Moroan” (an American’s phonetic spelling of the name) before opening fire, killing 12 villagers and wounding five, according to a formerly classified U.S. document that, until now, has never been publicly disclosed. After the assault, another helicopter landed and carried off the injured; the survivors fled their village to another named “Kantuot,” located in a neighboring district.

There is no village in Cambodia named “Moroan,” but the hamlet near the Vietnamese border where I located Sheang was, he said, called Mroan. As in the other Cambodian border villages I visited, focusing on a lone attack cited in U.S. military documents left residents baffled, given that they had endured many airstrikes over many years. Still, when asked about the date, Sheang gestured toward what is now the far edge of the village. “Many died in that area at that time,” he recalled. “Afterward, the people left this village for another named Kantuot.”

Mroan, Cambodia, in 2010.

Photo: Tam Turse

Sheang and Lim South, who was 14 years old in 1970, said that many types of aircraft battered Mroan, from helicopter gunships to massive B-52 bombers. As Sheang — who lost his mother, father, a grandfather, a nephew, and a niece, among other relatives, to airstrikes — told me about the relentless attacks, his eyes reddened and went vacant. “The explosions tossed the earth into the air. The ‘fire rocket’ burned the houses. Who could survive? People ran, but they were cut down. They were killed immediately. They just died,” he said, trailing off as he moved to a far corner of the room and slumped to his knees.

Each survivor told a similar story. Lim’s sister and three brothers were killed in bombing raids. Thlen Hun, who was in her 20s in the early 1970s, said her older brother was killed in an airstrike. South Chreung — shirtless in dress pants with a vibrant orange krama, the traditional Cambodian scarf, around his neck — told me that he had lost a younger brother in a different attack.

Villagers said that when they first saw American aircraft overhead, they were awestruck. Having never seen anything like the giant machines, people came out to stare at them. Soon, however, residents of Mroan learned to fear them. Cooking rice became dangerous as Americans flying above would see the smoke and launch attacks. Helicopters, survivors said, routinely strafed both the nearby fields and the village itself, then comprised of about 100 homes. “This one was the most vicious,” said Sheang, pointing at a photograph of a Cobra gunship among pictures of other aircraft I provided. When the “coconut shell” helicopter, a U.S. Army OH-6 or “Loach,” marked an area with smoke, villagers recalled, the Cobra would attack, firing rockets that set homes ablaze. “During the American War, almost all houses in the village were burned,” said Sheang.

Sheang and Thlen said that about half the families in Mroan — some 250 people — were wiped out by U.S. attacks. They led me to the edge of the village, a riot of foliage in every shade of green that sloped into a depression, one of several remaining nearby bomb craters. “About 20 people were killed here,” said Sheang gesturing toward the crater. “It used to be deeper, but the land has filled it in.” Thlen — slim, with graying hair, her brown eyes narrowed in a perpetual squint — shook her head and walked to the crater’s edge. “It was disastrous. Just look at the size,” she said, adding that this hole was just one of many that once dotted the landscape. “How could the people escape? Where could they escape to?”

A boy stands at the edge of a bomb crater in Mroan in 2010.

Photo: Tam Turse

The Stolen Suzuki and the Girl Left to Die

The results of Nixon’s December 1970 telephone tirade and Kissinger’s order to set “anything that flies on anything that moves” were immediately palpable. During that month, sorties by U.S. helicopters and bombers tripled in number. Soon after, in May 1971, U.S. helicopter gunships shot up a Cambodian village, wounding a young girl who couldn’t be taken for treatment because a U.S. officer overloaded his helicopter with a looted motorcycle that was later gifted to a superior, according to an Army investigation and exclusive follow-up reporting by The Intercept. The Cambodian girl almost certainly died from her wounds, along with seven other civilians, according to previously unreported documents produced by a Pentagon war crimes task force in 1972.

How many similar killings occurred will never be known. Cover-ups were common, investigations were rarely undertaken, and crimes generally evaporated with the fog of war. But there were ample opportunities for mayhem and massacre. In the two years before Nixon took office, there were officially 426 helicopter gunship sorties in Cambodia, according to a Defense Department report. Between January 1970 and April 1972, there were at least 2,116. In January 1971, Congress enacted the Cooper-Church amendment, which prohibited U.S. troops, including advisers, from operating on the ground in Cambodia, but America’s war continued unabated. Evidence soon emerged that the U.S. was violating Cooper-Church, but the White House lied about it to Congress and the public. “As long as we didn’t set our foot on that ground, we basically weren’t there, even though we did missions there every day,” Gary Grawey, an Army helicopter crew chief who flew daily missions in Cambodia during the spring of 1971, including the May mission that killed the young girl, told me.

“They attacked that village,” Grawey said, noting that both the South Vietnamese and American troops shot up the hamlet. “They were shootin’ and they didn’t even know who they were shootin’ at,” he recalled, adding that the victims were “women and children,” just “regular villagers.”

It started at half past noon on May 18, 1971, according to an Army investigation file and previously unreported summary documents produced by a Pentagon task force in 1972, when three U.S. helicopters — a “hunter-killer team” conducting a reconnaissance mission — skimmed the treetops inside Cambodia. The team came upon a village where they spotted motorcycles and bicycles that, according to crew members’ testimony, were suspected of being part of an enemy supply convoy. Hovering above, the Americans tried to motion for people on the ground to open packs on the vehicles. When the villagers instead began moving away, the highest-flying helicopter fired two incendiary rockets, a numbingly common tactic to draw out enemy personnel who might be hiding nearby. While the crew of one of the helicopters reported taking isolated ground fire, no Americans were killed or wounded, nor were any enemy personnel or weapons ever found.

According to a confidential report discovered in the U.S. National Archives and published here for the first time, the high-flying helicopter then “rocketed and strafed the buildings and surrounding area with approximately 15 to 18 rounds of high explosive rockets and machine gun fire.”

Capt. Clifford Knight, pilot of the “low bird,” said that his gunner shot an apparently unarmed man, clad in civilian clothes, who was “trying to run away.” The gunner, John Nicholes, admitted it, noting that the killing took place after the initial rocket barrage.

Capt. David Schweitzer, the “high bird” commander, testified to rocketing and strafing the area and calling for the insertion of South Vietnamese, or Army of the Republic of Vietnam, troops to search for suspected enemy forces. According to a summary of the testimony of Grawey, the helicopter crew chief who ferried an elite ARVN Ranger team and an American captain, Arnold Brooks, to the village:

CPT Brooks and the ARVN Rangers acted “hog wild” when they deplaned, shooting up the area although they received no return fire. … [H]e did observe 5 to 10 Cambodian personnel that appeared to be wounded, but that he did not know if they were wounded from air or ground fire.

Decades later, Grawey reconfirmed details of the incident in an interview, noting that, as the ARVN deployed from the helicopter, he told Brooks that “he was not to get off my bird.” But Brooks, whom Grawey described as “gung ho,” pulled rank and ignored him. Brooks — who he said was carrying a non-regulation “machinegun” — started shooting indiscriminately.

Davin McLaughlin, the commander of a replacement “low bird” that was called in when the first helicopter ran short on fuel, similarly noted that the South Vietnamese met no resistance and, according to the documents, “grabbed what they could.” A summary of the testimony of his gunner, Len Shattuck, in the investigation file adds:

The ARVN Rangers appeared melodramatic when they were inserted and in his opinion fired excessively in the area. … He stated that there were approximately 15 wounded personnel in the area and that he observed 2 males 50-60 years of age, and one female 8-10 years of age, that appeared to be dead.

In a 2010 interview, Shattuck told me that he didn’t fire a shot that day and stressed that he only saw one section of the village. What he saw there, however, stayed with him. “We came into a smoking village,” he said. “I witnessed dead bodies. I witnessed some wounded people that appeared to be civilians. … We didn’t evac[uate] anybody.” Shattuck remembered the little girl as even younger than indicated by his testimony, just 3 to 5 years old, and that she was covered with blood. “She was pretty badly shot up,” he recalled.

As Cambodians lay wounded and dying, the ARVN Rangers looted the village, grabbing ducks, chickens, wallets, clothing, cigarettes, tobacco, civilian radios, and other nonmilitary items, according to numerous American witnesses. “They were stealing everything they could get their hands on,” Capt. Thomas Agness, the pilot of the helicopter that carried Brooks and some of the ARVN, told me. Brooks, however, had the biggest score of all. With the help of South Vietnamese troops, he hauled a blue Suzuki motorcycle onto a helicopter, according to Army documents. Brooks acknowledged his service in Cambodia during a telephone conversation and asked for a formal interview request by email. He did not respond to that request or subsequent ones.

Agness, according to an Army investigator’s summary, said that he received “a radio request to evacuate a wounded girl [but] denied on instructions of CPT Brooks since he was fully loaded with the ARVN Ranger team, a motorcycle and he was low on fuel.” The stolen Suzuki was presented as a gift to his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Carl Putnam, who was later seen tooling around base on it, according to the investigation documents. The Army concluded that the wounded girl, left behind for the sake of the Suzuki, died.

Furious, Gary Grawey resolved to report Arnold Brooks. “I was really pissed at the time,” he told me. “I said I would report him, which I did.” A previously unreported final status report on the “Brooks Incident,” contained in the files of the Pentagon war crimes task force, concluded that allegations of excessive bombardment, pillage, and a violation of the rules of engagement had been “substantiated.” While no enemy weapons or war materiel were found in the village, according to the report, civilian casualties “were estimated at eight dead, including two children, 15 wounded and three or four structures destroyed. There is no evidence that the wounded were provided medical treatment by either U.S. or ARVN forces.”

Putnam and a direct subordinate were issued letters of reprimand — a low-grade punishment — for their “actions and/or inactions” in the case. (Putnam died in 1976.) While court martial charges were filed against Brooks, his commanding general dismissed them in 1972, instead giving him a letter of reprimand. Records indicate that no other troops were charged, let alone punished, in connection with the massacre, the looting, or the failure to render aid to wounded Cambodian civilians.

A U.S. jet bombs a suspected Khmer Rouge advance position while a government soldier walks into the dry rice field with a gun on his shoulder in Samrong, Cambodia, on July 10, 1973.

Photo: Roland Neveu/LightRocket via Getty Images

Backing the Genocidaires

When Henry Kissinger hatched his plans for the secret bombing of Cambodia, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge numbered around 5,000. But as a 1973 CIA cable explained, the Khmer Rouge’s recruitment efforts relied heavily on the U.S. bombing:

They are using damage caused by B-52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda. … The [Khmer Rouge] cadre tell the people … the only way to stop “the massive destruction of the country” is to remove [U.S.-backed junta leader] Lon Nol and return Prince Sihanouk to power. The proselyting cadres tell the people that the quickest way to accomplish this is to strengthen [Khmer Rouge] forces so they will be able to defeat Lon Nol and stop the bombing.

The U.S. dropped more than 257,000 tons of munitions on Cambodia in 1973, almost the same amount as during the previous four years combined. A report by the U.S. Agency for International Development found that “the intense American bombing in 1973 increased the cumulative number of refugees to nearly half of the country’s population.”

Those attacks galvanized Pol Pot’s forces, allowing the Khmer Rouge to grow into the 200,000-person force that took over the country and killed about 20 percent of the population. Once the regime was in power, the political winds had shifted and Kissinger, behind closed doors, told Thailand’s foreign minister: “You should also tell the Cambodians that we will be friends with them. They are murderous thugs, but we won’t let that stand in our way. We are prepared to improve relations with them.” He then clarified his statement: The Thai official should not repeat the “murderous thugs” line to the Khmer Rouge, only that the U.S. wanted a warmer relationship.

In late 1978, Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge from power, driving Pol Pot’s forces to the Thai border. The U.S., however, threw its support behind Pol Pot, encouraging other nations to back his forces, funneling aid to his allies, helping him keep Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations, and opposing efforts to investigate or try Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide.

That same year, Kissinger’s mammoth memoir, “White House Years” was published. As journalist William Shawcross pointed out, Kissinger failed to even mention the carnage in Cambodia because “for Kissinger, Cambodia was a sideshow, its people expendable in the great game of large nations.”

In 2001 and again in 2018, the late chef and cultural critic Anthony Bourdain offered sentiments shared by many, but rarely put so eloquently:

Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia — the fruits of his genius for statesmanship — and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Miloševic.

In the early 2000s, Kissinger was sought for questioning in connection with human rights abuses by former South American military dictatorships, but he ducked investigators, once declining to appear before a court in France and quickly leaving Paris after receiving a summons. He was never charged or prosecuted for deaths in Cambodia or anywhere else.

Illustration: Matthieu Bourel for The Intercept; Source Photograph: Getty Images

“Play With It. Have a Good Time.”

“To spare you is no profit; to destroy you, no loss” was the cold credo of the Khmer Rouge. But it could just as easily have been Kissinger’s. In 2010, I followed up with Kissinger, pressing him on the contradiction in his claims about only bombing “North Vietnamese in Cambodia” but somehow killing 50,000 Cambodians, by his count, in the process. “We weren’t running around the country bombing Cambodians,” he told me.

The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates otherwise, and I told him so.

“Oh, come on!” Kissinger exclaimed, protesting that I was merely trying to catch him in a lie. When pressed about the substance of the question — that Cambodians were bombed and killed — Kissinger became visibly angry. “What are you trying to prove?” he growled and then, when I refused to give up, he cut me off: “Play with it,” he told me. “Have a good time.”

I asked him to answer Meas Lorn’s question: “Why did they drop bombs here?” He refused.

“I’m not smart enough for you,” Kissinger said sarcastically, as he stomped his cane. “I lack your intelligence and moral quality.” He stalked off.

Cambodians in villages like Tralok Bek, Doun Rath, and Mroan didn’t have the luxury of such an easy escape.

The post Survivors of Kissinger’s Secret War in Cambodia Reveal Unreported Mass Killings appeared first on The Intercept.

23 May. 2023

From the moment Joe Biden announced his candidacy, the biggest risk the country faced from a potential Biden presidency was that he would wind up in high-stakes negotiations with Republican congressional leaders and those Republicans would fleece him blind.

For months, Biden insisted that he wouldn’t ever be in that room, because he simply wasn’t going to negotiate with Republicans over lifting the debt ceiling. But he also poured cold water on invoking the 14th Amendment or minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin, which handed Republicans all the leverage. Biden also had the chance to lift the debt ceiling at any point from January 2021 until last December when Democrats still controlled both houses of Congress. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., recently told Politico not doing so is one of his biggest regrets. 

Instead, Biden went into negotiations with congressional Republicans without a serious offer of his own. He made a few half-hearted suggestions that a better way to cut the deficit is to target hedge fund managers and the superrich. But when Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy objected, he dropped it. Talks continued at the White House between McCarthy and Biden Monday evening. But with Biden now negotiating the size of the cut, Democrats’ only hope is that Republicans can’t agree and fail to seize the moment.

All of this is reminiscent of the last time Biden, as vice president, intervened in high-stakes Capitol Hill negotiations. Afterward, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ordered the White House to never send him down again. He did such a bad job that he got a worse deal out of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell than McConnell had already agreed to give Reid. I covered this moment in my last book, We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to AOC, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement,” which was excerpted in The Intercept.

It all came at the end of 2012, and the circumstances were similar. President Barack Obama had just stomped Republican Mitt Romney at the polls in a post-Occupy campaign that centered on economic inequality. Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate, expanding their majority to 53 and adding Elizabeth Warren to their ranks. Though Democrats won more House votes nationwide and picked up a net of eight seats, Republicans held onto the House narrowly.

The major tax cuts pushed through by President George W. Bush were set to expire at the end of 2012, creating what was called a fiscal cliff. If Congress did nothing, taxes would go up on everybody. Reid told me in an interview for “We’ve Got People” that going over the cliff was precisely his plan. Reid said, “I thought that would have been the best thing to do because the conversation would not have been about raising taxes, which it became, it would have been about lowering taxes.”

In other words, let all the rates go up and then bargain with Republicans to reduce taxes just for middle class and poor people. McConnell similarly knew the difficult position going over the cliff would put him in, and in talks with Reid, he agreed to let rates on people making more than $250,000 per year go back up. 

Reid felt like he had successfully pushed McConnell to the brink; McConnell had a strong sense that Reid intended to go over the cliff and put Republicans up against a wall. It was now Sunday, December 30, 2012, and Democrats only had to hold out until Tuesday to find themselves in a dramatically improved political position, as the dawning of the new year would mean the tax cuts expired and automatically reverted to pre-Bush levels. At that point, it would be Republicans who would be left pleading for rate cuts.

“Biden gave Republicans everything they wanted in exchange for fixing the fiscal cliff problem.”

In desperation, McConnell reached out directly to Vice President Biden, calling him on the phone and explaining that Reid was refusing to be reasonable. Over the course of the day, McConnell and Biden struck a deal. A senior Republican aide told me, “Biden gave Republicans everything they wanted in exchange for fixing the fiscal cliff problem.” 

Just like today, the fiscal cliff was only a problem because Biden allowed it to be. Reid would have been happy to drive the car off the cliff and then fight it out amid the wreckage. 

In the same way, Biden could have just ignored the debt ceiling, invoked the 14th Amendment, declaring the debt ceiling unconstitutional, and dared Chief Justice John Roberts to blow up the global economy. McCarthy himself would publicly complain but be privately relieved that he had gotten through this moment with his speakership intact. Future presidents would thank Biden. If future Congresses wanted to rein in spending, they could rein in spending. But they could not threaten the global economy to do it.

On the morning of New Year’s Eve back in 2012, Reid was still feeling good about his position, still ignorant of what Biden had given away. Then McConnell took to the Senate floor and announced that he’d been in talks with the vice president, they were progressing well, and he was hopeful that they’d have legislation to move by the end of the day.

As details of the deal began leaking out, progressive Democratic senators were floored. A large group of them — including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Al Franken of Minnesota, and Tom Harkin of Iowa — stormed over to Reid’s office.

The deal was awful, they told Reid, and it had to be stopped. Reid told them what had happened, that it was out of his hands and that McConnell had gone around him to Biden. He said he was working on improving it and would be in touch throughout the day.

None of the senators had any business scheduled — it was New Year’s Eve, after all — so Sanders invited them back to his office in the Dirksen building. The Hart building had a popcorn machine, so Harkin asked his staff to bring some by. The crew ended up spending several hours together in Sanders’s office, thinking through potential strategies of opposition and waiting to hear from Reid.

Instead, one senator’s phone rang, and it was Biden, calling to sell the deal he had cut. In classic Biden fashion, he offered a 10- to 15-minute soliloquy, a meandering argument that largely boiled down to, “You can trust me; I’m your friend; this is a good deal.” The senator could barely get a word in before the conversation ended.

Moments after he hung up, another cellphone rang, and it was Biden again. Unaware that the group was all together, Biden proceeded to call each of them, one after the other, delivering the same spiel. 


Joe Biden Bragged About Getting Republicans to Raise Taxes in 2012. It Was Actually a Disaster for Democrats.

Ultimately, it fell to Reid to drag the progressive senators into line. Once it was clear that the White House was on board with Biden’s deal and McConnell was all in, that meant that there would be at least 70 or 80 votes for it. The progressive bloc could vote no, but it would only send a message of discord and have no effect on the outcome, Reid told them, coaxing them to support the deal he himself loathed. In the end, all the progressive senators except Harkin voted for the deal. It passed 89-8.

Years later, Reid still regretted how it went down. He told me, “If we’d have gone over the cliff, we’d have had resources to do a lot of good things in the country — infrastructure development — but it didn’t work out that way.” Letting all the tax rates go back to pre-Bush levels would have yielded the Treasury around $3 trillion over 10 years. Without the deal, taxes on dividend payments to the rich would have been set at 39.6 percent. Under the terms of the deal, they would be set at 20 percent, meaning that the superwealthy would be paying lower tax rates on their passive dividend income than many working people would pay on their wages. It helped fuel the inequality that keeps getting worse and added trillions to the debt at the same time. 

Now Biden has another chance to be in the room, and so far, he’s getting outmaneuvered by McCarthy.

The post That Time Joe Biden Was Banned From Negotiating With Republicans appeared first on The Intercept.

23 May. 2023

Clare Lahey has lived with her husband in the home he grew up in, just up the street from the Housatonic River in the town of Lee, Massachusetts, for nearly five decades. Now, in the twilight of their lives, they’re watching as the same chemicals that have ravaged the health of people living along the river for years are now being dredged and dumped near their home. 

Lahey has had bladder cancer twice, 15 years apart; her husband is wracked with illnesses including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease even though he never smoked. She believes that proximity to the river is to blame for their health problems, and she’s not alone: The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, warns that the river’s PCBs are likely to cause cancer in humans, and a Massachusetts Department of Public Health study on the cancer link is scheduled to be released this year.

“Why don’t we just move away?” Lahey asked. “Well, because he’s 85 and I’m 82, and we want to finish out our lives here.”

Lee is a working-class town in the heart of the Berkshires, a rural region near the New York border known for its scenic beauty. It’s also known, among locals, as a place polluted by PCBs, dangerous industrial chemicals manufactured by Monsanto and used by General Electric in the electric transformers the company manufactured and serviced. GE ran a plant in the county’s largest city, Pittsfield, and dumped PCBs into the local Housatonic River from 1932 to 1977, when Monsanto ceased production. In 1979, the EPA made PCBs illegal.

Trails in the woods of  Woods Pond. This is the area where GE wants to dump PCBs that they will dredge from the river. Apparently, this park will be closed for more than a year while GE bury’s the PCBs. (A group of ATV riders went the wrong way on the road and turned around to get to the ATV trails) Lee, Massachusets

Trails lead through Woods Pond park near the site of the proposed dump site in Lee, Mass. The town has filed a lawsuit against Monsanto as part of an attempt to find an alternative site outside of the region.

Photo: Lori Grinker/Contact Press Images for The Intercept

After decades of efforts by local and state leaders and federal agencies like the EPA, GE in 2000 began cleaning the river and nearby areas. But the latest round of dredging, expected to begin in the next few years, would put a dump site in Lee. Residents of the town as well as local leaders — including the Housatonic Environmental Action League and the Housatonic River Initiative, who are challenging the plan in the First Circuit Court of Appeals — are resisting the decision. 

The town has filed a lawsuit against Monsanto as part of an attempt to find an alternative site outside of the region. 

The lawsuit is asking for compensatory and natural resource damages and for a court order “that will require Monsanto to deposit funds awarded by a jury into an escrow account so that Lee has the funds to move the 2,000,000 tons of PCB soil and mud projected to be dumped in Lee to an out of state location.” Lee Select Board chair Bob Jones told The Intercept that the town doesn’t have a specific site in mind, “although there are certainly licensed sites in existence.”

“We’re hoping if we can show that Monsanto produced these toxic items, cancer-causing PCBs, that if we can come up with enough money to have that, we can then leverage GE taking the stuff out of the area and not having a waste dump in the town of Lee,” Jones said. “That’s really what we’re looking for.”

Bayer, the pharmaceutical giant that bought Monsanto in 2018, rejects the lawsuit completely. The company’s director of U.S. external communications, Nicole Hayes, told The Intercept in an emailed comment that Bayer believes the lawsuit “is meritless.” 

“There is no legal basis for imposing liability on Monsanto for the lawful sale of PCBs into the stream of commerce more than four decades ago, over which Monsanto had no control,” Hayes said. “Furthermore, Monsanto ceased its lawful production of PCBs more than 45 years ago and never disposed of PCBs in or near the Town.” The lawsuit does not accuse Monsanto of dumping PCBs, only of manufacturing them, and makes clear that GE was the offending party for the chemical disposal.

Despite Monsanto’s claims, a memo published by the Poison Papers project in 2017 shows that the company was aware of the problems posed by PCBs at least as early as 1969, eight years before it stopped producing the chemicals. The memo shows that Monsanto knew that PCBs could have detrimental effects on people’s health and that the evidence for its persistence in the environment was “beyond questioning.” A series of potential solutions was offered, including immediate cessation of PCB production; the company, apparently, chose the “do nothing” option.

Lee isn’t the first municipality to take Monsanto to court over its production of PCBs that other companies later dumped. Similar efforts in Washington state, California, Missouri, and elsewhere have had varied levels of success: Some cases have been settled, some have resulted in the company being ordered to pay restitution, and others have been found in Monsanto’s favor. 

“I feel like we have a good chance of winning because this is so clearly unjust,” Lahey said.

Lee, Massachusets

Signs in town advocate against the future PCB dump site in Lee, Mass., on May 21, 2023.

Photo: Lori Grinker/Contact Press Images for The Intercept

In 2016, the EPA made an agreement with GE and other nearby towns that GE would dredge the river and remove the contaminated soil out of the county. No sooner was the agreement made, Jones said, than GE went to court to change the parameters. That led to a mediated agreement, done in private with representatives from the affected towns — Lee, Pittsfield, Lenox, Great Barrington, and Sheffield — the EPA, GE, and environmental groups including the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, or BEAT, that resulted in the dump site being placed in Lee. 

Jones and Lahey are among the Berkshire residents in and outside of Lee who feel that what they see as the secrecy of the process — former Select Board member Patricia Carlino was the town’s representative — did a disservice to the people of the town. 

“To mediate, negotiate, and seal a deal without any knowledge or input from the general public is a failure of representative government,” Jones told The Intercept. 

The agreement was signed by the Select Board after 18 months of closed-door sessions and without consulting the rest of the town, something that still angers anti-dump residents. Under the agreement with GE and the EPA, Lee will get $25 million from GE in exchange for the dump site. If the town rejects the site, the funding is off the table. 

“A PCB dump was imposed on a town of only about 5,500 people, plus or minus, without their knowledge,” Jones said.

Clare Lahey stands in the area between the Eurovia asnd and gravel mining company  the line of  trees at the edges of the GE property.  The tree area is a 50 acre parcel of which 25 will be used by GE to  dump PCBs that they will dredge from the Housatonic River (to the left beyond where we can see), Lee, Massachusets

Clare Lahey stands near the future PCB dump site, an area with porous sand that is close to the Housatonic River, in Lee, Mass., on May 21, 2023.

Photo: Lori Grinker/Contact Press Images for The Intercept

Jane Winn, BEAT executive director, agrees that Monsanto should be held responsible for its role in producing PCBs. She remembers a time when the river and surrounding wetlands were in far worse shape than they are today, due to the chemical’s corrosive damage. The river used to change color and catch fire, she said.

Despite Winn’s support for the lawsuit, she doesn’t think it’s likely to succeed. Winn, as BEAT executive director, was a signatory to the consent decree putting the dump in Lee. She told The Intercept that while she’d like to see a more permanent remedial solution, “the site they’ve chosen, if it has to be in the Berkshires, is a reasonable site.” 

Winn said that the dump in Lee is a “downside” to the cleanup but that the trade-off of having low-level contaminant soil put in the town site is the compromise in order to get to that point. She understands that Lee feels it’s been treated unfairly but urged perspective: “They’re getting more sediment out of the river in Lee because of it.”

There’s some outright local opposition to Lee’s lawsuit. The Berkshire Eagle, in an opinion piece taking issue with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s written support for the Lee effort, questioned what the next move would be if the dump were stopped and endorsed the site as an imperfect but ultimately necessary solution to the river’s pollution. 

“While the dump disproportionately affects Lee (and Lenox Dale), the fate of a comprehensive Housatonic cleanup plan matters to a much broader part of the Berkshire community,” the paper’s editorial board wrote in the unsigned opinion piece. “Whatever the intensity of the understandable hard feelings in Lee, it’s reasonable to ask what the procedural limits of reflexive opposition are here.”

It’s not lost on Jones that the site is in the poorest town of the towns involved in the discussions. “It’s a working-class town,” Jones said. “It was a mill town, but the mills are gone.”

“We’re the ones who have to bear the burden of it,” he added.

The post A Massachusetts Town Is Suing Monsanto for Its Cancer-Causing PCBs appeared first on The Intercept.

23 May. 2023

After killing Joe Biden’s audacious Build Back Better legislation in 2021 and emerging as a constant roadblock to Democrats’ sweeping climate agenda, Sen. Joe Manchin’s sprawling coal empire became the focus of intense scrutiny for its impact on the citizens and ecosystem of northern West Virginia. What went unnoticed at the time was another company the senator is quietly profiting off of, housed in the very same building where his coal company Enersystems is headquartered, with an even greater reach.

Manchin has said in recent weeks that he won’t rule out running to replace Biden in the 2024 presidential election. He maintains a cozy relationship with the moderate political nonprofit No Labels, which has raised tens of millions of dollars to run a third-party presidential ticket in 2024, and he himself has raised millions from special interest groups cheering on his intransigence. But while Manchin has long cultivated the image of a liberty-loving champion, his financial ties to a biometric surveillance company draw a sharp contrast.


As Manchin Eyes Presidential Run, His Allies at No Labels Face Mounting Legal Challenges

For decades, Manchin has been the landlord of the lucrative biometric surveillance firm co-founded in 1991 by his then-23-year-old daughter Heather Bresch, along with her late husband Jack Kirby and Manchin’s brother-in-law, Manuel Llaneza.

According to Tygart Technology’s website, its mission focuses on “leveraging technology to support National Security.” Since at least 1999, the company has operated out of the Manchin Professional Building, where Manchin has collected tens of thousands of dollars in rent over the years, according to deed records, patent applications, and financial disclosures recording rent collection from the enterprise.

The firm received large contracts from the West Virginia state government in the years that Manchin served as secretary of state and then as governor. In more recent years, Tygart has secured tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts from law enforcement and defense agencies to supply biometric data collection services to intelligence operations in West Virginia and across the country.

Bresch has held no financial interests in the company since her divorce from Kirby in 1999, according to reporting from the Charleston Gazette, but she is still registered as an agent for the company, according to West Virginia Secretary of State records. Kirby died in 2019, but Tygart’s new president also has ties to the senator. John Waugaman served on Manchin’s transition team for governor, according to the company’s website, and has donated some $12,000 to Manchin in the past decade. Neither a spokesperson for Manchin nor Tygart Technology responded to The Intercept’s questions.

While the Pentagon and contractors like Tygart justify mass biometric surveillance in the name of national security, both civil liberties advocates and members of Congress have moved to head off what they view as excessive and dangerous data collection.

Federal lawmakers, led by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., have introduced legislation since 2021 to ban biometric surveillance by the federal government, citing civil liberties advocates’ concerns about racial bias in biometric technology and the mass collection of personal data. Manchin has not supported this year’s bill or its previous iterations.

“The year is 2023, but we are living through 1984,” Markey said during the bill’s reintroduction this year. “Between the risks of sliding into a surveillance state and the dangers of perpetuating discrimination, this technology creates more problems than solutions. Every American who values their right to privacy, stands against discrimination, and believes people are innocent until proven guilty should be concerned. Enacting a federal moratorium on this technology is critical to ensure our communities are protected from inappropriate surveillance.”

“For a senator to be attached to an industrial-scale biometrics operation used in a wide range of criminal justice contexts is unsettling.”

John Davisson, director of litigation and senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, said Manchin’s connection to the mass collection of biometric data — which he described as an “alarming activity” — is cause for concern. “Particularly when in the hands of law enforcement, mass biometric technology poses a heightened risk of civil liberties violations,” he told The Intercept. “For a senator to be attached to an industrial-scale biometrics operation used in a wide range of criminal justice contexts is unsettling.”

Tygart received its first contract from West Virginia in 2000, eventually billing the state for more than $6 million, including web service subcontracts worth tens of thousands of dollars. In 2006, the state auditor launched an investigation into the company as part of a larger audit request by then-Secretary of State Betty Ireland, embroiling Manchin, then governor, in a no-bid contract scandal for services rendered by Tygart Technology.

The audit ultimately found that Tygart’s accounting procedures were error-ridden, but the auditor nonetheless ruled that “on the surface, there seems to be no criminal intent.” The majority of contracts involving Tygart came in under $10,000, the threshold required under state law for a competitive bidding process. In the months following the audit, Manchin signed House Bill 4031, which raised the cap for no-bid contracts from $10,000 to $25,000.

By 2009, Tygart was picking up federal contracts. The company has raked in over $117 million in government contracts to provide technology and software products to a host of federal agencies, including the FBI, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, the General Services Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services. The company’s federal contracts peaked in 2015, when it brought in $19.1 million. So far this year, Tygart has $4.8 million worth of business with federal agencies.

The firm’s Pentagon contracts include providing support for an Automated Biometric Information System, or ABIS, which stores and queries millions of peoples’ biometric files collected both domestically and abroad.

At the same time that Tygart was doing business with the Defense Department, Manchin was touting the Pentagon’s biometrics surveillance work and warning about looming budget cuts.

“I am a strong supporter of the work done at this facility,” Manchin said during a 2013 Armed Services Committee hearing, referring to a biometrics center in Clarksburg, West Virginia. “More than 6,000 terrorists have been captured or killed as a direct result of the real-time information provided by ABIS to [Special Operations Forces] working in harm’s way. However, the funding for this work will run out on April 4, 2013.”

Manchin went on to vote for the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 to raise limits on discretionary appropriations, which allowed for more funding for the Clarksburg facility.

At the same time that Tygart was doing business with the Defense Department, Manchin was touting the Pentagon’s biometrics surveillance work and warning about looming budget cuts.

Two years later, Manchin was cheering on investments in biometric surveillance in his home state. In 2015, he welcomed attendees to the Identification Intelligence Expo, which was held in West Virginia for the first time. Tygart was among the attendees, which also included representatives from multiple divisions of the FBI and major defense contractors like Northrop Grumman. That same year, the FBI opened a new biometric technology center on its Clarksburg campus, bringing the Defense Department and FBI’s biometric operations under one roof. “I think we all have to realize it’s a very troubled world we live in,” Manchin said during the ribbon cutting. ”We’re going to have to continue to stay ahead of the curve and be on the cutting edge of technology.”

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the joint FBI/Defense Department facility can screen an individual through both the military’s massive ABIS and the FBI’s sprawling fingerprint database, known as IAFIS. “The IAFIS database includes the fingerprint records of more than 51 million persons who have been arrested in the United States as well as information submitted by other agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and Interpol,” the report reads.

Tygart Technology supplies the hardware used to collect biometric data processed in Clarksburg through its MXSERVER and MatchBox technologies, a contract worth tens of millions of dollars. These facial recognition products are used to search photographic and video databases and monitor surveillance camera streams in real time.

The technology allows law enforcement officials to track a person’s movement, scan through social media to find people, and identify individuals “using smart phones — including the ability to quickly scan crowds for threats using a mobile device’s embedded video camera.”

That the Pentagon and the Defense Department are jointly using such technologies is a recipe for violating Americans’ civil liberties, said Davisson of EPIC. “Anytime you’ve got a center like this that’s combining these two operations of criminal enforcement and national security,” he said, “there’s a risk and almost a certainty that the center is going to be blurring lines and running afoul of limitations on what the FBI is allowed to do in a law enforcement context.”

The post Joe Manchin Rents Office Space to Firm Powering FBI, Pentagon Biometric Surveillance Center appeared first on The Intercept.

22 May. 2023

Their protest encampment razed, the Indigenous-led environmental movement at North Dakota’s Standing Rock reservation was searching for a new tactic. By March 2017, the fight over the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline had been underway for months. Leaders of the movement to defend Indigenous rights on the land — and its waterways — had a new aim: to march on Washington.

Native leaders and activists, calling themselves water protectors, wanted to show the newly elected President Donald Trump that they would continue to fight for their treaty rights to lands including the pipeline route. The march would be called “Native Nations Rise.”

Law enforcement was getting ready too — and discussing plans with Energy Transfer, the parent company of the Dakota Access pipeline. Throughout much of the uprising against the pipeline, the National Sheriffs’ Association talked routinely with TigerSwan, Energy Transfer’s lead security firm on the project, working hand in hand to craft pro-pipeline messaging. A top official with the sheriffs’ PR contractor, Off the Record Strategies, floated a plan to TigerSwan’s lead propagandist, a man named Robert Rice.

An email from Off the Record Strategies, working for the National Sheriffs’ Association to plan information operations to influence the narrative around the Dakota Access Pipeline.

An email from Off the Record Strategies, working for the National Sheriffs’ Association to plan information operations to influence the narrative around the Dakota Access pipeline.

Public record via the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board

“Thoughts on a crew or a news reporter — or someone pretending to be — with a camera and microphone to report from the main rally on the Friday, ask questions about pipeline and slice together [sic]?” Off the Record CEO Mark Pfeifle suggested over email.

A security firm led by a former member of the U.S. military’s shadowy Special Forces, TigerSwan was no stranger to such deception. The company had, in fact, used fake reporters before — including Rice himself — to spread its message and to spy on pipeline opponents. The National Sheriffs’ Association’s involvement in advocating for a similar disinformation campaign against the anti-pipeline movement has not been previously reported.


After Spying on Standing Rock, TigerSwan Shopped Anti-Protest “Counterinsurgency” to Other Oil Companies

The email from the National Sheriffs’ Association PR shop was among the more than 55,000 internal TigerSwan documents obtained by The Intercept and Grist through a public records request. The documents, released by the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board, reveal how TigerSwan and the sheriffs’ group worked together to twist the story in the media so that it aligned with the oil company’s interests, seeking to pollute the public’s perception of the water protectors.

The documents also outline details of previously unreported collaborations on the ground between TigerSwan and police forces. During the uprising at Standing Rock, TigerSwan provided law enforcement support with helicopter flights, medics, and security guards. The private security firm pushed for the purchase, by Energy Transfer, of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of radios for the cops. TigerSwan also placed an order for a catalog of so-called less-lethal weapons for police use, including tear gas. The security contractor even planned to facilitate an exchange where Energy Transfer and police could share purported evidence of illegal activity.

Meanwhile, communications firms working for Energy Transfer and the National Sheriffs’ Association worked together to write newsletters, plant pro-pipeline articles in the media, and circulate “wanted”-style posters of particular protesters, the documents show. And the heads of both the National Sheriffs’ Association and TigerSwan engaged in discussions on strategy to counter the anti-pipeline movement, with propaganda becoming a priority for both the police and private security.

“It is extremely dangerous to have private interests dictating and coloring the flow of administrative justice,” said Chase Iron Eyes, director of the media organization Last Real Indians and a member of the Oceti Sakowin people. Iron Eyes was active at Standing Rock and mentioned in TigerSwan’s files. “We learned at Standing Rock, law and order serves capital and property.”

Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, whose jurisdiction in Morton County, North Dakota, abuts the Standing Rock reservation, said collaboration with pipeline security was limited. “We had a cooperation with them in reference to the pipeline workers’ safety while conducting their business,” he said in an email. “TigerSwan was not to be involved in any law enforcement detail.” (TigerSwan, Energy Transfer, and the National Sheriffs’ Association did not respond to requests for comment.)

Rice, the TigerSwan propagandist, had posed as a news anchor for anti-protester segments posted on a Facebook page he created to sway the local community against the Standing Rock protests. But when Pfeifle, the sheriff group’s PR man, suggested pretending to be a reporter at the Native Nations Rise protest, Rice was unavailable. (Off the Record did not respond to a request for comment.) Pfeifle found another way to tell the pipeline and police’s story: a far-right news website founded by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Pfeifle wrote to Rice: “We did get Daily Caller to cover event yesterday.”

FILE--In this Oct. 27, 2016, file photo, protesters in the left foreground shield their faces as a line of law enforcement officers holding large canisters with pepper spray shout orders to move back during a standoff in Morton County, N.D. On the same day seven defendants celebrated acquittal in Portland, Ore., for their armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon, nearly 150 protesters camped out in North Dakota to protest an oil pipeline were arrested. (Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, file)

Protesters shield their faces as a line of law enforcement officers holding large canisters with pepper spray shout orders to move back, in Morton County, N.D., on Oct. 27, 2016.

Photo: Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP

Law Enforcement Collaboration

The idea of working with police was baked into Energy Transfer’s arrangement with TigerSwan. The firm’s contract for the Dakota Access pipeline specifically assigned TigerSwan to “take the lead with various law enforcement agencies per state, county, state National Guard and the federal interagency if required.”

Cooperation between Energy Transfer’s security operation and law enforcement agencies, however, began even before TigerSwan arrived on the scene. A PowerPoint presentation from Silverton, another contractor hired by Energy Transfer, described its relationship with law enforcement as a “public private partnership.” The September 2016 presentation said that a private intelligence cell was “coordinating with LE” — law enforcement — “and helping develop Person of Interest packets specifically designed to aid in LE prosecution.”

Multiple documents make clear that part of the purpose of Energy Transfer’s intelligence collection was to support law enforcement prosecutions. A September 2016 document describing TigerSwan’s early priorities said, “Continue to collect information of an evidentiary level in order to further the DAPL Security effort and assist Law Enforcement with information to aid in prosecution.” 

The collaboration extended to materiel. TigerSwan operatives realized soon after they arrived that local law enforcement officials lacked encrypted radios and could not communicate with state or municipal law enforcement agencies — or with Dakota Access pipeline security, according to emails. Energy Transfer purchased 100 radios, for $391,347, with plans to lease a number of them to law enforcement officers.

”We want them to go to LEO as a gift which represents DAPL’s concern for public safety,” wrote Tom Siguaw, a senior director at Energy Transfer, in an email.

During large protest events, TigerSwan and police worked together to keep water protectors from interfering with construction. On one day in late October 2016, the day of the protests’ largest mass arrest, Energy Transfer’s security personnel “held law enforcement’s east flank” and supported sheriffs’ deputies and National Guard members with seven medical personnel and two helicopters, named Valkyrie and Saber.

After the incident, TigerSwan planned to set up a shared drive, where law enforcement officials could upload crime reports and charging documents, and TigerSwan could share photographs and pipeline opponents’ social media. Documents show other instances in which TigerSwan set up online exchanges with law enforcement. In a February 2017 PowerPoint presentation, TigerSwan described plans to use another shared drive to post security personnel’s videos and photographs, taken both aerially and on the ground during a different mass arrest.

A diagram from TigerSwan showing the uses of a drive for law enforcement and Energy Transfer’s security operations to share purported evidence of illegal activity.

A diagram from TigerSwan showing the uses of a drive for law enforcement and Energy Transfer’s security operations to share purported evidence of illegal activity.

Public record via the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board

A Dakota Access Pipeline helicopter also supported law enforcement officials during one of the most notorious nights of the crackdown, in November 2016, when police unleashed water hoses on water protectors in below-freezing temperatures. By morning, police were in danger of running out of less-lethal weapons — which can still be deadly but are designed to incapacitate their targets. TigerSwan and Energy Transfer again stepped in.

TigerSwan founder James Reese, a former commander in the elite Army Special Operations unit Delta Force, reached out to a contact at the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. North Carolina had recently used TigerSwan’s GuardianAngel mapping tool to respond to uprisings in Charlotte, in the aftermath of the 2016 police killing of Keith Scott. (A spokesperson from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety said the agency does not currently have a relationship with TigerSwan.)

Reese sent a list of weaponry sought by North Dakota law enforcement to an officer from the Highway Patrol. The list included tear gas, pepper spray, bean bag rounds, and foam rounds. The official referred Reese to a contact at Safariland, which manufactures the gear.

“We will purchase the items, and gift them to LE,” Reese told the Safariland representative. “We need a nation wide push if you can help?”

Meanwhile, another TigerSwan team member sent the Minnesota-based police supply store Streicher’s an even longer list of less-lethal weapons and ammunition. “Please confirm availability of the following price and ship immediately with overnight delivery,” TigerSwan’s Phil Rehak wrote

“I would be given an order by either somebody from TigerSwan or maybe even law enforcement, being like, ‘Hey, can you find these supplies?’”

Rehak told The Intercept and Grist that his job was to procure equipment — including for law enforcement. “I would be given an order by either somebody from TigerSwan or maybe even law enforcement, being like, ‘Hey, can you find these supplies?’” He said he doesn’t know if the less-lethal weaponry was ultimately delivered to the sheriffs.

“I am not aware of any radios for Morton County or any less lethal weapons from Tiger Swan,” Kirchmeier, the Morton County sheriff, told The Intercept and Grist in an email. “I dealt with ND DES for resources.” (Two other sheriffs involved with the multiagency law enforcement response did not answer requests for comment. Eric Jensen, a spokesperson for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, said the agency had no arrangement with TigerSwan or Energy Transfer to provide less-lethal weapons, and that they wouldn’t have knowledge of any arrangements between law enforcement and the companies.)

The “partnership” went both ways, with TigerSwan sometimes viewing law enforcement weapons as potential assets. In mid-October 2016, as senior Energy Transfer personnel prepared to join state officials for a government archeological survey to examine the pipeline route, three law enforcement “snipers” agreed to be on standby with an air team, according to a memo by another security company, RGT, that was working under TigerSwan’s management. A Predator drone was listed among “friendly assets” in the memo.

TigerSwan routinely shared what it learned about the protest movement with local police, but most of what the documents describe in the way of reciprocal sharing — from law enforcement to TigerSwan — came from the National Sheriffs’ Association.

In March 2017, the sheriffs’ group helped the South Dakota Legislature pass a law to prevent future Standing Rock-style pipeline uprisings, the documents say. To support the effort, the Morton County Sheriff’s Office sent along a “law enforcement sensitive” state operational update from the North Dakota State and Local Intelligence Center. National Sheriffs’ Association head Jonathan Thompson forwarded the document to TigerSwan executive Shawn Sweeney. Thompson recommended Sweeney look at the last page, which included a list of anti-pipeline camps across the U.S.

TigerSwan also recruited at least one law enforcement officer with whom it worked on the ground. In November 2016, Reese requested a phone call with Maj. Chad McGinty of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, who had acted as commander of a team from Ohio sent to assist police in North Dakota. By February 1, McGinty, who declined to comment for this story, was working for TigerSwan as a law enforcement liaison, earning more than $440 a day.

A protestor is treated after being pepper sprayed by private security contractors on land being graded for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) oil pipeline, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, September 3, 2016. - Hundreds of Native American protestors and their supporters, who fear the Dakota Access Pipeline will polluted their water, forced construction workers and security forces to retreat and work to stop. (Photo by Robyn BECK / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

A protester is treated after being pepper sprayed by private security contractors on land being graded for the Dakota Access pipeline, near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Sept. 3, 2016.

Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Spreading Stories

TigerSwan’s contract also mandated that the firm help Energy Transfer with telling its story. The firm was expected “to help turn the page on the story that we are being overwhelmed with over the past few weeks,” according to a document from mid-September 2016.

Energy Transfer’s image was in trouble early on. Critical media coverage of Standing Rock grew dramatically in early September after private security guards hired by the company unleashed guard dogs on protesters. A flood of reporters arrived on the ground to cover the protests. Social media posts routinely went viral. The narrative that took hold portrayed the pipeline company as instigating violence against peaceful protesters.

Energy Transfer recruited third parties to spread its messaging and counter the unfavorable storyline. At least two additional contractors — DCI and MarketLeverage — joined TigerSwan in trying to burnish Energy Transfer’s image. TigerSwan recruited retired Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks, who led intelligence efforts for the Army during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and served on TigerSwan’s advisory board, to write favorable op-eds and deliver commentary. (Marks did not respond to a request for comment.) With its veneer of law enforcement authority, the National Sheriffs’ Association would become Energy Transfer’s most powerful third-party voice.

Together, TigerSwan, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the public relations contractors formed a powerful public relations machine, monitoring social media closely, convincing outside groups to promote pro-pipeline messaging, and planting stories.

Off the Record Strategies, the public relations firm working for the National Sheriffs’ Association, coordinated with the opposition research firm Delve to track activists’ social media pages, arrest records, and funding sources. The companies sought to paint the protesters as violent, professional, billionaire-funded, out-of-state agitators whose camps represented the true ecological disaster, as well as to identify movement infighting that might be exploited. Both companies were led by Bush administration alumni. (Delve did not respond to a request for comment.)

Framing water protectors as criminals was a key National Sheriffs’ Association strategy. ”Let’s start drumbeat of the worst of the worst this week?” Pfeifle, Off the Record’s CEO, suggested to the head of the sheriffs’ group in one email. “One or two a day? Move them out through social media…The out of state wife beaters, child abusers and thieves first… Mugshot, ND arrest date, rap sheet and other data wrapped in and easy to share?”

The result was “wanted”-style posters — called “Professional Protestors with Dangerous Criminal Histories” — featuring pipeline opponents’ photos and criminal records, which Pfeifle’s team circulated online and routinely shared with TigerSwan. The National Sheriffs’ Association repeatedly asked TigerSwan to help “move” its criminal record research on social media, and TigerSwan repurposed the sheriffs’ group arrest research for its own propaganda products.

Pfeifle also made summary statistics of protesters’ arrest records and a map of where they were from. The color-coded map came with a running tally of the number of protesters. The details collected by Pfeifle then began showing up in blogs and remarks by police to reporters. One piece by KXMB-TV, a television station in Bismarck, North Dakota, repeated almost verbatim statistics summarizing the number of protesters arrested and their criminal histories, noting that “just 8 percent are from North Dakota.”

“They make it harder for people to engage in peaceful protest. People are arrested and they say, ‘See, those people are criminals.’”

Naomi Oreskes, a science historian who has researched the fossil fuel industry’s communications strategies, said the attempt to frame environmental defenders as criminals was consistent with the long trend of attempts to discredit activists. However, it was also “particularly noxious,” she said, because the energy industry has pushed for stronger penalties against trespass and other anti-protest laws. “They make it harder for people to engage in peaceful protest,” said Oreskes. “People are arrested and they say, ‘See, those people are criminals.’”

DCI, which got its start “doing the dirty work of the tobacco industry” and helped found the tea party movement, was also a key player influencing media coverage, placing and distributing op-eds. In one exchange between DCI partner Megan Bloomgren, who would later become a top Trump administration official, and Reese, Bloomgren sent a list of 14 articles “we’ve placed that we’ve been pushing over social media.” The articles ranged from opinion pieces in support of the pipeline in local newspapers to posts on right-wing blogs.

Oreskes said using opinion articles in this way is a common strategy pioneered by the tobacco industry, among others. “You push that out into social media to make it seem as if there’s broad grassroots support for the pipeline,” said Oreskes. ”The reader doesn’t know that this is part of a coordinated strategy by the industry.”

MarketLeverage, another Energy Transfer contractor, also spent a considerable amount of its resources tracking social media and boosting pro-pipeline messages. In the weeks following the dog attacks, for instance, Shane Hackett, a top official with MarketLeverage, suggested highlighting a Facebook post by Archie Fool Bear, a Standing Rock tribal member who was critical of the NoDAPL movement. “We need to exploit that shit immediately while we have a chance,” a TigerSwan operative wrote in response to an email from their colleague Rice, the chief propagandist. (Neither DCI nor Market Leverage responded to requests for comment.)

Hackett suggested creating a graphic out of the tribal member’s post and having “other accounts share his post with the same hashtags.” Rice provided the social media text and hashtags, including, “Respected Tribe Members Call Attention to Standing Rock Leadership Lies and Failures #TribeLiesMatter #NoDAPL #SiouxTruth.” Obscure social media accounts then repeated the exact language.

“These people who are trained to use whatever publicity they can for their advantage, they’re going to do what they want anyway,” Fool Bear told The Intercept and Grist. “They don’t live in my shoes, and they don’t believe in what my beliefs are. If they’re going to take what I say and manipulate it, I can’t stop them.”

CANNON BALL, ND - NOVEMBER 30:  Military veterans, most of whom are native American, confront police guarding a bridge near Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on November 30, 2016 outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Native Americans and activists from around the country have been gathering at the camp for several months trying to halt the construction of the  Dakota Access Pipeline. The proposed 1,172 mile long pipeline would transport oil from the North Dakota Bakken region through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Protesters confront police guarding a bridge near Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation on Nov. 30, 2016, outside Cannon Ball, N.D.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Sheriffs vs. Indigenous and Environmental Justice

Off the Record Strategies and the National Sheriffs’ Association didn’t just focus on issues of law-breaking. The association parroted some of the same messages that TigerSwan — as well as climate change deniers in Congress — were trafficking. Notable among them was a right-wing conspiracy theory that the environmental movement was “directed and controlled” by a club of billionaires.

The National Sheriffs’ Association also tried to undermine the credibility of well-known advocates Bill McKibben and Jane Kleeb, who founded the environmental organizations and Bold Alliance, respectively. Pfeifle circulated memos on the two movement leaders. “McKibben is a radical liberal determined to ‘bankrupt’ energy producers,” said one, adding, “McKibben will join any protest because he enjoys the fanfare.” Another memo said, “Kleeb admitted her pipeline opposition was about political organization and opportunity, not the environment.”


Indigenous Water Protectors Face Off With an Oil Company and Police Over a Minnesota Pipeline

Kleeb and McKibben expressed bemusement at TigerSwan and the sheriffs’ association’s fixation on their work. “It’s all pretty creepy,” McKibben, a former Grist board member, said in an email. “I live in a county with a sheriff, and it seems okay if he tracks the speed of my car down Rte 116, but tracking every word I write seems like… not his job.”

The sheriffs’ group also listed the nonprofit organizations Center for Biological Diversity, Rainforest Action Network, and Food & Water Watch as “Extremist Environmental Groups” — a pejorative used by some authoritarian government officials, including from the Trump administration.

“Campaigning against corporations driving our climate crisis and human rights violations is not extremist,” said Rainforest Action Network Executive Director Ginger Cassady. Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the association’s flyer contained “categorically false” information about the organization — a sentiment repeated by others mentioned throughout TigerSwan’s other records.

“We would urge the Sheriffs’ Association to focus on its own responsibilities instead of attempting to undermine well-meaning organizations like ours,” added Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch’s executive director.

Both the National Sheriffs’ Association and TigerSwan took pride in meddling in tribal affairs. Reese enthusiastically encouraged his personnel to spread a story that the Prairie Knights Casino, run by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, was discharging sewage into the Missouri River watershed. Meanwhile, the sheriffs’ association worked with TigerSwan to push a story about a drop in revenue at the casino. In an email to TigerSwan’s Rice, Pfeifle noted that the issue had been raised at a recent Standing Rock tribal council meeting.

“We moved this story on front page of Sunday Bismarck Tribune and in SAB blog Friday, playing perfectly into the ‘get-out’ narrative going into next week,” Pfeifle wrote to Rice a few days later, referring to the conservative Say Anything Blog. “Please help echo and amplify, if possible.”

Using newsletters and news-like web sites to discredit pipeline opponents’ concerns as “fake news” was a top tactic for both TigerSwan and the National Sheriffs’ Association. The irony of the strategy was not lost on its protagonists.

Over WhatsApp, in June 2017, Rice, the propagandist, chatted with Wesley Fricks, TigerSwan’s director of external affairs, about a possible response to a Facebook video in which an unnamed reporter described recently published news reports on TigerSwan’s tactics. They would post it on one of the astroturf sites Rice created and describe it as “fake news.”

“That will cause a few people’s brains to explode,” Rice wrote in a WhatsApp message. “fake news calling fake news fake which is calling other news fake?”

Frick replied, “One big circle.”

The post Pipeline Company Spent Big on Police Gear to Use Against Standing Rock Protesters appeared first on The Intercept.

20 May. 2023
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: The dome of the U.S. Capitol is reflected on January 06, 2022 in Washington, DC. One year ago, supporters of President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol Building in an attempt to disrupt a congressional vote to confirm the electoral college win for Joe Biden. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The dome of the U.S. Capitol is reflected, on Jan. 6, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Image

Imagine that your family has a generations-long tradition that requires that for every 10th dinner, you search your neighbors’ trash cans like raccoons and eat whatever garbage you find.

Usually none of you asks why you do this. It’s just what you learned from your parents. But occasionally someone does some family research and finds out it originated in the early 1800s, when your great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather explained in his diary that he was creating this custom “so every feventh child will expire from famonella.” And you have to admit this still works, since every now and then one of your children dies from food-borne illness. Yet you keep on eating the garbage.

This is what American politics is like, except we have dozens of these aged traditions whose purpose is actively malevolent or simply serves no purpose at all. They nonetheless cling like barnacles to our life in the 21st century. We just can’t get our act together to get rid of them. 

The debt ceiling plaguing Washington politics — and, potentially, poisoning the rest of us — is just one of at least six of these abominable ideas.

The Debt Limit

Believe it or not, the debt ceiling is an improvement on what the United States used to do. Congress once required the executive branch to get its permission to do any borrowing whatsoever and in fact, often specified all the details — i.e., how long the bonds would take to mature, what interest rate it would pay, etc. 

This was a terrible way to run a country and to its credit Congress over the decades after World War I changed this awful system into another, slightly less awful one. Now Congress just limits the total borrowing by the government and lets the Treasury Department take care of the details. 

But it still makes no sense. Congress has already ordered the executive branch to spend money on certain activities and also levy certain taxes. It’s contradictory and silly for Congress to also say that the government can only borrow a certain amount of money to make up whatever difference between the spending and taxes it itself has required.


What the Debt Limit Fight Is Actually About

It’s also dangerous. No one knows exactly what will happen if the debt limit is breached, and the Biden administration then fails to use the various options it has to keep paying the bills. But it definitely would be extremely unpleasant.

In the past, this danger has never manifested in reality, for good reason. A debt limit imbroglio would immediately cause the most pain to the financial and corporate interests traditionally represented by the Republican Party. As some people have observed, the GOP’s refusal to raise the debt limit unconditionally is like a crazed man pointing a gun at his head and saying, “Give me what I want, or I’ll shoot!”

But there are two problems with this metaphor. First, a strong faction of the Republican Party appears to have convinced itself that shooting itself in the head wouldn’t hurt that much. Second, the rest of the country is the GOP’s metaphorical conjoined twin. If that faction decides to commit suicide, it’s going to cause severe problems for us too.

Pretty much the only other country that has created this pointless problem for itself is Denmark. I lived there briefly when I was 6 years old, and while they broadcast American shows on TV, they didn’t have ads to accompany them and just filled up the extra time with footage of goldfish swimming around in a bowl. Keeping the debt limit will inevitably lead us down the path to this kind of horrifying socialism. 

The Electoral College

The U.S. right constantly proclaims that the Electoral College is a sign of the enduring wisdom of our founders, who created it to give smaller rural states a voice in the choice of the president.

This means that they must also believe the Founding Fathers were dolts with absolutely no idea what they were doing. Of the first five presidents, four of them were from Virginia, and all four served two terms. Meanwhile, the only exception, John Adams from Massachusetts, was in office for just four years. This means that during the first 36 years of presidents, the chief executive was a Virginian for 32 of them. And during this period, Virginia was either America’s biggest or second-biggest state.

However, America’s founders were not in fact incredibly incompetent. The actual rationale for the Electoral College was explained by James Madison in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention. Madison said he believed the best way to choose a president would be by popular vote, which “would be as likely as any that could be devised to produce an Executive Magistrate of distinguished Character.” 

But “there was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people.” This was, Madison said, the fact that Southern states generally had stricter limits on which men could vote, and more of their population was enslaved. This meant that the South “could have no influence in [a popular] election” and so would never support a Constitution that used this method. Hence the Electoral College kludge was necessary to get the U.S. off the ground. 

The Senate

Madison, however, was by no means all-in on democracy. As he also said at the Constitutional Convention, he believed that for the new country to endure, part of the government had to represent the “invaluable interests” of large, rich landowners and make sure the rabble couldn’t vote to take their wealth away. Part of the structure they were creating in Philadelphia, Madison believed, “ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body.”

The Constitution originally ordained that senators would be elected by state legislatures. This was altered by the 17th Amendment, and senators have been popularly elected since 1913. Nonetheless, Madison’s scheme continues to work surprisingly well, with the Senate still being the place where the political hopes of Americans go to die.

One solution here would be for the California legislature to wait until Democrats control the federal House and Senate. Then California could separate itself into 68 heavily gerrymandered blue states with Wyoming-sized populations. Congress could admit all the new states and their 136 Democratic senators into the union — and then easily block any red states from trying something similar. This would be totally constitutional and be worth it just to get the U.S. right to stop talking about the wisdom of the founders.

The Filibuster

The Senate is inherently against popular democracy. But those running it have long believed that it isn’t anti-democracy enough and so have supported the supermajority requirements of the filibuster. Between 1917 and 1994, 30 bills were stopped from passage thanks to the filibuster. Half of these were civil rights measures, including anti-lynching measures, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and attempts to outlaw poll taxes. This is why in 2020, Barack Obama called the filibuster a “Jim Crow relic.” But neither he nor any prominent Democrats has put much energy into getting rid of it. 

“First Past the Post” Voting

The way voting generally works in the U.S. is that whoever gets the most votes wins. This is simple, easy to understand, and bad. It naturally creates a two-party duopoly, since each party can accurately harangue any miscreants within its ranks tempted to vote for a third party that they will simply act as spoilers — i.e., if they vote for their first-choice candidate, they’re merely making it more likely that their last-choice candidate will win.

There are several excellent solutions to this problem, including instant-runoff voting and — for House elections on a state and federal level — multimember districts. The problem here is that both the Democratic and Republican parties love the current setup and are not interested in creating more competition for themselves just because it would be good for America.

Most political commentators don’t have the courage to tell you this, but I do: All of our current suffering is the fault of the Florida Panhandle.

The Florida Panhandle

Geographically and culturally, the Florida Panhandle makes no sense. On any sensible map, it would belong to Alabama. But it’s part of Florida thanks to ancient colonial struggles between the United Kingdom, Spain, and France — struggles that happened before there even was a United States.

If Florida didn’t have its conservative panhandle, Al Gore would have easily beaten George W. Bush in Florida in the 2000 election and become president. The Bush administration resolutely ignored all the warnings from its intelligence agencies about the coming 9/11 attacks, but Gore almost certainly would have taken the threat seriously enough to disrupt the terrorist plot. No 9/11, no Iraq War. And no Bush presidency, no majority on the Supreme Court for Citizens United and the ensuing catastrophic surge of cash into the U.S. political system. Moreover, the 2007-2008 economic disaster would probably not have occurred or would have been significantly less severe.

Instead the Florida Panhandle gave us our current country, which is constantly going haywire. It also gave us Errol Morris’s documentary “Vernon, Florida,” originally titled “Nub City,” about a small town where many residents have amputated their own limbs in order to collect dismemberment insurance.

So that’s thaT: six ghastly political ideas that do nothing but torment us. We’re currently experiencing this with the debt ceiling and may soon feel it to a far greater degree. Yet we don’t have it in us to get rid of any of them. It’s enough to make you think the most powerful force in human society isn’t the normal candidates like money or sex, but inertia.

The post The Debt Limit Is Just One of America’s Six Worst Traditions appeared first on The Intercept.