Intel Expert James Bamford Blasts Russiagate Hype

Bamford Believes Russia Hacked DNC, Can’t Confirm Transfer of Contents to WikiLeaks

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Author and intelligence expert James Bamford says the reports of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, which is being treated as one of the biggest stories out there right now, are overblown.

So far, Bamford argues, no evidence has been presented that this is anything other than the type of intelligence gathering or operation that countries are engaged in all the time.

Bamford is critical of the hyped, 24/7 coverage of Russiagate. Indeed, he sees widespread hacking by Russia, the United States, and other online spies as old news. He has special criticism for his colleagues in the media, who have “squandered their objectivity and precious resources on a single story.”

He points out that the best known use of cyberweapons is America’s insertion of the Stuxnet virus into the automated centrifuges at the heart of Iran’s nuclear program. Despite this, he notes, many American leaders present the US only as a victim of cyberattacks.

In this Radio WhoWhatWhy interview, Bamford also talks about the recent failures of the intelligence community, including the theft of NSA hacking tools and the CIA’s bungled efforts to retrieve them.

He calls the operatives of both agencies “Keystone spies,” and criticizes the extreme public responses that have compared hacking to Pearl Harbor.

James Bamford has written a number of books and articles about America’s intelligence community, with special focus on the National Security Agency. He has also produced Frontline documentaries for PBS on these subjects. His recent article in the New Republic offers his overview of Russiagate.

Bamford is the author of The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America’s Most Secret Intelligence Organization (Penguin Books, September 1983); Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency (Anchor Books, April 2002); The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America (Anchor Books, July 2009); A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies (Anchor Books, May 2005).

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Full Text Transcript:

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Peter B. Collins: Welcome to Radio WhoWhatWhy. With a fresh interview podcast, I’m Peter B. Collins in San Francisco. Joining me today is James Bamford. He is a worldwide-acknowledged expert on America’s intelligence community, and in particular, the National Security Agency. He is the author of numerous books including Body of Secrets and The Shadow Factory. And Jim Bamford joins me by Skype today. Thanks for being with us, Jim.
James Bamford: My pleasure, Peter.
Peter B. Collins: I always enjoy talking with you, and I appreciate your deep knowledge of the so-called deep state in this country. And you just published a piece recently at the New Republic, which I think is a really balanced recap of the so-called Russiagate narrative.
You open your article with a recap of Bill Binney’s near arrest. His house was raided and his computers and other information were taken. And Bill Binney was a top technical officer at the National Security Agency. I’ve been talking with Bill for about 10 years now, and his theorem that, fundamentally, the initial charge about Russiagate, that Russian agents hacked the DNC servers and then gave that information to Wikileaks, I find his theorem and his arguments quite compelling. And you recap them in the opening paragraphs of your story.
What is your sense when Bill Binney says that he knows that if Russia or anybody else remotely hacked the DNC servers, that the NSA would know about it because they have tracing systems in virtually every network and node across the globe? That, to me, is an argument that certainly deserves full investigation. I find it compelling, and I find that it hasn’t been investigated. What’s your take?
James Bamford: Well, I think the Russians did hack the DNC computers and so forth, and I think the NSA does have that information. I mean, the US did say that they were convinced that Russia did hack. So, yeah, I think the NSA knows that they hacked and that’s what the intelligence community is basically saying.
Peter B. Collins: But in the January 6th, 2017 release, it was described that the NSA did not have the same high level of confidence in the assertions that the FBI and the CIA claimed.
James Bamford: Well, I think that might be because of the intermediaries that the Russians might have used. You know, you had this Guccifer 2.0 that showed up, and nobody knows really who Guccifer 2.0 is. Guccifer 2.0 got a lot of the emails and passed them on to Wikileaks. Was Guccifer 2.0 an agent of the Russian government, or was Guccifer 2.0 an independent contractor, or both? I mean, you could actually be both.
So, you know, that might be where the ambiguity is. But I have little doubt. I don’t have any doubt, really, that the Russians penetrated the DNC. That’s what they do. That’s what we do. That’s what everybody does. I mean, we did it to the Mexicans; Mexican election a few years ago in their last election. We not only penetrated their election data and their computers, we planted malware and we stole, I think it was 85,000 text messages. So the fact that the Russians entered, looked around, and looked around the DNC digital infrastructure, I have little doubt about that.
But the questions that I have are who leaked the documents to Wikileaks? That could have been the Russians. It could have been an independent contractor. It was apparently somebody going by the name of Guccifer 2.0. So there’s a lot of mystery about that. But I don’t really have any doubt that the Russians penetrated the DNC. It wasn’t really that hard to penetrate, for one thing.
Peter B. Collins: Well, let me approach this from a couple of angles. First, why hasn’t our government provided any evidence of this? It’s a very critical allegation that’s been made, and it’s been used to impose several rounds of sanctions on Russian individuals and some entities there. And some people have declared that this was the equivalent of Pearl Harbor, which I find extreme and bellicose, but we’re struggling because this has been offered as assertions based on high confidence, using language like “consistent with”. But we don’t have any public evidence that this is how it happened.
James Bamford: Well, welcome to the NSA, the National Security Agency. I’ve written three books about it. I’ve been following them for 35 years. That’s the way they are. They just don’t release information like that. I mean, I did a documentary on cyberwarfare for PBS and we had all kinds of evidence that Iran, after we attacked Iran’s nuclear centrifuges with our digital attacks known as Stuxnet, the Iranians came back and attacked one of our friendly, what do you call it, companies that was doing business with the United States: Saudi Aramco; wiped out their computers. And then they attacked … the Iranians attacked the banking computers in New York. I mean, all that was very well documented. But even with all of that information, the NSA still wouldn’t actually admit that they had evidence that Iran attacked those computers, even though it was rather obvious and the Iranians weren’t even denying it.
So that’s the way the NSA is. It hides all this stuff in secrecy, and that’s just what you have to kind of expect from them, is that they’re not going to come out and say, “This is what we know about the Russians.”
Peter B. Collins: I recently interviewed Scott Ritter, who was a UN weapons inspector prior to our invasion of Iraq. He also served four years in marine intelligence in Moscow. And he argues, based on the leaks that came through Dutch intelligence in a Dutch newspaper, there is this other unproven narrative that the Dutch were able to hack in to an office near the Kremlin at Moscow University, where they believe there was a center for hackers. And the Dutch were able to gain access in a kind of brazen way. They claimed they even could see the security cameras at the entry points to this facility.
And the claim is that the Dutch witnessed a knock-down, drag-out cyber fight between the US and Russia. And this was pegged in around 2014 or 2015. The Dutch story goes on to say that they then watched as Russians hacked in to the DNC. But the timeframe is well before the 2016 election cycle.
What level of credibility do you give to that Dutch narrative, Jim?
James Bamford: Well, I have absolutely no knowledge whether it’s true or not, and I certainly don’t take things at face value. But, look, I mean, this is the way the world works. I can’t imagine that there wasn’t a time when the Russians first got the ability to actually penetrate the DNC computers. I mean, you had a Democratic president. Wouldn’t that be one of your targets if you’re in Russia and you’re wondering what the Democrats are doing and what the Democratic party is doing? Wouldn’t that be one of your key targets? Or at least maybe one of your top 10?
So, yeah, of course they probably did that. So what’s the big surprise? We do the same thing to them. We do the same thing to the Chinese. We probably do the same thing to the French. We certainly did it to the Mexicans. I wrote all about that. I mean, that was based on documents leaked from Edward Snowden. So, yeah, what’s the big surprise that the Russians were looking around inside the DNC computers?
Peter B. Collins: Now, in your article you shift from Bill Binney’s assertions or his theories, and you say his analysis was widely disputed and apparently changed few minds with the intelligence community. And you reference that he was invited by CIA director Mike Pompeo, to share his thinking with the director. And you go on to say, “This is a fact made clear,” this apparently changing few minds, “is a fact made clear by special council Mueller’s indictment in February of 13 Russians and three companies,” you say, “involved in the scandal.” Now, I would argue that that’s a very different arc, Jim. And that there’s no indication that the people at the internet agency in Saint Petersburg were involved with the DNC hack. They were pushing out social media propaganda and more targeted messaging. Wouldn’t you agree?
James Bamford: Sure, yeah. But that doesn’t eliminate the fact that I also believe that the Russians were penetrating the DNC computers. I don’t know if they were doing it from that same location in Saint Petersburg, but, like I said, as a person who’s been doing this stuff for a long time, I don’t have any doubt that they were penetrating it. The only question I have is whether they were the ones who actually leaked the physical, or actual digital copies of the emails to Wikileaks.
The nexus here has to focus on that. I just don’t see any evidence that this was a leak from an insider who passed information on to somebody else through a flash drive who took it. I mean, it’s not that hard to penetrate the DNC’s computers. The security was very weak. Even Hillary’s campaign manager —
Peter B. Collins: Podesta.
James Bamford: Podesta, had the simplest access code. I think it was “password123” or something. So you’re not dealing with … This is not penetrating the nuclear secrets of the United States. It’s penetrating amateur computer people working for a political party. So I don’t have any doubt that the Russians penetrated it. And they’ve probably been penetrating it for years, if not decades. So I don’t buy the argument, unless I see more evidence, that there was somebody who walked out with a flash drive and passed it on to somebody. You don’t need that. You don’t need to have a flash drive. All you need is an internet connection.
Peter B. Collins: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now, in terms of the transfer to Wikileaks, I share your view there, that we don’t have any evidence to establish that. It’s been denied by Julian Assange, and many people say so. He also has been accused by Pompeo of essentially being an arm or an extension of the Russian government, which I find quite extreme, if not preposterous. And so that is a significant gap in this story. And we have heard reporting that Robert Mueller will be focusing on this in the next phase of his investigation. But to date, we don’t have any proof  — right?  — of how information reached Wikileaks.
James Bamford: No. And I don’t buy in to any of the hyperbole on either side. I don’t think this is anywhere near Pearl Harbor. I don’t think it even comes close to even the slightest amount towards Pearl Harbor. It’s everyday stuff, basically. And I also don’t buy the hyperbole that Julian Assange is an agent of the Russians. Yes, he denied that he got it from the Russians, because I don’t think Guccifer 2.0 walked in and showed some Russian passport before he gave him the information. I think this is passed digitally by people. I don’t think he actually ever met anybody. So he doesn’t know. The whole idea of Wikileaks was to set up their receiving end in such a way that it could be done anonymously. So there’s no reason to suspect that he would know it was the Russians, if it was the Russians. And there’s no reason to suspect that Guccifer 2.0 would overtly go out of his, or her, or their way to tell Wikileaks that they’re the Russians.
So that’s where the mystery is. And I have no idea, since I don’t have any whistleblowers running out and telling me, I don’t have any idea of who Guccifer 2.0 is, whether it’s a he, or a she, or a they, or what nationality they are. I mean, you have the original Guccifer who self-identified themselves, but this is somebody … or self-identified himself. But these or this is somebody else.
Peter B. Collins: Now, if we look at the big picture, Jim, the intelligence community has suffered a lot of losses in recent years. We have Vault 7, we have the hacking tools that were stolen from the NSA and put up on eBay or somewhere by shadow brokers, we have the effort by the CIA to retrieve, or at least to identify what was stolen, and they got sucked into paying $100,000 on a down payment of a $1 million bounty to some murky figure, and they got hosed. So the recent performance of the intelligence community on policing its own operations, and on failures, for example, predicting the developments in North Korea. We didn’t hear any warnings from our intelligence community about Putin’s March 1st announcement of a new generation of Russian weapons. Clearly, Syria has been a major failure for the CIA and its covert operations. So because of this, I have a hard time really giving any credibility to the claims that came from John Brennan and James Clapper.
James Bamford: Well, obviously this whole series of loss of data has been a series of keystone spies, basically. It reminds me of the old MAD magazine cartoon, the Spy vs. Spy.
Peter B. Collins: Don Martin was the artist, yeah.
James Bamford: Yeah. I mean, I wrote an op-ed piece for NBC news arguing that the director of the NSA should be fired for incompetence, for allowing all this data to escape. I mean, this isn’t just data. These are actual cyber weapons that got out. So, yeah. I mean, I can’t go any more than that, than to argue that the director should be fired for incompetence. Yeah, I agree.
Peter B. Collins: And, Jim, the other thing that I see, and in case anybody has any doubts, I am not in any way a supporter of the Trump candidacy, his presidency, the administration. But as I look at this, I see it as much more of kind of garden-variety corruption. It’s complex, but corruption as opposed to the term collusion. We have Mike Flynn who took a half-million dollar contract from a businessman in support of the state of Turkey. And a former CIA director outed Flynn as scheming to kidnap Fethullah Gulen and return him to Turkey in a kind of off-the-books extraordinary rendition.
We have Paul Manafort who volunteered to be Trump’s campaign manager as he was scrambling to raise cash to pay off millions to a Russian oligarch. And then we have the crown prince, Jared Kushner, who has been using his perch at the White House to try to raise cash to refinance his bad project on 5th Avenue or Park Avenue in New York. So I see Trump being scammed by people around him. And that that is the feature so far that has been exposed by counsel Mueller.
James Bamford: Yeah, but he hasn’t finished his investigation yet. I mean, I don’t know one way or the other whether he’s going to find collusion. I just know you’ve got an idiot in the White House. I mean, if there’s a word that’s worse than “idiot”, I would use it. But that’s the best one I could come up with. Like-minded idiots. You know? I mean, that’s where we are. That’s who we put in the White House these days. You’ve got a guy that certainly should not be anywhere near government clearance, now president of the United States.
So, you know. So there’s going to be all kinds of fallout because he’s got people around him who are not qualified for what they’re supposed to be doing, and probably have been involved in a lot of bad things leading up to their appointments. But whether or not there’s any collusion, I have no idea. I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t have any leakers running out of the special counsel’s office to tell me anything. But, you know, I’m fully prepared to hear what they have to say.
Peter B. Collins: Well, and, Jim, you know, that suggests that you’re actually practicing journalism; that you are trying to follow the facts and the evidence wherever they lead. And I fully embrace that. My issue has been that, particularly the corporate media, and most notably CNN and MSNBC have taken this to an extreme. And they conflate assertions with facts. Most recently, there was this exposure of efforts to hack in to the grid and to possibly disrupt the operations or even sabotage a nuclear power plant in this country. And the so-called evidence that was presented was a reconstruction by our intelligence people of what they expect a Russian hacker would have seen had they been able to get into the dashboard of the control center, say, of a nuclear power plant. And that strikes me as very weak. It’s hardly evidence. It’s an illustration of a theory. But I heard Rachel Maddow describe that as solid evidence that Russia has threatened our electrical grid.
James Bamford: Well, I’ve written a lot about this. I did a whole documentary on cyberwarfare and so forth. But Russia, China, a lot of other countries probably penetrate our electrical grid. It’s not that hard if you actually look into it. It’s very hard to take down the entire system, because these are individual components. It’s not like you pull one switch and everything goes down. But where I really disagree is where you say that because they’ve entered it, it means they want to attack it. It just means that that’s what you do in the digital world today. You have a potential adversary, and we’re potential adversaries of the Russians and the Chinese at least, if not other countries, many other countries.
And so if they have a digital capability, what they’re going to do is do the same thing we do, and that’s plant various forms of malware in systems so that we know how the systems work and how to take the systems down in case there’s a war. I mean, that’s just what countries do these days. If it comes as a surprise to somebody, then they should do a lot more reading on the issues of cyberwarfare and digital activity. I mean, we do it to them. They do it to us.
The difference is, nobody has … except for the United States, the United States is the only country that’s ever, as far as I know, thus far, committed a really serious act of cyberwarfare, which means actually destroying physical objects using cyber. We did that in Iran with the Stuxnet attack where we took down physical centrifuges. If Iran had come into the United States and taken down nuclear centrifuges in Oak Ridge or Tennessee or some place, it would have been an act … we would have declared it an act of war, which is what it would have been.
However, if a foreign country like, say, North Korea comes in and simply erases things from a computer like was done in, I guess the movie studio in Hollywood —
Peter B. Collins: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Sony.
James Bamford: Yeah, against Sony. That’s not considered an act of cyberwar. And we really have to start watching the words we use when we’re talking about digital activity. Again, entering another country’s digital infrastructure simply to look around and maybe plant things, is not really an act of cyberwarfare. It’s only cyberwarfare when you enact it. I mean, you can … we have numerous times when we’ve had close calls in terms of military activity. But cyber activity’s an enormously different thing, because you penetrate borders anytime without regard of border guards or customs or anything, and you can plant these things. But it’s not considered an act of war. And that’s where I would disagree with calls saying that we were attacked, or almost attacked. It’s just sort of nonsense.
Peter B. Collins: And did you see the Morgan Freeman video that was produced by Rob Reiner and Bill Crystal?
James Bamford: Well, if there was a video produced by Bill Crystal I probably would have picked something else to watch. That signaled to me that there’s probably better things that I could occupy my time with. But, no, I’ve never seen it; never even heard of it.
Peter B. Collins: Okay. Last November, Rob Reiner hired Morgan Freeman to appear in a video where Freeman says, “We’re at war. We’ve been attacked.” And Bill Crystal is on the same committee with Rob Reiner that produced and distributed that video. So take a look. I think you’ll find it interesting.
James Bamford: There’s so much of that hype that’s out there. I mean, it’s hard to actually keep up with it because it’s such a … there’s so few people that actually know what they’re talking about. And most of those that do aren’t coming out and saying these things. I thought the video that Alex Gibney did called Zero Days was very, very good. I thought that was right on target. But I really … I think it’s very dangerous for some of these people just to use this for fearmongering. I mean, that’s where we’ve gotten to digital cyberwar fearmongering. And that video that you just mentioned sounds like a perfect candidate.
Peter B. Collins: Well, you catch up with Morgan Freeman, and I’ll catch up with Zero Days. I haven’t seen that one. Jim, just to follow up, have you seen that screenshot that the government released as its alleged evidence of the power grid hacking?
James Bamford: No, I haven’t.
Peter B. Collins: Okay. Well, it’s interesting, because the New York Times reported about it, but didn’t link to it or display it online or in the print edition. And the same was the way that MSNBC handled it. And I did an online search. Mashable published the so-called screenshot, and it is accurately described as a re-creation of what they believe a Russian hacker would have seen. And I find it insulting that they try to persuade somebody like me to believe in this threat and this level of threat, and they offer evidence that really is childish.
James Bamford: I agree. I spent a year on this documentary and I’ve written, you know, about this endlessly, just lots of articles about NSA and cyber and all that. And that’s why I try to avoid the hype. I know where to go to sort of read the more accurate, technical, unbiased information, so I don’t really waste my time looking at things that I don’t think are useful. But that’s where I think the danger is for the public, is in buying in to this whole idea that we’re coming under attack.
It doesn’t mean that that’s not possible. I mean, one of the things I did show in my documentary was a dam in Russia; one of the biggest dams in the world. I think it’s the sixth biggest. It’s in Siberia. And it exploded one time two years ago. Not the actual dam itself, but the power plant in front of it, the turbines that use the water from the dam to create electricity. One of the turbines blew up and flew into the air, 50 feet, even though this thing weighs as much as two Boeing 747s. Crashed down, killed 75 people, destroyed the power plant, and almost brought down the dam, which would have killed thousands of people. And originally, both the Russians and the US thought that that was a result of a cyber attack, largely because there was no other good explanation for it at first, and also because a Czechian terrorist group that had just blown up a police station that morning took credit for it.
It turns out that it was a cyber incident that caused it. But it was an accidental cyber incident. It wasn’t a deliberate incident. But the point of this whole story is that that is possible. What happened to that turbine is a digital device that was meant to control it gave it commands that it shouldn’t have given it accidentally, and it caused the turbine to vibrate back and forth by going very fast and then very slow, very fast and very slow. That broke the bolts holding it to the floor, and that made it explode. Well, those are the exact same type of commands that were given to the centrifuges during the Stuxnet attack. So you can do that. You can take down a dam with the same type of digital technique that we used to take down the centrifuges. So that is the danger of cyberwarfare, is that it can be used for what the military likes to call kinetic activity. In other words, blowing up things. And so that’s the danger.
On the other hand, there’s also the danger of all the fearmongering by saying, because they did penetrate the nuclear, or rather the electrical grid, that that was the end goal; for them to blow up the electrical grid or something. So that’s the danger here. You have a capability of doing that with cyber, but you also have the danger of the fearmongering that goes along with it.
Peter B. Collins: We’re talking with Jim Bamford here, and we’re also talking about a recent article he published at The New Republic. We’ll link to it in the show file for this podcast. And, Jim, you offer criticism of what has come to be known as the Nunes memo. This was written exclusively by the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee. You write, “The deliberately slanted memo criticized a secret warrant issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor the communications of one-time Trump aide Carter Page.”
And you, I think, characterize it accurately. The issue that I have is that both parties selectively praise and criticize the FISA Court, but they don’t address the real elephant here in the room, which is that the secret FISA Court has been subject to manipulation. Judge Reggie Walton, who is no peacenik lefty, he presided over the FISA Court and he excoriated government representatives who came to him with what he considered to be incomplete or misleading information. And I recently reviewed a FISA Court document from April of last year, of 2017. And it showed that much of the business before the court was cleaning up past incidents where they felt they had been lied to by officers who came seeking a warrant.
And the way I read the memo, it appears that the NSA has lied to the FISA Court more than the CIA. And the FBI appears to rank third. I don’t know if you’ve happened to review any of those documents? But what is your sense of the FISA Court? And does it have any real useful role in the American system of government and justice?
James Bamford: Well, I’ve written a lot about the FISA Court over the years. I mean, going back 30 years I’ve been writing about the FISA Court. It was set up originally as a really good idea, because the NSA was violating all kinds of rules because there are all kinds of laws of eavesdropping on American citizens, because they felt they had the right to do it. And so the result was to create this secret court where NSA would have to actually submit a warrant in order to get … or submit an application in order to get a FISA warrant to eavesdrop on somebody in the United States.
And it worked quite well for much of its life, up until, well, from when it was created in 1977 or ’78, up until 2001. And then that’s when the Bush administration decided to go around the court; commit what I regard as criminal violations by bypassing the court and getting secret, illegal warrants … or not … Let me back up. Bypassing the court and not getting any warrants to eavesdrop on people in the United States. What the Bush administration did was they worked out this arrangement where they would just tell the chief judge of the court what they were doing to a large degree, but required that judge not to tell any of the other judges. So that was a total disregarding of the entire idea of a FISA Court.
And since then, the court has been watered down tremendously from the time before 2001. And that’s why I would be happy to see somebody do a thorough investigation to see how well they’re doing their job. Are they just now a rubber stamp? Or are they actually doing good work?
I also wrote about, in one of my articles, last year I think it was, based on the Snowden documents, where the court really reamed the NSA for coming in with largely incomplete or inaccurate applications for these warrants. So you have this dual problem. You have the problem of the NSA trying to pull the wool over the FISA Court’s eyes, and then you have the FISA Court. Are they strong enough, or is the accountability such that they can discover that?
So these are all very secret things since the court operates in secrecy and the NSA operates in secrecy, the FBI operates in secrecy. Those are the three players of the FISA Court. Theoretically, the CIA’s not supposed to have much role with it at all. But, yeah, I mean, those are things hidden behind all of these curtains. And it would be nice to see if somebody could actually get to the bottom of it. But not in a pejorative fashion, and not in a political fashion; not the Republicans going in there looking to get one of their members off the hook, or the Democrats doing the same thing. I mean an impartial, independent review of the FISA Court and how it works.
Peter B. Collins: Agree. Certainly agree. Let me quote from your New Republic article again. You referred to the media, “They have squandered their objectivity and precious resources on a single story: Russian election hacking. Many of the same reporters who once labored to track down leads concerning civil liberties violations and war crimes are now dishing up breathless and questionable leaks about the Russia investigation. By devoting so much attention to this story, journalists are failing in the difficult job of developing sources within what the spy world calls “hard targets”: the CIA, the NSA, and other parts of the intelligence community.”
Well, what they’re doing is really just setting up access so that they can receive more leaks, Jim. And this leak-driven reportage, I find very troubling. And it undermines the principles of journalism that we talked about a little bit earlier; that you look for evidence and you follow the facts and the evidence to a conclusion.
James Bamford: Yeah. I have no problem with leaks. I’ve never had any problem with leaks. My problem is with hyping every single minor leak that happens to come out. You know, if you’re watching Fox all day, you’re watching largely fake news. I think a lot of it is fake news on Fox. And if you’re watching CNN, what you’re watching is over-hyped stories about, constantly, one right after another, all day long, about one story: the Russia story. And I think both are … I can’t stand either one of them, to tell you the truth. I watch BBC. I’ve got a box that I get British channels on, and I watch the BBC on it most of the time.
So I really don’t like this politicization of journalism or the hyping of things. I mean, if you’ve got a minor little tidbit that comes out, all of a sudden it’s got breaking news and we’ve got this sort of Hollywood Squares-style analysis of, you know, you get eight different people saying all of this for an hour about one little nuance that came out. I just don’t think that’s journalism and I don’t think that’s useful. So, yeah, I’m very critical about that.
Peter B. Collins: And one of the big takeaways from your article, Jim Bamford, is your concern about where this will leave us post-Trump, because people have chosen sides, some people have flipped sides. We have Democrats who used to attack the intelligence community who now embrace it as the source of truth and light. And after Trump we have seen the intelligence community and its leakers gain power in some ways at the expense of the representative Democracy.
James Bamford: Well, that’s the problem. The problem is that we’re focusing so much on this one story, which has, you know, it has value, but it’s not … it shouldn’t be 24/7 coverage of it. There are so many other important things. And the problem is, when you’re trying to have 24/7 coverage of a story like this, that means that these very experienced reporters are not doing the really hard work of digging into or developing sources that some of these agencies like NSA and CIA to find out whether we’re targeting … who we’re targeting with the drones now. Are we going to begin targeting Americans again? Is the NSA beginning to eavesdrop again on Americans, like the lawyers for the immigrant community and so forth?
So there’s all these hard targets, as the intelligence community calls them: the NSA, the CIA, and so forth; the intelligence community, that are not really being closely looked at, at a time when you’ve got people running these organizations that really are frightening to a large degree. So that’s the danger. And at the same time, there’s really important stories that could be focused on. That doesn’t mean getting every last tidbit of the Russian investigation. If we find out that indictment’s coming down an hour ahead or a day ahead or two days ahead, so what? The point is, it’s coming down. But to spend all of your resources trying to beat everybody else to try to get one last little tidbit more than your competitor, I just think is squandering an enormously valuable resource, and that’s investigative reporting.
Peter B. Collins: And, Jim, as we wrap up, is there anything I haven’t touched on that you’d like to mention?
James Bamford: Well, the only other thing is that we really need news to be in context. And that’s what’s really missing, is the context. It’s always, “America the victim, America the victim,” and never, “America the perpetrator.” So if we talk about how we’re being penetrated by Russia, we also ought to talk about how we penetrate Russia, or how we penetrate our friends like Mexico and so forth, so that you have a more balanced, more nuanced reporting, and so the public doesn’t think that, “Oh, wow, we’re the victims of the world here,” when in essence, this is how the world works. We do it to them. They do it to us. But that’s just how it works. And I think that context is missing in most of the reporting that comes out, either print or television.
Peter B. Collins: James Bamford, always a pleasure to talk with you. Thanks for mixing it up with me today.
James Bamford: Appreciate it, Peter. Good talking to you.
Peter B. Collins: Thanks for listening to this episode of Radio WhoWhatWhy. I welcome your comments and feedback. My email is And I invite you to support the independent investigative journalism practiced here at

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from cyber by Kalhh / Pixabay (CC0)

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