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Glenn Greenwald on “Submissive” Media’s Drumbeat for War and “Despicable” Anti-Muslim Scapegoating

Media coverage after Paris has seen familiar patterns: uncritically repeating government claims.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, media coverage has seen familiar patterns: uncritically repeat government claims, defend expansive state power, and blame the Muslim community for the acts of a few. We discuss media fearmongering, anti-Muslim scapegoating, ISIL’s roots, and war profiteering with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and co-founder of The Intercept. “Every time there’s a terrorist attack, Western leaders exploit that attack to do more wars,” Greenwald says. “Which in turn means they transfer huge amounts of taxpayer money to these corporations that sell arms. And so investors are fully aware that the main people who are going to benefit from this escalation as a result of Paris are not the American people or the people of the West – and certainly not the people of Syria – it is essentially the military-industrial complex.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guest for the hour is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, as we turn to comments made by former CIA Director James Woolsey on Sunday. Speaking to NPR, Woolsey said Edward Snowden “has blood on his hands” following the Paris attacks.

JAMES WOOLSEY: I am no fan of the changes that were made after Snowden’s leaks of classified information. I don’t think they have improved our ability to collect and use intelligence, and I think they’ve seriously reduced our abilities. I think Snowden has blood on his hands from these killings in France.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the former director of central intelligence, Glenn Greenwald, James Woolsey?

GLENN GREENWALD: First of all, it’s absolutely remarkable that James Woolsey, of all people, is the person who has been plucked to be the authoritative figure on the Paris attacks by leading media outlets such as CNN and MSNBC news, when he is by far one of the most extremist and radical neoconservatives ever to be puked up by the intelligence world. He not only was one of the leading advocates of attacking Iraq, he was one of the leading proponents of all of the lies that led to that invasion, and has been calling for war and other sorts of really extremist policies, and disseminating lies to the American people for decades. And so, to hold him out as some sort of authority figure, some kind of like respected elder intelligence statesman, on these attacks is just exactly the sort of thing we’ve been talking about, which is the state of the American media. Not one person has challenged anything that he said.

I should also note that what this really is about is this really shameless effort on the part of the CIA and other government officials to exploit the emotions that have been generated by watching the carnage in Paris for all sorts of long-standing policies. If you go back to 2013, the very same James Woolsey went on Fox News, and he said – this was two years before the Paris attacks – “Not only do I think Edward Snowden is a traitor, I think he should be hung by the neck until he’s dead.” That’s the mentality of the kinds of people who the media is holding out as our leading experts.

And again, as far as who has blood on their hands, there’s zero evidence that the attackers used encryption or anything else that was revealed as a result of Edward Snowden, but there’s lots of evidence that the CIA utterly failed in their mission and that the US government has done all sorts of things unwittingly to strengthen ISIS. And so, I think if you want to talk about who has blood on their hands, personally, I would look first to ISIS, the people who actually shot those people in the Paris streets. It’s really weird. Usually after a terrorist attack, nobody is allowed to suggest that anybody has blame other than the terrorists themselves. But for some reason, in this case, leading establishment figures and journalists feel free to go around detracting – distracting attention from ISIS and saying, “No, it’s not ISIS that has blood on their hands, it’s Edward Snowden.” For some reason, that’s now allowed. So, if that’s what we’re doing, if that’s the game we’re playing, I would look to the US government first, because they failed to find the plot despite huge amounts of money and unlimited power to do so, and because they’ve done all sorts of things to strengthen the group that apparently bears responsibility for this attack.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I’d like to turn to a clip from an Al Jazeera interview in August with the former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael Flynn. The host, Mehdi Hasan, questions Flynn about how much the US knew about the rise of the so-called Islamic State in Syria.

MEHDI HASAN: Many people would argue that the US actually saw the rise of ISIL coming and turned a blind eye, or even encouraged it as a counterpoint to Assad. In a secret analysis by the agency you ran, the Defense Intelligence Agency in August 2012 said – and I quote – “there is a possibility of establishing a declared” –

MICHAEL FLYNN: Not so secret.

MEHDI HASAN: – “or undeclared Salafist” – it’s not secret anymore. It was released under FOI. The quote is: “there is a possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria … and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.” The US saw the ISIL caliphate coming and did nothing.

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, I think that what we – where we missed the point – I mean, where we totally blew it, I think, was in the very beginning. I mean, we’re talking four years now into this effort in Syria. Most people won’t even remember – it’s only been a couple years – the Free Syrian Army, that movement. I mean, where are they today? Al-Nusra, where are they today, and what have – how much have they changed? When you don’t get in and help somebody, they’re going to find other means to achieve their goals. And I think right now what we have allowed is –

MEHDI HASAN: Hold on, you were helping them in 2012, while these groups –

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, we’ve allowed this – we’ve allowed this extremist – you know, these extremist militants to come in –

MEHDI HASAN: But why did you allow them to do that, General?

MICHAEL FLYNN: Those are – those are –

MEHDI HASAN: You were in post. You were the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, right, right. Well, those are – those are policy –

MEHDI HASAN: I took the liberty –

MICHAEL FLYNN: Those are policy issues.

MEHDI HASAN: I took the liberty of printing out that document.

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, yeah.

MEHDI HASAN: This is a memo I quoted from. Did you see this document in 2012? Would this come across your table [inaudible]?

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I paid very close attention to all the [inaudible] –

MEHDI HASAN: OK, so when you saw this, did you not pick up a phone and say, “What on Earth are we doing supporting these Syrian rebels?”

MICHAEL FLYNN: Sure. I mean, that – that kind of information is presented, and –

MEHDI HASAN: And what did you do about it?

MICHAEL FLYNN: – those become – those become – I argued about it.

MEHDI HASAN: In 2012, your agency was saying, quote, “the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”


MEHDI HASAN: In 2012, the US was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups. Why did you not stop that, if you’re worried about the rise of, quote-unquote, “Islamic extremism”?

MICHAEL FLYNN: Yeah, I mean, I hate to say it’s my job, but that – my job was to ensure that the accuracy of our intelligence that was being presented was as good as it could be. And I will tell you, it goes before 2012 – I mean, when we were in Iraq, and we still had decisions to be made before there was a decision to pull out of Iraq in 2011. I mean, it was very clear what we were going to face.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was the former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael Flynn, being interviewed by Mehdi Hasan of Al Jazeera. So, Glenn Greenwald, could you respond to that interview? And also explain – you’ve said repeatedly that the US media tends to simply echo what US government and military officials say. Explain what you think accounts for that.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, first of all, that clip is unbelievable. It is literally one of the three most important military officials of the entire war on terror, General Flynn, who was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He’s saying that the US government knew that by creating a vacuum in Syria and then flooding that region with arms and money, that it was likely to result in the establishment of a caliphate by Islamic extremists in eastern Syria – which is, of course, exactly what happened. They knew that that was going to happen, and they proceeded to do it anyway. So when the US government starts trying to point the finger at other people for helping ISIS, they really need to have a mirror put in front of them, because, by their own documents, as that extraordinary clip demonstrates, they bear huge responsibility for that happening, to say nothing of the fact that, as I said, their closest allies in the region actually fund it.

And then, just to take a step further back, The Washington Post six months ago reported what most people who pay attention to this actually know, which is that what we call ISIS is really nothing more than a bunch of ex-Baathist military officials who were disempowered and alienated by the US invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent instability that it caused, and then the policies of the – the sectarian policies of Prime Minister Maliki in basically taking away all of the power of those ex-Baathists in favor of Shiite militias and Iran-aligned militias and the like. And so, essentially, what I think everybody at this point understands is that the reason there is such a thing as ISIS is because the US invaded Iraq and caused massive instability, destroyed the entire society, destroyed all of the infrastructure, destroyed all order, and it was in that chaos that ISIS was able to emerge. So, again, if you’re looking for blame, beyond ISIS, the US government is a really good place to look.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to –

GLENN GREENWALD: As far as why the media – go ahead. Sorry, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: No, go ahead. Go ahead, Glenn.

GLENN GREENWALD: So, as far as why the media is willing to sort of spread these claims so uncritically, I mean, you know, there are complicated reasons. I mean, one is that the media itself is very nationalistic, and they get wrapped up and caught up in the sort of uber-patriotism and jingoism as much as non-journalists do, and see the world through that lens. Another is that they spend a huge amount of time with these government officials. They are in the same socioeconomic sphere. They talk to them all day and night, because that’s where they get their stories from, is the ones that are fed to them by officials. And so they see the world through their lens and also, at the same time, want to serve them and please them in order to continue to get sources. A lot of these people are people who work for large corporations, and large corporations want to keep positive relations with the US government, and so report favorably on them rather than in a way that would anger the government, because that’s not in their interest to do.

And then, finally, there’s a lot of resentment and bitterness to the Snowden reporting among lots of journalists, because they were excluded from the story, though journalism won a lot of awards that they themselves have never won. And they hate Edward Snowden, and they hate the journalism that he enabled, and so this is sort of their chance to demonize not just him, but the journalism. And so, they’re eagerly giving a platform to any US officials who want to say that the person who has blood on their hands is Edward Snowden.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, then come back. We’re talking to the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. We’ll be back with him in a minute.

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