New York Times investigative journalist James Risen has uncovered some of the biggest stories from the war on terror using confidential sources: from domestic spying to bungled U.S. intelligence operations in Iran. Risen now faces years in prison for refusing to divulge a source, despite attempts by the government to cut a deal. Now, in a new book, Risen details the seamier side of the war, examining corrupt and potentially criminal actions by what Risen terms the “homeland security-industrial complex” in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Kojo talks with Risen about his reporting, the role of whistleblowers and reporters in the post-9/11 era, and his uncertain future.


  • James Risen Investigative Reporter, The New York Times; Author, "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War"

Book Excerpt

Excerpt from PAY ANY PRICE by James Risen. Copyright © 2014 by James Risen. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


  • 13:06:39

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. When President Obama took office in 2009, he pledged his administration would be the most transparent in history. But, for the press, that promise rings hollow. Following a record number of investigations and prosecutions, both of whistleblowers and the reporters who aided them. It's a reality James Risen has lived with for six years.

  • 13:07:15

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIA Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter for the New York Times, Risen was the first to expose the National Security Agency's massive warrantless wiretapping program. But it was his reporting about a botched CIA operation that ultimately put him in the government's crosshairs. That operation, codenamed "Merlin" was allegedly leaked by whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling now faces years behind bars for the leak, and James Risen will join him if he doesn't testify against Sterling by exposing him as his source.

  • 13:07:48

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAs he's lived with this uncertainty, James Risen has continued his shoe leather reporting on the toll the war on terror has taken in his new book, "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War." James Risen joins us to talk about those stories and his own stories. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:08:07

    MR. JAMES RISENThanks for having me.

  • 13:08:08

    NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments, you can give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can send email to or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. Before getting into the specifics of "Pay Any Price," James Risen...

  • 13:08:25


  • 13:08:25

    NNAMDI...the central theme of this book is that ever since 9/11, our fear of terrorism has been stoked to the point where the American taxpayers are now paying all kinds of shadowy characters for a war without end. We don't know exactly how much we are paying, to whom, and for what. We don't know how much of this money is being wasted, we don't know how much is being stolen. We're all being monitored in one way or another, being forced to give up our privacy.

  • 13:08:55

    NNAMDIAnd when whistleblowers and journalists attempt to provide transparency, to tell us, to report what's happening, and how it's happening, they are punished and prosecuted for it. Is that the society we're living in? Is that what you call the Homeland Security Industrial Complex?

  • 13:09:11

    RISENYes, I think that's a very good summary, what you just provided. Yeah, I think if you look back at 9/11, right after 9/11, we started what you might call, what we thought of at the time as either a search for justice or retribution, whatever phrase people wanted to use at the time. And today, it's just become, after 13 years, a search for cash and power and status. And it's also -- if you think back to what happened, remember Dick Cheney said the gloves come off. That was his famous phrase right after 9/11.

  • 13:09:48

    RISENAnd what that really meant was we were gonna deregulate national security. We were gonna take -- get rid of all the rules that had been put in place after Watergate to regulate and reform intelligence. And have a new national security state with very little rules, little oversight and at the same time, we were pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into it. Congress didn't want to answer very many questions, because they didn't want to look soft on terror.

  • 13:10:16

    RISENAnd they, so there's been almost no oversight as we've poured all this money -- billions, hundreds of billions of dollars into new counter-terrorism programs. At the same time, we've gotten rid of the old rules that limited and governed how the intelligence committee worked.

  • 13:10:33

    NNAMDII want to start with some specifics. Right after 9/11, the months following 9/11, billions were spent in the name of fighting terrorism. Protecting ourselves against it. But you've got several examples of the unregulated landscape of war that you just described, based on our fears of Islamic extremism. I'd like to start with the most jaw dropping. The missing pallets of Iraqi cash.

  • 13:10:59


  • 13:11:00

    NNAMDICan you tell us that story?

  • 13:11:01

    RISENYeah. I was -- it's really a remarkable story. Right after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States, the Bush administration, and the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was the US led occupation government in Baghdad, began to take truck -- hundred dollar bills, billions and billions of hundred doll, of cash in hundred dollar bills from the Federal Reserve Band of New York. They trucked it to Andrews Air Force Base, then Air Force C-17's flew it to Baghdad International Airport.

  • 13:11:36

    RISENAnd then it was trucked by convoy to the Green Zone or to the Iraqi Central Bank. And after that, nobody knows what happened to it. And billions of doll -- the US and the CPA flew between 12 and 14 billion dollars, in cash, to Baghdad in 2003 and 2004. And much of it is still missing or unaccounted for. And what I found is that by several years ago, the Special Inspector General for Iraq, Stuart Bowen, was able to track this money down secretly and find that almost two billion in cash was sitting in a bunker in Lebanon.

  • 13:12:22

    RISENBecause it had been stolen by powerful Iraqis and moved to this bunker for -- to hide it and for safe keeping. All of this money was just -- there was almost no oversight of what happened to this money.

  • 13:12:38

    NNAMDIYour book also identifies the so-called oligarchs of 9/11, who have profited off the war on terror. Back to that money for a second, is it still presumably still in that bunker?

  • 13:12:52

    RISENIt could be. It's not clear what happened. Stuart Bowen, the Inspector General, tried to get the CIA, the FBI and other agencies to help him do something about it. None of them were interested. He tried to get the Lebanese Attorney General to help him and he wouldn't help him. And he tried -- and he actually talked to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki about it, and the Iraqi government didn't seem very interested either. So, it's unclear what's happened to it.

  • 13:13:20

    NNAMDIAs I was saying, your book also identifies the so-called oligarchs of 9/11 who have profited off the war on terror. Can you tell us about these people, starting with the Blue Brothers?

  • 13:13:30

    RISENYeah. The Blue Brothers founded a company that makes the Predator Drone and the Reaper Drone. And so, they are kind of the iconic figures in the war on terror, because the Predator is the signature weapon of the war on terror. It's what I call the -- an imperial weapon. It allows us to attack and kill people in other countries without having any human beings inside that country. And it's the Blue Brothers, through their company, General Atomics, in San Diego, were able to go from a very small defense contractor to a very large defense contractor throughout the course of the war on terror.

  • 13:14:14

    RISENTheir defense contracts, I think, grew about 10 fold in the decade after 9/11.

  • 13:14:22

    NNAMDIWe're talking with James Risen. He's an investigative reporter with the New York Times. His latest book is called "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and the Endless War." If you have questions or comments for James Risen, give us a call at 800-433-8850. What do you think about leaking to a reporter? Should it be a crime and do you think leaks are necessary? Should whistleblowers be considered spies or heroes? 800-433-8850. You can send email to You can shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website Join the conversation there.

  • 13:14:56

    NNAMDIPrivate enterprise has always aided and benefited from war time, so...

  • 13:15:00


  • 13:15:00

    NNAMDI...what is your issue with people like the Blue Brothers? What do you want your readers to understand about them?

  • 13:15:06

    RISENIn the past, we've had wars that are finite. We've had periods of war, and then we go back to a period of peace. We've now -- we're now in the longest continuous period of war in our history, far longer than any other time. And it's become a permanent state for the United States. We had, if you remember, right after 9/11, we had Congress pass what was called the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. At the time, we thought that that declaration by Congress was limited to Al Qaeda or to the war in Afghanistan.

  • 13:15:43

    RISENIn fact, it's now been used by two successive administrations for -- to provide legal protection -- you know, legal approval for combat operations all over the world, either with a large present -- force presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, or with smaller special forces and drones in a number of other countries. So, and it's also provided great change -- you know, flexibility for the United States in how it deals inside the United States. There was a congressional hearing a couple of years ago where some US officials said that the authorization for the use of military force provided flexibility.

  • 13:16:30

    RISENAnd the ability to conduct the war on terror anywhere from Boston to Kabul. And so I think that is something that is new and unprecedented in American history.

  • 13:16:42

    NNAMDITalk about the phrase you use, "endless war." Because it suggests that now that we have been imbued with this fear of terrorism, that the Homeland Security Industrial Complex is now positioned to perpetrate endless war.

  • 13:17:03

    RISENYeah, I think one of the problems we have is that terrorism is an abstraction. It's -- and so, a war on terrorism is very poorly defined and it's easy to redefine it at any moment. It's not a single adversary. It's not a state, it's not a group. And so it's like the war on drugs. It can go on forever and you can never declare victory and you can never declare defeat. Because there's, there's, there's -- it's not clear. I mean, today, we're now talking about fighting ISIS. ISIS didn't exist before.

  • 13:17:38

    RISENBefore, we were fighting Al Qaeda. So, we can constantly redefine the war on terror to suit whatever the government wants to say is a threat. And that is a dangerous phenomenon, I think.

  • 13:17:51

    NNAMDIPlease put on your headphones. I'd like to go to the phones, because we have a caller who wants to know about that money that might be laying in a bunker someplace in Lebanon. And that caller is Peter in Washington, D.C. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi Peter. Are you there? I'm going to try Peter again.

  • 13:18:09

    PETER...taxpayer money or how much of it was…

  • 13:18:12

    NNAMDIStart, start your question again, please, Peter. We didn't get the whole question.

  • 13:18:15

    PETERYeah, I just wanted to know how much of that money that's missing is US taxpayer money, or how much of it is Iraqi money that was being held in a special account.

  • 13:18:23

    RISENYeah, it was Iraqi money held in the Development Fund for Iraq at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. But, and that's why no one in the US government has expressed much interest in going after it. Yet, it was the US government that flew it from the United States to Baghdad. And on huge pallets. And then just left it without any real oversight or any follow up investigations and what happened to it.

  • 13:18:53

    NNAMDIThat money was supposed to overseen by the US led Coalition Provisional Authority.

  • 13:18:58

    RISENRight. And I know that when Prime Minister al-Maliki talked with Stuart Bowen about it, about a year ago, or maybe a little more than a year ago, he expressed anger to Bowen at the way the US had handled all that cash.

  • 13:19:15

    NNAMDIYour book also lays out the unprecedented role of the contractors who have provided intelligence and services in the war on terror, like banks. You say that the government has treated many of these contractors as too big to fail. Can you give us some examples of what you mean by that?

  • 13:19:32

    RISENYeah. I was referring specifically to KBR, which is the largest, was the largest defense contractor in Iraq. And KBR provided all the basic services for the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan under a massive contract called LogCap. And it, I think, by the -- throughout the duration of the Iraq War, KBR received contracts worth about 39 billion dollars in Iraq. And it was subject to a number of investigations for a number of different alleged problems with its operations and activities, including the electrocution of U.S. soldiers and burn pits which a number of U.S. soldiers have alleged have caused them severe lung disorders. And yet, the army continued to work with them.

  • 13:20:31

    RISENAnd there was an interesting congressional hearing a couple of years ago where one U.S. official who was questioned about all of the problems that KBR had had with its operations in Iraq, kind of threw up his hands and said, well, I think KBR is just too big to fail. We couldn't go to war without them. And the reason the United States can't go to war without these huge contractors is because we don't want to have a draft. If we had a -- in order to have enough U.S. active duty service personnel handling all of the basic services for U.S. operations in a deployed area, we would have to go back to a mandatory draft in order to have an army that large.

  • 13:21:15

    RISENAnd so what is really significant is that the United States goes to wars of choice -- is able to conduct wars of choice, wars without having to go to the electorate to ask if they want to have a war because you have contractors who are able to fill the roles that used to be filled by large conscription armies.

  • 13:21:38

    NNAMDIWell, there are people who will say, look, the U.S. officially ended operations in Afghanistan last month.

  • 13:21:44


  • 13:21:44

    NNAMDIWon't that draw down -- affect the web of contractors that we have? Won't they be going out of business as a result of that?

  • 13:21:52

    RISENNo, I don't think so. I think one of the things that we've seen in Iraq, for instance, is that as the U.S. troops pulled out a lot of contractors went in and took some of the -- took over a lot of the activities that were happening there. And now that we are getting re-involved in Iraq because our operations never really resolved the conflict, more and more contractors are going back in.

  • 13:22:21

    RISENAnd I think you can argue that the situation in Afghanistan is no more settled or resolved than it has been in Iraq. And I don't think we will be gone for very long.

  • 13:22:33

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, if you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. The number is 800-433-8850. Our guest is James Risen. He's an investigative reporter with the New York Times. His latest book is called "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and the Endless War." You can also send us email to Do you agree that the hundreds of billions that have gone into counterterrorism mean that this is a never-ending war or do you see an end in sight, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:25:09

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with James Risen. He is an investigative reporter with the New York Times. We're talking about his latest book "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and the Endless War." We're also talking about the situation he finds himself in. A little more than a week ago, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared to make a firm promise that you, James Risen, will not face jail for refusing to identify your source for your story about the botched CIA operation that was intended to sabotage Iran's nuclear weapons program. Let me quote directly from Mr. Holder as he spoke with Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart.

  • 13:25:44

    NNAMDIHe said, "We have been in touch with Mr. Risen's lawyers. We have talked about a variety of things. If what we've talked about remains true, I think there'll be a resolution that will be satisfactory to everybody. But, as I said, no one's going to jail, no reporter's going to jail as long as I'm attorney general." To which you, James Risen, say what?

  • 13:26:05

    RISENWell, as I said, after he said that, I didn't know what he was talking about because we don't have any deal with them. They didn't offer a deal. I haven't asked for a deal. And then they -- a couple days after he said that, the prosecutors had to file a motion in the court case saying they did not have a deal with me because the defense asked for that. So I think he was perhaps misinformed about the situation in the case. And so I -- you know, he and his -- he's never said to me or my lawyers that he's not going to send me to jail. He's only said it to other people.

  • 13:26:43

    NNAMDIWhat is the next step in your legal situation?

  • 13:26:46

    RISENI don't know. It's up to the government right now. And the trial -- there's a trial scheduled for January.

  • 13:26:54

    NNAMDIOver the past six years, Eric Holder's office has been harshly criticized for breaking down legal protections for reporters and their sources. How would you summarize his legacy now that he's leaving, and more widely -- more importantly, the Obama Administration in its treatment of the press?

  • 13:27:10

    RISENWell, I think that President Obama is, as I've said, the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation. He has prosecuted more whistleblowers and targeted more journalists than all previous administrations combined. And he has continued to do so despite the criticism. They've basically allowed the intelligence community to pressure them to come after people -- reporters on stories that they don't like.

  • 13:27:45

    RISENAnd so it -- the system they've created in which the CIA or the other intelligence agencies file criminal referrals on stories in the press to the Justice Department, which is how these cases begin, gives the CIA a role in domestic politics, which I don't believe they should have.

  • 13:28:07

    NNAMDIYou've made a name for yourself breaking some of the biggest stories in this post-9/11 era, but in doing so you have become the story for the simple reason that you refuse to reveal your sources. You've got apparently some pretty deep sources from ones who helped you uncover the government's warrantless wire-tapping program in 2006 to this source who helped you expose a botched CIA operation that reportedly helped, not hindered Iran's nuclear program. What keeps you keeping on?

  • 13:28:34

    RISENWell, my family, my wife Penny and my kids have been very supportive of me throughout this process. And I don't think I could do it without them. That's what really keeps me going.

  • 13:28:48

    NNAMDIOver the weekend President Obama nominated New York Federal Prosecutor Loretta Lynch to be the next attorney general. By all accounts she's seen as a strong civil rights defender. Any indication at all that she might take a different approach to current attorney general Eric Holder in looking at your case?

  • 13:29:07

    RISENI don't know. I have no idea.

  • 13:29:09

    NNAMDIIn that case, since we don't want you to indulge in speculation, we'll go on to the phones and talk with Ken who is in King George, Va. Ken, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:29:20

    KENGood afternoon, everyone. The war on terrorism, just like the war on drugs, isn't it really a police action? And if it was considered a police action instead of a war, wouldn't it be under a different set of constraints or freedoms than it is if it's considered a war?

  • 13:29:41

    NNAMDIA fascinating question.

  • 13:29:42

    RISENYeah, I think that's a basic -- that is the basic question. And if you remember right, after 9/11 President Bush decided that he was going to -- and he made this very public, he decided that he was not going to treat terrorism as a law enforcement issue the way the Clinton Administration had. He was going to make it a national security issue. And that was the fundamental decision of the last 13 years. And by doing so, he turned it into a war rather than a criminal law enforcement matter which is kind of the more traditional way that the United States had dealt with terrorism in the past.

  • 13:30:20

    RISENBy turning it into a war he brought in the CIA, the Pentagon and all the intelligence and military apparatus of the U.S. government, and then expanded those with creating new agencies. In the -- he was trying to take a break from the way Bill Clinton had dealt with terrorism, which was to have the FBI and the Justice Department take the lead.

  • 13:30:42

    RISENAnd I would argue that after 13 years it might be a good time to go back and try that approach because the main terrorism threat we have today seems to be from lone wolves who are radicalized either over the internet or by having fought with some foreign insurgency who then come back. And those lone wolves are -- in my opinion, should be treated as law enforcement criminal matters rather than as war.

  • 13:31:12

    NNAMDIBecause we were able to prosecute people who had committed acts of terror in the United States when we saw it as a law enforcement issue.

  • 13:31:20

    RISENRight. And we still are. And one of the big political debates over the last few years has been whether to prosecute people inside the United States or send them to Guantanamo for military tribunals. The military tribunal approach has totally failed. It's been very dysfunctional. I don't -- you know, I can't remember whether they've had any successful military tribunals yet. But the U.S. justice system has been quite successful in prosecuting terrorists.

  • 13:31:50

    NNAMDIOn now to Salmon in Ashburn, Va. Salmon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:31:57

    SALMONWell, thank you for taking my call. My question is, after 13 years post 9/11 people that most benefitted from the event is likely the military complex. So I guess my question is, why isn't there more investigative reporting being done on how three buildings freefall, including one which was never hit by anything? And this is an open case that people just arbitrarily believe what happened without really investigating exactly what caused it. That's all.

  • 13:32:30

    NNAMDIYou're talking about investigating 9/11 itself?

  • 13:32:33

    SALMONAbsolutely. How do three buildings just freefall, one of which was never hit by anything. Why isn't there more investigative reporting being done considering, that the military public seems to be the one that's benefitted the most from the event itself?

  • 13:32:48

    NNAMDIYou know, as an investigative reporter I'm sure questions like this come across your desk all the time, so you are much better prepared to answer that than I am. Because there are all kinds of conspiracy theories that circulate around this issue.

  • 13:33:00

    RISENRight. Yeah, I mean, I think you look at any great historical event in American history and there are always conspiracy theories about it. There's still conspiracy theories about Pearl Harbor, about the Kennedy assassination. And one of the reasons I think is that the U.S. government does a very poor job in the aftermath of these large events of fully investigating and uprooting all the truth.

  • 13:33:24

    RISENI think if you look at the 9/11 commission, they kind of rounded off the edges on a lot of the most controversial issues in their final report. And I think that the way they wrote that story -- that report I think led to some conspiracy theories not because there was any real conspiracy to be uncovered, just because the government often doesn't like to answer unwelcomed questions or controversial questions. And that leads, I think -- one of the unintended consequences I think it leads to conspiracy theories.

  • 13:34:01

    NNAMDIOn therefore to Joe in Washington, D.C. Joe, you are now on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:34:07

    JOEWell, first Mr. Risen, I want to thank you for your incredible courage that you've shown over the years. It's just amazing that you have the wherewithal to stand up for what's right. And I thank you on my own behalf and behalf of my children.

  • 13:34:19

    RISENOh, thank you.

  • 13:34:21

    JOEQuestion and your comment, in the aftermath at the Watergate revelations about how Nixon was using the CIA to do domestic spying, the plumbers, the extend of surveillance that was going on, there was a massive electoral response. Jimmy Carter was elected president. He promised that he would never lie to the American people. There was a wave of progressive new democrats elected to office.

  • 13:34:51

    JOEI was naively hoping that there would be some kind of electoral response following the Snowden disclosures and the revelation about how massively the government has overstepped its bounds of being a limited government. But shockingly it was the lowest voter turnout since 1942. Can you comment about what you think, if there is any relationship between the lack of a voter interest in this election and what should ordinarily be shocking disclosures about how the government has amassed power and is spying on its own citizenry?

  • 13:35:32

    NNAMDII think those shocking disclosures have a great deal to do -- or how we respond to those shocking disclosures has a great deal to do with the public's perception of the threat.

  • 13:35:41

    RISENRight. I think one of the things that has continued to be true to a surprising extent throughout this entire period is that any politician who really becomes very skeptical of the war on terror can be easily labeled as being soft on terrorism in the United States. And that has been kind of the worse label you can get in America in the post 9/11 age. And so most politicians have learned to be -- to kind of go the other way and try to be as hard lined on the war on terror as anybody. And that applies both to Democrats and Republicans.

  • 13:36:24

    RISENAnd the only people you're beginning to see question some things are like the Libertarians within the Republican Party like Rand Paul and some very liberal Democrats who are kind of on the fringes of the Democratic caucus in congress. And yet -- but I think most people in the United States, most voters have a -- you know, they look at this and as long as there's no terrorist attacks inside the United States, that's all they care about. And no one -- very few people are really looking at the cost of the unintended consequences of this.

  • 13:37:01

    NNAMDIFor instance, even thought we got Osama bin Laden and the Islamic State had not been around...

  • 13:37:13


  • 13:37:13 the time of al-Qaida, somehow or the other we are nevertheless convinced that the Islamic State poses as serious if not more serious a threat to our way of life...

  • 13:37:24


  • 13:37:25

    NNAMDI...than al-Qaida did.

  • 13:37:26

    RISENYeah, I mean, that's -- it's pretty remarkable that the U.S. intelligence community, which was rightly criticized for a lot of -- missing a lot of things in the past or getting things wrong in the past actually came out and said this summer, ISIS does not pose an imminent threat to the United States. And yet the U.S. in congress and kind of among a lot of conservative pundits began to criticize the intelligence community for not taking them more seriously as a threat to the United States. When in fact they were really a symptom of a Sunni insurgency in Iraq, their main goal was to attack the Shia government in Iraq.

  • 13:38:12

    RISENNow clearly there are some foreign fighters who are joining them and, as I said earlier, who are -- may come back as lone wolves, but that does not make the -- make ISIS a direct threat to the United States. And yet you would never know that from the kind of political rhetoric we've had.

  • 13:38:28

    NNAMDIHere now is Nate in Silver spring, Md. Nate, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:38:34

    NATEGood afternoon. Thanks for taking my call. I'm just curious as to one of the comments that you made earlier about the president's prosecution of journalists. You said it was, I guess, (word?) to previous administrations. Can you quantify that? I mean, is it three more, is it 100 more?

  • 13:38:51

    RISENI think there have been eight or nine prosecutions by Obama. And there were only three in the past ever.

  • 13:39:05

    NATEIn the past ever? Okay.

  • 13:39:06

    RISENYeah, I believe so.

  • 13:39:08

    NATEOkay. I appreciate your following up. Thanks.

  • 13:39:11

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Here is Daniel in Washington, D.C. Daniel, it is your turn. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:39:18

    DANIELYeah, hi. Mr. Risen, I'm a huge admirer of your work and I appreciate your bravery and your journalistic skills. That said, I'm not sure where you were on September 11, 2001. I'm a New Yorker and I was at the World Trade Center. And regardless of what you or anyone else may or may not think, and whatever Americans determine, you know, we are at war. The terrorists have determined that we're at war.

  • 13:39:42

    DANIELAnd it seems to me there needs to be a balance struck between allowing people such as you to do the work, the very valuable work that you do and curtailing, to a certain degree, the work that you do for national security purposes so that people like you and me and your children, as you referred earlier, do not get killed. There's not an absolute -- the First Amendment doesn't offer absolute freedom of speech.

  • 13:40:10

    DANIELAnd, indeed, there is no absolute constitutional right to anything. Constitutional rights are always a matter of judgment. And so, I mean, it's like the one example, were it not for Abraham Lincoln's questionable respect to the Constitution, African-Americans might still be chattel today. And so I would appreciate a little bit more nuance from you.

  • 13:40:36

    NNAMDIWell, stay on the line for a second, because this is an exchange I'd like to hear.

  • 13:40:39

    RISENWell, he's clearly articulated the government's argument against me that they have made repeatedly in court filings. And it's an argument I've heard for many years from supporters of the government. And I understand the argument. I just disagree with it. I think that the role of the press in the United States is clearly defined by the First Amendment. And it's also the role of government to crack down on the press -- just -- that doesn't -- that there's no -- there's nothing in the Constitution, if I heard him correctly, I think he suggested that there are constitutional limits on the press. And that's just not true.

  • 13:41:28

    DANIELWell, and, if I may, Kojo, the -- absolutely are. I mean, the precedent over, you know, decades, if not a century or more, have determined that they are. I mean, and the kind of most basic one is the, you know, the question of, you know, calling fire in a crowded theater. There are limits to constitutional rights and particularly when it comes to national security and the safety of Americans. And some of the information that you and, unfortunately, even more irresponsible -- or sorry, not more irresponsible -- but irresponsible journalists publicize do put Americans at risk by revealing methods of -- that the government uses to protect us from those who would kill us.

  • 13:42:13

    RISENWell, I would argue that -- and I think, I know this to be true -- there's not been a single story or broadcast on television or in the print or anywhere in the media since 9/11 that's really harmed national security. The government cries wolf all the time. And there's just no proof that the United States has been harmed by anything that the press or the media have done.

  • 13:42:39

    NNAMDIAnd in the cases of people like you, who work for what is generally considered mainstream media, a lot of the work you do -- especially the work that impinges or connects to national security in some way -- is, it is my understanding, reviewed by hordes of editors and lawyers before it is actually published.

  • 13:42:59

    RISENYeah, I mean, we have an editing process. And we always -- at The New York Times, if we -- doing a story, we get government's comment. If they don't want a story -- if they argue that a story might damage national security, we will talk to them about it. And so there's a lot of processes involved usually.

  • 13:43:20

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll be returning to our conversation with James Risen, investigative reporter with The New York Times. His latest book is called "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War." Our number is 800-433-8850. Do you agree that the hundreds of billions that have gone into the counterterrorism means that this is a never-ending war? 800-433-8850 or send email to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:45:46

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is James Risen, investigative reporter with The New York Times and author of the book, "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War." We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You had a front-page story yesterday that detailed the intelligence-gathering activities of a former New Jersey port authority detective. That detective, Thomas McHale, used Islamic militant contacts in the Middle East to report on the activities of a Sunni terrorist group, sometimes before they attacked. Why did McHale's contacts with this group, called Jundallah, raise red flags in the intelligence community?

  • 13:46:23

    RISENWell, because the -- the CIA became concerned because he was getting advanced -- he was filing reports, intelligence reports, that gave advanced warning of terrorist attacks. And to have an intelligence relationship with a group that was providing advanced warning of intelligence attacks, the CIA lawyers believed, meant that the -- this was a form of a covert action that had not been authorized by the president. And so the CIA pulled out. But oddly, the FBI and the Pentagon continued to stay involved with the program.

  • 13:47:00

    NNAMDIWhat does that case say about the large network of spies that the intelligence community uses in this anti-terror campaign?

  • 13:47:09

    RISENWell, I think it's part of the same issue we were talking about, where there's very little oversight. We've gotten a lot of new players into intelligence since 9/11. Every agency now wants to be part of the spy world. And there's -- all the rules are -- a lot of the rules are gone. And so you've got a lot of unintended consequences and really bizarre operations that are happening.

  • 13:47:35

    NNAMDIHere, now, is Josie in Ashburn, Va. Josie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:47:42

    JOSIEYes, hello. My first time calling, so...

  • 13:47:45

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:47:46

    JOSIE...I'm slightly nervous. I wanted to get an opinion on Mr. Risen, what he thinks of Edward Snowden. And my other comment is that I, personally, have a fear more of what the government is actually doing than any threat of terrorism. I think -- I really think that this has -- just very potentially dangerous to our democracy. I'll hang up and...

  • 13:48:18

    NNAMDIWell, quickly, quickly, since it's your first call, let me make you less nervous by having you talk more. What is your particular fear about what the government is doing?

  • 13:48:27

    JOSIEOh, I think, it's what we're seeing with journalists. I mean, is that reflective to everybody else, to the citizens themselves? You know, if someone challenges the government -- hey, what is it that you're doing? I really believe that our Fourth Amendment is pretty much entattered. (sic) If they're going after the journalists because they're asking questions and they're doing what they're supposed to be doing, yeah, I would be a little nervous. If anything, politicians, you know, the politicians in this country should take a page from the journalists...

  • 13:49:13


  • 13:49:13

    JOSIE...and start demanding some question.

  • 13:49:16

    NNAMDIThank you very much. Now, on to her first question, your opinion about Edward Snowden.

  • 13:49:21

    RISENOh, I think he's a whistleblower. I think he has performed a real public service by opening up -- disclosing a lot about what the extent of domestic surveillance. I think what Eric Lichtblau and I reported on in The New York Times in 2005 and 2006 was, we kind of disclosed the framework and the outlines of the NSA domestic spying program. And Snowden has really kind of filled in the blanks with a lot of documents, and particularly those that show how much that program had grown under President Obama.

  • 13:49:56

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. You know, Glenn Greenwald visited with us earlier this year. And of course, he's known as the reporter who worked with the whistleblower, Edward Snowden, to report on the government's domestic spying program. But he continues to write and report under a lot of pressure by the government. And I had the same thought about you. How are you able to continue reporting and cultivating sources within the government and within what you call the Homeland Security industrial complex, with the federal government breathing down your neck?

  • 13:50:25

    RISENWell, it made it more complicated. But I think part of it is that it's been a mixed blessing. Some -- I'm sure there's a lot of people who don't want to talk to me. But there are some people who come to me now and say that they respect the fact that I've stood my ground and that they're -- they know that they can trust me, so...

  • 13:50:50

    NNAMDICan you explain to our listeners how the NSA warrantless wiretapping story progressed from your Pulitzer Prize-Winning work on it in 2006 to the revelations we heard about in Glenn Greenwald's stories from Eric Snowden?

  • 13:51:05

    RISENYeah. I think what is really interesting is that we showed the -- kind of the state of the domestic spying program in 2005 and 2006. What Snowden provided were documents from about six years later that showed that the NSA had grown and that their domestic operations had exploded, as Americans had moved more toward social media and the digital and online presences of Americans exploded, over -- between about 2005 and 20012. That's the real significance to me is of what Snowden provided, was to show how, as Facebook and Twitter and other social media and digital online activities of Americans dramatically expanded, the NSA was secretly, dramatically expanding its domestic surveillance as well.

  • 13:52:03

    RISENAnd that, to me, was the real benefit of what he did, was he showed how much the program had grown.

  • 13:52:09

    NNAMDIWe got a email from Todd, who says, "Politicians may pander to public fear, but isn't the press equally complicit in drumming up public panic over what to date have been relatively minor crimes that have a terroristic slant? Round the clock coverage for weeks on the Boston Marathon bombing and other similar stories feed into the perception that the U.S. is teeming with hordes who want to do us harm. Why do they get as much play as they do, if the war on terror is overblown, as your guest says?

  • 13:52:38

    RISENI agree with him. The media coverage, I think, if often really bad on terrorism. They -- it's, I guess, I don't know much about television, but I gather that they can get ratings through fear and trying to panic people. And I think that's what a lot of it has been, is just wall-to-wall coverage of often inaccurate information about trying to panic and raise fears. And that's really a tragedy, what's happened to the press on this issue.

  • 13:53:11

    NNAMDIHere is Colin, in Frederick, Md. Colin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:53:17

    COLINHi, Mr. Risen. I really appreciate the work you've done. I was curious as to your opinion of current graduates coming out of college that are getting into these contracting positions with intelligence communities in the local area. Having worked within that group for a little bit of time, I was curious as to what your take is on how junior-level analysts within geospatial, electronic and signals should forecast their future to be, depending on the current political climate?

  • 13:53:53

    RISENWell, I'm not sure. I'm not an expert on that kind of thing. But I gather the -- there's, you know, this whole area -- the whole national security apparatus is growing -- has grown by leaps and bounds. And so I'm sure it's full employment right now. But I'm not an expert on that.

  • 13:54:13

    NNAMDIOne aspect of this that we didn't get into is the U.S. government falling victim to shady profiteers to the tunes of billions of lost dollars. Can you tell us a little bit about Dennis Montgomery?

  • 13:54:24

    RISENYeah, Dennis Montgomery's really one of the best stories of the whole war on terror. I think he was a computer -- self-styled computer software expert who claimed -- in 2003, convinced the CIA -- or the CIA convinced itself, depending on who you talk to -- that he could decode -- he could see and find hidden codes -- al Qaida codes hidden in Al Jazeera news broadcasts. And at Christmas 2003, the CIA took this so seriously, his supposed information showing hidden codes on Al Jazeera, that President Bush grounded flights all over the world because they thought that these codes supposedly hidden in Al Jazeera meant that these were -- they were correspondent to flights that were about to be attacked by al Qaida.

  • 13:55:23

    RISENAnd then after they realized this was all a hoax, they covered the whole thing up and never talked about it.

  • 13:55:28

    NNAMDIBut the level of gullibility is absolutely amazing.

  • 13:55:32

    RISENYeah. Yeah, it's shocking. And that was a time, I think, when -- especially early on in the war on terror -- when the U.S. was so desperate to find any silver bullet to deal with terrorism, that there were a lot of people who came and convinced the U.S. government that they had magic answers.

  • 13:55:51

    NNAMDIHere is Karla in Silver Spring, Md. Karla, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:55:56

    KARLAThank you. I appreciate all the work your guest has done to make us a better democracy. I wonder for a while, do you think Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld don't go abroad because they're afraid to be indicted by an international court?

  • 13:56:15

    RISENWell, there has been some talk about that in Europe. And I'm not sure what the status of that is right now. I know Cheney and Rumsfeld both were -- there were some questions about whether they would be indicted in Europe. And that I think Rumsfeld had to cancel a trip at one point to Europe. But I'm not sure where those things stand now.

  • 13:56:38

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Todd in Arlington. "The public obviously lack interest in deliberate, moderated response, preferring a non-strategic military response. Does a post-9/11 president or anyone have any power to manage the escalating feedback loop of militaristic reaction against reason? One gets the impression that when Dwight Eisenhower talked about the military industrial complex, he was talking about a force that was almost greater than the political system to check. Is it the same with the Homeland Security industrial complex?"

  • 13:57:08

    RISENYeah. You know, it is. I think one of the problems is that the national security apparatus after 9/11 has grown so large in the last 13 years, that it's almost a political constituency unto itself today. And there's very little constituency or power in Congress to rein it in because, as I said, no one wants to be seen as being soft on terrorism. And so we have kind of an open-ended commitment to continue all these operations in these new departments. And I'm not sure what will have to happen to see a drop in -- to see a change in that.

  • 13:57:46

    NNAMDI"Greed, Power, and Endless War," that is the subtitle to James Risen's new book. It is called, "Pay Any Price." He's an investigative reporter with The New York Times. James Risen, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:57:57

    RISENThanks for having me.

  • 13:57:58

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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