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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  July 20, 2017 6:30am-7:01am PDT

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♪ and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ >> former cia analyst and case officer who served nearly two years in federal prison after blowing the whistle.
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that this evidence, this data had to be revealed to the american people? >> to tell you the truth, i was a little bit selfish about it. i had been the chief of counterterrorism operations for the cia and pakistan after the september 11th attacks and a series of raids in march of 2002, we caught -- i was a beta. many dozens of other al qaeda fighters. so, we believed at the time was the number three in the organization in al qaeda. that turned out to not be true, but he was still a very bad man and certainly a wanted terrorist. i returned to cia headquarters in may of 2002 and was asked if i wanted to be certified in the use of enhancement interrogation techniques. i'd never heard that term before and i asked what it meant and the cia officer who had asked me, very excitingly said, we're going to start getting rough
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with these guys and i said, what's that supposed to mean? he described to me these ten techniques and i said, i don't know, man, that sounds like a torture program but let me think about it. i went up to the executive floor of the cia. there was a very, very senior cia officer up there from whom i worked in the middle east a decade earlier and i said, they asked if i wanted to be train in this. he said, let's call it what it is, it's a torture program, they can use whatever euphemism they want. you know how these guys are, somebody is going to go overboard and kill a frizz pris. when that happens it's going to be a congressional investigation and justice department investigation and somebody's going to go to prison. do you want to go to prison? i said, no, i don't want to go to frizz. as it turned out, i was the only one who went to prison. i said new york, i don't want to go to prison. i resigned from the cia later to go into the private sector. three years after that i got a call from abc news. he said that he had a source who
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said i tortured abu zabada. i said that absolutely untrue, i was the only person who was ever kind to him, never laid a hand on him or any other prisoner. i said your source is mistaken or he's a liar. he said, well, you're welcome to come on the show and defend yourself. i said i'd think about it. in the meantime, president bush did a news conference in which he looked directly into the camera and said, we do not torture. i said to my wife who at the time was also a senior cia officer, i said, he is a bold-faced lawyer. he's looking the american people in the eye and lying to us. a couple of days later in response to a reporter's question, president bush said, well, if there is torture, it's the result of a rogue cia officer. and this is where the selfishness comes in. i said to my wife, brian ross' source is at the white house. and they're going to try to pin this on me. so i called brian ross, i said, i'll give you your interview. i decided in the three or four
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days between that call and the interview that no matter what he asked me, i was going to tell the truth. and i came to that conclusion for a number of reasons. first of all, torture is patently illegal. we have something in this country called the federal torture act of 1946 and it specifically prohibits exactly the techniques we were using against al qaeda prisoners. secondly, we're a nation of laws. at least we like to tell other countries that we are. and we're a shining beacon of human rights and respect for civil liberty and civil rights. well, let's prove it. if this guy's the bad guy that he said he was, let's put him on trial, we'll let him face a jury of his peers and argue his case in court. that wasn't the plan for abu zabada or any other prisoner. i did a little research on my own at the time, too, found in 146 11946 in the aftermath of the war we executed japanese
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soldiers who waterboarded american prisoners of war. january 1968, the "washington post" ran a front page photograph of. on the day the picture ran, secretary of defense mcthat mare ra ordered an investigation. the soldier was arrested, tried. tried and convicted to 20 years in prison. well, the law never changed. congress never -- never amended the law. so why was torture illegal in 1946 when it was a death penalty case and illegal in 1968, but not illegal in 2002? >> and why should we do it and other countries can't? >> exactly. and so i decided that i was going to go public. that it was the right thing to do. >> tell me a bit more about the decision to go public. i assume you talked to your wife about this. i assume you had some idea what was to come when you did go public, maybe you didn't have any idea. >> i actually underestimated the reaction. i discussed it with my wife and, indeed, she even accompanied me
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to the interview. she sat just off camera. when i finished, i said, how did i do? and she said, great. i said, i didn't say anything classified, did i? and she said, no. nothing. well, within 24 hours of the interview, the cia filed something called a crimes report against me with the justice department. and the fbi began investigating me and they investigated me for a full year from december of 2007 to december of 2008. and then at the end of that year, they concluded that i had not committed a crime. i had not revealed any classified information and they closed the case. but three weeks later when president obama was inaugurated and i had no idea this was happening, the cia asked eric holder to secretly re-open the case against me. and they investigated me for three more years. i had no idea they were on my phone, i had no idea i was under fbi surveillance. they were collecting my e-mails. i had no idea.
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you dig hard enough into anybody's life, you can patch together charges, a crime. there's a great book written by a professor of law at harvard university called "three felonies a day" and he says we are so overcriminalized in this country, overregulated that the average american on an average day going about his or her normal business commits three felonies. most of those are called thr ee throwaway charges. conspiracy, perjury, making a false statement. they're little charges they add on to force you to the negotiating table to take a plea. and that's what they ended up doing with me. i was charged with five felonies. including three counts of espionage. coming out of that interview and subsequent interview with the "new york times." i hadn't committed espionage. that was ridiculous. in discovery, we found three memos. one was from the cia to the justice department saying charge
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him with espionage. the justice department wrote back and said he hasn't committed espionage. the cia wrote back and said, charge him, anyway, and make him defend himself. so, they did and then, you know, you rack up a million dollars plus in legal bills pretty darn quick especially in a national security case. that's the justice department's goal. they heap on all these charges. once you go broke, they come to you and say, all right, we'll dismiss all the charges if you take a plea to a lesser charge. so knowing the government wins 98.2% of its cases according to propubli propublica, you roll the dice, facing 45 year or take the 23 months that they're offering? >> no, i don't mean to make you political, you work for the cia, work for the american people. republicans or democrats. you work for the american people. i get that fully. but given what we know, knew and know about the bush administration and certainly about dick cheney, what he
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believe believed, it's one thing to have the bush administration have their justice department come after you initially. it's quite another thing to have barack hussein obama and eric holder who we expect to behave a little differently. >> that's right. >> to come after you. >> that's right. >> how did you process that? wasn't bush, but it was the obama people. >> i was in denial for a long time. i volunteered on the campaign -- >> for obama. >> for obama. i took my children to the inauguration to witness this historic moment. this great moment in american history. went to work immediately after the inauguration, went to work for john kerry on the senate foreign relations committee on the democratic staff. i'm a third-generation democrat. i've always been a democrat. i've always been a progressive. then the whole weight of the u.s. government fell on my head. and so i got to meet people like tom drake, for example, at nsa. he was an nsa whistleblower who was prosecuted under the espionage act during the balm. obama administration and others.
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it turns out between the passage of the espionage act in 1917, and obama's inauguration in 2009, three americans were charged with espionage for speaking to the press. just during the obama administration, eight people were charged with espionage. espionage is one of the most -- it's one of the gravest crimes with which an american can be charged, it frequently carries with it the death penalty and eight people were charged by obama's justice department with espionage just for speaking to the press. now, there's a legal definition of whistle blowing, it's bringing to light any evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, illegality or threats to the public health or public safety. so there's got to be some kind of administrative measure, if you want to punish a whistleblower, you don't have to charge him with a death penalty case. there's got to be something else that you can do to express, you know, frustration or anger or to discourage other people from going public.
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but that's not what the justice department did. >> i'll come back to the specifics in just a second. but how did you process that you were being prosecuted for speaking to the press, specifically to clear your own name? >> right. >> you get a phone call from brian ross at abc to say, we were told this, this and this about you. either you go on camera to defend yourself or they're going to railroad you. not just behind the scenes, but they're going to railroad you on national television. you have to two on g go on tv t yourself. speaking to the press to defend your own honor, you end up being prosecuted. how did you process that? >> your first thought is to jump in front of a subway train, in all seriousness, but i have five kids alt home and i had really great lawyers. they sid you didn't do anything wrong, we're going to fight it, we're going to go to trial and we're going to fight it. so we fought as long as we
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could. at the same time, we had this parallel plan where we were trying to get in front of obama. i had wild support within the greek american community. which really helped me a lot. and, you know, people like alexi giannoulias who is an old friend of obama's and played basketball together on sundays. alexi volunteered to help me and a couple other very prominent greek american businessmen. it took us -- i had to go to prison, come home, apply for a pardon and it took us that long, four years, to finally get if front of the president and the person that did it for me was joe biden. so, these greek americans finally got to joe biden, argued my case. joe biden was one of only two living senators who voted against the law that was i was convicted of violating and, indeed, the author of the law wrote a letter to president obama saying this is not why we wrote the law, this guy should never have been prosecuted in
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the first place. so four days before donald trump became president, one of the greeks and biden went to see the president on my behalf and this greek american told me afterwards i would have been so proud after joe biden that he really argued for me and finally at the end of his five. minute argument laying out my case for the president, the president said, guys, i'm just not going to do this, it's either manning or him and manning has 35 years. that's how it ended for me. >> ah. when the word -- when that word made its way back to you, first of all, who told you that? >> the greek who was in the meeting with the president. >> that's what i figured. and when this greek friend of yours said this to you, how did you take that? how did you hear it? >> he called me when he came out of the white house. it was late. it was about midnight. >> right. >> and to tell you the truth,
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this is sort of counterintuitive, i felt almost relie relieved, like i had devoted the previous 4 1/2 years to clearing my name and my goal from the beginning was to just get in front of the president. and they had gotten in front of the president so i knew that i had tried my best. i did everything that i could do. and i thought, well, i'm just going to have to wait for the next president. not thinking that it was going to be donald trump. so now i'm not really sure what i'm going to do, to tell you the truth. >> i know you -- since you're on that, let me go to trump then we'll come back to the story. so given what you had to endure, which were, you know, false allegations and abuse of the law, you got the vice president lobbying the president on your behalf, the president's not going to go for it. but given what you had to endure, how, then, do you see -- i expect your lens, your prism is different than ours.
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how, then, do you see these stories about trump and russia and collusion and russia impacting the outcome of our elections? how did you read that, given what you had to endure? >> i read a column recently in which i said it's possible to have a scenario here where there's no good guy, right? the russians mean us harm. they always have. it's just politics, that's just the way it is. that's not to say trump's a good guy. i don't believe that he is a good guy. i believe crimes have been committed here. now, whether there was collusion and if that collusion meets the criteria for a criminal defense, i don't know. i'm not counsel mueller. with that said, i really do agree with the pundits who say, it's usually not about the crime. it's about the cover-up of the crime. so, what we're getting in the press now, in these bits and pieces, to me, is evidence of multiple crime. i talked a few minutes ago about
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throwaway charges, conspiracy, wire fraud, making a false statement. i think we're going to see a lot of these. you know, if you're on the payroll of the turkish government, for example, and you don't register in washington as a representative of a foreign power, that's a felony. whether you're a nice guy or not is irrelevant. that's a felony. that's what both paul manafort and mike flynn did. if you fill out a standard form 86 and you say, no, i've not met with any russians then you sign your name where it says under penalty of perjury, i swear that the above is true, when you know it's not true, that is a felony. so i think we've seen multiple felonies committed already, and we've real ly only scratched th surface. we don't know, for example, about this bank that manafort borrowed $15 million from, the bank had net assets of $40 million. that stinks of bank fraud. >> do you think paul manafort, more expressly, do you think
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michael flynn will end up in jail like you did? >> i'm using watergate as a guide and for all the crimes that the watergate burglars and conspirators committed, i think the longest -- the longest prison stretch by a long shot was gordon liddi and i think he did two years . everybody else got something like three months to eight months. for major national security crimes, my guess is unless president trump pardons everybody, which i think is probably a likelihood, i think we're going to see very, very short sentences in country club minimum security prisons. >> and when you juxtapose what happened to you versus what will like lie not happen to them, what did not happen to those in watergate? >> you know, mr. smiley, if i dwell on that, it will make me crazy. when i first got to prison, i
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started writing and so as to maintain my own mental health, i decided to use nelson mandela as a model. >> not a bad model. >> not a bad model. >> not a bad model. >> here's a guy who was in solitary confinement for more than 30 years. now, that's identified as a form of torture by the united nations. and he came out and what did he do? he forgave everybody. so i decided, i have to look at this as water under the bridge. i can't change it. it's done. it's in the past. i have to -- i have to rebuild my life and look forward. with that said, i think that we need to talk as a country about what the fbi does to people. one of the wonderful things about working for the senate foreign relations committee is you get to have lunch with foreign diplomats all the time. and, you know, i just love talking about middle eastern politics and the middle east peace process and whatever.
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i got a call from a japanese diplomat inviting me to lunch one day. i went to lunch. i remember that lunch being delightful. and at the end of it, he said to me, so what's next for you? i said, well, i think i'm going to resign soon, actually. i promised senator kerry i'd give him two years, it's been 2 1/2. i think i'd like to go back into the private sector. and very excitingly, he says, no, don't do that. if you give me information, i can give you money. and i said, what's the matter with you? cold pitching me like that. you should be ashamed of yourself. so i went directly to the office of the senate security officer and i said, i was just pitched by a foreign intelligence officer. he had me write up a memo, we sent it to the fbi. two days later the fbi came to interview me and they said, here's what we want you to do. call him back, invite him to lunch and try to get him to tell you exactly what information he wants and how much he's willing to fay pay fpay for it. so i did and wrote up a memo and sent it in and they asked me to
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do it a third time, a fourth time, a fifth time which i did because it's my patriotic duty. after the fifth lunch he said, well, i've been promoted. i got my dream job. i'm going to be the number two at the japanese embassy in cairo. i said, congratulations, i shook his hand, i nef sver saw him ag. in discovery, a year later, i've been arrested, we get this tranche of tens of thousands of documents from the justice department and it turned out there never was any japanese diplomat. he was an fbi agent undercover trying to get me to commit real espionage. why? because they knew i hadn't committed espionage when i talked to abc news. and they knew that the charge was going to be thrown out and didn't want to be embarrassed. well, i'm not unique or unusual. this happens in america every day. this is part of our federal judicial process. it's to entrap people. and to jam our prisons full of people on trumped up charges or on something called charge stacking. let's say you've really done something illegal.
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they won't charge you just with that crime. they'll charge you with five or ten felonies. knowing that it's going to break you. you can't fight that. you're facing 100 years in prison. so you'll take a plea. to make the rest go away. that's why the prisons are full. especially on drug charges and that's why the government wins 98.2% of its cases. >> i gave a talk the other day and in the talk, i made the point, john, tried to make the point, talking to a room full of primarily african-americans at this particular speech. i made the point to the audience that black people, my peoples have learned to love this country not because of but in spite of -- >> amen. >> not in cause of but in spite of. i thought about that as you were talking a moment ago. i wonder how it is at this point given you referenced your patriotic duty a few moments ago how it is you just don't hate your government. how it is you haven't moved to another country or gone to canada like folks threatened to do if donald trump won. everybody threatened to go to canada if he won. how is it that you still, i
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assume, love your country? >> it may sound naive, but i really believe in the constitution. i really believe that we're right and they're wrong. i believe that they're abusing the system. that they're abusing our laws and abusing the constitution. and that if i shout loud enough with like-minded people, that our government will come back to its senses. you know, we made so much progress at the very end of the obama administration on -- on sentencing reform. we've gone back to square one now under jeff sessions. but public opinion is beginning to turn. people really do understand that our european allies, for example, are right about their own prison reform and sentencing reform programs. that we're the ones who are behind the 8 ball and that we need to change. >> so, i know you're not going to spend the rest of your life a
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lobbyist, drive you crazy as you said. i know, again, you see this as water under the bridge at this point, how you have to process it. i get that, for your own mental health. but how important is it for you to spend the rest of your life at least continuing to try to clear your good name? >> oh, it's the most important thing in my life. >> your kids, for your grandkids. >> oh, yeah. >> to come. >> without any doubt. i mean, the truth of the matter is, i'm a convicted felon. it doesn't matter how pay reyoticreyo patriotic i am, how many medals i've won or cia exceptional performance awards i've won. none of that matters. i'm a convicted felon. i lost my federal pension. i devoted my entire adult life to public service. i can't vote. i can't own a gun. my children are proud of me and i'm happy for that, but i really do need to clear my name. one of my attorneys, actually i had 11 attorneys, if you can imagine, and the one that i liked and respected the most told me the other day, it might
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take a little time but you're going to get that pardon, i feel certain of it, it will come, not with this president probably but with a future one. >> his name is john. the book is called "doing time like a spy: how the cia taught me to survive and thrive in prison." thank you for your book. thanks for your insights. good to have you on. >> thanks for having me. >> that's our show tonight. thanks for watching. good night from los angeles. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley@pbs.org. hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a discussion with jada pinkett smith about her new film "girls trip." that's next time. we'll see you then.
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