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77 year old New Yorker Ray McGovern is a veteran CIA officer turned peace activist. He was a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990, including during the administrations of John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior. Ray’s duties included chairing National Intelligence Estimates and preparing the President’s Daily Brief. He received the Intelligence Commendation Medal on his retirement, returning it in 2006 in protest at U.S involvement in torture.In 2011, during a speech at George Washington University by Hillary Clinton, McGovern, stood silently with his back turned during her remarks. This led to him being arrested and badly beaten while the secretary of state continued her speech about the need for freedom of expression in Egypt and Iran.
Ray was later added to the State Department's Diplomatic Security list of potential threats. In 2013, McGovern, along with three former winners, gave the Sam Adams Award for integrity in intelligence to Edward Snowden.
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The Love and Courage podcast
The Love and Courage podcast features interviews with inspirational people who are making a real difference in the world today. Guests are typically people passionate about social justice, and who have demonstrated courage and conviction in their lives.
Host Ruairí McKiernan is leading Irish social innovator, campaigner, writer and public speaker. He is the founder of the pioneering SpunOut.ie youth organization, and helped set-up the Uplift and the A Lust For Life non-profits. In 2012 the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins appointed Ruairí to the Council of State, a national constitutional advisory body whose members include all current and former leaders of the country. Ruairí is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Fulbright fellowship, and he contributes regularly to the media on youth, health, community and social justice issues.
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[00:00:38] RMG: I want my grandchildren to be able to say: “Hey, grandpa – you worked for the CIA. What’s it like to torture people?” And I want to be able to say: “Look, I had nothing to do with that. Here’s what I did – let me tell you what I tried to do.”
[00:00:54] RM: 77-year-old New Yorker, Ray McGovern, is a veteran CIA operative turned peace activist. He was a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990, including during the administrations of John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush Senior. Ray’s duties included sharing national intelligence estimates, and preparing the President’s daily brief. He received the intelligence commendation medal on his retirement, returning it in 2006 in protest at US involvement in torture. In 2011, during a speech at George Washington University by Hillary Clinton, McGovern stood silently with his back turned during her remarks. This led him to being arrested and badly beaten, while the Secretary of State continued her speech about the need for freedom of expression in Iran, and in Egypt. Ray was later added to the State Department’s diplomatic security list of potential threats. In 2013, McGovern, along with three former winners, gave the Sam Adams Award for Integrity and Intelligence to Edward Snowden. It was clear when I met Ray that he still has a real fire in his belly: with a true passion for truth and justice, he’s a man on a mission – as you’re about to hear.
[00:02:08] RM: Ray, thanks very much for joining me on the Love and Courage podcast. I was just reading, there – your surname is obviously McGovern, and I did a little bit of research online, and I saw McGovern, and I thought: “Geez, I’m from County Cavan, in the north east of Ireland, very small region.” McGovern the surname seems to come from there. You go to Wikipedia, and you see: “McGovern, associated with the other surname McKiernan” – so we may be related! So God knows what we were up to back in the day, maybe hundreds of years ago: the McGoverns and the McKiernans could have been peace campaigners, or organizers – we don’t know.
[00:02:47] RMG: Organizers, probably.
[00:02:49] RM: Probably, probably. And, could you tell me a bit about your heritage and what you know of it?
[00:02:54] RMG: Oh, sure. [Inaudible 00:02:56], in Cavan, is where my grandfather was brought up. Came to the…came to America in about 1899, met my grandmother, who was from Galway, Woodford – and, actually, he came on the next ship. She came from Cork, from Queensland or Cobh, and he came from Belfast. And they found out that he came on the next ship – so she accused him of following her all the way from Ireland [laughter]. They got married, produced my father, lived in the Bronx – he was a letter carrier. And I didn’t know him very well, but we grew up with my grandmother. And I had a special relationship with my grandmother. When my elder brother got very sick with spinal meningitis - a long, prolonged illness and death - she was my surrogate mother for many, many months. And I just still find myself, not only quoting from her, but acting according to the way she taught me. One of the big slogans was: ‘Show me your company and I’ll tell you who you are.’ And as I look around at the company I keep now, I think Jane Fahy’s looking down and saying: “Not bad, not bad at all.” [Laughter].
[00:04:21] RM: That’s great. And could you tell me a bit more about her life? What, maybe, influenced her, and where her values came from?
[00:04:27] RMG: Sure. Well, she was one of 10, and she was a girl - and so in 1888, at the age of 18, her father packed up a little lunch-bag, for the week-long journey to New York, and said goodbye to Jane. All she had was the address of an aunt who was a seamstress, and who had an in with a seamstress factory. And so, Jane Fahy learned how to sew, and was lucky enough to get a job with a very well-to-do woman. Travelled all around the then-known world, actually. The Paris Exposition, and so forth. And she told the story: the woman’s name was Miss Neelan, OK? And it was 1900, and Miss Neelan said: “Jane, how long is it since you’ve been home?” And she said: “Twelve years.” And she said: “Well, take the overnight ferry there, and go see your folks.” And so, she’s sitting in Woodford, in the one-room cottage there, with her brothers and sisters, and one of her sisters says: “Now, Jane – the word is that Miss Neelan had 13 pieces of luggage. Is that true?” And my grandmother said: “Yes, that’s true.” “Well, what in the world would she be needing 13 pieces of luggage for?” And the Irish father – knowing all the answers, of course – said: “Well, sure, provisions for the journey.” He, having sent his little daughter off with this little lunch-bag, and of course a rich lady would need 13 pieces of luggage to have all the food along that they might need. So, she came from very humble backgrounds, but a very strong ethos. And she taught me a lot about how the world…what the world is like. Another little vignette: I’m going out to my first job – caddying on the golf course, OK? Fourteen years old, she says: “Raymond – you’re going to be working with the upper crust. Now, do you know what the upper crust is?” I said: “Well, yes, sure.” And she said: “Oh, no. You don’t know. Sit down now, and I’ll tell you. The upper crust, Raymond, is a bunch of crumbs held together by a lot of dough. So, you need to know that, and if you know that and remember it, you’ll be alright on the golf course.” [Laughter]. And you know what? I did remember it, and I was OK on the golf course, and I was OK with the Presidents and the Secretaries of State and all of them. Because she used to warn us: “I didn’t put on the high hat.”
[00:07:05] RM: Yes, tell me a little bit about your childhood, say, your formative years around, maybe, the age of 13, 14.
[00:07:10] RMG: Oh, sure. I grew up in the Bronx, and, in those days, it was about 30% Irish, 20% Italian, 40% Jewish and a really wonderful polyglot kind of atmosphere. I was Catholic – I still am. And when I was baptized, we used to say that not only was membership in the Catholic Church conferred, but membership in the local union, and membership in the Democratic Party. That’s a joke, of course, but I grew up with my father very much supporting Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He thought he was the best gift that God had given our country, at the time, and I agreed with that. But I no longer consider… You know, I can’t get out of the Catholic Church, there’s no way to sign out – nor would I want to. But I have signed out of the Democratic Party, since it’s lost its roots. When I asked my father: “What’s the difference between a Democratic and a Republican?” he said very simply: “The Democrats care about poor people.”
[00:08:23] RM: And was that around the same time you started the caddying and the hanging around with the upper crust?
[00:08:29] RMG: Yes, it was a nice little exposure to both worlds. And later, as I studied theology, and business, actually, it became very clear to me that there was this justice thing, right? And as far as the Hebrew or the Christian scriptures are concerned, it became crystal clear that this God of ours, whether it was Yahweh or Jesus, cared really only about one thing – and that was that we do justice. The rest was all accidental, you know? And that really dawned on me as something that was so key, that I needed to guide my behavior accordingly. And it was then that I started working in the inner city – and when my profession, my former profession, of intelligence analysis, became corrupted – deliberately corrupted in such a way as to justify a bogus war on Iraq – I formed a little group of former intelligence analysts, and we tried to make sure that something was out there in the media, to tell our former colleagues that we were watching them. That we saw what they were doing, and we were going to hold them accountable. We wrote three such memoranda before the war on Iraq – we couldn’t get any media exposure, so… Well, nobody could get any media exposure except those that were drumming the drums for war. And I see the same thing happening now, which is a very dangerous thing, because now we don’t have a country without an army: we have Russia, and Russia is some country that’s going to defend what it considers to be its national interests.
[00:10:28] RM: Russia has obviously been a big interest in your life – where did your interest in Russia start? Was that at university, or studies?
[00:10:36] RMG: It was, yes. I had studied under the Jesuits for my high school years, and then I went to Fordham University – a Jesuit university. So I was up to here with Greek and Latin, and I had some French, and French was OK. But to do the foreign language, the modern foreign language requirement, you had to take a language. I was finished with French, so they were offering Russian. And they had a very strong Russian department at Fordham. This was late 50s.
[00:11:15] RM: Ah, this is Cold War period as well?
[00:11:17] RMG: Yes, really getting bad. So I decided to major in Russian. Learned the language well enough to teach it, and took my Master’s degree in Russian. And, initially, I didn’t know why I was doing that – just because I liked it. It was fun, and I’m good at languages. But of course, then, we had Berlin, and we had Cuba, and we had all manner of things with the Russians. And so, after I was commissioned in the army, I did my two years in military intelligence, and then it was a natural progression to become an analyst.
[00:11:49] RM: So, did you join the military straight out of university?
[00:11:52] RMG: I did – I was commissioned in what we call ROTC, which is the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
[00:11:58] RM: And is that something that was appealing to you? Or was it just, sort of, happenstance? How did it all come about?
[00:12:03] RMG: Well, it was sort of a mix. In those days, there was the universal draft. In those days, there were high tensions. So, you were likely as not to be drafted. And so, the question for someone privileged enough to go to college was: “If I’m going to serve, should I aspire to serve in a responsible officer capacity - as a leader - or shall I just wait and take my chances and get drafted?” And so, many of us decided to enroll in the Reserve Officer Training Corps. It was four years. It involved pretty rigorous summer camp, and then we were commissioned when we graduated with our Bachelor degree.
[00:12:47] RM: What were your first experiences of the military, when you joined?
[00:12:49] RMG: [Laughter] Well, they put off my call to active duty for a year, until I got my Master’s degree – and I thought that was pretty white of them. Of course, the Master’s degree was in Russian Studies, and they expected that they would be able to profit from that. But I was called to active duty on the 3rd of November, 1962. And, like all bright-eyes, bushy-tailed officers, we were eager to learn about these new weapons, like the grenade launcher that we heard so much about. But when we got to Fort Benning, the army infantry school, there were no weapons there to train on. And so, I made some modest inquiries, as a young second lieutenant – and I was told: “Well, yes – there were two divisions came through here four weeks ago, took all the weapons we have to Key West, right opposite Cuba." They were about to go in. Now there’s a palpable, a tangible exposure to how close we were to a war that, probably, would have ended all of us. Now, that was 1962.
[00:13:56] RM: How old were you around this stage?
[00:13:58] RMG: I was 23. But what I’m saying here is, if you do the arithmetic: 2016…1962… That’s a long time ago, and there are very few people as old as I am who remember how close we were. We, intelligence people, didn’t know that those missiles that the Russians put into Cuba were armed with nuclear warheads. We found that out 20 years later! So, it was a miracle, really. Well, it was John Kennedy, and Khrushchev, who decided: “Look, this is crazy. This is really crazy. Let’s make a deal.” And, of course, the deal was: you take the missiles out of Turkey; we’ll take the missiles out of Cuba. And we were so close then. And the reason I mention this is: we’re close now. But nobody remembers then. Then was then – that’s not even part of the history. These young people – young people – sophomores, I would call them, who are advising President Obama. And there aren’t too many people in Europe who have been around long enough to realize how dangerous this is. Russia has national interests. They were invaded several times, like by Napoleon, right? By Hitler, by the Swedes, by the Poles, by the Lithuanians, right? Going back centuries – and they all came through the same place where we’re having exercises with 31,000 NATO troops now. Why? Why? So, you know, if Mr. Putin in the Kremlin is upset about this, I can understand that. Why would this be happening? And the best I can figure out is what Pope Francis would call the blood-soaked arms makers – the blood-drenched arms traders. I mean, peace is not very good for business, right? War? Really good for business. People make a heck of a lot of money – not only in the United States, but in Europe – making armaments and feeding on these tensions which, in my view – and I have some experience in this – are artificially stoked.
[00:16:02] RM: And tell me more about that specific experience in that. So, did you end up being based in Russia for some time?
[00:16:09] RMG: No – when I left the army, I came on to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, as an analyst.
[00:16:19] RM: And was that a specific choice, or were you co-opted or encouraged?
[00:16:23] RMG: No, I had put out feelers on my own initiative, because I had heard about the analysis activities of the CIA. It was pretty new, you know? 1947, it was set up, so we’re just talking, like, 15 years. And they advertised the fact that…into my inbox as an analyst – and I have to persuade the college kids today that we actually had boxes made out of wood, you know? [Laughter] That’s what our inboxes looked like. So, all kinds of material would come in there from open sources, from spies, from overhead photography, from intercepts, from the State Department, FBI: they would all come into one box, right? And I would be – now, get this: this is not a word that’s allowed in Washington vocabulary any more, but it’s… I would be accountable. I would be responsible. I would have to sort through this, and if there were a story in there, I needed to write that up for the President. For the President? Yes, right - for the President! Because we worked right under the President – that’s what Truman set up. He didn’t want to put us under The Pentagon, where the Russians were always 10 feet tall, or under the State Department, that were always defending their own policy.
So, it turned out to be true: what I could do, and what I did do – my account was Russian policy toward China, Vietnam, South East Asia, and the international Communist movement. So, what I would do is to sift through this, write up a story, and maybe every month, every six weeks or so – since there was Russia, since there was a Soviet Union – it would get onto the President’s desk. Now, did they fiddle with it, up the line? Well, you know, I’m not a real good speller [laughter]. And sometimes my syntax isn’t really good. But if they agreed with my line of analysis, it would go straight to him. And that was heady. Because we had no agenda other than to tell truth to power. And people can’t believe that – you go to Washington and say: “I worked in a place that had no agenda except to speak the truth, so the President could know what’s going on.” And they say: “Right, yeah right.” Their eyes glaze over and they say: “You’ve got to have an agenda.” But we didn’t. And that’s why I feel so strongly, watching this ethos – this speaking truth to power – corrupted. Prostituted, really, when George Bush and Dick Cheney – my former colleagues – let themselves be… Well, my former colleagues let themselves be suborned into…not mistaken intelligence – it was fraud. It was out-and-out fraud, that justified the war on Iraq. That was too much. That’s why we formed our little alumni group, that’s why we keep publishing – we’re up to our 45th memorandum, mostly to the President. And over a period of 15 years, that’s only about three a year, as I understand. And they’ve always been at crucial junctures: some of them were written to Chancellor Merkel, saying: “Look, don’t believe General Strangelove. Not Strangelove – what do they call themselves? General Breedlove. We know, now, from his emails, that he was working behind the scenes to start a war in Ukraine. So, that’s a big question: how much control our President has over our military.
[00:19:53] RM: Were there times during that stage, during that period of your life, where you did encounter information, or see information, that you felt uncomfortable with? And, as you progressed in your career, at what point did the tensions emerge, where you understood that the machine that was operating in and above you, and your conscience, where were they in alignment or out of alignment?
[00:20:15] RMG: Well, I have to divide that into two, because first and foremost, people have to realize: there are two CIA’s. One, two, OK? The one I worked in is the analysis directorate – that’s the one that I described speaking truth to power. The other one is the operations directorate – those are the ones that overthrow governments, those are the ones that torture people, those are the ones that… In my day, we were vaguely aware that those things were going on. Now, in the new headquarters building, which was built just before I came on duty with John Kennedy as President, there were turnstiles. The operations people couldn’t come to the analysts, and the analysts couldn’t go… So, it was really two buildings, as well as two CIA’s. So, what I knew about what was going on – particularly in places like Latin America, where terrible things were going on, sometimes by some of the people that I’d gone through training with – I didn’t know that, their names or anything.
[00:21:15] RM: This was under the Reagan administration?
[00:21:18] RMG: Oh no, this was earlier on. This was under LBJ – under Linden Johnson and Nixon and all the rest of them. The point is, simply, that what I knew about that at the time was what I read in the New York Times. And there was a lot in the New York Times. Now, how did I deal with that? Well, I never worked on Latin America, for example. And as long as I could tell the President - or at least my superiors - the truth, I felt that it was best for me to stay in place, and just do my job. And on Vietnam, for example, tell the President this was a fool’s errand: that if he was worried about the Russians, the big shibboleth… It was: “Ah, the Russians have a lot of influence in Hanoi, and we can get them…” This is Harriman, you know, the guys that can do anything. “We can get the Russians to pull our chestnuts out of the fire… We can get the Russians to tell the North Vietnamese – stop! Stop!” [Laughter] You know, if you knew anything about the history of Vietnam, you knew that the Russians had sold the Vietnamese down the river in ’54, 1954, at the Geneva Conference. The Vietnamese were never even, never trust the Russians again. And so the Russians had zero influence. Did they give them some anti-aircraft missiles? Yes. But that was just to burnish their reputation as anti-imperialists. They had no influence.
So, I kept trying to tell Harriman and the others: “Look, if you’re dependent on the Russians to pull our chestnuts out of the fire in Hanoi, forget about it!” Not only have they no incentive to do that, but they don’t have the ability to do it. Now, that’s the second part of your answer, here. That was frustrating, because sometimes the guys at the very top, like Director Richard Helms, they didn’t want to cross the US military. And sometimes, the real truth didn’t get very far – didn’t get as far as the White House. Particularly on Vietnam.
[00:23:20] RM: And can you identify with the likes of Edward Snowden, now? Because he was a young man – or he is a young man, rather – round the same age as you were during a lot of this going on. And he’s obviously, now, ended up in Russia – but he would’ve had access to information, and at some point, his conscience caused him to… And I know you work on this, you work on… I think you teach a course in the area of whistle-blowing. So, do you feel a particular empathy towards him, or a particular affinity?
[00:23:53] RMG: I would say respect. He, at the same age I was, had the courage to see that the oath that he took – to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic – was being violated willy-nilly. We have a Fourth Amendment, which says you can’t snoop on people without a court warrant. You have to have probable cause. And he saw that violated willy-nilly. Now, the constitution of the United States is something I carry around with me. It’s the only oath we take. We don’t take an oath to keep secret information classified. We take an oath to defend this constitution. And Ed Snowden – and I know him well now, I’ve seen him twice. We gave him an award in Moscow in 2013. He’s the real deal. And he said: “Look, somebody’s got to do this.” And when I asked him, I said: “Well, how do you feel about this woman who went to Forbes magazine and said ‘I don’t know whether Snowden did the right thing, but I really resent the character assassination. He’s the greatest guy! He had access to everything and he was the only guy that could cope with this. And, besides, he defended us when our bosses came down’”. And so, I asked Ed, the last time I was with him in Moscow, I said: “Do you know about that?” And he said: “Yes, people tell me when those things happen.” I said: “Well, how you feel about that?” And you know what he said? He says: “Well, Ray – I knew somebody had to do this. And I looked around the room, and I saw Margie – she’s got a big new mortgage. John has some kids in college. And I said, you know, I guess that would be me.” [Laughter]. “Oh, OK Ed.” If that were me, I would’ve said: “Ah, all these guys knew they were violating the constitution. I was the only guy who had the guts to…” But none of that, none of that. So, Ed Snowden has one big problem – and that is, he is literally too good to believe. Altruistic, principled, willing to put his life on the line. Yeah! All those things. And that’s, somehow, too good to believe for most Americans [laughter]. So they say: “Oh, he ended up in Russia!” He never intended to be in Russia. So, yes – Ed Snowden is a guy I admire greatly. All the more so because, at his age, I had a chance to do that – on Vietnam – and I didn’t. That takes about three more minutes to tell, but I’d be happy to tell it if you have that.
[00:26:39] RM: Please do, yes.
[00:26:42] RMG: OK. Alright, I was working on Soviet policy toward Vietnam. One of my best friends, named Sam Adams – actually a direct descendant of John Adams, about 13 times removed – really sharp guy out of Harvard. An analyst that they put on the account for counting up Vietnamese communists under arms. And he was an incredible analyst – he got all this material… You know, I talked about an inbox – but he had a big table. And he collated all this and he realized, he came to the conclusion there were 500,000 to 600,000 communists under arms in South Vietnam. And then he found out that General Westmoreland, the commander of our forces there, was only saying 299,000. And so, this was twice as many. So he went over to Saigon, and fought it out. He said: “Well, this regimen has 200 people.” “No, no, went only carry 100.” “Well, this battalion has 300.” “No, no.” And they were just having the things. And so, in a bar that night, one of the sergeants came up and said: “Now, Mr. Adams – [laughter] (he’d had a couple of beers), you might as well just go home, because General Westmoreland’s not going to allow any more than 299,000. That’s it. So, you go home!” Now, what was the problem? The problem was, we were killing so many Vietnamese every week that even though the press in Saigon was not the brightest, they could do arithmetic. So, how are you going to tell the press in Vietnam what the real story was? Namely, that we were facing twice as many – twice as many – communists under arms. So, on August 19th – no, August 20th 1967, I remember it well, I had lunch with Sam Adams. And I said: “Sam, I don’t understand. How can it be that the commander of our forces in Vietnam wants to reduce the number of enemy that he faces? I mean, traditionally, if you’re going to war, you’re going to exaggerate the enemy’s size.” And he says: “Ray, look – I told you before, it’s too difficult a problem with the media, if you recognize what the problem is. As a matter of fact, this morning we got a cable in from Saigon.” It’s from General Abrams, after whom they named the Abrams tank. He was a really good tanker in World War II – not so bright politically. Because he wrote in this cable – he was deputy to Westmoreland, who was out of town at the time – he said: “We can’t possibly admit to the greater numbers of enemy troops in South Vietnam, because we have been (this is a direct quote) – we have been projecting an image of success in this war. And there’s nothing that we can say, by way of extenuating circumstances or other phraseology, that would prevent the press from drawing an erroneous and gloomy conclusion.” Period, end quote. He put that in writing, OK? Now, the only way you can get to see this cable was the director’s office – it’s called No Dis, which means No Dissemination, right? So I was thinking: “My God, there it is.” 1967, we had already lost about 22,000 GIs, and Vietnamese are human beings, too. There’s probably a million already killed there. So, McGovern thinks: “Now, Sam Adams is such a straight arrow, he’s never going to go to the press with this. But you should, Ray. You should.” Now, you have to realize that, in those days, the New York Times was an independent newspaper. And if you gave them documentary evidence, they would put it on their front page, you know? Not like now. So, I toyed with this idea. I said: “I think I could probably persuade Sam, under some ruse, to get me a copy of that thing, go down to the New York Times Washington bureau. Maybe I can stop this damn thing.” Then I said: “Hm, but I know I have a big mortgage, I have three kids, and I have prospects of advancement here. I have an assignment in Western Europe coming up. I’ll wait until I have more gravitas, until I become a senior manager here. And then, next time this happens…” All the rationalizations, right? So I didn’t do nothing. I didn’t do anything. And so, that’s one reason why, when I see people like Ed Snowden, and I see people come out of the woodwork – at great risk to themselves, for doing the right thing – I say: “ Well, the least you could do now, McGovern, ex post facto, is to support them to the hilt.” And that’s what I’m trying to do.
[00:31:34] RM: I think so many people encounter abuses or injustices, or are privy to things that happen in their personal lives, in their community, nationally and internationally. What do you think it is - that internal dialogue that goes on - that either prevents somebody from acting or forces, compels someone into action? Is that just where we get into the black and white of courage, fear?
[00:32:03] RMG: I’d say it comes out of my faith experience, really. I’m pretty well versed in Biblical scholarship and so forth – I have a certificate in theology from Georgetown University, not too long ago. But, in simplest terms, a Jesuit at Fordham put it this way – and he actually ended up down in El Salvador, working with the poor there in El Salvador. His name was Dean Brackley, and he wrote - in a very simple way, although he’s a theologian of some note - he said: “It all depends on who you think God is, and how God feels when little people get pushed around.” I’m from the Bronx, and I work in the inner city now, and I see how little people get pushed around. And I see these – what we call our volunteer army… These are young kids from the inner city, or from the towns in America that have less than 50,000 people. That’s not volunteer, that’s a poverty draft. They have no job opportunity, they have no education opportunity – they sign up for a couple of years, in hopes that they…or, actually, for a career, where usually they say: “Twenty years, then I’m out, I get a pension. Man! If I have both my legs and I’m still alive, that’ll be a good deal.” That’s not right. That’s not what our founders had in mind, as a citizen army, and it’s not what we should be doing. The army that I served in had doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs – anybody, in it. And we served together. We were equally liable, equally vulnerable to the draft. And, God, there were senators, there were representatives from the House of Representatives. People who served in Vietnam came back and knew what it was like! So, it’s a very far cry from that, now. And little people are getting pushed around right and left in this country, in my country.
[00:34:10] RM: How much surveillance and targeting do you think is happening, in terms of those that want to cover these issues, those that want to organize on these issues? How much risk do you think is really out there right now? Because there’s a lot of talk, particularly around the online, digital surveillance.
[00:34:28] RMG: Well, there are effective encryption techniques. I think that’s something that needs to be stressed, right off the bat. And they take NSA or people like that, GCHQ, a lot more time to decrypt. Can they do it? Probably – but it’s going to take years, probably. So, that’s the first and foremost. Now, the other thing is: they collect everything. Everything. They have bragged about: “We can collect everything, and so we do! It would be irresponsible not to collect everything.” [Laughter]. It’s crazy! And so, everything is collected. Now, you can’t listen to everything, and you can’t read everything, so it’s stored. That’s why we have this mammoth storage capability out west, and so forth. So, they can get it. If McGovern steps out of line, all they’d need is a little keyword, and they get whatever they need on McGovern. And that’s not to say it’s all that accurate, or can be made inaccurate.
So, the thing that bothers me most is that a lot of people in my country say: “Well, I got nothing to hide, you know? I’m like Caesar’s wife.” Well, when Snowden told the world what was going on, someone had the presence of mind to talk to Wolfgang Schmidt from the Stasi, from the East German service. You probably saw that film, that wonderful film: East German Stasi film, Das Leben der Anderen - The Lives of Others. Anyhow, they asked Wolfgang Schmidt, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Stasi: “What do you say to people who say they have nothing to hide?” He says: [German accent] This is very naïve, very naïve. The reason they collect this stuff is because they get to decide how to use it. The only way to prevent it from being used against you, is to prevent it from being collected in the first place!” [Laughter]. It was beautiful, you know? And none of our legislators have had the guts to say: “We want to prevent it from being collected in the first place, not only because the danger is there, but because if you build a haystack bigger and bigger, you’re never going to find that needle underneath it.” And the reason that so many terrorist attacks have been possible is because everybody’s listening or watching or doing things, and nobody’s pursuing the traditional detective techniques. So, it’s very, very odd that this is going on. But, of course, there’s a lot of money in it – and, after 9/11, the money became so big that: “Yes, we can do it. We’ll do it. And even if it’s not effective, even if it’s unconstitutional – which this is – we’ll do it.”
[00:37:35] RM: You mentioned, earlier, the tensions that are happening right now – as we speak – in relation to, particularly, the US and Russia, and what may be called a proxy war in the Middle East, and particularly Syria. I think the average person is struggling to understand what the hell is going on in Syria. Could you help explain that for us?
[00:37:55] RMG: Sure. Well, what most…what the ordinary person doesn’t know is what they don’t read in the media or don’t see on TV. You can’t talk about Syria, and US policy towards Syria, without mentioning the word “Israel”. Now, why do I say that? Well, why did President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton say – five, six years ago – “Assad’s got to go, he’s got to go.” Bashar al-Assad in Damascus is a threat to the United States? I don’t think anybody’s making that case. So why has he got to go? Well, the answer is pretty simple: Israel feels that, as long as there’s bedlam, chaos, in Syria, they have nothing to fear from Syria. Worse still – or better still, for their purposes – if there’s bedlam in Syria, then Iran and other people can’t resupply Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. And so their threat from near abroad, the people who gave them a bloody nose just three or four years ago – Hezbollah – will be deprived of their weaponry and their support. And then you get back at Iran this way. And all kinds of…so, let me just shorten it and say: this is not my government speaking, OK? This is the Israeli officials that were approached by the bureau chief of the New York Times in early September 2013. And it got to the front page of the New York Times, OK? And what was it? Jodie Rudoren was the reporter, and she said: “You know, all this stuff about Syria – I think I’ll go ask the Israeli officials what their preferred outcome is.” And so, she did. And one of them, Alan Pinkus – who had been the consul general in New York, and several of the others – he said: “Well, you know, this doesn’t sound quite right, but – candidly – our preferred outcome is no outcome.” And she said: [inaudible 00:40:01] s-il-vous-plait - I mean, hello? No outcome?” “Yeah, again, I don’t think it sounds right but, look – we look at it as a playoff game, where you don’t want either team to win. You don’t want either team to lose, either, but as long as Sunni and Shia are at each other’s throats – not only in Syria, but in the whole area – Israel has nothing to fear from Syria.”
[00:40:27] RM: So, where does Russia come into play here?
[00:40:30] RMG: Well, the Russians had decided that they would contend with what they see as…with a growing threat to Russia. Now, you know about Chechnya. You know about a lot of the dissidents – a lot of the Islamic terrorists in southern Russia. So, there are about 3,000 of them now, in Syria [laughter]. Well, what are they getting? They’re getting really good training, they’re getting really good weaponry, they’re getting a lot of financial support. And they’re going to be really, really good terrorists when this thing is over. And where are they going to go? They’re going to go back home, right? So, one of the short answers is that Vladimir Putin has skin in this game that we don’t. We’ve got an ocean, we’ve got a Mediterranean Sea, you know – we’ve got some sort of marginal threat, but he’s got a real threat. So he wanted to say: “Look.” And he did say this to our President, at the end of September last year, at the UN – he said: “Look, we’re not really impressed by how you’re going after these terrorists. We think that you’re unwilling to face up to the Saudis, and the people from Qatar and the UAE. You know, they’re supplying the… So, just to let you know, we’re going to go in there and do the job. And we’d really like to do it together.”
Now Obama, to his credit, said: “That makes sense.” And he had John Kerry, his Secretary of State, get together with Sergey Lavrov, and they worked it out. Well, they tried to work it out, at least. They deconflicted the fights over Syria, and then, since late September, until last month - not last month actually, June – they worked out a situation where they could have a ceasefire. A partial ceasefire. That was on the 9th of September. Excruciating negotiations. And invoking the name of both Putin and Obama – in other words, they were right behind this agreement on the 9th of September. It went into effect on the 12th of September. Aleppo would be able to…people would be able to leave, resupplies would be able to come in – what happens? Five days later, on the 17th of September, the US air force bombs the hell out of a fixed Syrian army position, there for six months on top of a big hill, killing between 60 and 80 Syrian troops, and wounding hundreds of others. So, what did that do? That scuttled the ceasefire. Why is that important? Well, because if I’m Mr. Putin, I say: “Who’s running US policy? President Obama, or the military? Is the military powerful enough to countervail – to counter the President? Well, it looks like they are.” And that’s very dangerous, because if Putin doesn’t trust the President of the United States to be able to live up to his promises – which is what this involves – and if he can’t trust the US military to do sensible things, then we are on the edge of a real crisis, here.
[00:43:35] RM: So, there’s no doubt that we live in very testing times. And there’s so much despair in the world. Just to wrap up – can I ask you, Ray: where do you find hope in the world, these days?
[00:43:46] RMG: Well, I see a lot of little things. I hang around with people who are driven by hope, and by expectations, not unrealistic. We’ve faced situations like this before but, in some sense, it’s academic – because I go by the adage that the good is worth doing because it’s good. That, when you engage in protest activities, or when you try to raise consciousness, you have to [inaudible 00:44:23] from the notion that you’re going to be successful. Successful is not what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to be faithful. Now: success, unimportant? No! No, it’s not unimportant – but it’s secondary. It’s secondary to the goodness of the act. And so, when I go to prison, the goodness of the act, I think, speaks for itself to those who are willing to open their minds, to realize that the drone base that I was demonstrating in front of is killing people. Killing people without any real reason. And so, there’s hope there. And I want my grandchildren to be able to say: “Hey, grandpa – you worked for the CIA. What’s it like to torture people?” And I want to be able to say: “Look, I had nothing to do with that. Here’s what I did – let me tell you what I tried to do.”
[00:45:17] RM: Thanks very much Ray, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
[00:45:20] RMG: You’re most welcome.
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The Love and Courage podcast features interviews with inspirational people who are making a real difference in the world today. Guests are typically people passionate about social justice, and who have demonstrated courage and conviction in their lives.