C-SPAN Booknotes: Terrorism & Tyranny (2003 transcript)

I came across this transcript this morning and figured it was worth sending around the track one more time. You can watch the video from this interview here – Brian Lamb’s views come through more clearly on tape than in the transcript. One of my favorite comments he made: “Well, your sense of humor — and I`m not sure people viewing this would consider this a sense of humor, but it comes through in the book….”

Many folks perceived my views on the war on terrorism as cynical back then. The subsequent record hasn’t vindicated Leviathan.

I had forgotten that I had given a plug for Ron Paul in response to Lamb’s asking whether there were any politicians who I respected.

And the show concludes with a hearty plug for good ol’ Virginia Tech.

I touched up the transcript by deleting the endless “You know” comments I made during the interview. Otherwise, my verbal padding and hesitations remain.

C-SPAN Booknotes James Bovard: Terrorism and Tyranny

Program Air Date: November 2, 2003
For more information about this program, visit www.booknotes.org
BRIAN LAMB:, HOST:: James Bovard, author of “Terrorism and Tyranny,” near the end of your book, on page 349, you say this. “Since 9/11, Bush often seems blinded by the glare of his own halo. The moral self-adulation at the heart of the war on terrorism is a danger to both America and the world.”

JAMES BOVARD, AUTHOR, “TERRORISM AND TYRANNY” : Well, George Bush, when he was campaigning in 2000, made some very good points about how America needed to be more humble. But after 9/11, Bush was put on a pedestal. He was portrayed not only as a national savior but as a world savior. And flattery rules more politicians than sex, and I think that Bush has been surrounded by flattery since 9/11, that he`s not been well informed, and that`s part of the reason why so many of his policies have been horrendous blunders, both for the U.S. and other parts of the world.

LAMB:: Did you vote for him?

BOVARD: No. Actually, I did not vote for him. I did do a book called “Feeling Your Pain: The Explosion and Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years,” that came out in September, 2000. I was very opposed to Mr. Gore. I was not in favor of Mr. Bush. Actually, 2000 was the first time in a long time I did not vote for any candidate.

LAMB:: Well, before we get into your theories and all on the terrorism thing, where are you coming from? Would you put a label on yourself?

BOVARD: I guess “moderate” wouldn`t work. (LAUGHTER)

BOVARD: , on some issues, I`m conservative, some I`m liberal. A lot of issues, I`m Libertarian. I`m more Libertarian than not on most issues, but — , I`m not lock-step Libertarian, so…

LAMB:: Give me an example of something that you`re liberal on.

BOVARD: Civil liberties, I`m very hard-core. I`m very opposed to the drug war. I`m opposed to the government`s — the notion the government needs to run people`s private lives. I`m opposed to the notion the government needs to run — to ride shepherd — to ride shotgun on people`s moral decisions. I`m opposed to the notion that government needs to add meaning to people`s lives.

LAMB:: Where are you conservative?

BOVARD: I`m in favor of strictly limited government power. I`m in favor of a — I guess, a strict interpretation of the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, putting very clear limits on government powers and government abuses. I`m a big fan of the 2nd Amendment. I think that that was put in the Constitution in order to provide one check for government, against abuses of government power, one check in the people`s hands. So that`s…

LAMB:: Can you remember a president that you liked?

BOVARD: Ronald Reagan in the campaign in 1980 and in his early part in his first term, I was impressed by. I especially liked some of his rhetoric. He was very honest. He would talk about how government is the problem, how government has far too much power. He had just wonderful images in a lot of his speeches. And, he seemed to have a clear vision of what the problem was and what had to be done in order to fix it. I also supported Reagan`s harsh anti-Soviet line because I think he was very perceptive on the danger the Soviets posed, unlike a lot of other people across the political spectrum.

LAMB:: Where are you Libertarian, and what does that mean?

BOVARD: Libertarian is basically — I guess, maybe the best thumbnail is a Thomas Jefferson quote, that “That government is best which governs least.” And I`m in favor of minimizing government power, minimizing government spending and minimizing government intrusions, basically because the government doesn`t know best, and the government does not own the American people. If you listen to some of the debates here in Washington, it`s almost as if the politicians are trying to decide how to use their chattel slaves, as far as, Well, let`s take $50 billion more from these people, and, let`s give $100 billion more to this country or that country, this project. It`s not the politicians` money. And that`s one of the most profound dangers in contemporary American democracy. I mean, the politicians often act like they have the right to dispose of the earnings of the American people, and they don`t.

LAMB:: Now, I know you`re from Iowa originally.

BOVARD: Well, I was born in Ames, Iowa. I moved out — well, my family moved out when I was about a year old, so I never got that amiable Midwest disposition, so…

LAMB:: I was just wondering because on page 41, you have a little reference where you say the secretary of state acted with less intelligence than a tourist from Muscatine, Iowa. And I wondered if you were from Muscatine.

BOVARD: No, I was born in Ames.

LAMB:: In what environment?

BOVARD: My father was in grad school out there. He was working on his doctorate in animal breeding and animal husbandry. And once he finished up (UNINTELLIGIBLE) work on that, the family moved to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where I lived until I was about 16 or 17.

LAMB:: Where did you go to college, and what did you study there?

BOVARD: I went to Virginia Tech off and on for about two years. I decided I wanted to become a freelance writer. I figured I didn`t need a college degree to do that, so I dropped out and started writing articles. Eventually, they started to sell, so I kept writing.

LAMB:: So you don`t have a degree?

BOVARD: No, I don`t.

LAMB:: And if we found you on a normal day, doing your work, where would we locate you?

BOVARD: Probably on the ground floor of my house, just sitting there with my feet propped up, smoking a cheap cigar and just kind of whittling.

LAMB:: What book is this?

BOVARD: This is book number seven.

LAMB:: And does anybody else pay your bills? In other words, do you work — I know you`ve had some attachment to the Cato Institute. Do you still… (CROSSTALK)

BOVARD: Well, I haven`t written for them for many years. I`ve got paper affiliations with a number of think tanks. I do do a monthly column for the Future of Freedom Foundation, which is a think tank out in Fairfax, Virginia. It`s probably the only think tank that would actually — shares my view across the board on the war on terrorism. I mean, other think tanks I`m affiliated with probably would not want to be associated with some of my views.

LAMB:: Why?

BOVARD: Oh, , some of my views might be controversial. I don`t know.

LAMB:: In what way, do you think?

BOVARD: Well, I mean, some people think that it`s wrong to talk about politicians telling lies, that it`s either bad protocol or bad manners, that we have to treat them with dignity — always treat them with dignity and respect, no matter how brazen their misstatements are. And I think that`s a great mistake because it`s important to have a level playing field between the citizens and the government and the politicians, and if the politicians are allowed to tell one tall tale after another and not be labeled for what they`re doing, then that gives them a huge advantage and it makes it much easier for them to snow the American public.

LAMB:: Why don`t more people do what you do?

BOVARD: As far as?

LAMB:: Being strongly critical and accusing politicians of lying, when you think they are. Why don`t more people in the writing business — why are they not more direct than they are?

BOVARD: That`s a good question. I don`t know. I mean, I think partly — one thing I did in writing this book is I read — tried to read almost all of Bush`s speeches and interview transcripts after 9/11, as well as before, when he became president. And just walking through statement after statement after statement, and it becomes clear that in some areas, there was just patterns of, , brazen misstatements, if not intentional duplicity. The same for Attorney General John Ashcroft. Reading his testimony, reading his speeches, , more than once that I burst out laughing because I felt like, here`s a man who should hire some fact checkers. But they don`t.

LAMB:: Page 322 — “Bush`s rhetoric on America as a force for freedom is impossible to understand without considering his assertions on America as the greatest force for goodness in the world.” Isn`t America the greatest force for goodness in the world?

BOVARD: I`m very proud to be an American citizen. There`s a lot of great people serving in the federal government, a lot of great soldiers in the U.S. military, and some fine members of Congress and some good people in the Bush administration. But to constantly be telling people how wonderful the U.S. is and portraying the U.S. as a force for practically absolute goodness, I think it`s very dangerous because it tends to inspire blind righteousness. And I think that`s a lot of trouble with the Bush war on terrorism.

I mean, Bush has — likes this phrase, You`re either with us or you`re for the terrorists, all these either/or contrasts, and I think that`s nonsense because, for instance, there`s a lot of people in Western Europe who don`t support George Bush but are not pro-Muslim terrorists. And yet there are all these — there`s a series of false dichotomies that have made a mockery of trying to get clear thinking about these subjects.

LAMB:: You quote George Bush a lot in the book, but here, from February the 28th, 2003, which is this year, “There is no doubt in my mind that this nation will prevail in this war against terror because we are the greatest nation, full of the finest people on the face of this earth.”

BOVARD: Well, , even if we are the greatest nation, full of the finest people, it doesn`t mean that George Bush`s policies are good for America or that the U.S. is going to win the — what Bush calls the war on terrorism.

LAMB:: Why do you think he speaks that way?

BOVARD: It is an old trick for politicians to flatter those who they want to control, and I think that`s the core of a lot of Bush`s rhetoric, in the same way it was the core of a lot of Clinton`s rhetoric. I mean, I`ve been surprised, following Bush closely over the last couple of years, how the parallels between he and Bill Clinton become clearer and clearer, in the same way the parallels between John Ashcroft and Janet Reno are clearer and clearer, so…

LAMB:: And those are?

BOVARD: Both — I mean, Clinton was often a demagogue. He would often, pull the heartstrings. He would often do the lip-biting routine. George Bush is not quite as overt. Bush is not as good of a speaker as Clinton is, or Clinton was, but Bush is hitting the flag-waving so hard, hitting the patriotic buttons. And , Americans have got a lot of reasons to be proud of America. There`s a lot of great things this country has done.

But — for instance, Bush`s national security strategy, which he announced last September, a year ago, basically announced that the U.S. had the right to do preemptive attacks on any country the U.S. considered to be a threat. And this concept was so expansive that they even talked of being — as foreign military spending as a potential threat against the U.S. that might justify U.S. retaliation.

I mean, this is not how the average American views the world. The average American is not hungry to go over and, , whack a long list of foreign countries, and the average American is not interested in sending their son or their husband or their wife or their father on these foreign escapades.

LAMB:: This book is called “Terrorism and Tyranny.” When did you get the idea to write it?

BOVARD: Shortly after 9/11. George Bush — when he got back to the White House on the evening of 9/11, Bush gave a televised address, and he effectively stated that the reason that the terrorists had attacked America was because America was the most free country, was a symbol of freedom for the entire world. And it was curious to me that Bush knew what the motives of the attackers were even before the CIA and FBI knew who the attackers` names were. And yet Bush raced to frame the entire war on terrorism as a fight for freedom, and I think that was a — that was a bait and switch.

Bush`s comments shortly after 9/11, in which he talked about leading a crusade to rid the world of evil, went down real poorly with me. I mean, the U.S. was attacked by al Qaeda. The U.S. is obliged — was obliged and is obliged to go after al Qaeda, put them out of business once and for all. I mean, we have every right to go after al Qaeda with everything we have. But to talk about ridding the world of evil is just kind of — that`s sort of like throwing a bunch of dust in the air, I think.

LAMB:: Let me just check you on something right now.


LAMB:: Would any Democrat running for president right now be better than George Bush, in your opinion?

BOVARD: I haven`t followed the Democrats that closely. I mean, some of them — I mean, Senator Graham of Florida said some very good things about the cover-up the Bush administration has done on what the government knew before 9/11. He`s made some very good comments about the ongoing secrecy of the Bush administration. Some of Governor Dean`s comments on Iraq have been on point. But as far as whether these guys overall would be better, I don`t know.

But part of the trouble is, is that the federal government now has so much power that it really doesn`t matter who`s president, they`re probably going to do a lousy job. I mean, there were a lot of people who thought in the year 2000, when George Bush won the presidency, that — , saw him as a knight riding in on a white horse, and simply because Clinton was leaving power, the government would all of a sudden become moral and it would serve the American people. That was nonsense. I mean, even if a president did have a perfect, stellar character and was a great leader, there are so many things the federal government is messing up at this point that no single person is going to be able to fix it.

LAMB:: What does the federal government do that you like?

BOVARD: Good question. Well, I`m a big fan of the General Accounting Office. They`ve done a lot of good reports. It`s necessary to have a strong national defense. That`s something that the Founding Fathers envisioned as a role for the federal government. It`s something which the government needs to do to protect Americans. I mean, that`s a primary purpose of the federal government. So I`m in favor of a strong national defense. But…

LAMB:: Anything else?

BOVARD: There are some other government programs which probably do — which are of some benefit.

LAMB:: What do you think of the U.N. and America`s participation in it and the fact that we fund it 25 percent, at least?

BOVARD: The U.N. had some merit at the time it was conceived of. It`s sad to see how far in the wrong direction it`s gone. I mean — but at this point, I think the U.N. does — there`s a lot of things the U.N. does which I strongly oppose. I mean, they`ve — some of the work they`ve done on the worldwide convention on firearms, for instance — they`ve talked at times as if they`re in favor of banning private possession of firearms, which is absurd, because most of the governments of the world, especially in the third world, people need protection against their government.

At this point, I think it`s good that there`s a place where world leaders can talk and try to resolve some of the conflict, but for that, we certainly don`t need this giant U.N. empire, and I think most of the U.N. efforts overseas have worked out pretty badly, as have most of the U.S. efforts, as far as interventions.

LAMB:: On page 51, you write — this is early in the book — “Throughout the summer of 2001” — this is prior to September, 2001 — “fears were rising about a pending terrorist catastrophe. In July, the CIA issued a confidential warning regarding Usama bin Laden” — quote — “based on a review of all source reporting over the last five months, we believe that UBL will launch a significant terrorist attack against U.S. and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests.” Where did you find that? Who knew that?

BOVARD: A lot of people in the federal government knew that. I believe that was from the Joint Intelligence Committee report. I don`t recall the exact citation. There`s a few thousand citations in here. But I believe that was the source of — the House and Senate joint — the Intelligence Committees did some very nice reports on what the government knew before 9/11. And the thing that those reports show is the federal government had the information it needed before 9/11 to block the hijack conspiracy. There were a lot of warnings coming in from overseas, from different parts of the government, from savvy FBI agents in Phoenix and Minnesota. There were a lot of different parts of the puzzle, but the government never put them together. And what I found, I guess — it was surprising how the Bush administration insisted that it had no warning ahead much time, and they especially pushed that line very hard right after 9/11, and that was part of the reason that the trust in government in this country doubled in the weeks after 9/11 because people were not aware that 9/11 was the biggest intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor. But if people had seen it in a light of how — of the U.S. government`s failures instead of solely looking at it as the U.S. being blindsided, people would have been much less enthusiastic, I think, about things like the Patriot Act and things about giving so much deference to the federal government after 9/11.

LAMB:: You do something you don`t see very often. You spell out the Patriot Act and what it stands for — Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. Why did you go to such length to spell it out?

BOVARD: Well, it`s important for people to know what it actually stands for. I mean, it was a propaganda label. Congressman Bob Barr quipped that he hoped that the people in the Justice Department spent more time working on the bill than they did working on the acronym. But the Bush administration put this label under this bill right after 9/11, and basically used that to help intimidate potential opposition to the bill on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the U.S. And it`s fascinating that only three months after 9/11, John — Attorney General Ashcroft goes up to the Senate Judiciary Committee and he tells them that those who try to frighten Americans with the phantoms of lost liberties are giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and basically portrayed the critics of the administration`s policies as traitors. I mean, Ashcroft did not use that word, but with his phrasing of “giving aid and comfort to the enemies” and how he characterized critics of his civil liberties effects policies, I mean, it`s amazing to see an attorney general saying that in public. And it wasn`t a casual comment.

LAMB:: You list the votes on the Patriot Act, and they were 337 in the House to 79 and 96-to-1 in the Senate.

BOVARD: It was a real cliffhanger.

LAMB:: But didn`t you say that no text was provided in advance of the vote?

BOVARD: Right. Especially in the House. The October 12 vote, 2001, there were a lot of congressmen who complained about that, complained bitterly that they were being pressured by the House leadership to vote on this even before they could read it. I mean, here`s a sweeping bill that impacts dozens of parts of the federal statute book, has a profound impact on Americans` privacy, on government power, on the Internet, on other issues, and congressmen didn`t not even bother to read it.

Ashcroft, Bush and others did a lot to browbeat Congress, but the members of Congress had no excuse for defaulting on their oath of office. The members of Congress took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and by voting for the Patriot Act, they essentially absolved themselves of honoring that oath.

LAMB:: What`s in it that`s so bad?

BOVARD: Well, one example is the Patriot Act sanctifies Carnivore, which is an e-mail vacuum that the FBI uses. The FBI can get a search warrant to track the e-mail of a single person, and the FBI can take this black box, which the Carnivore system is contained in, go to the Internet service provider, compel them to attach that to the Internet service provider`s computer system, and then, if an FBI agent hits a single button on that box, the FBI can vacuum up, making copies of all the e-mail of all the customers of that Internet service provider.

It would be the equivalent if the FBI had a search warrant for one person`s house, they went to that house and then decided, to be safe, they`d search all the houses in a two-mile radius around that house. I mean, it makes a travesty of the 4th Amendment. But…

LAMB:: Well, let me stop you a second.


LAMB:: Let`s say I have e-mail that they want to get to.


LAMB:: The FBI first has to go to a court.

BOVARD: Well, the FBI has to basically file notice with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is…

LAMB:: Which we don`t know about. We don`t — I mean, are they public?

BOVARD: It`s a secret court. It never meets in public. It was created, I believe, in 1978 to handle intelligence investigations, but its jurisdiction has expanded. The Justice Department, the FBI, have requested 14,000 wiretaps from this secret court. The secret court has approved every single one of them. It`s a…

LAMB:: They haven`t turned down any?

BOVARD: No. There was one or two that were — a few that were modified, but they`ve all been approved. So I mean it is a court in which only the government presents evidence. There`s never any defense lawyer. There`s never any kind of — never any balance of power.

LAMB:: Where is the court physically located?

BOVARD: It`s in the Justice Department building here in Washington.

LAMB:: And we don`t know who`s on it?

BOVARD: I believe that Chief Justice Rehnquist appoints 11 federal judges to do rotating terms on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

LAMB:: Can Congress find out who these requests are about? I mean, can they…

BOVARD: That`s a major part of trouble with the Patriot Act, that it has profoundly undermined balance of powers between the different parts of the federal government. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court made a ruling, I believe, in late 2000 or early 2001, before 9/11, in which it listed over 70 cases in which it felt the FBI had given it false information or misleading information on its search warrants for these foreign intelligence cases or how the information was being used.

Well, the Justice Department would not even give Congress a copy of that court decision, which the FBI was hitting very hard. The Justice Department felt that the members of Congress were not entitled to it. I mean, there`s just complete secrecy here. I believe the attorney general sends, like, a two-paragraph memo to Congress once or twice a year listing how many different wiretaps have been authorized by this surveillance court.

Senator Leahy of Vermont has a bill, I think called the Domestic Surveillance Oversight Act, in which he seeks to compel the Justice Department to inform Congress of how many Americans are being surveilled by this court.

LAMB:: Go back to the — let`s say that, for instance, they wanted my e-mails.


LAMB:: Where would they take their little Carnivore box, that little black box, to get to my e-mails?

BOVARD: Well, OK. Say, for instance, if you`re using an Internet service provider based in Washington, D.C., and their headquarters was over on Wisconsin Avenue…

LAMB:: And they don`t have to tell me this?

BOVARD: By gosh, no! No. No, they tend to keep it to themselves, actually.

LAMB:: And then they can begin to look at every e-mail that I send.

BOVARD: Yes. There is — I mean, part of the problem — one of the frauds of the Patriot Act was that they labeled Carnivore as the equivalent of a pen register of a wiretap on a phone line, which only makes a record of the incoming and outcoming phone call number. And they were pretending that Carnivore only tracks the names and subject lines of the e-mail, but it doesn`t. I mean, this is simply not what this system`s power is. The system can copy all the e-mail of all the people who use that Internet service provider.

LAMB:: The entire Internet service provider?

BOVARD: Correct. Correct. So I mean, this is a sweeping violation of privacy. There was actually a case with the FBI, when they were doing surveillance — I believe their Usama bin Laden working group in early 2000 was using Carnivore. And a lawyer who was involved in that case insisted that some of the evidence that they had acquired not be used because they had used Carnivore and they had swept in the e-mail of a number of other people who had no involvement in the case but happened to be using the same Internet service provider. And the FBI lawyer was very concerned about that. Congress was not.

LAMB:: Why not? Why did Congress giving the Justice Department this lopsided win on the Patriot Act, if there`s so much wrong with it?

BOVARD: Congress was completely intimidated. I mean, John Ashcroft…

LAMB:: Why?

BOVARD: Many of the congressmen were afraid that if they did not quickly grant new power, and if there were a second round of terrorist attacks, that Congress would be blamed. And Ashcroft — well, a number of people implied that that would be the case. So terror of being criticized.

One of the other things about the Patriot Act — the Patriot Act was the biggest bait and switch in U.S. constitutional history. This was an act that was advertised as targeting terrorists, but there are new surveillance and confiscation powers that can be used for anybody accused of violating any of the 3,000 crimes in the federal statute book. And the Patriot Act is already being used against alot of other types of accused criminals.

There was a case in which the Justice Department invoked the Patriot Act to confiscate bank accounts of telemarketers who were accused of fraud because the confiscation powers under the Patriot Act are so broad and so difficult to challenge, and in many cases, don`t require criminal conviction.

LAMB:: Let me ask you — I get the impression from reading your book, this is the — I`m going to paint an image of where I — what I see you do and how you do your work.


LAMB:: See what you think of it.


LAMB:: You have a place where you work, and you read and read and read every document, every article, every Internet site you can get to. And you have a view of the world, and you find all those things out there that make — that — in every — and we`ll talk about some of the other subjects here — and you`re able to build a case against things that you don`t agree with.

BOVARD: That`s part of it. I mean, I don`t read everything I can find because, , I prefer to sleep at night, as well. But…

LAMB:: But you must realize…

BOVARD: Yes. Yes.

LAMB:: I mean, start with that.

BOVARD: Yes. Yes. I mean, there`s — it`s reading-intensive and, , it`s constantly looking for good insights, good leads and…

LAMB:: But where — give us — on a day-to-day basis, what are your sources of information you go to? Where do you learn the most?

BOVARD: Oh, God.

LAMB:: You got a lot of speech quotes in here from all different sources, a lot of testimony quotes and all that.

BOVARD: Yes. Well, I use Lexis-Nexis. There is a lot of good Web sites out there, , “Washington Post,” “New York Times,” “LA Times” have a lot of good stuff. Some of the other papers are helpful. antiwar.com is very helpful. It`s a good Web site. It`s a fine Web site. Some of the conservative and liberal political Web sites, Freerepublic one side, the Democratic Underground on the other. It`s interesting to look at both of them to see what’s making them percolate on any given day.

LAMB:: But how — I mean, this is — well, let me ask it this way. How angry are you?

BOVARD: Anger is not a healthy emotion, I don`t think, and people that stay angry for a long time, I think it`s bad for their soul, practically, because, , one thing I always look for is comic relief, and I`m grateful that there are so many elements of this war on terrorism that do have a lot of comic relief. And things I`ll be reading make me burst out laughing out loud, something that was just so absurd.

LAMB:: Well, your sense of humor — and I`m not sure people viewing this would consider this a sense of humor, but it comes through in the book — I marked this, and I wanted to ask you about it.


LAMB:: “Bin laden determined to strike the United States in the U.S.” That was from August the 6th, 2001 — but the report Bush received on that day — headline — that was — do you remember that part of it?

BOVARD: Right. Yes. Yes.

LAMB:: “George Bush received a report headlined `bin laden determined to strike the United States in U.S. on August the 6th, 2001.” That`s a little more than a month before the actual strike. Who wrote that report?

BOVARD: Either the CIA or the National Security Council. I`ve forgotten.

LAMB:: How do that he got that?

BOVARD: I believe that that came out in a Joint Intelligence Committee report. I did not look at that site before the program, so I`m not entirely fresh on that. But it was — the sources on that are impeccable. , there was a lot of criticism of the U.S. government and of Bush that I did not use in this book, basically because it did not meet my standards of evidence.

LAMB:: Well, let me just read the next line. You say “Apparently, as long as the president was not pre-notified of the specific names and addresses of the hijackers and the dates and flight numbers of their intended attacks, the administration could claim it received no warning.”

BOVARD: This is…

LAMB:: I wouldn`t call it humor, but it seems — that`s kind of the way you dealt with these issues all the way through.

BOVARD: Well, there was such an effort by the administration to frame the issues in a way that I thought was profoundly deceptive. There were a lot of warnings, which came in, but the Bush folks, Condi Rice and others, seemed to imply that since they did not have the exact warnings of the act time that it`s unfair to say that they were warned.

LAMB:: Are they doing this on purpose?

BOVARD: Parts of it, yes.

LAMB:: Because why?

BOVARD: Well, Bush is a politician, and Bush wants to maintain support for his policies. He wants to maintain support for his presidency. He is looking to run — he hopes to have a second turn. And — I mean, there is profits. I think if the American people had known how much warnings — how many, , signals the U.S. had ahead of time of this potential hijack conspiracy, there would have been far less of Iraq`s and rally around the fly, and far more criticism of the president. And, , a lot of commentators thought it was great in the weeks after 9-11 that the trust in government skyrocketed. My sense is, excessive trust in government can be subversive of democracy. People need to keep their minds open. People need to keep skeptical and critical.

LAMB:: And most people do that?


LAMB:: Why not?

BOVARD: We have attention deficit democracy in this country. People just — people are poorly informed. People are complacent. There are a lot of exceptions, and perhaps the Internet is encouraging people to look at more alternative news sources and better analysis, but most people are very poorly informed in most political issues. And politicians exploit that ignorance to increase their power and further burden the American people.

LAMB:: Is there a politician out there today that you like?

BOVARD: Yeah, sure. I like Congressman Ron Paul of Texas.

LAMB:: The man ran as a libertarian for president once.

BOVARD: Right, 1988, and he managed to get David Letterman`s vote. So it`s important people not forget that. He is good. I mean, Butch Otter of Idaho has done some good staff. Senator Grassley of Iowa has done some great work on the FBI. Senator Feingold has done some good work challenging the Justice Department, things like that. There is a lot of individual politicians I like on individual issues. I mean, there is — there is some good politicians out there.

LAMB:: Have you ever been a member of a party?

BOVARD: I don`t think so. I`m trying to recall this, — no. I don`t think I have been.

LAMB:: Have you ever thought you kind of tilted toward one party or the other?

BOVARD: Yeah. Well, back when Reagan was early in his first term I was certainly leaning much more toward the GOP.

LAMB:: Have you ever worked for a politician?

BOVARD: No. I — I passed out flyers in 1976, but that was about it.

LAMB:: I guess, what I am getting at — are you a lone ranger?

BOVARD: A lone ranger?

LAMB:: I mean, do you operate — you write books, and is that how you make your money?

BOVARD: Yeah, yeah, I mean, that`s the primary source of income, so…

LAMB:: Does it work? You have a family? You are married?

BOVARD: I am married, yes. It works. I mean, I haven`t had to spend a lot of time looking for tax write-offs, but, , it`s fun. It`s great to be able making a living doing what I love, and I`ve been able to do that, and I`m grateful for it.

LAMB:: Just a rough idea. These seven books you have already written, because on the back cover there is a lot of praise for you from places like “The World Street Journal” and “The Orange County Register,” which is a Libertarian newspaper, and “The Los Angeles Times,” a chilly indictment of U.S. government for “Freedom and Change.” “Freedom and Change” was a book?

BOVARD: Yeah. It came out in 1999.

LAMB:: What`s kind of the thrust to those seven books? What have you been writing about?

BOVARD: Most of the books have sought to awaken Americans to the abuses of government power, to government waste, fraud and abuse, and how the government’s power is far more dangerous than what most people perceive it to be. To try to wake people up from their slumber in many cases, to try to make it perfectly clear for folks how the government power is growing, and how that`s a threat to most of their rights and liberties, and to their prosperity eventually.

LAMB:: When you walk up in an airport to the security part of the airport where you are going through to have everything checked out, what is your first thought?

BOVARD: Well, there was a new regulation they came out I believe in early this year, which basically says that if someone raises their voice to one of these new TSA screeners, one of these federal agents who do the screening now, if you simply raise the voice, or say a single harsh word, it`s easy to be arrested by them. There have been over 1,000 people arrested at airport checkpoints for, , speaking harsh words or other things to these federal agents who were at the screening, so — the thing I think is, curb my wit, just trying, let`s just get through this, and, …

LAMB:: Are we better off today with the federal government running the screening process than we were before, and how were we before?

BOVARD: Well, people forget that before it was the Federal Aviation Administration that had responsibility for those screening process. The FAA set the standards, the FAA was supposed to monitor to make sure that the airports were doing a sound job of protecting the American people. The FAA failed completely.

We`re probably marginally a little bit better as far as airport safety right now, but the Transportation Security Administration is one of biggest jokes of the post-9-11 world. There were so many cases in which they would — airports were evacuated due to TSA glitches and follies. And the news that came out early this summer about how the TSA had failed to screen its screeners, and you had hundreds of these new screeners who had — never had a criminal background check and they had criminals — had felonies on their records, had serious thefts, or other major felonies. And these were the people who we were trusting to safeguard the airports. That`s rather ironic.

LAMB:: So when you go through that check out point, you don`t feel any safer?

BOVARD: No. I don`t feel any safer. I mean, the chance of me getting arrested are a lot higher than they were before 9-11.

LAMB:: Because?

BOVARD: Well, I mean — once again, because if you say a single harsh word to some of these screeners, who are pawing through your socks and your carry-on bag and stuff like that and asking sometimes foolish questions. , you are supposed to sit there and act like you are, , a peasant standing in front of the king, and that`s, — that`s not a role I do well.

LAMB:: You call the Transportation Security Administration a joke.


LAMB:: That`s a lot of people.

BOVARD: Well, again, there are some fine people there, there are some fine people trying to do good work, but there have been so many cases in which they`ve been involved. For instance, the TSA made a big deal about the mandate to have new bomb detection machines to screen all the luggage, all the carry-on luggage at the airports — that go through the airports. Not just a carry-on, but also the checked luggage. And it turns out that they spent billons of dollars on these new machines knowing that these machines have got a very high failure rate, a failure rate of about 30 percent.

And it doesn`t mean that, , that 30 percent of the ones that they claim to have a bomb don`t have a bomb. That means 30 percent of all the luggage is identified as having a bomb, because, as one FAA agent said, these machines could not tell the difference between a bar of chocolate and a bowel movement. They`re so inaccurate. So because of that you have these TSA agents now doing searches, manual searches of vast amounts of the luggage that is going through the airports. And because of that, the TSA now tells people to leave their luggage unlocked.

This has resulted in thousands of complaints of theft of luggage, theft from luggage. Many of it — much of it at a time when it was under a TSA jurisdiction. And — so, , you have a policy that — to try and make people safer, but if someone is a photographer who has to travel with valuable equipment, I mean, it`s an absolute nightmare for them, because they have no idea what`s going to be in their luggage that they hate to leave unlocked once they get to their destination.

LAMB:: I want to do this again.


LAMB:: If the Democrats were in power right now, would it be run any better?

BOVARD: I don`t know. I don`t know. But, one thing that we would have if the Democrats were in power is an intelligent, probably effective Republican opposition. And it`s sad to see so many congressmen and others who recognized very clearly in Clinton`s final years the dangers of the precedents that Clinton was setting, and the dangers of the power grabs of Janet Reno, and all of a sudden you have Bush, Ashcroft and others come and take power, and we`re supposed to pretend that there`s no danger anymore in federal power. That federal power is our friend, and anybody who doubts it is a traitor.

LAMB:: Why are they doing it?

BOVARD: I think a lot of it is simply a “us versus them” mind-set. I mean, it`s liberals versus conservatives, and liberals were always wrong. I mean, it`s the same way many liberals view conservatives as always being wrong. But, both liberals and conservatives both have their merits, but as there`s been a low caliber of debate in this town on the merits to allow the Bush policies.

LAMB:S: I saw some figures in your book that I have never quite seen presented this way. That since, I suspect, 1948, in 2001 dollars America has spent $240 billion on Israel.

BOVARD: Right. I believe — yes, what?

LAMB:S: And on Egypt, since I think `79, it`s 117 billion. And on Jordan, 22 billion, and of course, there is other money that has gone to the Palestinians. Where did you get the idea to frame it in 2001 dollars instead of just adding up all the figures?

BOVARD: Oh, that was from the report done for the U.S. Army War College by I believe, economist Thomas Stauffer. And he walked through the cost of U.S. support of its allies and its friends of the Middle East.

LAMB:: Let me repeat those numbers.


LAMB:: $240 billion for Israel.

BOVARD: Right.

LAMB:: $117 billion for Egypt, and $22 billion for Jordan.

BOVARD: Right.

LAMB:: And why do you talk about this? What`s important?

BOVARD: Well, a major source of animosity from the terrorist groups and throughout much of the world is our involvement in the Middle East. We`ve been massively involved there for decades. We`ve plowed hundreds of billions of dollars in that area. We have sent boatloads of arms to there. Our efforts have not achieved peace or justice for the people there. And I feel that we need to exit the Middle East quagmire as a very important step to, , increase in our defenses against terrorism.

LAMB:: You kind of put your finger on Ariel Sharon as a problem. Right now.

BOVARD: Ariel Sharon is a big problem. Ariel Sharon is a huge problem, and it`s…

LAMB:: Did it all start with his march on the temple?

BOVARD: I think that that was the spark that set the powder keg of the second Al-Aqsa intifadah. I mean, but there is a lot of blame on both sides, and I`m also critical of Yasser Arafat on here, of the Palestinian Authority. And I am very critical of Hamas and their suicide bombings, but I think U.S. policy has tended to be very tilted in this area.

Part of the trouble is the U.S. definition of terrorism. The U.S. government defines terrorism as effectively a private activity by private groups or private entities or private individuals. Governments cannot be terrorists. But if you look at a lot of the allies who were financing, , Bush says that the U.S. will not have any — oh, I`ve forgotten, there`s a good phrase which I forget — but if you look at a lot of the governments that we`re financing right now, Uzbekistan, Nepal, Turkmenistan, Georgia — these are governments that are terrorizing their own people, and — and George Bush is forcing Americans to pay for foreign torture and things like that.

And this is an outrage. And there is — it`s a core concept. , the terrorist threat is real, and we have to focus on al Qaeda, but the State Department did some — as according to State Department records, international terrorists in 1980s and `90s killed about 8,000 people around the world. In the same period, governments killed over 10 million people. Governments are a far greater danger to people and to peace than are terrorists.

LAMB:: What is — and I lost my place — operation — you`ll be able to tell me — Green…

BOVARD: Green Merchant or green something or other? Green Quest?

LAMB:: Green Quest, yeah.

BOVARD: OK, operation Green Quest is a crackdown on the terrorists — well, it`s labeled as a crackdown on terrorist money laundering, but it`s much more expansive. There was a Supreme Court decision in 1998 written by Clarence Thomas. It said that the Customs Service can no longer confiscate the money of people, travelers going into or out of the country simply because they failed to fill out a federal form, informing the government they were taking out or bringing in more than $10,000. Clarence Thomas ruled — wrote that that was a violation of the Eighth Amendment, excessive fines clause and other things.

In the PATRIOT Act, Congress basically overturned that Supreme Court decision, and now there`s a new crime called bulk cash smuggling, and if someone tries to leave the country with more than $10,000 in cash or currency it`s on them, and doesn`t fill out a form notifying the government, then the government can confiscate all that person`s money and also send them to prison for a few years. This is being labeled as a victory against terrorism. It`s not. Most of the people who are being hit by this have nothing to do with terrorism, and, instead, they`re just guilty of the paperwork violation.

LAMB:: In all these issues you talk about, how often do you find yourself upset with something and almost nobody else? All right…


LAMB:: … I mean, you are always finding somebody that`s carrying the banner for the other side?

BOVARD: No, no, no. I mean, there are folks who I know and who are, , on the same wavelength with me on most issues, and very few actually, but many of these issues it feels at times, like , like one is barking at the moon, but it`s encouraging how public opinion — how people — more people could learn about something as time goes on, and all of a sudden the blind faith or the first pure — and almost a submissive reaction dissipates over time, such as with Waco. I mean, in the days after the FBI`s final assault of Waco, you had 80 or 90 percent of the American people who supported what the government did. Two years later, those numbers those poll numbers were much lower as people had gotten some distance and looked at — and some of the intense emotions of that period had dissipated.

LAMB:: Do you recognize these problems right away when they happen — when a major event happens? Do you not rush in and make a decision?


LAMB:: Is it your nature to stick back and wait?

BOVARD: I guess neither. I mean, sometimes it seems something would look pretty clear, other times not, and, I`m just always looking to try to better understand things, and, trying to get a better grip, kind of, , tighten my own grip on understanding these issues, because some of them are very difficult, very complex, and I always figure that I owe it to the reader to try to make it as clear and concrete as possible, so…

LAMB:: Did you ever get a feeling that it`s gotten completely away from us, we can`t control this anymore? We lost control of the government, all these issues that you are bringing up? Nobody is watching.

BOVARD: Some people are watching. Some people are watching, some people are doing some great work trying to expose and in some ways checks on these abuses, but it`s certainly a grim scenario as far as the future, as far as Americans being able to reassert control over their government. But it`s — it could happen.

LAMB:: What`s it going to take?

BOVARD: Oh, I don`t know. I don`t know. I mean, people need to read more and get better informed. I think it`s unfortunate that so many people get so much of their so-called news from broadcast television. Because, the broadcast news and TV is, what, 20 minutes, 22 minutes, and much of that`s fluff or, stuff that`s really not there, and — so I — the governments can become a lot more powerful at the same time the people are becoming comparatively more ignorant as far as the actual workings of the government. And that`s a very dangerous mix.

LAMB:: You also write a lot about drugs and terrorism.

BOVARD: Uh-huh.

LAMB:: What`s the thesis?

BOVARD: Well, it`s curious. Bush was emphatic in the months after 9-11 that no CIA or FBI agent or official could be blamed for 9-11, but Bush did find 28 million culprits. Bush effectively labeled any American drug user as a terrorist financier. He said that if someone buys illicit drugs, chances are some of the money goes to help terrorism.

This was complete nonsense. I mean, most illicit drug users in this country use marijuana. There is no role in marijuana financing terrorism anywhere, of which I`m aware of, and there are elements of the cocaine and heroin from South America which do finance some of the terrorist groups there, but those are not threats to the U.S., , those are groups involved in civil war, and the governments which we finance in that part of the world are also terrorizing their people at times, so.

And it`s interesting. Bush, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan going after al Qaeda and the Taliban, Bush talked, at one point, he said that the U.S. will make sure that heroin never again finances terrorist groups there or the evil people in Afghanistan. Well, Afghanistan is experiencing the Bush opium boom. Opium production has increased 2,000 percent, over 20-fold since the U.S. took over Afghanistan. Because the Taliban had effectively exterminated the opium production, but when the U.S. came in, all of a sudden it`s a boom time for opium production. It`s kind of — it`s a paradox.

LAMB:: What about what goes on in Colombia and Peru and places like that?

BOVARD: Well, if you see what the governments in those countries have done, they`ve been very — I mean, OK, as far as in Bogotá , as far as that situation, it`s a civil war. It`s a civil war that`s been going on for decades. A lot of the guerrilla forces have done horrendous atrocities, but so have the government there, and the government`s paramilitary allies, who are now labeled by the U.S. as a terrorist group but they are still working closely with the government there, which is U.S.-financed. So U.S. funding there is indirectly aiding — probably aiding a group that the U.S. labels a terrorist group.

LAMB:: Back to what we were talking about earlier about war. When is America justified to use its military?

BOVARD: Well, the U.S. was justified to go after al Qaeda, because al Qaeda attacked the U.S., and…

LAMB:: Go anywhere and do exactly what they did, go to Afghanistan and…


LAMB:: How far can a country go?

BOVARD: It`s a difficult question. I don`t have a good answer. I think the U.S. was absolutely justified in going after the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. Overthrowing the Taliban and taking control of the country, that`s a different story. I think it`s becoming another quagmire. Certainly the U.S. should work in cahoots with foreign governments to go — put the squeeze on al Qaeda, to shut them down, to do what`s necessary. Military intervention is almost always counterproductive in these things, and it`s sad to see how Bush has exploded the gullibility on the 9-11 link to justify its war with Iraq.

LAMB:: You don`t think he was justified?

BOVARD: Oh, no. Absolutely no. I mean, there was — , Saddam Hussein was a brutal torturer that relied heavily on torture. He killed a lot of his own people, but he was no threat to the U.S. And there were so many false statements made by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others before the war, and one of the things that really — a lot of people say, well, that Bush may have just been misinformed. Well, there was a speech that he gave early this year, and he kept using this case, he said if war is forced upon us — again and again, if war is forced upon us, then America will fight.

Well, that was nonsense. War was never forced upon the American people, at least not by the foreign government. Bush sought to convince Americans that the U.S. was somehow a victim of Saddam Hussein, and that was a complete scam. And Bush, — Bush needs to come clean with the American people on these things.

LAMB:: By the way, if he were here right now and this is a private conversation, he might say, he will, , it is really nice that you had all these great theories, but I had the responsibility and I did something.

BOVARD: Yeah, well, I mean, it`s true that he had the responsibility, but that does not give him justification for launching an unprovoked war against a foreign country that posed no real threat to the U.S.

LAMB:: What if his philosophy is — and maybe you heard him say this — that by going into Iraq, that is making a statement that will affect the entire area, democratize the country, impact the rest of the Arab countries, and in fact begin a process that has to start somewhere? What would you say to that plan if that were his plan?

BOVARD: Well, I guess I might wonder if they`re doing drug testing in the White House, because they had a lot of information ahead of the war that this rosy scenario would be a joke. I mean, there was a lot of evidence that there would be fierce resistance, that the Iraqi people would not greet Americans with, , flowers and hugs, and that, overthrowing Saddam would not create this domino effect of democracy in the Middle East. And yet, Bush went ahead and basically — the Federal Trade Commission sets standards for false advertising for corporate practices. I`d be curious to know how Bush sold the Iraqi war to the American people, what qualifies as a fraud by the federal government`s own definitions.

LAMB:: Wait, Americans believed it and they followed it, and they endorsed it.

BOVARD: Yeah. And that doesn`t mean that he`s right. And it doesn`t mean that he was honest or that his facts were accurate. I mean, if you see how Bush sought to portray Saddam Hussein as the 20th hijacker on 9-11, if Bush constantly linked Saddam and 9-11 in his speeches, in his interviews, in his off the cuff comments that were televised, and as the Bush administration recently admitted, as Bush recently admitted that there is no evidence of a link. And if , it`s sort of — all the false statements on weapons of mass destruction. I mean, to try to put it in concrete context. Say, for instance, that I`m living in a place, and I have suspicion that the house next door, a group house, that the people there might have these terrible weapons. And so I call up the FBI and I tell them that these people have got these terrible weapons and they`re going to attack the elementary school nearby.

So the FBI sends her SWAT team in, attacks the house. A couple of FBI agents get killed, they kill everybody inside the house. It turns out they have no weapons. Well — have no serious weapons. OK. This is not a harmless error. And this is equivalent to what Bush has done by sending the U.S. to war against Iraq. There are thousands of Iraqis who have been killed in this war, hundreds of Americans have died, more are going to be dying. And for Bush — Bush is strutting on this. This is so off-putting. For Bush to say, bring them on, , as he did in July as far as the Iraqi attacks on the American people, it`s a national disgrace.

LAMB:: You sound like you really don`t like George Bush. Is there anything about him you like?

BOVARD: Oh, that`s a good question. I mean, some of his efforts in the Office of Management and Budget. Some of the efforts to cut back things here, or cut back things there. I mean, Bush is — there are a few things he is doing that I would — I`m not in opposition to.

LAMB:: You said you didn`t vote in 2000.

BOVARD: That`s right.

LAMB:: Is that the first time that`s ever happened?

BOVARD: No, it`s not the first time, but I most often vote — well, it`s frustrating not having a choice of candidates one could affirmatively support. But there were things in Bush`s record which I had lots of doubts about in 2000, both his personal record as far as — and as well as his stand on government, so…

LAMB:: What would you think if this book turns out to be a great tool for all of 10 Democrats that are running against him?

BOVARD: My hope is that people will look at the facts and the issues, and, , I`m sure that some people would like some things in this book and might try to use them in a way that I would disagree with or I would not approve of, but this is what happens when you write. And what I have tried to do so far in this book is to lay out the facts and walk people through, what the government did, case after case after case, example to example. And to try to make people not forget some of their rhetoric that has surrounded these things, because it is with the rhetoric of Bush and others which we have to keep in mind in judging them.

LAMB:: You think you could do better if you were in the government?

BOVARD: Do better what?

LAMB:: Accomplishing what you want to accomplish.

BOVARD: Well, if I was in the government, I would probably try — well, the first thing I would do is to say that it`s to recognize the things which the government is incompetent at, and try to stop doing those. I mean, it`s a major concern I have about this war on terrorism. Nothing happened on 9-11 to make the federal government more competent. And yet we are Bush`s — we have a very aggressive foreign policy. Bush is probably creating more terrorists than he is vanquishing at this point, especially in places like Iraq. And there is almost like this fantasy that we`ve had these reforms at the FBI and the CIA and elsewhere, and now they`re going to be able to protect us.

LAMB:: Earlier you mentioned that you went to Virginia Tech. For two years?

BOVARD: Off and on for two years.

LAMB:: And didn`t graduate?


LAMB:: And have no college degree?

BOVARD: Correct.

LAMB:: So what does this all say? You`ve made a living off of writing. This is your seventh book.


LAMB:: No college degree. Does it say something about college, not worth it?

BOVARD: Well, maybe it says that the professors at Virginia Tech were so great I only needed a year and a half, two years. I don`t know. I mean, it was a great benefit the time I did spend in college. I have appreciated it, I`ve been able to find editors I can work with.

LAMB:: Where did you learn how to do this?

BOVARD: Learn how to do?

LAMB:: Write books, think, study, learn.

BOVARD: I have always enjoyed research. I`ve always enjoyed learning things and trying to figure things out as far as policies and stuff like that. I was fascinated — I`ve always had a love of reading, and I tried to read good books that would kind of perhaps hopefully improve my writing style. When I did go to college, I took a lot of courses on writing and a lot of independent studies with some very generous professors to try to help me upgrade my writing style, my essay style and, I`ve been doing it for a long time, and, , it`s just — , it`s fun, it`s fun.

LAMB:: Any reason why you didn`t dedicate your book to someone?

BOVARD: I thought about dedicating it to — I thought about that a couple of things, and I decided not to, so…

LAMB:: You normally dedicate your books?

BOVARD: No, no.

LAMB:: Is there a reason?

BOVARD: I don`t know. , I`m just kind of — I don`t know. It`s just — it`s not my style, so.

LAMB:: What`s your next book?

BOVARD: I am thinking I`ll probably do something on the Bush administration, looking at the — , “Feeling Your Pain,” the book I did in 2000 walked people through a lot of some of the more arcane Clinton policies, and I might do that with the Bush administration for next year.

LAMB:: James Bovard is our author. Here is the cover of the book: “Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil.” Thank you very much.

BOVARD: Thanks so much.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2003. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite C


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2 Responses to C-SPAN Booknotes: Terrorism & Tyranny (2003 transcript)

  1. Tom Blanton February 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    I remember that show. In those days, I kept C-SPAN on all the time and always watched Booknotes. I remember thinking, WOW, Lamb’s got Bovard on!

    I miss Brian Lamb. He was one of the best interviewers around – maybe the best for political people. Booknotes was especially good because of the length and depth of the interviews.

    Who but Brian Lamb would let someone like Jim Bovard talk for so long on TV? Not Oprah!

  2. Jim February 3, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

    Thanks, Tom! One good thing about the Booknotes 60-minute format – there was plenty of time for an author to hang himself with his own words.

    Lamb mentioned after the interview that he kept expecting me to pull out the cigar from my shirt pocket and at least unwrap it. I would have done that except I forgot about the cigar.

    Actually, until literally less than 30 seconds before the taping began, I was wearing a suit coat but – it didn’t mesh well with the background – so I welcomed the chance to toss it to an assistant off-camera immediately before filming began.