"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Interview: Dana Priest on secret gulags, CIA and war
Pulse of the Twin Cities
Sid Prank
December 1, 2005

Dana Priest covers the intelligence community and national security issues for the The Washington Post. Recently, she broke the news that the Bush Administration has been operating secret gulags, or "black site" prisons in Eastern European countries.

In 2004, she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist twice, for her reporting on clandestine intelligence, and for her contribution to the Post's reporting on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

Pulse: What will you talk about at the MWPC event?

Priest: "How the CIA is fighting the war on terror … Outside of Iraq, it's still very hidden … I will try to describe that the war on terror is largely a CIA- and military-dominated one. It hasn't broadened out to what some people would call 'soft power'—the struggle for ideology and determining the root causes of terrorism … and I think that's short-sighted."

Pulse: Were you surprised when you found out about the secret gulags in Europe?

Priest: "I was surprised about the Eastern European democracy connection. Yep, I was, and the reason was that the sites would be considered illegal in the countries they are located. They have governments similar to ours with similar legal systems … where all detainees have some rights, including the right to counsel, just like they would here."

Pulse: Has there been European reaction to the story?

Priest: "There's been a firestorm of reaction among the media in Europe, not just Eastern Europe, but Western Europe also, because of the EU [European Union] connection. Europe more and more considers itself one place and wants to be sure that countries that are joining the EU [pursue] the same fundamental values that Western Europe does—the court system, human rights and that sort of thing. So it was surprising that they [the Bush administration] would put them [gulags] in democracies."

Pulse: How did you go about verifying that the gulags were actually there? Did you send someone over there or have someone already there check?

Priest: "You know, it's a tough one to answer because there are people who are alleging that they're going to try to find my sources. So, I'm reluctant to talk about how I go about doing it … because the CIA has referred the story to the Justice Department for a possible leak investigation and a couple of [Congressional] members on the Hill want to open up an inquiry—not on the facts that the sites exist, but on the fact that people talked to me about it."

Pulse: Are you worried that this is going to turn into a Judith Miller [Plame Gate] thing?

Priest: "I don't know exactly what to be worried about, and I wouldn't normally talk about my sourcing and the way I go about it anyway, because the people that talk to me do it because they know I won't reveal anything that would lead people to understand who they are because so much for them is at stake to talk about this … She [Judith Miller] was protecting a government official trying to 'out' somebody."

Pulse: The people I talk to and associate with are outraged at the stuff the Bush Administration has done, and there is talk of impeaching Bush. Do you think George Bush will be impeached?

Priest: "No, not right now. I don't see any movement in that direction … You don't see anybody on the Hill, there might be some exceptions, calling for anything like that against President Bush. The closest you've gotten, and you've seen this huge debate over [Congressman] Murtha's comments, and you know all he's saying is we should consider pulling out [of Iraq]."

Pulse: What do you make of Murtha's comments, since he's regarded as a hawkish Democrat?

Priest: "[He's] a huge supporter of the Pentagon's wishes. In one sense, the power of what he's said is he's seen as reflecting some sentiment within the military that cannot be expressed directly. Because that is not their role, they would not do that."

Pulse: Why do you think Washington has not responded to people's outrage about the war?

Priest: "Look at how Congress operates and what it's willing or even unwilling to talk about. For instance, before the war, Democrats were unwilling to criticize much of the intelligence that they are now criticizing. Or even to engage in a spirited debate over whether there were alternatives to war ... and now they're doing that, in part, because it's politically safe to do that."

Pulse: Do you have any ideas on why the Pentagon would have revealed, as they recently have, the facts on the use of white phosphorus in Iraq? Why reveal it now, as opposed to earlier, or never?

Priest: "The Pentagon, believe it or not, is much more open than the CIA. Reporters are able to get much more information about activities that the Pentagon would like to keep quiet because they [reporters] travel with troops, they travel with commanders ... eventually those things come out ... it's hard to suppress things forever."

Pulse: This Administration seems to be trying to get away with quite a bit. Do they just hope no one will be paying that much attention?

Priest: "As a member of the media that spends her time on national security issues, I mean our whole role is for us to describe what it is they're doing.

And that's hard. That is really a task in and of itself. Because it's not something that you're spoonfed and easy to come by. There is always an official version of events, or no version of events if the CIA's involved."

Pulse: How do you gauge the mood of the country right now? Some would say that Washington, D.C., is out of touch with the people.

Priest: "When I wrote my black site [secret gulag] story, I got as much hate mail as mail applauding it ... I certainly hope we're not insular, we're supposed to be the opposite ... We try to take the pulse every once in a while in a systematic way, through the polls and we have [Washington Post] bureaus throughout the country. I'd hate to think we're out of touch. I think it {the country] is separated into an electoral divide, where there's a huge support for Bush—unquestioning—and then just the opposite."

Pulse: Have you read Maureen Dowd's new book, 'Are Men Necessary?'?

Priest: (laughs) "You know, I'm getting it for Christmas."

Pulse: Do you think Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2008?

Priest: "It certainly looks like that's where she's headed. [If she wins] It would be fascinating for a reporter to witness it, to chronicle it."

The reader should recall that at one time it was politically impossible to go after Joe McCarthy (McCarthyism). Both scandals had a media that bought into the lies - spread the lies and now wants to blame democrats for letting them get away with it. When the media is part of the scandal it's far harder to have open debate. CNN, Fox, Viacom (including CBS and MTV) banned anti war and anti Bush ads prior to war. The networks even went after the Dixie Chicks when one of them dared to suggest she was ashamed that Bush came from her home state of Texas. In other words, the media fell for McCarthyism just like it fell for WMD. No single person or group could have undone the lies put out by the government and pushed by the media.

Some democrats opposed the war (Howard Dean for example). The media savaged him. The media made it politically impossible for politicians to tell us the truth.