A former Forensic Economist turned Investigative Reporter has earned critical acclaim with the New York Times Bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Now, with the release of Armed Madhouse, he has unleashed a reign of accusations against the US government’s illegal invasion of Iraq and the Bush Regime’s quest for oil, all backed up through secret uncovered documents. Jill Bolstridge interviews Greg Palast, the independent investigative reporter whose hard-hitting journalism coupled with his wicked sense of humor brings the frightening realities of imperialism to the masses.
Your book totally discredits the Bush Administration; you suggest the Republicans’ two electoral victories were rigged and that Iraq was invaded for oil. Are you simply joining the Bash Bush Bandwagon, or is there real substance to these accusations?
Well, I bash all the administrations. I have hot stuff on Hillary Clinton as well. When the Clintons were in power, I let lying dogs sleep and sleeping dogs lie. But these are facts. These aren’t my opinions. I don’t write opinions; this is the real thing about what they are up to. My specialty is going after the inside documents. I was described by Bobby Kennedy as “America’s last investigative reporter.” Going inside, undercover, getting the secret recordings, getting the secret documents. This is what they are doing behind closed doors. So that’s what you get. I am not guessing that they stole the election; I can give you the numbers. I have the information, I have the facts. In 2004 for BBC television, I discovered Carl Rove’s secret e-mails, including schemes for what they call “caging voters.” And I couldn’t get a single US media outlet to pick that up. And yet this week, Monica Goodling, before the US congress, said she wanted to decline answering questions about voter caging to the court. But it took from 2004 to 2007 to get my story out, and even then, there were no questions about her testimony. There was no US media pick-up.
The Bush administration and the US in general has lost international credibility, but it appears that it's business as usual. Why?
What the hell do they care about international credibility? Credibility with whom? They don’t care about credibility in the United States, let alone with the rest of the planet. This regime is not in it for credibility; the White House is a profit center. And that’s all they care about. They go after the profit, and that’s all they have to do. They play enough games with the elections that they don’t even have to care about the voters of America. They sure as hell ain’t gonna care about the voters of Switzerland.
What shifts in public opinion have occurred over the 4 years since the invasion and can you identify the significant milestones?
I was trying to break stories about the real story of the War in Iraq and the secret documents on the oil fields in Iraq and the real stuff about the War on Terror. But I think New Orleans was the turning point for the Bush Administration. Because for the first time, reporters went down without any script from the White House. There was no media center, there was nothing. For the first time ever, American reporters actually had to figure out what the leads were, and so for a few unguarded days, we actually had a picture of the regime. Then they got control of it. Anderson Cooper did his cry op, you know, he’s a member of the Vanderbilt family. So he’s looking around at all these people suffering, looking at people who normally take care of his garden. So, here his gardener is homeless and he’s all in tears about it. ‘Why doesn’t someone do something?’ Then he dropped out. Have you heard from him lately? Has he gone down to New Orleans? There are 89,000 people still living in tin can mobile homes. Does he give a shit? Does he give a damn? No. So, to me, while I think the Bush regime is bad, I think that the media regime is worse.
In the first chapter of your book, you briefly mention your work before you went into journalism as a forensic economist, investigating companies like Exxon and Enron. Can you tell us a bit about this work and your decision to leave this field to become a journalist?
“Forensic economist” is a fancy word. I was an Investigator of Economic Crime. I did investigations, for example, I investigated frauds committed by Exxon and its oil buddies, and the break-up of the Exxon/Valdez, which was a massive, massive fraud. I mean, for example, they turned off the radar; it was too expensive to operate and get the press. I did investigations which brought the biggest verdicts in American history from a jury on the nuclear plant builders on Long Island and New York. I looked at the Exxon coverage and I looked at the coverage of the nuclear industry. And what I saw was a complete bunch of shit from corporate propaganda. And I was also covering the crimes of Kimling while the US journalists were looking at his loafers…I mean, Thomas Friedman actually called him ‘a cross between Elvis and Mother Teresa’ or something like that. And I was puking, because I saw this guy as a raging criminal. And they still are raging criminals in that industry; it’s just that, as far as they’re concerned they got ‘the one bad apple.’ So, I was just tired of the journalists in America, who are complete lazy sons-of-bitches. Careerish, one-minded, pea-brained… If the script isn’t handed to them, they’re at a complete loss. So I decided I better report the news myself. Then I found out I wasn’t allowed to in the United States. So I went to the top of the major journalistic outlets [in the UK], The Guardian and the BBC, and about a week after that, I entered journalism.
You also mention your previous dealings with Confessions of an Economic Hitman author, John Perkins. I interviewed John last year for Rice N Peas and was amazed at his openness about the corrupt work of his past. Can you tell me a bit about your dealings with John Perkins prior to both of your careers as writers?
Oh yeah, he was a real ass hole. [Laughs] He’s a good friend now. I was investigating the corruption of the power of the nuclear power industry, and he was covering for them, selling bogus nuclear plant projects which he knew would generate billions of dollars with no electricity. If they were lucky, it would generate radiation which they had no idea what to do with. He knew it was all bogus; he was an economist like me. He would use his numbers to try to con governments into buying these massive building projects which he knew they didn’t need. And he did it by bribery, phoney numbers, you name it. And he was just willing to do it. ‘Economic Hit Man’ is a good way to lay it out. He was selling bogus products for millions of dollars. Then he had a life change. He went up into the mountains of Ecuador and decided that his soul wasn’t worth the price. You know, you gotta hand it to him. But I was on the other side. These guys creeped me out from day one. Because you have to understand, I got my advanced degree in economics working under Milton Friedman. I could name my money ticket from a young age. I had too much working class resentment in me to join the people who spent all their lives screwing around the people I grew up with. Even when I was with Milton Friedman, I was working undercover for the United Field Workers. I traveled the world working with consumer groups. Before the US press got onto Enron, I set up the Enron Workers Coalition. I helped set that up, which combined workers from the US, England, Brazil, India, fighting Enron on an international scale. And, you know, the battle ain’t over, even if Enron is gone. The power pirates are still in place.
The US public has not turned against its government like this since Vietnam. Is this because of the numbers of casualties and the cost of the war?
I hope so. Yeah, there’s nothing that wakes people up so much as a funeral for their Cousin Benny. I hate to say it, but that’s what it takes. And when you’re burying your kids, you kinda develop a little resentment. And thank God, I think people are waking up quicker than they did in Vietnam. And that’s a big difference. And ironically, there is more control of the press right now. The mainstream press. But then, there’s you. You have a route that they haven’t yet figured out how to shut down: the internet, alternative radio, alternative press. And then of course, I work… and of course, I am very mainstream in Europe, BBC television, and because of the internet, the BBC, because of The Guardian.
What will be the fall-out of this public disaffection towards the government and does this disaffect exist across both parties?
Sure. I was just on a right wing radio station yesterday, in which a very conservative talk show host, Alex Jones, is screaming about the illegal war. You have conservative politician Ron Paul saying, look, you have to understand that we are not tolerating a war for the ones who control the oil fields. You have a lot of resentment in the populace of both parties. The mainstream in both parties is pretty much worthless, but the populace of both parties are figuring out what’s going on.
You suggest that oil is central to the US invasion of Iraq; can you briefly state some of the evidence towards this conclusion?
I uncovered a document that is 323 pages long that was written in secret, and you can see the key critical page, reproduced in Armed Madhouse, which says, look, the purpose of this… our invasion allows us to make sure that the government of Iraq, quote, ‘enhances’ it’s relationship with OPEC. It’s another way of saying that the Saudis will control Iraq. And that’s what it’s about. The most interesting thing is, it’s not about going to get oil. They didn’t invade Iraq so you can fill up your Hummer cheaply. They invaded Iraq to make sure you don’t get the oil. Their concern was not that Saddam would not sell us oil. Saddam was trying to sell us oil. We restricted him under the Oil for Food program. And in fact, he would sell too much oil and bring the price down. The purpose was to control the output of Iraq. They don’t want Iraq’s oil; they don’t want anyone to have Iraq’s oil. And they’ve been very very successful at it. You have to look at this; last year, the five major US oil companies earned $120 billion in a single year. That’s more than the entire US auto industry has earned since the Model T. Think about this: in one year. So you think that their plan went wrong? Their plan went very, very right. Oil was 20 bucks a barrel before Bush jumped in. Now it’s 65 bucks a barrel. Mission accomplished.
In your book you refer to the US government's implication in political assassinations of foreign leaders, state sponsored terrorism, invasions, sponsored coups. Why has the US never received warning or sanction from the so-called “international community,” the UN or any other international body? Why has it been allowed to continue if this information is no secret?
Well, some of it’s secret, but easy to uncover. For example, the US involvement in the coup d'etat against Hugo Chavez. I mean, I put that in the book, in the chapter, “The Assassination of Hugo Chavez.” I know that the US supported and approved plans to assassinate Chavez by Cubans operating from Columbia. And of course, this goes back to the kidnapping of Hugo Chavez in 2002 and that wasn’t exactly hidden. The US Ambassador, when Hugo was kidnapped and being held hostage – can you imagine? the elected president of this country! – our Ambassador went down and had his picture taken with the guys holding him hostage! I mean, they weren’t exactly hiding their feelings. And they got applauded, by the way, by The New York Times. Why aren’t there any sanctions? Well, who controls most of the United Nations Security Council? Who controls the World Bank? Who controls the IMF? Who’s gonna complain? I mean, it’s out there. And of course, Tony Blair was well aware of, for example, Bush’s desire to target the Al Jazeera office in Iraq. And he just didn’t say a word. So even the British government is covering up.
You suggest that many of the sources for your accusations were senior members of the Republican Party and other government officials. How did you develop these contacts and why do they all appear to contact you when they have something to say?
They don’t. You have to understand, a lot of this stuff is secretly tape-recorded. They don’t know who they are talking to. In fact, I have to say that, in the case of getting the documents about how the oil companies drafted the plans for the Iraq War, the oil company executive, Miss Jane Bakers, henchwoman, contacted Harpers Magazine, which ran the excerpt of Armed Madhouse and said, "We’re gonna sue you". And Harpers said, “Did Greg misquote you?” She said, “We didn’t even talk to him. We didn’t talk to Palast.” And I said, “Okay, just tell me, which voice on this tape recorder isn’t you?” I have Carl Rove’s e-mails. It’s not like he said, “Hey Greg, take a look at this.” I have those secret e-mails. I have it done by capture, and if people criticize me for it, too bad. They’re not going to hand me this stuff; I have to go get it. His minions mis-typed e-mail addresses and sent them to a system being controlled by a friend of ours who then passed them on to the BBC. And that’s how we get this stuff. This is investigative reporting. The type that isn’t done by US reporters. We go and get the stuff. We go undercover. I set up false fronts. I captured Tony Blair’s top cabinet ministers by setting up a false operation and they didn’t know it wasn’t actually Enron. And I record these guys in secret meetings. This is real stuff.
Do you fear retaliation? Legal or otherwise?
I have been sued by George Bush’s gold-mining company. Most Americans don’t even know he has a gold-mining company. I’ve been sued by first-rate politicians. I’ve had over 200 death threats. And I was charged with violating the Patriot Act by the Department of Homeland Security. So yeah, there’s retaliation. But the biggest retaliation is locking me out of the media. I’m just locked out.
Armed Madhouse is currently available through all leading booksellers.
1st July 2007