Interview with investigative journalist, Russ Baker explores how the term “conspiracy theory” can taint serious journalism.
Alex Tsakiris: And I also wanted to touch on the term “conspiracy theory”, which of course your work gets labeled with even though you take this very serious journalistic approach. I have always maintained that conspiracies are how money and power work. My experience from the business world is that anything with a significant amount of money behind it, or power behind it, is a conspiracy almost by definition. I always think it’s funny when people want to label these kind of investigations as “conspiracy theories.”
Russ Baker: Let me tell you a little bit of the background of my experience with that term. I’m so not the kind of person that normally someone would label with that. I’m not someone who instantly imagines the most diabolical scenario, nor do I tend to – when there is a statement made by any institution I don’t automatically assume that they’re lying because they may not be. So I’m not really a candidate for that moniker but the reality is that when I started doing this kind of work certain people in certain institutions started using it. They were kind of afraid to use it about me in a full-blown way, so they would do it in kind of an underhanded way.
The term ‘conspiracy theorist’ is a very interesting one because we actually know from documentation that there was a deliberate effort to essentially kind of create this term as a pejorative label. I like to call it a dysphemism. A dysphemism is a euphemism for something else that has a negative connotation. And it is beautiful. It is one of the best propaganda terms ever invented because the second you say, ‘Yeah, I don’t know he is a bit of a conspiracy theorist,’ for most people it sends out signals meaning the person is a little bit off base. You may want to have nothing to do with them as they could make you look bad. And so it is incredibly effective. There aren’t that many other terms you could use that easily beyond sort of saying that somebody smells.
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Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Russ Baker to Skeptiko. Russ is a longtime, highly-regarded, multi-award winning investigative journalist and the author of the best-selling book Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government and the Hidden History of the Last 50 Years. Russ is also the creator of the popular non-profit investigative news site Who, What, Why. Russ, it’s great to have you on Skeptiko, thanks so much for joining me.
Russ Baker: It’s my pleasure.
Alex Tsakiris: So, can you start by telling us a little bit of the how part of this story? How does a guy who rubs shoulders with Bill Moyers and Dan Rather and Gore Vidal and gets them to write really nice reviews for his book – how do you come to write a book like Family of Secrets that’s chock full of what most people call conspiracy theories. How did that happen?
Russ Baker: Well I would say it’s the other way around. In other words, it’s not that I rub shoulders with important people, it’s that I try to do real journalism and I think that there are people out there who are interested in that. It is very hard to do real journalism at the high levels of establishment journalism and people like Dan Rather, who has experienced his own problems with that, I think come to appreciate and are more willing to embrace this type of journalism when they are no longer in such a delicate position. So I am not judging them at all, but I am just trying to say that I think there are a lot of people in the establishment who recognize that there is much more going on and who recognize that sadly the American people are told a kind of fairytale about many things. And there is really not a lot that they can do about it because the propaganda is so extensive, so deep, and so long-playing that no single person can very easily do anything about it and at least not while maintaining their position and their ability to have some kind of an impact.
Alex Tsakiris: Tell us a little bit about your process then, in writing the book, because as I understand it you didn’t go into it with a lot of preconceived ideas about how this was going to turn out for you and what you were going to find, is that right?
Russ Baker: Yeah I mean one of the problems that I see with this so-called journalism or just things that relate to it on the internet and radio and TV is that so many people are interested in putting forth their agenda, or their viewpoint. And I would describe my journalism as essentially agnostic, which means that I don’t go in with an assumption of what I’m going to find or that I am looking for something that confirms something that I hold dear. What I do is I wonder about things and obviously, the more we have read, the more we have experienced, the more we carry with us some sense of how things work. But to be a good journalist, as to be a good scientist or a medical researcher or anything, I think you have to be open to being surprised all the time. And so I began Family of Secrets really from a position of having encountered some strange things about the Bush dynasty over the years, particularly in the year 2004 when George W. Bush was running for reelection. What I think struck me there Alex was here was a man that we pretty much already knew that they had lied or at least seriously misrepresented what they knew about Iraq in order to get us into a war and yet here he was doing well in the polls and likely to win. And I saw what they were doing to John Kerry and I was actually out there at the time in Texas in 2004, digging into George W. Bush’s own military service record and I saw the attacks on Kerry, I saw how they were able to swing public attention away from George W. Bush to essentially exaggerations or falsehoods about Kerry. And I said my God, this is just masterful. These are pros at work here. This is a really professional operation.
And I think that was the moment probably where it kind of crystallized for me that this operation was much more interesting than they were given credit for and that somebody needed to dig further.
Alex Tsakiris: And I also wanted to touch on the word that I threw out there and you didn’t jump on it completely but I have heard you in the past comment on this whole idea of conspiracy theory, which of course you get labeled with even though you do take this very serious journalistic approach. Really, the only approach you can take in these kind of things which is to find the conspiracy, I have always maintained and shared on this show that if you don’t understand that conspiracies is how money and power works, then you’re not paying attention. My experience is more from business and in business anything that has a significant amount of money behind it or power behind it is a conspiracy almost by definition. I always think it’s funny when people want to label this kind of investigation as that is conspiracy theory. It’s really kind of goofy, isn’t it?
Russ Baker: Well your timing is supremely good because if you go to our website WhoWhatWhy.com, this morning you wills see an article specifically on that. And I assume you haven’t seen it yet but there it is, handy chart for conspiracy theorists. And let me tell you a little bit of the background of my experience with that term. I’m so not the kind of person that normally someone would label with someone like that. I’m not someone who instantly imagines the most diabolical scenario, nor do I tend to – when there is a statement made by any institution I don’t automatically assume that they’re lying because they may not be. So I’m not really a candidate for that moniker but the reality is that when I started doing this kind of work certain people in certain institutions started using it. They were kind of afraid to use it about me in a full-blown way, so they would do it in kind of an underhanded way, like we once had a freelance reviewer review my book. And he said, ‘Baker is a great journalist; however, in this book he sees the Bushes in the bushes everywhere,’ which is sort of a funny phrase. But he was implying that there was something a little bit – that he wanted to say I was a little bit too quick to see patterns where none existed. The term ‘conspiracy theorist’ is a very interesting one because we actually know from documentation that there was a deliberate effort to essentially kind of create this term as a pejorative label.
I like to call it a dysphemism. A dysphemism is a euphemism for something else that has a negative connotation. And it is beautiful. It is one of the best propaganda terms ever invented because the second you say, ‘Yeah, I don’t know he is a bit of a conspiracy theorist,’ for most people it sends out signals meaning the person is a little bit off base. You may want to have nothing to do with them as they could make you look bad. And so it is incredibly effective. There aren’t that many other terms you could use that easily beyond sort of saying that somebody smells. If we’re having a dinner party should I invite him to the dinner party? Well you know, she smells, he’s a conspiracy theorist. There aren’t that many other things you could say. I mean, if you are saying, ‘Hey, invite him to the dinner party,’ and somebody else says, ‘Well, they work for the council on foreign relations,’ that’s much more nuance. You have to discuss what that is and is it good or bad and so forth. So this term is a very, very powerful and deliberate term designed to shut down conversation. I am willing to talk to anybody, I am willing to entertain any possibility because that’s what’s science is. Science is about being open to any possibility and then rigorously investigating it.
Alex Tsakiris: I think what also comes through with that is you have the confidence in your method and your trade of investigative journalists that you’re going to be able to kind of sort out the [inaudible – 0:08:24] so anything is fair game. You won’t be led astray because you’ve done the work. And speaking of doing the work, do you know what I want to do Russ to kind of give people a broader sense of the scope of what you’re talking about with some details and then I wanted to move on to some topics of really diving into what this might mean because I think that’s going to be most interesting to our audience. But first, you have done so much research in Family of Secrets and in the website of Who, What Why. So my to get to, even in the book of Family of Secrets there are like 100 pages of foot notes. But let me hit on just a couple of these topics and get a one or two line summation of each one so we can get this broader scope. Let’s start with the Bushes, George Bush Sr., George Bush papa, appointed director of the CIA. There was this big uproar of this guy has no experience with the intelligence. In fact, he has been deeply involved with the CIA since his 20s. Quickly, a comment on that.
Russ Baker: Yeah, a big part of Family of Secrets is exploring that in a whole new way, going much deeper and much broader than anybody had on this and putting together and connecting a lot of dots. Nobody has come forward to challenge what I have in there. Bush Sr. has been completely silent on this thing. I think it is now becoming a pretty accepted fact that he lived a secret life that his activities prior to being president and even prior to being CIA director indicate that there was a concerted effort to move this man into those positions for reasons we were not told about. Essentially it has to do with the fact that there were some very profound, very broad-based, and very controversial covert operations going on around the world that had to be protected. They needed somebody to come in 1976 when Congress was investigating these things, and basically shut down the investigations, block it, and move these things ever deeper off shore. And that’s what he did. Then when he became Vice President and President he was basically the guy – I don’t know if you would say he was running these covert operations, but he was a key kind of person in the cat bird seat to divert investigations to protect the overall thing that was going on. So he has played I think really a unique role in American history and certainly a unique role in the American presidency.
Alex Tsakiris: Then of course that pulls you back to his family and his father and who was Prescott Bush and what was Bush Sr. being groomed for from the beginning and why was that history and that background held, and how do people even wind up having that level of influence? Why are they drawn to the CIA or intelligence service? It’s obviously not just for service to the country, it’s for consolidation of power. Any thoughts on George Bush Sr.’s father, Prescott Bush?
Russ Baker: Sure, and again I have got a fair amount in Family of Secrets about Prescott Bush, prominent investment banker with a very important, private banking firm that was involved all over the world with very interesting things that even today are not fully understood and certainly not known by most people and that includes very close financial relationships with key titans of Germany who went on to finance the third Reich. So there is a lot of history we don’t understand and we need to look at the antecedents and we need to look at Prescott Bush, we need to look at Prescott’s father, Samuel Bush, who I go into in Family of Secrets. Actually if you go all the way back to World War I he was chosen by more powerful people, more powerful families, to go to Washington and be in charge of small arms procurement for World War I. And the other side of the family, George Herbert Walker, another investment banker, was involved with Russia prior to the Bolshevik revolution and into oil and other interests there. So you see these families and their interests just stretching all over the world and way back in time and that’s really I think the way you have to look at these kinds of organizations, the CIA, the FBI, and so on and the extent to which they function to protect these interests.
Alex Tsakiris: I like the way you connected Prescott Bush to the Nazi connection because I think some people take that the wrong way and it immediately kind of squashes any conversation or just sends it out in the zone where no one wants to touch him. And we’re not talking about skinhead storm trooper kind of Nazi stuff, we’re talking about let’s get her done, make some money, do what thou wilt kind of Nazi stuff. It’s about money, it’s about power, it’s about just money and power really, right?
Russ Baker: I think you have to be fair to have any kind of credibility and I don’t know that Prescott Bush suited up or did the, ‘Sieg Heil,’ or something. None of that may be true. I mean all that I say is that their firm was doing business very heavily in Germany pre-Hitler and that they had extensive connections to all of these industrialists and so forth and bankers, and that when Hitler came to power those same people financed him and had real input with him and when those people decided that – whether they decided that Germany was going to lose or whatever it was, they had to get their money out and there was Prescott Bush and Brown Brothers Harriman, the firm, again playing a role in helping these guys get their money out and basically fronting for them. That is the story that I know. And you can judge that any way you want, I mean I think that’s what bankers do. Switzerland, which in some ways looks like a very beautiful, pristine, and clean place, lives to some extent off of dirty money. That’s to some extent what banking is but I think we need to go in with open eyes and not exaggerate what we found but certainly put it out there.
Alex Tsakiris: Let’s talk about George Bush, Jr., the one that we all have come to know much more closely. What did your investigation tell you about his coming to Jesus and his battle with alcohol when he was 40 years old?
Russ Baker: He and his father were both masters of what they call the Legend in intelligence work, which is a cover story. And one of the most interesting things in Family of Secrets, aside from George Bush Sr. and his secret life and what he did and all of the amazing interconnections and events like the Kennedy assassination and Watergate and Iran-Contra or what have you, is that the son was sort of a student of the father. Now, they were completely different personalities but the son appears to have been sort of taken under the father’s wing and put into, believe it or not, some of these intelligence operations. Now, you would say that sounds a little bit like Maxwell Smart or Austin Powers or whatever, but he was able to do some things and he was able to keep some secrets. And one of the things that he kind of mastered better than his father was how to handle political bumps. So he became a kind of – he excelled at being able to come up with a diversion, so just as in 2004 they did it with his military record, diverting attention over to his opponent, he did it with the alcohol, with drug use, and the other things by reinventing himself as a born-again Christian. It’s really interesting, there is really no indication that this man is a born-again Christian, but he made a decision at some point when he had already decided to run for office. His friends and advisors must have told him, “Look, people are going to look at your past.” And someone must have thought up, and I am guessing it was him because he is much more clever than people realized, and he must have realized all he had to do was erase the past. And the one sure way to erase your past is to just say, “My past doesn’t matter because I found Jesus and everything has been cleaned up.”
Alex Tsakiris: Right, and I think as you alluded to, there is some indication that he was very aware or his group was very aware of the rising force of this born-again Christian movement and the politicization of it, really, that they wanted to become more of a political force and could be molded into this political force.
Russ Baker: That’s right, Alex. And in Family of Secrets I actually take you into the kitchen of a guy named Doug Weed, who is an expert on these things. He has been an advisor to many politicians, more recently. He did it with McCain, and I think he did it with Ron Paul. And believe it or not, even Ron Paul sort of did a little bit of this where he started kind of embracing this religious stuff. All politicians look at what works. And you can be an idealistic person but you still have to win. And in Family of Secrets, I am actually sitting with Doug and he is showing me these memos that he sent to the Bushes, telling them how to do this.
Alex Tsakiris: Let’s talk a little bit about the JFK assassination, what scoffers typically call the mother of all conspiracy theories. And maybe as I think you touch on, or more than touch on – as you reveal. I think maybe the most important turning point in the last 50 years of our history. Let’s talk about first of all your general background, what you did to investigate and continue to investigate the JFK assassination. Because that last part is important, right? The investigation isn’t over. There is still no nuances and bits of information that are coming up that add to this story, is that right?
Russ Baker: Well listen, no story is over. There is almost no subject where we know everything, and on many subjects there are tremendous revelations still to come. The Kennedy assassination, more than most – a very important event that I neglected in my own career and in my personal reading, I must say, to my regret. Because it is so daunting, it is so overwhelming, there has been so much said and so much argument – so much noise that I think most of us just kind of tune those things out. And those are the areas where the term ‘conspiracy theorist’ are thrown around very easily. And so I, like a lot of journalists, just blocked it because frankly I didn’t have the time to deal with it. You have to almost set aside a part of your life if you really want to learn anything about this. And frankly, most people who have an opinion on it don’t know very much and haven’t read very many books on the subject. But I got into it because in my work on the book Family of Secrets I discovered this back history of George H. W. Bush, I discovered his involvement in CIA covert operations long before he officially had anything to do with the CIA, and as I began going back over his years I saw that all of it was covert operations. I then happened to read somewhere that in an interview he had said that somebody had asked him what his recollections were of November 22, 1963. What did he remember about that date, just as an American?
And he sort of weirdly couldn’t answer the question. They said, “Where were you when you heard?” Well anybody would be happy to answer that. I was this, I was at the dentist, I was in kindergarten, you know. And he said he couldn’t remember and so that intrigued me. And I was less interested in the fact that he said he couldn’t remember than to try to figure out where he was.
Alex Tsakiris: Let me just interject for folks who are maybe a little bit younger than you and I. I mean, this idea of where were you when you heard JFK was assassinated was like a touchstone or a connection point for people. Everybody can tell you, I know I can tell you I was a kindergartner and I was eating my lunch and they interrupted Bozo’s Circus and my aunt came in crying. I remember everything. Everybody of this generation remembers exactly where they were. So it is beyond stunning that our former President doesn’t recall where he was when JFK was assassinated.
Russ Baker: Right, so that intrigued me. And those are the kinds of things that get me going. And as I say, I already had seen a pattern that he was involved with covert operations. And I thought there has got to be some reason for his not wanting to say where he was. So I just decided to find out where was he? The first thing that occurred to me was that he was a Texan, Kennedy was shot in Texas. Then I looked an George H. W. Bush at that time was actually a candidate for the United States Senate. He was on his way to becoming the Republican nominee, essentially running on the ticket against what would have been the 1964 Kennedy-Johnson re-election ticket. And so obviously this event, the President of the United States being shot in his own state while he was running for office for the opposite party at that time, it’s just absurd. So I tried to figure out where he was and what he did. It took me a long, long time. It took me several years. But in Family of Secrets I now have five chapters of new information on the Kennedy assassination, most of it dealing with George H. W. Bush, dealing with a circle of people around him because I can’t get into the whole assassination. But I was very, very interested in all these fascinating links that I found between Mr. Bush and CIA operatives who have been linked to the assassination to the fact that Mr. Bush himself actually was in Dallas within hours of the assassination, to the fact that an old friend of his was a mentor, personal direct mentor and kind of handler to Lee Harvey Oswald. I could go on and on and on. I mean, my eyes were bugging out, as you can well imagine.
Alex Tsakiris: Right, and I could just hit on a couple of points that you mentioned there. One, anyone who investigates this very thoroughly will immediately come to the understanding that Lee Harvey Oswald, man he was CIA, FBI intelligence from the get go, and trained. And then trained in Russia and sent over there, sent over to Russia and allowed to come back after he defects. These are just all signs that he was intelligence from the beginning. But what I really appreciated about what you bring to this is the connections that you make give us a kind of more nuanced idea of how to fit these pieces together. And I would like you to comment on this because what I have heard you say is that it is wrong to think about this as a plot that everyone had to agree on. It’s more or less just kind of aligning these forces that were probably already predisposed to allow something to happen and then the details about how Kennedy was actually assassinated are somewhat less important than just – you have all these different groups. You have the CIA, the FBI, the mob, LBJ, and everybody where their interests are just aligned so that it just makes an environment where this can happen. Do you want to comment on that?
Russ Baker: Yeah, I mean I think that how things happen, how decisions are arrived at for things like Iran-Contra or what have you they are very complicated. There is no direct line, there is not necessarily – a lot of people look for neatness. They look for the idea that these people who always blame a Rothschild or something for running the world, that is not how things work. Of course wealthy families do things and have interests and can be extraordinarily ruthless, but things don’t necessarily work that way. What you see is there are a lot of different interests out there and powerful people tend to associate with each other. They tend to socialize, they interact over business, and they talk. And as they talk and they compare notes, and you might be a mining company executive or you might be a banker with foreign loans, or you might be a steel company that is having some problems with regulation, and you talk. And as you talk and it is not unnatural that you would talk about the biggest things like the government and the president and so on, and express your opinion. And if enough of you start grumbling and complaining and saying you don’t like the person, now you have some agreement and where do you go from there?
As you say, the actual execution of this, who literally pulled the trigger and so on, those are interesting things to research and I wouldn’t want to minimize those at all if I had direct evidence of the names of the people who pulled the trigger. I would certainly be delighted to reveal that, but I think that as you say what is almost more interesting is these kind of constellations of power and how people begin talking, and then wheels start turning. And by the time something is actually carried out, those who first spoke – most of them will not be privy to what happened or even who did what, or who took action. But when it happens at a minimum they get a chill, whether it is a chill of revulsion or a thrill that the thing happened. And if you go to the highest levels of many organizations, plausible deniability is key. And so people say, ‘I don’t want to hear any more about this, don’t tell me.’ Or they will even not go that far and they will say something like, ‘This guy is a burr in my side,’ and that’s all they have to say. Because they have other people around them whose job is to interpret those things.
Alex Tsakiris: Right, let’s talk a little bit about 9/11. This is of course a big one. There are still a lot of folks out there that have a real problem with anyone suggesting anything other than the official story. Some of the parts and angles of this that you have dived in on, let’s touch on Saudi involvement.
Russ Baker: Right, and just the background is that I was in New York on 9/11 and I actually was at Ground Zero when the buildings collapsed and I was reporting for major international news organizations. I physically was standing there and saw building 7 collapse and reported it over the phone to a news room right at that moment. So I feel as affected by that as anybody. I was obviously traumatized by it. I wrote some stories at that time and then I moved away from it. I certainly didn’t get involved at all in any of the reporting or any of the conferences or statements being made by those who have an opinion on what happened. But some years later, just like with the Kennedy assassination, I sort of belatedly took an interest in – I don’t remember what year it was, but a few years ago. The Miami Herald published an article about a house in Sarasota, Florida, in southwest Florida, where a Saudi family had been living. And the day of the attacks, 9/11, their neighbors – as soon as they heard that the majority of the hijackers were Saudi they noticed that their neighbors had been missing for some days. They just had vanished. So they began contacting the FBI. And this article was about this suppressed story, that had been suppressed for a decade, about the fact that these people had wondered what had happened to their neighbors and about the fact that the FBI had gone in, swarmed into this complex, and done a whole big investigation and nothing had ever come out about this. Of course, that’s an extraordinary story. That’s the kind of story that a responsible journalist, not a nutty conspiracy theorist, but a responsible journalist who is agnostic and is willing to look into things cannot resist.
And so I began looking at that and I wanted to know what else the story did not say, what was not in the Miami Herald piece. The Miami Herald did not really get into who those people in the house were in any detail, what their context was, and who might they be connected to. Because what we found out was that the people in the house, the reason they had left, was – well, we don’t know that this is the reason, but there is documentation that they had been visited by several of the people who had been identified as the hijackers. So now you have the hijackers visiting a house in the United States, the people in the house fleeing not after 9/11 but before 9/11. And so there is no way that this is not a huge story. And we worked on that story and what we developed, and you can read this on our website WhoWhatWhy.com, you just go to the search box and type in 9/11 and Sarasota and you will come up with those stories.
What we found was that this family was not some random family but that they were directly connected at the highest levels of Saudi royal hierarchy. The man who owned the house was a top executive in Saudi Arabia and a direct top employee of one of the most powerful princes and indeed a prince who himself had learned to fly in Florida and who was in charge of Saudi aviation. Now, that was so wow to me that I felt I had to do that story. And I stand by it, there have been no corrections and either amazingly or not surprisingly the American media, to whom we sent press releases and everything, have not written a word on this.
Alex Tsakiris: That’s amazing, that’s the really amazing part. Most people are aware of the deep connection between the Bush family and the Saudis at the highest level. Let’s talk a little bit about Osama Bin Laden and a couple of stories you broke – one, his links to US intelligence. And two, his connections to the Bushes, which I think everybody almost knows. But third, and I think really importantly, is questions about the official story about his death.
Russ Baker: Yeah, I mean our real important reporting on that was the third one and taking a quick look at that story. You know, it is when something happens, when a 9/11 happens, when a Boston bombing happens, when Osama is bagged, the news reporting is 100% – or if it’s not 100%, it is 99.9% all in lockstep. All the reports are the same, but just what the officials are telling us. So if you cut in another direction early you are absolutely just run down by the mob. You are either just trampled underfoot or you are just dismissed as a troublemaker, a nut, disloyal to your country. And it is very, very hard to do that. News organizations basically can’t do it. I have been trying with our website WhoWhatWhy to get better and better at say developing the gumption to just go after what we think is actually going on and not worry about how we’re going to be perceived. So on the Bin Laden thing, I started getting little signals in my brain within minutes of that thing and I started saying wait a minute, this fits other patterns of things. They are way too quick to A, conclude what happened and say there is no need for any more investigation. They also were very profound, conflicting stories early that were never resolved or reconciled. This is what we say with the shooting of officer Tippett, allegedly by Oswald on November 22, with radically different stories and radically different stories about the bullets that hit Kennedy. Most people don’t know that the doctors at Parkland Hospital first said that he was hit in the throat from the front, which couldn’t have been Lee Harvey Oswald. Most people don’t know that the first reports out of Dallas are completely different than what all of these best-selling books and textbooks say that the doctors in Parkland Hospital and nurses all first said, that Kennedy was hit in the throat from the front, not from the back, which is where Oswald was. They then later were told to shut up and they changed their stories. Most people don’t know that the first responders on the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, Dallas County Sheriffs identified the weapon they found as a mouser, not as the Mannlicher-Carcano that Oswald supposedly owned. And one of the people who identified it as a mouser was a firearms expert. I mean these things just get buried and so Alex, when we look at the story of the killing of Osama Bin Laden there were many, many questions about it. The rush to throw his body into ocean, the claims that Hilary Clinton and Obama and everyone were watching the raid as it happened and then later they changed the story to say oh, the video feed went out and we didn’t see it when they killed him. The conflicting stories from the people who supposedly were there about what happened, there are many, many issues here that just don’t make any sense. The crash of that helicopter and the fact that one of the two helicopters in the raid and that supposedly it crashed but nobody was killed and nobody was badly injured and that, and the operation proceeded just fine. And then members of the same largest Seal unit dying in a supposedly unrelated crash in Afghanistan shortly thereafter. There are so many things that any forensic-minded, any agnostic-minded, any open-minded person would want to see investigated.
Alex Tsakiris: Absolutely. In fact, it really isn’t even a very well-run charade of misinformation. I mean, even folks who are not inclined to kind of go in that direction, I know when I brought it up to my wife, and you can imagine hammering her on some of this stuff, but even her she just shook her head when they dumped the body in the ocean. How do you even sell that kind of thing? One thing I haven’t heard you comment on that is so if that is the way that thing falls, if you will, and it is on Obama’s lap that he would perpetrate that, that he would go down that line, then what does that say about Obama? I haven’t heard you comment on the allegations. I think they have some pretty strong evidence behind them that he has some really strong family ties to the CIA. I mean, his grandmother and grandfather, both of which really kind of raised him because he had a teenage mom, were clearly CIA. Any thoughts on that? Have you investigated that at all?
Russ Baker: You know, I have looked into some of that stuff. I have certainly read what is online, as I am sure you have. He definitely worked for a company that was a CIA contractor while he was in college. Now, one has to be careful about those things because I suspect if you and I examine all the people we’ve known, all the places we have been, and so forth, there is going to be something that somebody could hold up and say that they find it suspicious. I spent some time working in the Balkans training journalists and I was paid by the US government, does that make me an intelligence officer operating under cover or is somebody, like thousands of other people of all walks of life, engineers and teachers and everything, who take these gigs because they like the work and it is an interesting opportunity. Does that mean anything about him? You don’t know. But of course when you take that and you add up the fact that his mother and his stepfather were in Indonesia at the height of a major CIA effort there to battle what they saw as communist influence and what become the bloodshed where a million suspected communists were killed. If you look at certainly things about his family with the insurance business and I guess you were talking about the grandparents, I mean it is all very interesting. What does it mean? Maybe something, maybe nothing. More work needs to be done on this.
Alex Tsakiris: Sure, I mean the whole story of his grandfather leaving Army intelligence to take these jobs starting furniture stores at all these various hotspots for intelligence around the country, when they are moving year after year and then they wind up in Seattle and Hawaii and then they are connected with this organization that is bringing over African students to more or less train them to offset the Russian training. I mean, we don’t have to get into it but it fits a familiar pattern, if you will. But what I really want to do is kind of suspend that whole discussion with the rest of the time we have here, because that’s why people need to go buy Family of Secrets, which is still a very relevant book, maybe even more relevant even though it has been out for a couple of years. And also I hope on a daily basis we can check out the WhoWhatWhy website. But what I wanted to do is kind of talk about what this means because one of the things that comes through with you, Russ, is that you are upbeat guy, you are not a fear monger. But this stuff, I’m sure you’ve encountered this, can lead to a real sense of hopelessness among people. I mean, I think that’s why a lot of people stay away from it. If I have to accept that it’s true then what would that do to my world view? How do I avoid falling into that pit of despair? What are some of your thoughts on that?
Russ Baker: Well, I would say talk to – and there are some of them alive – people who are Holocaust survivors. And ask them what it was like to live in Vienna or in Berlin or something. As repressive measures began to happen there were a lot of people, maybe most people didn’t want to hear about it because it was depressing. And it was depressing but it was manageable. In other words, they could go about their lives. The issue is that things may get to a point where you can no longer go about your life, and then it’s too late for you to decide to pay attention. So this is not optional. Life is not optional and engaging with the truth is not optional. I mean, I’m sorry that this is upsetting for people but I think that an adult has to be able to – children are protected. We tell them fairy tales. We shield them from certain unpleasant things. I don’t think we ought to shield ourselves as adults. I think we ought to embrace these things. As I say, I don’t think we have a choice. And I will say something else, that I think statistically we find that people who look into these things and embrace them and then try to figure out what can be done are on balance happier than those who push it out of their minds because it is still in their minds. They are dreaming about it so you cannot hide from this stuff.
I would argue that we all have a responsibility to try to do something because simply if enough people take an interest in something then things happen. We see this with the peace movement, with the Civil Rights Movement, and at some point enough people are paying attention. People don’t have to necessarily change their lives, they don’t necessarily have to drop everything they do, but take a little bit of an interest. Do something. And I always say to people look, we’ll do the heavy lifting but just do something. And one of the easiest things that people can do is to support the people who do the work. And I don’t mean to do an ad here, but we are a non-profit and we can only to do the work we do. We have only been able to do the work we do so far because a comparative handful of people have bothered to send us any kind of a tax-deductible contribution – 99% of the people who read our stuff do nothing, they don’t even do that. If you don’t want to do that or you can’t do that you can forward emails, you can use social media to share the information with other people. I mean, almost anything is better than nothing. So it’s a step forward, it will make you feel better, and it will make a difference.
Alex Tsakiris: Great. What about the ‘you can’t handle the truth’ angle on this? What do you make of that argument? It says the world is a scary place and you sleep at night because a lot of people do the dirty work that allows you to feel safe and secure. And there is some reality to that too, but how do you factor that into the equation?
Russ Baker: Well absolutely that is true. I mean, those who are not vegans or vegetarians obviously don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the slaughter of animals. Obviously we live in a – we have a standard of living in this country because many things are, shall we say, subsidized for us in certain ways – including military action in other countries to protect supplies that come in at artificially low prices. If you go to Europe everything is more expensive but there is a reason for that. And so yes, absolutely we have to look at our own lifestyles and our own culpability and these things and we have to work at them. But it is not simple and at the same time just because you know that you are benefitting in some ways from these things doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t want to find a more equitable solution where you wouldn’t unduly suffer. Those who inconvenience themselves by composting or being more careful in what they eat or things like that, it is a little bit inconvenient but I don’t think they unduly suffer.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, let me approach this from a completely different angle. I don’t know if you have thought about this but I would be interested in your perspective. What this show, Skeptiko, is about is more or less investigative journalism into the science of human consciousness. I am not a scientist, just someone who has gotten very interested in reading and understanding, talking to the experts about the scientific agenda. I think that parallels some of the stuff we have been talking about because when you probe into that what you find is that there is a scientific agenda, and the agenda is you are meaningless, consciousness is an illusion, you are a biological robot, and that fits in nicely with our existing political power structure. So let me just say that sometimes that gets dressed up and it is said in nicer ways so that it doesn’t offend people, but when you really push through that’s the thing that comes through over and over again. Consciousness is an illusion. We live in a meaningless universe, you are really meaningless even though you can form meaning and all the rest of this stuff.
And that then becomes kind of the intellectual thrust, the intellectual core of our society in a lot of ways. And I think how that relates is that it kind of promotes this do what thou wilt world view that Aleister Crowley is kind of famous for saying way back then. Or at least the end justifies the means.
Russ Baker: I am no expert in aspects of the mind but certainly I think about these things. First of all I do think that we have tremendous individual consciousness and tremendous individual potential. I do believe that we utilize a tiny fraction.
Alex Tsakiris: Russ, let me just interject because especially if the conversation did drop there, let me try and tell you where I am really going with that. It’s really a world view thing. It’s an end justifies the means world view that drives this and that’s the connection I see between the couple hundred interviews I have done on consciousness and science is that we’re married to this idea. We’re married to this idea that you’re nothing and that life is meaningless because it’s the only world view we can have to support all the rest of this stuff. So I don’t know which comes first. I don’t know what’s the chicken and the egg kind of thing but I see the two as completely linked.
Russ Baker: Yeah, I mean life is whatever you make of it. And if you think that it has meaning and you think that you have meaning, then you will have meaning.
Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, maybe. I just think, and again maybe you haven’t given it a lot of thought – but I don’t think you can do these kinds of things, you can’t go an shoot 1,000 pounds of depleted uranium into Iraqi school children and buildings and hospitals. You can’t do that unless you have a certain sensibility about – not even a sensibility, but unless you have a certain worldview about this is how the world works, this is okay, the ends justifies the means and there is no greater meaning in the collective – I’m not really connected to those people in Iraq, I am just this kind of meaningless biological robot. I don’t know how else you resolve those things at that really deep, deep level.
Russ Baker: Yeah look, I mean we all tend to minimize our relevancy because if we don’t then there is a requirement for us to step up and do something. The self-justification is absolutely central to the way that our society works. And most of us in these sorts of organizations that we work for are compromising from the get-go and we are already agreeing to do things that we feel we have to do, not because we want to do it. So yes, that’s absolutely true. And the more horrific things are just logical extensions of that.
Alex Tsakiris: Right, so Russ tell us what’s going on with you and what’s going on with WhoWhatWhy. I know people can catch news stories there all the time. You have a great collection of investigative journalists who are out there doing stories. But you don’t try and update the site daily, do you? It’s more a kind of deep journalism kind of thing, right?
Russ Baker: We actually do try to update it at least every other day. We are moving toward every day and frankly it’s just a matter of resources. When we have more of a supporter base we will able to do not just daily but we will be able to do multiple stories a day. Our ambition in the short term is to get to the point where whatever the story is, you hear about this Malaysian plane thing which sounds so strange, we are on there doing an honest job and an intelligent job of monitoring these things. We really feel that the country and the world lacks a top-flight news organization and that there is nobody out there really honestly fearlessly and intelligently looking at the major events of our time. And that is our ambition and that is our goal. And we’re working toward it.
Alex Tsakiris: Great, it is certainly an important, lofty goal. I do hope people check out WhoWhatWhy.com and the book, Family of Secrets, which as I said is still very relevant to today’s events. Russ, thanks so much for joining me on Skeptiko.
Russ Baker: Thank you very much for inviting me.