The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 06/12/13
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this
This is Evelyn Rivera. That`s her in the hat on the left side of your
screen. She`s 24 years old.
Evelyn moved to the United States from Colombia with her family when
she was a toddler. She was just three years old when she got here. You
might be able to tell from the family resemblance and the similar smiles,
the lady standing beside Evelyn in this photo, behind her there, is her
mom, Yolanda. They look alike, right?
This is the portion of the fence that separates the United States and
Mexico. It`s located in the towns of Nogales. It separates Nogales,
Arizona, from the town in Mexico that is also called Nogales.
This particular part of the Pennsylvania is new. The old one was torn
down about a year ago. This one was built in its place. It`s said to be
safer, better at keeping people out. It`s 20 feet high in most spots. But
it gets high as 30 foot in some cases. It`s made of closely spaced, steel
beams set deep in concrete.
And that 20 or 30-foot high fence made of steel and concrete, that is
the physical thing that you see in this picture. That is the structure
there that separates Evelyn Rivera from her mom in this photo. Evelyn is
on the American side of the fence. Her mom is on the Mexican side.
Before this picture was taken yesterday, Evelyn had not seen her mom
for more than six years. She`s 24. She had not seen her mom since she was
In the immigration debate, Evelyn is called a DREAMer, someone who
grew up in this country and has never really known any other country in her
whole life. She does not have legal status here.
Evelyn`s mom Yolanda was deported after being pulled over in a routine
traffic stop in Florida more than six years ago. Evelyn cannot leave the
United States to see her mom, if she left she would not be allowed back
into the United States. And her mom obviously cannot enter the United
States to see her daughter either because she was deported, and she`s
therefore barred from coming back.
A pro-immigration reform group called United We Dream raised donations
to pay for their travel and arranged for Evelyn and two other DREAMer kids
like her to travel to that specific at the fence in Nogales, Arizona
yesterday. United We Dream arranged for their moms to meet on the other
side of the fence in Nogales, Mexico. The moment these kids get to see
their mothers for the first time in years is an amazing moment.
And as you watch this, you`ll notice there`s a second – there`s a
moment in this tape where the sound drops out, but that is on purpose.
There`s nothing wrong, just watch this, it`s incredible.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
MADDOW: The fact that for these young people, the price of staying in
the only country they have ever known as home, the price of that is no
longer being able to see their moms without a steel and concrete fence
between them physically, the human pain caused by separating these mothers
and their children, honestly, it has no upside.
I mean, causing this barrier between mothers and kids benefits no one.
Nothing good comes of the circumstance for our country or Mexico or for the
country where they came from or anybody else. Whether or not you like the
policy that causes this result nobody can argue that this result itself has
But it is the end result of the immigration system that we have right
now in this country, the pain that comes through in these images today.
That pain is acute.
It is also not necessarily unique. This particular greeting through
the fence is something for which these folks had help yesterday in Nogales.
It has not only happened that way because some group organized it. In
regular, unorganized just personal family life, there are people who –
this is how they see their families.
They routinely see their families through the fences that we have
built at our borders. They cannot leave because they maybe would not be
let back in. Their families cannot come here to see them. And so, we
split up the family.
This cannot be the thing we`re trying to do a country. The goal
cannot be let`s divide families, whatever you think about the role of
immigrants in this country as a nation of laws, what we have right now is a
system where kids who live here their entire lives go for Nogales, Arizona,
to Nogales, Mexico, to give their moms without a steel beam in the way,
they get banished. They must go live in another country where they have
never lived before, where they might even speak the language. That`s the
Everybody has different values when it comes to immigration, right?
Ideological values, personal values things you may have learned in your own
experience. Things you might have learned in books.
But when these are the outcomes of the unfixed system that we have
right now, pretty much everybody has to recognize that the system that we
have right now that produces these bizarre and pointless outcomes is a
problem. It`s one thing to realize that sometimes policy hurts people.
It`s another thing to see a policy hurting people in ways that are stupid
And that seems to be what President Obama was getting at yesterday
when he talked about immigration at the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now, our
immigration system keeps families apart for years at a time. Even for
folks who technically under the legal immigration system should be eligible
to become citizens but it is so long and so cumbersome, so byzantine that
families end up being separated for years because of a backlog of visas,
people who came here legally, who were ready to give their all to earn
their place in America, end up waiting for years to join their loved ones
here in the United States. It`s not right, but that`s the broken system we
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The young woman who introduced President Obama yesterday when
he made these remarks about immigration at the White House, the young woman
who introduced him is herself a DREAMr.
Her name is Tulu Olobanmi (ph). She`s originally from Nigeria. She
grew up here since she was 14. She has a degree in chemical engineering.
She`s a very advance student.
But after graduation, she found herself unable to get a job in that
field because she doesn`t have legal status here. And yet here she is
introducing the president at the White House saying she is ready to come
out of the shadows.
Today, this video featuring immigrants and the children of immigrants
who themselves work at the White House was released by the White House
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have all these stories and we have this
interwoven experience of having come here for a common purpose which is to
make a better life. And from that, you know, we tend to aspire to so much
as people, as immigrants as children of immigrants to achieve really
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think what`s at stake here is that we need to
make sure that we are in a place where our actions match our ideals and
continue to be a place of hope for the rest of the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are stories of real people, of real
families, of husbands and wives and kids who want to be together in one
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My parents literally left everything behind in
Iran. And when we came here, we started from scratch.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I learned English, mostly through “Sesame
Street”, we began to make friends and do really well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, as we look forward, when you think about
what`s at stake for immigration reform, it`s a continuation of what we`ve
always been – both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: So, Monica Kuma (ph), the woman who learned English from
“Sesame Street”, she`s now a staff assistant at the White House. The
deputy assistant of broadcast media was also featured there, as was the
associate director of public engagement. And the White House deputy
director of operations and continuity and a deputy senior advisor to the
president, all immigrants or children of immigrants.
This is what it looks like when the White House is working hard to
make a pitch on policy, in this case on immigration policy, making the case
that we as a country need to fix our dumb system and we need that to happen
as soon as possible, because immigration working well is really important
for our can`t. Historically, it`s more important than it has been for any
other country in the whole world.
The Senate yesterday cleared by way bigger margin than anybody
thought. Yesterday, they cleared the first hurdle toward passing
immigration reform. They needed 60 votes, they got 82. The vote was 82 to
15 to beat the Republican filibuster and start the debate.
And now that that debate has started we expect to see the Senate
wrangling over this for weeks. The plan apparently still is, to hold a
vote on the bill in the Senate before the end of the month, or at least
before the July 4th holiday. But the wrangling is underway.
But as that debate wrangling begins for real, the people who want
immigration reform the most, the people with the most at stake, the
immigrant communities to whom this legislation makes a huge impact in their
lives and also this White House, who has been pushing for this so hard, we
see them with events like this, and tapes like this that they`re releasing
pulling out all the stops. They`re doing everything they can to make their
case by giving this issue a face that makes it not just esoteric policy.
But it`s not just the White House and not just immigrant communities
who are making that case. The case including the personal case is now
coming from some previously unexpected quarters, like for example, this
guy, Congressman Paul Ryan.
After the bill gets through the Senate, it will go to the House. And
Republican House Speaker John Boehner yesterday spoke positively – or at
least not negatively about the possibility of reform passing the House too.
He hinted he might bring it up for a vote, even if it mostly Democrats in
the House who support it, and only a minority of Republicans. There`s
Congressman Paul Ryan today doing an event to talk about the need for
immigration reform to pass, and talking about it in a personal way.
He`s got his phone out there, what he`s referring to on the phone is
something that he has brought out before when he talked about this issue,
to make it personal. It`s an 1850 poster that he says was a poster of
advice to immigrants from Ireland, which he says his ancestors read about
life in America as they were trying to get to Ireland to here. He
described his family as Irish peasants who came here fleeing the potato
famine. So, he`s telling his personal story.
Also, NBC News reporting today that a group called Republicans for
Immigration Reform is about to start running ads in favor of reform, even
targeting individual House Republicans to persuade them to vote yes. A
Republican group – a really mainstream Republican group is doing that.
If this happens, it`s as big a deal as health reform or certainly Wall
Street reform, or anything else legislatively that`s happened in this post-
Bush and Cheney era of politics.
But weighing the prospects for whether or not it`s all going to
happen, all of a sudden means paying attention to the means by which
Republicans talk to each other about this issue, the way they are trying to
persuade their own side, while we also watch the people most directly
affected by these policies make their case too. The people who are not
advocating on behalf of their ancestors, who are not talking in historical
terms about immigrant values and how America was built and how their
families got here generations ago, they`re dealing with right now, they`re
fighting for a change in the law that will change their own lives today.
And that will change their children`s lives definitely, and maybe even
change their mom`s lives.
Those people who are at the very center of this debate making their
Joining us now is Jose Antonio Vargas. He has lived in the U.S. since
he was 12. He didn`t know he was here without documentation until he tried
to get his driver`s license as a teenager. After winning a Pulitzer Prize
as a reporter at “The Washington Post”, he came out about his immigration
status and has since traveled the country talking about immigration reform.
Mr. Jose Antonio Vargas, it`s nice to see you.
JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS, UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT: Nice to see you. Thank
you for having me.
MADDOW: You as a reporter and as somebody who`s just a generally
articulate guy, you`ve been able to make the policy case from the
beginning, but you made this decision personally to try to tell your
personal story as a way of making the case.
Why does the personal part of this matter so much?
VARGAS: It matters a lot, because I was inspired by people like
Renata and Carlos and Evelyn. Those are the three young people you saw on
that fence. I was inspired by them.
Not enough credit can be said of the United We Dream. This is one of
the most singularly most powerful actions that any immigration group has
taken in this debate. And the fact that they took the chance and planned
this, and really boiled down what this is about, right?
We had this wrangling happening within the Republican Party and within
the Congress, what is immigration reform about? That`s what it`s about.
It`s about what separates us from each other being a fence.
This is not Republican or Democrat. This is about – people ask me
all the time what is immigration reform to me? To me, it`s a driver`s
license, it`s a green card, and it`s a passport, so I can see my mother who
I haven`t seen for almost 20 years. That`s what immigration reform is
about to me.
MADDOW: When you make that case, and you`ve been making that case now
VARGAS: Two years.
MADDOW: It`s been almost exactly two years, hasn`t it?
VARGAS: Yes, my first time was on this show, two years ago next week,
can you believe that?
MADDOW: Wow, that`s amazing. Do you feel like the conversations you
were having with people, once they hear the story from you, once they hear
all these stories like this, have changed over the course of two years?
We`re as close as we`ve ever been to this happening.
VARGAS: I think we`ve hit – the tipping point certainly has
happened. And I think now we have different voices coming – let me give
you an example. This morning, in the front page of “The New York Times”
above the fold was Ranata one of the three young DREAMers and her mother,
Goreche (ph), I posted it on my Facebook wall. I think shared 600 times by
various people – Republican, Democrat saying this is what immigration
reform is about.
I feel like as we get distracted by the numbers and by some of the
amendments that Rubio and Grassley and all the other Republican senators
are introducing, people are realizing we`re talking about individual people
with individual stories and a broken migration system means broken families
which means broken lives. That`s what this is about.
MADDOW: When you look at the way that it`s starting in the Senate
now, there was a giant vote to move forward to debate.
VARGAS: Giant vote, yes.
MADDOW: You can go down the rabbit hole focusing on the implications
of all the different issues of the amendments. But we don`t know what`s
going to happen in the Senate. Everyone`s guessing it`s going to pass the
MADDOW: Are there changes you see brewing in terms of what could
happen to this legislation that you think would make it not worth it? Is
there anything you think is a game changer or game breaker you`re worried
VARGAS: This question of citizenship. This question of citizenship.
A lot of the amendments coming to the floor right now are about – should
there be a path to citizenship for people like me?
All I know is in 21st century demographic America, there is no such
thing as second class citizenship, you know?
And in many ways, our congressional leaders, the senators are only
revealing themselves, and only revealing themselves to history, right?
When history comes down looking at Grassley and Jeff Sessions of Alabama,
you know, what is it going to say, right?
This is inevitable. This bill is going to pass the Senate and it`s
going to get through the House. The country has changed. It will continue
And you`re absolutely right, Rachel. This is just as big a deal if
not more so than health care reform, right? This is the way our country
MADDOW: Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
He`s written and directed a new film about his personal story which we`re
going to be talking about in the show if you will let us. It`s called
“Documented”, it`s going to premiere at an American Film Institute
VARGAS: Next Friday, next Friday.
MADDOW: Not nervous, are you?
VARGAS: Well, I`m just happy we`re going to make it and the AFI is
having us, have the premiere next Friday. So, if you`re in D.C., please
check it out.
MADDOW: Jose, thank you very much. Good to have you here.
VARGAS: Thank you so much for having me. Thank you.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Something totally bizarre happened in Wisconsin today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit down! Right now! Call the role.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: What that was all about is next.
MADDOW: Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate today passed a mandatory
ultrasound bill. Look at what happened when they took the vote. The guy
you will see completely losing his mind here is the Republican president of
the state senate who was presiding over the vote. He`s name is Senator
Mike Ellis. He`s the guy there in glasses.
Watch what happens when he forces through this vote on the forced
ultrasound bill. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I move the body vote immediately on the current
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question before the House is non-debatable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question before the house is non-debatable.
The clerk will call the role.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Carpenter, Kohl`s, Cullen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Call the role.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Darling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re out of order.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ellis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit down. You`re not recognized. The question
before the House is non-debatable. Call the role.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Carpenter. Coles.
All members of the committee vote in favor except for Senators
Carpenter, Cullen, Erpenbach, Hanson, Harris, Jauch, Larson, Lassa, Lehman,
Miller, Risser, Vinehout and Wirch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question before the body is passage of the
bill. A role call will be required the clerk will call the role.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Carpenter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re interrupting a role call sit down. Right
Call the role.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Carpenter, Coles, Cullen –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re interrupting a role call and that will not
be tolerated. Sit down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Remember the whole idea of Wisconsin nice? Yes, that`s over
in Wisconsin with these guys in charge.
Amazing this guy thinks he`s to be more trusted than you are with
questions of sensitive like what kind of medical procedures you should
have. He should decide. He knows best. Not you. Good judgment.
Because of this outburst, I do not know if tomorrow in Wisconsin, the
headlines are going to be about how badly the Republican leadership just
lost it when they passed this thing today. Or whether the headlines will
be about what it was they passed.
But the bottom line is that in Wisconsin, just like Republicans did in
Virginia. Just like Republicans did in Texas, Wisconsin Republicans today
passed a bill that orders you by law to have a medical procedure against
your will, even against your doctor`s will if you want to have an abortion
in the state.
Will there be any political repercussions for Republicans in Wisconsin
for them doing this? It has passed the Republican controlled Senate in
Wisconsin today. It will now go to the Republican controlled House, where
it is also expected to pass because it`s Republican controlled. And then
it will go to the Republican governor who says he`s looking forward to
Democrats in Wisconsin do not think they can stop Republicans from
doing this. So, when this passes, Wisconsin women are going to be forced
to buy the state government to have medically unnecessary procedures
against their will. And the same bill is expected to close more of the
women`s health centers in the state.
Republicans in Wisconsin have already shut down half of them. So,
there`s only four clinics in the whole state that provide abortions now.
And this state will shut down one of the remaining four if not more. Plus,
the forced ultrasounds, plus the sit down and shut up way they did it.
Will there be a political cost for this in Wisconsin? Will there be a
cost? What stops this train?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit down! Right now! Call the roles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In the great state of Virginia, one of the original forced
ultrasound states, thanks to Virginia Republicans, right, one of the first
states that decided they would force women to have medically unnecessary
procedures as a price for getting an abortion in that state.
In that state, something really interesting just happened. Virginia
always has its statewide elections in off years. Yes, they participate in
national elections just like everybody else. For all their statewide
races, Virginia does them in off years, their 2013 is like everybody else`s
2012. And statewide job openings in this election year in Virginia include
governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general – all the big ones.
The Republican Party of Virginia handpicked their candidates for those
jobs this year. They scrapped the whole primary vote thing and used a
convention to crown their candidates. That resulted in the off the hook
far right slate of Republican nominees they got themselves.
Larry Sabato says this is the most right wing slate of Republican
candidates to ever run for office in Virginia ever.
But on the Democratic side, they picked their candidates by a
statewide vote, by a primary. And the surprisingly interesting dynamic
ended up being at work.
In the lieutenant governor`s race, the guy on the right, his name is
Aneesh Chopra. He was very heavily favored to win the lieutenant governor
nomination. He seemed to have everything going for him.
He`s got a really impressive resume. He was chief technology officer
in the Obama administration. He worked as secretary of technology for a
previous Virginia governor, carries himself really well. He`s really good
at politics, has a great personal story. He`s really smart, he`s the
eldest son of immigrants.
On “Daily Show”, Jon Stewart once compared him to George Clooney. He
outspent the other guy in the race by a lot. His opponent is the guy on
the left, Dr. Ralph Northam. He`s a soft-spoken, long time state senator.
He`s also a pediatric neurologist.
And Ralph Northam has been in the state Senate for about five years
now. No national profile really, no national connections to call on. And
he had a lot lesson for this race than the other guy.
But there was an upset in this race. The state senator doctor from
the Virginia shore is the one who won. And he won after making essentially
the centerpiece of his campaign, his efforts to stop Virginia Republicans
and their forced transvaginal ultrasound bill. That`s what he put in his
campaign ads, his role fighting Republicans on that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAULA MILLER: When Ken Cuccinelli and his crowd in Richmond pushed
the transvaginal ultrasound bill, we knew what to do. There was one person
to turn to, Dr. Ralph Northam.
ST. SEN. RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA: There is no reason that a group
of legislators, mostly men, should be telling women what she should and
shouldn`t be doing with their bodies.
CECILE RICHARDS, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: I want to shout out to State
Senator Ralph Northam, who has led the charge to repeal that bill,
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ralph just gets it.
NORTHAM: I`m Ralph Northam and I authorize this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is how Democrats are competing for statewide office in
Virginia now. And the guy who ran that ad is the one who won even though
he was financially outgunned.
That was the lieutenant governor`s race.
Same dynamic at work in the attorney general race. It was between
Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring, another state senator who is the guy in
the left. And it was Mark Herring who won after running ads like this.
These are three different ads.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AD NARRATOR: Mark herring, the backbone to do what`s right for
Virginia. Defend a woman`s right to choose. When Republicans went after
women`s health care, Mark stood up and fought back.
ST. SEN. MARK HERRING (D), VIRGINIA: They even forced women to get
unnecessary and intrusive medical procedures. I don`t believe politicians
in Richmond have any business interfering with women`s personal
contraception decisions. As your attorney general, I`ll keep politics out
of women`s health care and put the law first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)]
MADDOW: And he won statewide primary in Virginia yesterday for
The reproductive rights community, the advocates nationwide, like
Cecile Richards that you saw one of those ads there and who was our guest
last night, they talk a lot about making the defense of reproductive rights
a positive electoral thing, right? Making it so that defending those
rights can get you in the win column in elections, that is apparently at
work in Virginia right now.
The Democratic slate in Virginia is in an experiment. It is a Petri
dish in which the Democratic Party is maybe growing an electoral incentive
for showing a willingness to fight for abortion rights when the Republicans
are making an attack on abortion rights a central part of the way they
We`ve just seen it work in a Democratic primary in Virginia. We will
see how it works in the fall in the general election against those
But with the Republicans in the House of Representatives in Washington
today, voting again today for a new nationwide abortion ban, frankly, all
eyes on Virginia to see how this electoral strategy experiment plays out in
MADDOW: In 1980, there was a movie called “The Blue Lagoon.” It was
famous in part because Brooke Shields was in it. She was only 14 and it
was kind of a dirty movie. Also, there was very blond boy. So, shipwreck,
lagoon, which is very blue, teenage hormones and scene.
“Blue Lagoon” was honestly kind of a terrible movie. But tonight, on
this show, we`ve got a real blue lagoon that has an awesome plot and it is
beautiful. And it is a total nightmare.
That story is coming up with no Brooke Shields in it, I swear.
That`s coming up.
MADDOW: If you enlist in the U.S. Army, you start as a private and
you go through basic combat training and your job is to carry out orders,
no matter who gives them to you. Since you are outrank by everyone, except
to all the other privates.
Next rung up the ladder is private first class, which is a step up,
but they still call you private. After that, it`s specialist, you can get
thereafter two years as a private or get a head start and start as a
specialist if you have a four-year college degree when you enlist and show
up at basic training.
After specialist, it`s corporal, you get into the higher ranks that
have three stripes that stand for sergeant, for Adidas but for sergeant.
You see how all the insignia all have the three stripes there, it goes from
sergeant to staff sergeant, sergeant first class, the master sergeant and
all up the ranks. That`s all if you start enlisting.
It`s a whole different list of ranks and titles that they for officer.
If you`re an officer, you got generals on the top, obviously, one-star,
two-star, three-star, four stars. Second lieutenant, first lieutenant,
captain, major, then lieutenant colonel, then full bird colonel, that`s
just one rank below general. The lowest rank of an officer is second
If you go to West Point when you graduate, by virtue of the fact that
you graduated from West Point, you are a second lieutenant and you`ll
expected to work your way up from there. You`re responsible of doing a
minimum of five years active duty in the Army, plus another three years in
the Army reserve.
What that means in practice when our country is at war, is that you
expect that when you graduate from West Point you`re going to be shipping
out as a new officer to fight that war. In the past decade, that is how it
has worked, 93 West Point graduates have been killed in action since 9/11.
But over this year and next year, presumably, expectations are
changing a little for West Point grads. The war in Iraq has ended already.
The war in Afghanistan is supposed to end at the end of next year.
So, these young new second lieutenants in West Point class of 2013 and
2014, they will likely find themselves in a strange position of having
spent their whole adult lives and certainly their whole Army career thus
far a West Point in the context of these big deadly long wars that the
country is actively fighting, but they can be pretty sure they will not be
joining once they graduate and go on to active duty. It`s an unusual
position for these young officers to be training for war, all the while
knowing they will not be fighting this big long war that`s been happening
the whole time they`ve been doing their training.
The last class of young officers who went through the same kind of
strange situation that`s happening now for these young cadets was the West
Point class of 1974. It was a U.S. military presence in Vietnam, all the
way back to the 1950s. The U.S. combat unit started fighting full bore in
Vietnam in 1965, the war raged all through the late 60s and early 1970s up
until late 1973 when U.S. military involvement in Vietnam ended.
And so, it was the West Point class of 1974, that was the first class
of young officers to have lived their whole adult lives, their whole time
training for combat and for Army leadership at West Point in the context of
this big deadly long war, but upon graduating in 1974, they knew they did
not have to go to that war, because U.S. involvement there was over.
And in that one class, that one class of 1974 at West Point, that one
year there was the man who is now the chairman of the joint chiefs of
staff, General Martin Dempsey, and General David Petraeus, was head of the
CIA and commander of the Iraq war and Afghanistan war, and General Keith
Alexander, who runs the NSA: He heads up the largest intelligence agency
of any kind in the entire world, and he simultaneously runs the fastest
growing part of the United States armed services, cyber command.
So, Petraeus, chairman of the joint chiefs and Alexander, head of the
NSA and cyber command, all in the same class from West Point which was the
first class to graduate once the Vietnam War was really and truly over.
The new leaks about how much the NSA is spying on us, despite their
remit to only spy on people in other countries, the huge amount of
attention that these new revelations is obscured a little bit, the fact
that these are just the latest in a long series of revelations of how the
NSA is spying on us.
You can go all the way back to the Church Committee hearings, from the
time that Martin Dempsey and David Petraeus and Alexander Petraeus were
just getting out of West Point, you can go all the way back to the Church
Committee hearings and the big revelation back then were NSA operations
like Operation Shamrock.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The select committee made its first inquiries last
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Church Committee, headed by Senator Frank
Church of Idaho, exposed widespread abuses of power at the FBI and the CIA,
and revealed that the NSA had been spying on Americans for decades.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was Operation Shamrock?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Operation Shamrock was a program of the National
Security Agency to collect, to obtain access to telegrams that were leaving
the United States for other countries, for foreign countries. And the idea
was that they – the NSA would look through these telegrams, look for
telegrams of interest from a foreign intelligence standpoint.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying all the telegrams going out of the
U.S.? How did they get access?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They asked – I mean, that sounds very simplistic,
but they approach the communications carriers, the telegraph companies
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ICA, ITT.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Western Union.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So in Operation Shamrock, what we saw was the NSA
turning its foreign intelligence operations internally on American
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly, yes. Operation Shamrock was getting
access to all the communications coming into, going out of and going
through the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were very few rules back then. Very few
laws, regulations that dealt with what NSA or any intelligence agency could
collect back then. The capabilities were there. The restraints weren`t
there. The temptation is to do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The committee believes that serious legal and
constitutional questions are raised by this program.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The NSA had been founded in the 1950s. By the 1970s, the
revelations that were shocking the country about what they were doing with
By the time James Bamford was writing the first big investigatory book
about the NSA in 1982, a book called “The Puzzle Palace”, we were just on
the verge of the computing revolution. Remember “Time” magazine named the
personal computer machine of the year in 1983. Imagine how NSA`s
capabilities have changed since then.
By the 2000s, the NSA`s computing power was being put to use in the
form of wholesale tapping of Internet and phone communications.
By 2005, we had all that wiretapping and the NSA making and taking its
own copying of what it had on the Internet.
We`ve had these allegations periodically since the NSA was born. And
since guys like James Bamford first and a lot of other people thereafter
started reporting on all the secret things the NSA does.
These revelations that periodically shock us about what they do, they
basically never result in them stopping doing this thing that is shocking
us. The programs, even the revealed programs, the leaked programs, they
don`t go away. They just expand over time. If we`re weirded out by the
power of the NSA, their power so far is something that only grows.
So how does that end?
Joining us tonight for the interview is James Bamford. He`s the
original and foremost historian of the NSA in this country. His newest
article for “Wired” magazine book about General Keith Alexander`s role as
head of the NSA and cyber command went online at wired.com at the top of
James Bamford, thank you so much for being here.
JAMES BAMFORD, WIRED.COM: Great to be here again.
MADDOW: In silent war, this new article you published at wired, it
seems like you are trying to convey the immense power that General Keith
Alexander has in the way that is underappreciated. What do you think we
broadly don`t understand about how powerful he is in the agencies he runs?
BAMFORD: Well, he`s the most powerful figure in the history of the
United States. There`s never been an intelligence official with this much
power. He`s head of the largest intelligence agency on earth. In addition
to that, he`s head of the cyber command.
The cyber command under that, he`s got an army – he`s got the second
army under him, 24th Air Force and the Tenth Fleet. He`s got an Army, Navy
and Air Force under him.
So – and he`s a four-star general, the first time you`ve had an NSA
director as a four-star general. He`s been there. Next year, he`ll be
there nine years. In terms of the length of time, the amount of power he`s
accumulated. The amount of responsibility, intelligence and the military
and cyber and so forth, it`s just an enormous amount of power for a person
that nobody would recognize if he walked down the street on Pennsylvania
Avenue and Washington.
MADDOW: Is it correct to say that over time as there have been
revelations about things the NSA does that weird us out for a period of
time, like we`re being weirded out right now by these new revelations.
They have not resulted in a contraction of power or the NSA stopping those
programs that have been revealed?
BAMFORD: It worked. In 1978 when they created the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court. From then until 2001, the NSA obeyed the
law and everything went fine. It was when the Bush administration decided
to go around the court, just bypass the law, the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act, that`s when everything started collapsing.
And then when – after it was discovered, Congress which was now
extremely weak on these whole issues as opposed to when Frank Church was
running the intelligence committees, they basically took what was illegal
during the Bush administration and make it legal.
BAMFORD: And then leave an enormous hole open for whatever else they
want to do, and make the whole thing secret.
So, we`re basically back to the pre-`78 days when the time when
Shamrock was going and before we really had a working FISA court, because
the FISA court as it is now has basically neutered, really useless.
MADDOW: That is why I wanted to talk to you about this in particular,
because I feel like you more than anybody have chronicled the way that NSA
power has grown. It`s grown because of technology, but also it`s grown
because it can, and because of secrecy.
When they did get brushed back in the 1970s, it was because Congress
stood up on its hind legs and made them. Is Congress now capable of doing
that? Or it the genie so out of the box in terms of NSA power that it`s
un-constrainable by the legislature?
BAMFORD: No, it`s impossible for the Congress to do that. That`s the
problem. There is no oversight. There is no oversight from the FISA court
for the reason I just mentioned and now, there was no oversight from
congress, because all Congress wants to do, Congress originally in `78,
they were strong, checking the balances on the FISA court.
Now, Congress – all they now want to increase the budget on the
intelligence committee, becoming – instead of watch dogs for the public,
they become cheerleaders for the intelligence committee.
MADDOW: If they did want to change, if they did want to exert
oversight over what the NSA was doing and rein them in, to stop them from
doing something they`re doing, that Congress decided they shouldn`t do,
BAMFORD: Surely could, and it really takes the public. The public
has to take it as a serious issue and be concerned about it. I mean, the
politicians are always following what the public does. And if you can`t
get the public excited about what the government is doing with these
things, you are not going to get the politicians to do it.
That`s why scandals trigger this, they act as a catalyst for the
public to sort of wake up, hey, this – did you know every day you pick up
the telephone a record that is going to NSA, the big data center they`re
building in Utah and so forth? If it wakes public up, maybe it will wake
up the politicians and there will be a change.
MADDOW: You don`t sound hopeful.
MADDOW: If you`re not hopeful, how do you think it ends?
BAMFORD: It`s just more accumulation of power and more infringement
on privacy. I mean, George Orwell wrote about it in 1984, when governments
accumulate the power and then use the surveillance to keep the power going.
I think that`s the problem we have here.
I mean, look at Keith Alexander, been there nine years, got military
under him, the largest intelligence agencies are under him, and when I
interviewed people for this article at the CIA, they said we referred to
Keith Alexander as emperor Alexander, because whatever Keith wants, Keith
MADDOW: It`s impressive research, as always, that you always bring to
this topic, but it is great to have you here and help to understand it,
thank you very much.
BAMFORD: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: James Bamford, NSA and U.S. intelligence expert. He`s author
of “The Puzzle Palace,” “A Body of Secrets” in this latest article about
the NSA. It`s online at wired.com.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: OK, first of all, we just put the wrong insignia on screen
when I talked about the rank of private in the U.S. Army. This is what
we`re supposed to show. We just screwed up and called for the wrong one –
very sorry about that.
And now, behold, a hamster ball. This is what a hamster ball looks
like, translucent thing, run on the outside, grabby things on the inside.
So, if you are a hamster you can have an awesome hamster time running on
the inside of your hamster ball, and thus perambulating around your human
apartment. Apparently, hamsters love a hamster ball.
Now, this is a kitten who apparently also loves the hamster ball. The
kitten, I think his name is Tom-Tom, he gets inside the ball, rolls around
a little bit. He plays with his feet. It is true, he is a little bit
stuck when he is in there, but only in a way he likes, because, look, he
can totally get out when he wants to. And sometimes he wants to get out of
the hamster ball, but you know what? He wants to get right back in.
So, cat in the hamster wheel – kitty cat in the hamster wheel. We
posted that video online on our blog last summer, saying we know this cat
in the hamster wheel is a metaphor for something, but can`t figure out
Our producer Laura Conaway (ph) posted the video and said this means
something. American war policy, Republicans in the Tea Party, Jon
Huntsman, Medicare, what, hit the comments, please? This political
metaphor needs you.
Of course, you guys totally nailed it and we develop thereby the cat
and the hamster ball equivalency, the point where actions taken to get out
of the situation and actions causing one to get further in the situation,
seems to be indistinguishable. Also refers to the situation where you
cannot tell if somebody is trying to get out of the problem or trying to
make it worse.
For reference cross index, O`Donnell and Christine, and I am not a
witch reputation, or, Weiner Anthony, and the press conference press –
conference about his problem that was not made better by the press
So from time to time, we need help with the metaphors in the making,
right? What does this mean, this cat in the hamster wheel? Or what does
this mean, the seal on the surf board. What does it mean?
How about the Chinese hurdler who just doesn`t care? Who just bangs
straight into the hurdlers and jumps over them, instead of jumping over
them. What does it mean? Bang! What does mean?
Mitt Romney playing Jenga the night of every debate. If there is a
God, it is a God that gives us the power to think in metaphors. This Jenga
thing with Mitt Romney obviously means something as a metaphor. We just
need to put it on the blog to crowd source to figure out the answer.
Or it has to go on TV. But this one, I don`t know what it is
explained for. I think there is something here. This is a quarry pool.
It`s known to the locals of Derbyshire County in the east midlands of
England as the blue lagoon.
It`s pretty, right? The blue lagoon. Lots of people apparently take
a look at that. They forget they`re in the east midlands of England, and
they find themselves just simply unable to resist the pool`s clear, blue
waters, like a siren song. Turquoise blue waters of the lagoon call out to
bathers to please dive in and have a swim around, pretend you`re in the
Bahamas. In the severely toxic blue waters that have the same pH balance
as chlorine bleach.
Swimming around in those lovely blue totally toxic waters caused
severe fungal infections, skin rashes, and stomach illnesses. And it`s not
like people don`t know. There are not signs all around the beautiful blue
lagoon quarry pool warning swimmers about the problem, warning about the
dead animals and car parts and excrement and all sorts of trash and stuff
that died that is lurking in the pretty blue water.
But the water is too pretty. People cannot help themselves. The
local council tried everything, but they could not keep people out. They
decided there was no way to drain the pool and they couldn`t keep people
out of it. People kept jumping into the blue water.
And so, they came up with a dramatic solution to their pretty blue
lagoon problem. They dyed it black. They dyed the lagoon back so people
would find the pool ugly instead of pretty, so they would finally
viscerally believe that the quarry water was toxic and no good for
As public policy, it is simply and genius. As a metaphor for
something deeper, I have no idea. But I know there`s something to say. Go
to Maddowblog.com if you think you can help us out with this.
It`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”
Have a great night.
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