The Chill Factor: Investigative Reporter Talks US Covert Wars and National Secrets

Olivier Knox, Reena Ninan, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
The Chill Factor: Investigative Reporter Talks US Covert Wars and National Secrets

Top Line

As the White House faces questions about secret internet and telephone surveillance programs, investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill says, “There's a chill that's been sent through the national security reporting community.”

Scahill, who investigated the United States’ covert operations in the war against terrorism in a new documentary, “Dirty Wars,” told Top Line in an interview recorded prior to the most recent NSA leaks that sources inside the government have grown fearful of talking to the media.

“Many sources that I used to be able to talk to through encrypted e-mail or with chats using OTR, off the record software, they won't do it anymore,” Scahill said. “It's either in person or nothing. … There's a real fear on the part of whistleblowers and sources that the Espionage Act is going to come knocking on their door one day under the Noble Peace Prize-winning, Constitutional law professor, Democratic president.”

In his documentary, Scahill makes the case that the Obama administration has overstepped its stated goals of “targeted killings” of terrorists in places like Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.

Asked if he thinks the U.S. is creating more terrorists than it is killing, Scahill responded: “I think we're creating more enemies than we are killing terrorists. When I was in Yemen, people were saying, 'You consider al Qaeda terrorism. We consider the drones terrorism.'”

He told the story of investigating the United States’ first authorized attack in Yemen, which occurred in 2009.

“When I went there to investigate this cruise missile strike, multiple people had cell phone videos of the aftermath,” Scahill recalled. “And the U.S. had claimed that they had wiped out an al Qaeda camp, but their cell phone videos showed bodies of infants being pulled out of rubble, giving lie to the pronouncements that it was just an al Qaeda camp that was hit and civilians didn't die in it.”

Scahill said that drones have made it easier for the United States to engage in this sort of warfare. But he argued that it's not so much the technology, but the motivation, that concerns him about drone attacks.

“Focusing too much on the technology misses the broader point that assassination is becoming not just a central part of U.S. national security policy, but is sort of being legitimized by President Obama,” he said.

For more of the interview with Scahill and to hear what questions he thinks the Washington press corps has failed to ask the president, check out this episode of Top Line.

ABC's Eric Wray, Alexandra Dukakis, Betsy Klein, Jon Kessler, and Gary Rosenberg contributed to this episode.