How did the government come to spy on millions of Americans? In FRONTLINE’s “United States of Secrets,” a two-part series from Michael Kirk and Martin Smith, tells the inside story of the U.S. government’s massive and controversial secret surveillance program—and the lengths they went to trying to keep it hidden from the public.
Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? What’s really at the root of society’s skepticism of the “official story”? What type of person is it that believes a sinister and secret society is manipulating the government?
Set against the global socio-political landscape, Conspiracy Rising uses the latest science and psychology to investigate the causes of conspiracy theories, why we are wired to believe them, and how as a society it is imperative that we separate the fantasies from the real threats.
Combining remarkable, iconic archival footage, visits to the sites behind the most notorious conspiracy theories and interviews with both leading conspiracy theorists and scientific experts, Conspiracy Rising will introduce the audience to fascinating material, outlandish claims and posed “truths” that have been hidden for decades all the while questioning us on why we choose to believe… or not.
The number of popular conspiracy theories and the speed at which they spread across the globe is a growing cause for concern. Over 1/3 of Americans believe their government did not tell them the truth about 9/11. One third of the British population believes that Princess Diana did not die an accidental death (watch two views of Diana’a death). Belief in conspiracy pervades our modern culture and proliferates in cyberspace with thousands of sites dedicated to theories behind the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Princess Diana, UFO’s, Area 51, and 9/11. Looking at these events and others, Conspiracy Rising reveals how our society’s distrust in government and other institutions has created a culture of doubt. It examines the ways that fearful people find comfort in the order and explanations that conspiracy theories provide. Conspiracy Rising shows how conspiracy theories frequently discourage honest discourse, incite racism and persecution and, if unchecked, can threaten the most basic foundations of a democratic society.
Featuring outspoken US publisher of Skeptic Magazine, Dr. Michael Shermer, who uses scientific methods to question if there is truth behind the theories with his “Baloney Detection Kit” and British psychologist Patrick Leman who explains the social needs for conspiracy theorists’ beliefs, Conspiracy Rising takes a hard, penetrating look at the psycho-social and philosophical roots of conspiracy theories, examining who tends to believe in them and why.
Terms And Conditions May Apply examines the cost of so-called ‘free’ services and the continuing disappearance of online privacy. People may think they know what they give up when they click ‘I Agree’ on companies like Facebook and Google. They’re wrong. This is an important and frightening film, about how Google, Amzaon, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linkdin – and IMDb? – harvest our personal information and onsell it to the highest bidder, or to the government. How we don’t read that wodge of text in capitals comprising “Terms and conditions” before we click “Accept” – nobody could, it would take a month per year for everything we sign. But even when that text is brief and written in plain English, it gives those corporations unprecedented power over our personal information – including the right to change the rules without telling us, to increase their power without limit and without asking again, and to keep it forever, even after we have “deleted” it.
This documentary describes the high costs of living in a fear-ridden environment where realism has become rarer than doors without deadbolts.Why do we have so many fears these days? Are we living in exceptionally dangerous times? To watch the news, you’d certainly think so, but Glassner demonstrates that it is our perception of danger that has increased, not the actual level of risk. The Culture of Fear is an expose of the people and organizations that manipulate our perceptions and profit from our fears: politicians who win elections by heightening concerns about crime and drug use even as rates for both are declining; advocacy groups that raise money by exaggerating the prevalence of particular diseases; TV news magazines that monger a new scare every week to garner ratings.
For three decades Vice President Dick Cheney conducted a secretive, behind-closed-doors campaign to give the president virtually unlimited wartime power. Finally, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Justice Department and the White House made a number of controversial legal decisions. Orchestrated by Cheney and his lawyer David Addington, the department interpreted executive power in an expansive and extraordinary way, granting President George W. Bush the power to detain, interrogate, torture, wiretap and spy — without congressional approval or judicial review.
Now, as the White House appears ready to ignore subpoenas in the investigations over wiretapping and U.S. attorney firings, FRONTLINE examines the battle over the power of the presidency and Cheney’s way of looking at the Constitution.
“The vice president believes that Congress has very few powers to actually constrain the president and the executive branch,” former Justice Department attorney Marty Lederman tells FRONTLINE. “He believes the president should have the final word — indeed the only word — on all matters within the executive branch.”
After Sept. 11, Cheney and Addington were determined to implement their vision — in secret. The vice president and his counsel found an ally in John Yoo, a lawyer at the Justice Department’s extraordinarily powerful Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). In concert with Addington, Yoo wrote memoranda authorizing the president to act with unparalleled authority.
“Through interviews with key administration figures, Cheney’s Law documents the bruising bureaucratic battles between a group of conservative Justice Department lawyers and the Office of the Vice President over the legal foundation for the most closely guarded programs in the war on terror,” says FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk. This is Kirk’s 10th documentary about the Bush administration’s policies since 9/11.
In his most extensive television interview since leaving the Justice Department, former Assistant Attorney General Jack L. Goldsmith describes his initial days at the OLC in the fall of 2003 as he learned about the government’s most secret and controversial covert operations. Goldsmith was shocked by the administration’s secret assertion of unlimited power.
“There were extravagant and unnecessary claims of presidential power that were wildly overbroad to the tasks at hand,” Goldsmith says. “I had a whole flurry of emotions. My first one was disbelief that programs of this importance could be supported by legal opinions that were this flawed. My second was the realization that I would have a very, very hard time standing by these opinions if pressed. My third was the sinking feeling, what was I going to do if I was pressed about reaffirming these opinions?”
As Goldsmith began to question his colleagues’ claims that the administration could ignore domestic laws and international treaties, he began to clash with Cheney’s office. According to Goldsmith, Addington warned him, “If you rule that way, the blood of the 100,000 people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.”
Goldsmith’s battles with Cheney culminated in a now-famous hospital-room confrontation at Attorney General John Ashcroft’s bedside. Goldsmith watched as White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andy Card pleaded with Ashcroft to overrule the department’s finding that a domestic surveillance program was illegal. Ashcroft rebuffed the White House, and as many as 30 department lawyers threatened to resign. The president relented.
But Goldsmith’s victory was temporary, and Cheney’s Law continues the story after the hospital-room standoff. At the Justice Department, White House Counsel Gonzales was named attorney general and tasked with reasserting White House control. On Capitol Hill, Cheney lobbied Congress for broad authorizations for the eavesdropping program and for approval of the administration’s system for trying suspected terrorists by military tribunals.
As the White House and Congress continue to face off over executive privilege, the terrorist surveillance program, and the firing of U.S. attorneys, FRONTLINE tells the story of what’s formed the views of the man behind what some view as the most ambitious project to reshape the power of the president in American history.
When the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, among the thousands killed was the one man who may have known more about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda than any other person in America: John O’Neill.
The former head of the FBI’s flagship antiterrorism unit in New York City, O’Neill had investigated the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen. For six years, he led the fight to track down and prosecute Al Qaeda operatives throughout the world. But his flamboyant, James Bond style and obsession with Osama bin Laden made him a controversial figure inside the buttoned-down world of the FBI. Just two weeks before Sept. 11, O’Neill left the bureau for a job in the private sector — as head of security at the World Trade Center. He died there after rushing back into the burning towers to aid in the rescue efforts.
FRONTLINE’s “The Man Who Knew,” chronicles John O’Neill’s story — a story that embraces the clash of personalities, politics and intelligence, offering important insights into both the successes and failures of America’s fight against terrorism.
Drawing on exclusive interviews with many of O’Neill’s closest friends and associates, this report opens with O’Neill’s introduction into the new world of terrorism — the capture in 1995 of one of the world’s most wanted terrorists — Ramzi Yousef, the ringleader of the group that bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.
Former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White credits O’Neill with quickly grasping the danger Yousef and other terrorists represented to America.
“Yousef is one of the most dangerous people on the planet — also very smart,” she says. “Getting and incapacitating him was a significant public safety issue. And John O’Neill recognized that and was not about to take ‘no’ for an answer before he was taken into custody.”
O’Neill immersed himself into learning everything he could about global terrorism and Islamic fundamentalist militancy. In 1997, O’Neill was promoted to special agent in charge of the national security division in the bureau’s New York office. Observers say O’Neill grabbed at the chance to head the team that was investigating and prosecuting most major international terrorism cases. The job would also be the perfect base from which to continue his pursuit of bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
But while John O’Neill had succeeded in winning allies among CIA and international intelligence agencies, not everyone within the FBI was so enamored of him. A fixture on New York’s celebrity social circuit, O’Neill’s flamboyant style and his unconventional personal life — he had several longtime girlfriends and a wife he never divorced — had long raised eyebrows within the FBI.
“The Man Who Knew,” gives viewers an insider’s perspective on O’Neill’s investigations as well as the internal territorial debates among the FBI, the State Department, and the White House over how to deal with U.S. terrorist investigations in East Africa in August 1998 and the Yemen in October 2000.
“[O’Neill] believed the New York field office had the greatest depth of expertise of anybody in the country on this issue, and if it’s Al Qaeda, how could you send anybody else but the people who know the most?” recalls Fran Townsend, former head of the U.S. Justice Department’s office of intelligence policy.
O’Neill’s New York FBI team was at the center of bureacratic arm-wrestling over who would head the 1998 investigation into the embassy bombings in East Africa. O’Neill again was the focus of a heated political battle over the investigation of the 2000 attack against the USS Cole in Yemen. Current and former government officials such as Richard Clarke, counterterrorism chief in the Clinton administration and Barry Mawn, former head of the New York FBI office, recount how O’Neill’s desire to show the Yemeni security forces — which he viewed as being less than cooperative — that the FBI meant business was one of many issues in the investigation which angered U.S. Ambassador Barbara Bodine.
Finally, when O’Neill made a brief trip home to New York for Thanksgiving, Bodine denied his re-entry visa, preventing him from returning to the investigation. Insiders tell FRONTLINE that O’Neill’s removal from the scene in Yemen may have seriously limited the Cole investigation — an inquiry that some speculate might have led O’Neill to the Sept. 11 hijackers in time to foil their plans.
“The Man Who Knew” also chronicles O’Neill’s increasing frustration with Washington’s lax attitude toward the threat posed by bin Laden, including the possibility that Al Qaeda sleeper cells were already operating within the United States.
“What John O’Neill was trying to do was get a momentum going in the FBI to look seriously for those cells,” Clarke says. “It was not one of the priorities in most FBI field offices.”
By the summer of 2001, O’Neill had been so marginalized by FBI officials that key clues of the looming Sept. 11 plot apparently were never passed on to him. His 25-year career with the FBI would come to an end following bureau investigations into his temporary loss of a briefcase containing a classified report and charges that he used an FBI car to give a ride to his girlfriend. In August 2001, while the allegations were pending, O’Neill opted to retire from the bureau at age 49. Just eight days after he started his new job as director of security at the World Trade Center, the terrorists he had long pursued struck the towers.
O’Neill’s critics contend that his personal failings proved fatal to his FBI career. His supporters, however, believe his main failing was refusing to conform to the standard-issue FBI mold.
“John was somebody that bureaucrats were not always pleased with because they felt he wasn’t marching to their tune — that he was too ambitious and that he operated out of the box too often,” ABC producer Chris Isham tells FRONTLINE. “And this was an FBI that believed very much under the [FBI Director Louis] Freeh regime of operating within the box. This was a guy that was constantly pushing the envelope when the envelope didn’t want to be pushed. So the envelope fought back.”
From the horror of 9/11 to the invasion of Iraq; the truth about WMD to the rise of an insurgency; the scandal of Abu Ghraib to the strategy of the surge — for seven years, FRONTLINE has revealed the defining stories of the war on terror in meticulous detail, and the political dramas that played out at the highest levels of power and influence.
Now, on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, the full saga unfolds in the two-part FRONTLINE special Bush’s War. Veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk draws on one of the richest archives in broadcast journalism — more than 40 FRONTLINE reports on Iraq and the war on terror. Combined with fresh reporting and new interviews, Bush’s War will be the definitive documentary analysis of one of the most challenging periods in the nation’s history.
“Parts of this history have been told before,” Kirk says. “But no one has laid out the entire narrative to reveal in one epic story the scope and detail of how this war began and how it has been fought, both on the ground and deep inside the government.”
In the fall of 2001, even as America was waging a war in Afghanistan, another hidden war was being waged inside the administration. Part 1 of Bush’s War tells the story of this behind-the-scenes battle over whether Iraq would be the next target in the war on terror.
On one side, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet squared off against Vice President Dick Cheney and his longtime ally, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The battles were over policy — whether to attack Iraq; the role of Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi; how to treat detainees; whether to seek United Nations resolutions; and the value of intelligence suggesting a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks — but the conflict was deeply personal.
“Friendships were dashed,” Powell’s deputy Richard Armitage tells FRONTLINE. As the war within the administration heated up, Armitage and Powell concluded that they were being shut out of key decisions by Cheney and Rumsfeld. “The battle of ideas, you generally come up with the best solution. When somebody hijacks the system, then, just like a hijacked airplane, very often no good comes of it,” Armitage adds.
Others inside the administration believe they understand the motivation behind some of the vice president’s actions. “I think the vice president felt he kind of looked death in the eye on 9/11,” former White House counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke says. “Three thousand Americans died. The building that the vice president used to work in blew up, and people died there. This was a cold slap in the face. This is a different world you’re living in now. And the enemy’s still out there, and the enemy could come after you. That does cause you to think [about] things differently.”
More than anything else, the Iraq war will be the lasting legacy of the Bush presidency. Part 2 of Bush’s War examines that war — beginning with the quick American victory in Iraq, the early mistakes that were made, and then recounting the story of how chaos, looting and violence quickly engulfed the country.
As American forces realized they were unprepared for the looting that followed the invasion, plans for a swift withdrawal of troops were put on hold. With only a few weeks’ preparation, American administrator L. Paul Bremer was sent to find a political solution to a rapidly deteriorating situation. Bremer’s first moves were to disband the Iraqi military and remove members of Saddam Hussein’s party from the government. They were decisions that the original head of reconstruction, Gen. Jay Garner (Ret.), begged Bremer to reconsider at the time. Now they are seen by others as one of the first in a series of missteps that would lead Iraq into a full-blown insurgency.
But Bremer has his defenders: “We believed, Bremer believed, and I think the leadership in Washington believed that it was very important to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that whatever else was going to happen, Saddam and his cronies were not coming back,” Walter Slocombe, the national security adviser to Bremer, tells FRONTLINE.
Garner was not the only one on the outside. As senior officials complained about inattention at the top, Gen. Tommy Franks and his deputy, Gen. Michael DeLong — the generals who had planned the war — found that decisions were being made without them as well.
“All the recommendations that we were making now in the Phase IV part weren’t being taken — weren’t being taken by Bremer or Rumsfeld,” DeLong tells FRONTLINE. “That’s when Franks said, ‘I’m done.’ They said, ‘Well, you’ll be chief of staff of the Army.’ He said, ‘No, I’m done.'”
What followed is well documented: insurgency, sectarian strife, prisoner abuse and growing casualties. But within the administration, a new battle over strategy was being fought — this one between a new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. The clash between America’s top diplomat and its chief defense official would go on for more than two years and be settled only after the Republican loss in the 2006 congressional elections. It was then that the president forced Rumsfeld out, ended his strategy of slow withdrawal and ordered a surge of troops. FRONTLINE goes behind closed doors to tell the most recent chapter in this ongoing story, and asks what Bush will leave for a new U.S. president both in Iraq and in the larger war on terror.