The Stranglehold of Silence: Suppression of Free Speech in the Israel/Palestine Conflict

Featuring James Bamford and Peter Byrne

by Kate Horgan
Published: Last Updated on
The Official Project Censored Show
The Official Project Censored Show
The Stranglehold of Silence: Suppression of Free Speech in the Israel/Palestine Conflict

In the first half of the show, Eleanor sits down with bestselling author and Emmy-nominated filmmaker James Bamford to discuss Israel’s nefarious attacks on our rights to free speech and assembly here in the US. Bamford shares details about the clearly illegal activity of foreign agents working to suppress movements and actions for Palestinian rights, and how our government turns a blind eye to all of this in the name of supporting Israel.

Next up, Mickey Huff sits down with seasoned journalist and science writer Peter Byrne to talk about the media censorship of one of his recent articles which covered protests against the genocide in Gaza. Byrne discusses the sad habit that many local media outlets have of caving to pressure on the Israel/Palestine issue, how ad dollars drive news, and more.


Video of Interview with James Bamford

Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with James Bamford

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Eleanor Goldfield: Thanks, everyone, for joining us back at the Project Censored radio show. We’re very glad right now to be joined by James Bamford, who’s a best selling author, Emmy nominated filmmaker for PBS, and winner of the National Magazine Award for reporting for his writing in Rolling Stone.

His most recent book is Spy Fail: Spies, Moles, Saboteurs, and the Collapse of America’s Counterintelligence, published by Twelve Books. James, thanks so much for joining us.

James Bamford: Yeah, my pleasure.

Eleanor Goldfield: So I wanted to start back in 2015 in Vegas, which I hope never to go back to, in a network-esque setting where billionaires plot in evil boardrooms. The birth of an attack on the people of the United States, people who are exercising their rights of free speech and free assembly in the case of support for Palestine against the apartheid regime of Israel.

And you’ve recently written an article where you mention this Project Butterfly , a brainchild of Israeli psychological warfare firm Psy Group that, according to their own documentation, which you link to in the article, “a multi vector offensive effort to significantly limit and thwart those individuals and organizations seeking to delegitimize and demonize Israel.”

So wow, James, starting here, what can you tell us about this project and the remarkably creepy and invasive means that it’s used to try and thwart Palestinian support in the United States?

James Bamford: Well, it started, like you said, in Vegas. It was in a hotel owned by Sheldon Adelson, the Venetian Resort, a huge hotel in Las Vegas.

So an invitation was sent out to a number of very wealthy people, friends and colleagues and so forth of Adelson and his group, and they were asked to come to Las Vegas for a very secret meeting. They were told, or they were asked before, you know, before, during and after the meeting: no mention at all to the press, to be kept very confidential and so forth.

At the meeting, Adelson got up on the stage and read a letter from Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel basically saying we’re forming a task force to try to quiet or limit, or silence critics of Israel, particularly the critics who are calling for a boycott, the BDS organization.

And, the task force required a lot of money. So he was asking for contributions as well as help. So the group there, they were basically Gulfstream warriors, they all flew in on private jets, or at least most of them. And, that night, this group, small group, a couple hundred people in this room contributed I think it was 50 million dollars to the cause.

At around the same time, Netanyahu said they would put in 30 million from the government. And hopefully with contributions from others, pro-Israelis in the US and so forth, they would get up to 900 million, almost a billion dollars for this effort.

So soon after that, the first thing that happened was that this organization came to the United States, this Israeli organization called PSY-Group, which basically stands for Psychological Warfare Group.

And it’s a private organization in Israel that is made up largely of ex Mossad agents and psychological warfare agents and so forth, and it has connections to the Israeli intelligence. So they came to the United States, again, asking for more money. They wanted a three year project to target all these groups in the United States. They wanted, I think three million dollars, or whatever.

And so their plan, which actually leaked out after the first year, said that they were attacking individuals and groups and trying to slander them and hide any connection to Israel.

They conducted an espionage operation. They went to this one particular professor’s office in Berkeley, University of California, Berkeley, and put notices on his… car windshield, and all his neighborhood calling him a terrorist because he was advocating for the boycott of Israel. And in the report from the Psy group, it says we hid all connections to Israel and so forth.

And so this is going on and it’s going on for a year and nobody from the FBI is doing anything either before, during, or after this whole operation. So that was one. And then there were other operations that they launched. They launched a massive intelligence operation, a troll farm, they did lots of things like that.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah. And I mean, it’s so clear, and you mentioned this in the piece too, that this is just very clearly acting as foreign agents. And yet no one, to my knowledge, has actually been charged with that. And you even quote someone who either did work or works for the FBI about how frustrating it was because even people in the government were well aware that this was happening, but nobody did anything about it.

I mean, is there any hope or is there anybody going after charges for this kind of activity?

James Bamford: No.

I write books for a living. I’ve written five books, a lot of them have become bestsellers and so forth. My last one came out in January and I spent a great deal of it on this whole issue of Israel spying in the United States and nobody doing anything about it. The FBI ignoring it.

And I’ve spoken to FBI agents and they’re very frustrated about it. You know, that’s what they do for a living. That’s why they joined the FBI is to arrest people that break the law. And these people obviously, there’s a law against being a foreign agent. And if you act as a foreign agent, if you act as a person in the United States taking directions, especially secret directions from a foreign government, I mean, what does that make you? It makes you a foreign agent.

There’s never been any arrests. They’re going after, I guess the mayor of New York and some of his colleagues for having some kind of agency relationship with the Turkish government, but nobody goes after Israel for much more blatant and much more, evidentiary attacks on American citizens.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’ve covered it on this show, the FBI going after the Uhuru movement for supposedly being Russian foreign agents. And it’s like, what? That’s absolutely absurd.

James Bamford: That’s totally bizarre. Yeah, bizarre and absurd. You spend so much time on such a minor group when this is going on.

Eleanor Goldfield: Right. Exactly. And, and I have to say also that this is like, when I read your article, I was like, God, this is so infuriating also, because this is that classic, it’s a classic antisemitic trope. Right. And I’ve even heard people saying this at far right rallies, like, Oh, the Jews are all sitting in their ivory towers plotting to take over the world.

And I’m like, Oh my God, but this is actually one of those moments where there are these Zionists in a boardroom plotting. And I should also point out that Zionism does not equal Judaism. I’ve talked about this on this show ad nauseum, but for listeners just joining in, fun fact: they’re actually more Christian Zionists in the United States than there are Jews worldwide.

So important to make that distinction. And I also therefore wanted to get your take on this because it seems like the goal of Project Butterfly or any of these offensives is not, has nothing to do with Judaism or protecting a supposed sacred or holy space for Jews. It’s about protecting the apartheid state of Israel, and in that process align with vehement anti Semites, many of whom spoke at the pro genocide march in D.C. on November 14th.

But it’s about regional control and hegemony. Is that, I mean, would you say that that’s an accurate perception of that?

James Bamford: Yeah, I just talk about it my own words.

I spent my career following intelligence. That’s what I do. You know, I don’t write about religion. I don’t write about those kind of things. But, I’ve been to Israel. I covered, ustores there when I was with ABC News. I was the investigative producer for 10 years. I was shot at by the settlers with an Uzi machine gun. I’ve been covering Israel, in terms of writing about it for years.

So I focus on the intelligence and basically what they’ve been getting away with in the United States. I mean, earlier I wrote a piece for the cover story for The Nation on how Israel sent an actual agent, covert agent to the United States to get involved with the Trump campaign, for basically a quid pro quo.

They were going to give the Trump campaign some intelligence to help the Trump campaign. And what they wanted from the Trump campaign was recognition of Jerusalem as a capital of Israel, which is what they got. And This came from FBI documents. They were released under the Free Information Act.

The FBI had actually gotten the telephone records and so forth, and conversations, email messages between these, between the agent and the Trump campaign. And yet nobody was arrested for that.

You know, we spent a year going after Russia on Russiagate, where turns out nobody was colluding from the Trump campaign, but you had the Israelis coming over and colluding with the Trump campaign, yet there was never a congressional investigation. And the FBI, obviously there was an investigation. They got all these documents through search warrants, but there was never any prosecution.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, and I mean, you could also argue that just the entire organization of AIPAC should be brought down as foreign agents. I mean, it’s absolutely absurd.

James Bamford: Well, people have been, for years have been arguing that they should be investigated as an agent of a foreign government, and nobody bothers to investigate.

I mean, the problem is it’s so delicate for politicians to actually do anything with regard to Israel. So, it’s left to journalists and outside people, and protesters and so forth.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, which is, again, that point of conflating Israel with Judaism, which just drives me batty.

James Bamford: And 20 percent of Israel is Muslim.

Eleanor Goldfield: Right. Well, and just the fact that Israel is not welcoming to all Jews. I mean, it forcibly sterilized Ethiopian Jews, so it doesn’t even…

But I also wanted to get your take because of what’s happening now, and even before October 7th, Project Butterfly creators and supporters seemed to feel like their work was a great success, but it seems now that more and more people are taking a stand against Israeli apartheid and demanding ceasefire and demanding human rights for Palestinians.

What do you feel based on what you see happening right now is the next step that Israel And the U.S. will take with regards to this?

James Bamford: With regard to the domestic spying or with regard to the war?

Eleanor Goldfield: With domestic spying. Do you feel like they feel that they’re losing ground here or?

James Bamford: I don’t think they’re going to take any action.

They haven’t taken any action before, going back 20 years or whatever long as I’ve been writing about it. So I, I just don’t see them taking any action.

You know, what they do is they’ll go after the low hanging fruit. U wrote about this producer in Hollywood who was acting as an Israeli nuclear spy, who helped Israel acquire almost a thousand Krytons, those are blasting caps, basically the triggers for nuclear weapons. His agent, the guy that was working for him, was arrested and was facing 105 years in prison and so forth. He escaped the United States, and he was an American, but Arnon Milchan, the guy that was the producer working on behalf of Israel, nothing happened to him. I mean, he’s still producing huge movies and so forth. I mean, he even came out with a recent movie, a very popular movie.

So nothing ever happens to the people from Israel that actually engage in this. Although some people in the United States actually get arrested occasionally.

Eleanor Goldfield: Well, on the other side of that, do you see Israel and the officials in the United States ramping up things like Project Butterfly because so many people are demanding a ceasefire and standing up against Israeli apartheid?

James Bamford: I see some people going after them. I know a lot of people are wanting to go after some of this criminal activity and agent activity, but I just don’t see that it ever gets done. I mean, it may go up to the director of the FBI. I interviewed former head of the counterintelligence division and I said, you know, why isn’t anybody going after Israelis? And he basically said, we are, but nothing ever happens.

So, that’s the answer: you have agents who actually do go after these people and look at them and write reports about them. But, when it gets up to the Justice Department as to whether to prosecute or not, which is a political issue, it’s up to the Attorney General and so forth, the decision is always, no, we’re not going to do it.


Eleanor Goldfield: Sorry, I should have rephrased that differently. But do you see, on the other side of things, do you see, evidence or suggestions that another Project Butterfly might happen? Like, that there might be another effort, a stronger effort to go after people who stand with Palestine?

James Bamford: Yeah, there’s a, as a matter of fact, I have a new article coming out in The Nation that looks at other, similar operations that Israel’s performed, particularly directed at students, student protesters and so forth.

So now, I mean, there’s numerous activities. I wrote, about 25 percent of my book, is focused on Israeli spying in the United States. So it goes well beyond Operation Butterfly. I mean, Operation Butterfly isn’t something I just dreamed up. The New Yorker magazine wrote about it over a year ago, so it’s out there.

I mean, they actually published the, or gave a link to the report that PSY group came out with. So it’s not as though the FBI doesn’t know about it. All they have to do is read a magazine. And, that’s the frustrating part about it. You know, you read these things and I write about these things and, and yet, it’s just like talking to a wall.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yes, well, we know a lot about that at Project Censored. It feels like screaming in an anechoic chamber sometimes.

And I wanted to get your take on this because you work so much with intelligence and, because the title of your piece that recently came out in the nation is, “Israel slept” regarding October 7th. As in they didn’t prepare actively for what was happening. Now you also note that of course Gaza is the most surveilled place on the planet. And some of that surveillance is also in use in the United States.

But, I wanted to share this that WikiLeaks back in mid October, about a week after October 7th, shared a screenshot of a release from 2007 where then Israeli Defense Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin says, “Israel would be happy if Hamas took over Gaza because IDF could then deal with Gaza as a hostile state.”

Wikileaks has also released secret documents passed between American diplomats back in the 80s showing that Israel was interested in enabling Hamas activity, intending to weaken the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

And so I’m curious, what is your opinion with regards to what happened on October 7th? There’s a lot of suggestions that it wasn’t a total surprise, but that Israel wanted it to happen so that they could do what they’re doing now.

James Bamford: Yeah, that’s… having written for a long time, one thing I don’t do is speculate on things like that. I usually get data, look it up, see if it’s accurate, and then write about it.

So I, I just don’t speculate on what may happen or what might’ve happened or whatever.

Eleanor Goldfield: But have you seen any evidence to suggest that that might’ve been the case?

James Bamford: I haven’t. I mean, you know, this is one topic I look into. I’ve written three books on the National Security Agency, so I’m not the world’s expert on what’s going on in Israel.

I just focus on Intelligence and that hasn’t come up. I’ve seen speculation, but again, unless I can actually find some hard information, I can’t really write about it.

I mean, what the Israelis were doing was what they usually do, what they call mowing the grass. They were going in there regularly, and, with weapons and drones and so forth, and every time there was a minor outbreak, they’d send in the heavy weapons or drones and take out whatever problem it was. So they were fairly confident about that, ever since the last major outbreak.

And I think they were very confident that nothing was taking place in Gaza. And that’s why they were spending so much time trying to build up public relations in the United States by going after the pro Palestinian groups. And, so they basically took their eye off the ball, and they had a lot of technology looking at Gaza. They thought that that was sufficient.

The problem was, you know, the militants were actually building tunnels and they were communicating in the tunnels through wires, not electronically, so you couldn’t intercept it. And unless you actually tap that wire, you couldn’t hear it.

So they were working very hard to find ways to defeat the Israeli technology, which obviously they did on October 7th, to catch the Israelis completely by surprise.

But again, as I’ve talked about in the article during all that time Israel was spending a lot of time not watching Gaza, and they were watching the United States or watching at least American students and American protesters protesting their actions against the Palestinians.

Eleanor Goldfield: And I’m curious as well, do you see with your, contacts inside the system, so to speak, do you see people wavering?

I know that there’s been, there have been calls like the Los Angeles times is now calling for a ceasefire. Some people have, at the UN for instance, have resigned over this.

Do you see folks that are backing away from the official US stance on this subject?

James Bamford: Oh, sure. Yeah. I mean, there’s been a huge, sea change, at least as far as I can see. I’ve been following this issue for a very long time. And, most of it’s been basically, a sub-rosa. In other words, it’s never talked about much.

And now you’ve got protests 300,000 people strong. You would never see that before. You have a number of people who haven’t spoken out on the issue coming out, speaking out on it now.

I think it’ll be more because it’s just horrible what’s going on in Israel. How can anybody defend what they’re doing? I mean, you know, enormous attacks on hospitals, cutting off water, cutting off fuel. I mean, people are dying of starvation and thirst and everything else. It’s just incredible. How can anybody turn their eyes away from that? Or how can anybody support the Israelis and what they’re doing?

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, I mean, I ask myself the same question every day. And yet every day I wake up and the United States is still doing it. And I know that you said you don’t speculate, but I’m curious if you have any ideas or thoughts on, I mean, there was a time when Nelson Mandela was a terrorist and the United States would never have suggested that South Africa was an apartheid state.

Do you think that you’ll see it like in 10 years, 20 years, do you think we could get to the point where the U.S. is like, Actually, this is just too far. This is just too horrific and too genocidal.

James Bamford: Well, it’ll have to start at the top down. And, you have Joe Biden who’s proudly proclaimed that he’s a Zionist.

And, I write in my book about how he bragged at a meeting in Chicago, I think it was, about how he’s had more donations, caused more donations to go to AIPAC or whatever than anybody else and so forth. So, he’s certainly not gonna change of his own free will.

It’d only be from the Congress up, and I don’t see any movement in Congress. Which means the public has to push the Congress or the White House into it. If there’s a change of government and Trump comes in or whatever, he’s the guy that put the embassy in Jerusalem and dealt with this Israeli spy during the campaign.

So, no, I mean, unless Jill Stein gets in there or somebody like that I don’t see any rapid change. It’s people like me or writers or other journalists and people out there who have an ability to change people’s thoughts to some degree.

I think it’s moving more in that direction. And I think the public is moving more in that direction. And, you know, as the groundswell goes from the ground up, I think you might get more in Congress, but it’s just a horrible place, that and the White House in terms of accepting reality that Israel is an apartheid state. I mean, there’s no question. You have the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and even Israel’s own human rights organization has declared it an apartheid state.

So why isn’t, why doesn’t the New York Times or Washington Post always say apartheid Israel like they did with apartheid South Africa?

But if you remember, there was a long time when both the United States and much of the media didn’t acknowledge the apartheid, aspect of South Africa.

We were one of the last, I think one of the last countries to do that. So, you got all that baggage there, all that history to overcome before you get the government declaring Israel an apartheid state.

I mean, the United Nations is doing a bit more on that. And they’re, they’ve got these long investigations that never seem to come to an end in the ICC and so forth. You know, if they came out and declared war crimes and apartheid and all that, I think it would go a long way, but they’re very slow in taking action like that.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, the UN is a mixed bag at best.

Well, James, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us.

I really appreciate it, and giving us that important context on this issue.

James Bamford: Well, great. Thanks, Eleanor. I appreciate being on your show.

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