Hey Reddit community, I'm Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation and author of the books Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army and Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. I’m also one of the people behind the documentary DIRTY WARS, which is currently playing in select theaters nationwide.

I'll be here at 4pm to start taking questions - ask me anything.

Proof: https://twitter.com/jeremyscahill/status/347431359473668096

NOTE: I'm answering your questions, but some of them are delayed for some reason in posting. They tell me it will all work out in the end...

UPDATE: I tried to answer as many questions as I could. Not sure what was up with the tech issues, but hopefully my answers will start appearing. Thanks for joining in today. Peace! --//jeremy

Comments: 202 • Responses: 34  • Date: 


Jeremy, since you’re a real journalist who doesn’t bow down to power, have you ever been intimidated or threatened by the government (or anyone else) for your reporting?

P.S. That beard is SEXY.

jeremyscahill40 karma

I always cringe when I'm asked this question. I know a lot of journalists around the world who take serious risks everyday. They are in Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Mexico, Colombia and elsewhere. Record numbers of journalists have been killed in recent years and most of their deaths go unreported in the US media because they aren't "famous," or because they aren't Americans. I think all of us who do this kind of reporting meet challenges--at times serious--from various forces. I try to keep focused on my work and not let any assholes get to me. As for my beard... maybe I should give it a twitter account ;)

icameforthecookies24 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA... what are your thoughts on people like Manning and Snowden taking it upon themselves to get the word out the US government is acting shady?

Also, if you could have your say as to how national security policy is orchestrated, how would you go about doing it?

jeremyscahill50 karma

I think that Bradley Manning is a person of conscience. He has been smeared in a despicable way in the media and portrayed as a scared degenerate. If you listen to the leaked audio of his testimony from several weeks ago, you will hear a calm, principled man who understood what he was doing and why he was doing it. Because of the publication of the Wikileaks cables, we gained great insight into the covert and overt actions of the US government. Ultimately, I believe it was an act of conscience that motivated him. The significance of the Snowden leaks is already manifesting itself. We are living in a hyper-secret society where those in power--Democrats and Republicans--put a premium on withholding information from the broader public. This has to be confronted. When the state is acting against the interests of its own people, it is the responsibility of those with access to the truth to speak up. And it is the role of journalists in a democratic society to provide the public with information that is not just the official party line. Snowden and Manning are both indicative of how out of control the government has become.

tsloughter23 karma

I hope it isn't too soon to ask. But I'd love to read any stories you have of Michael Hastings. Like you he was one of the few real journalists we had and it is a terrible lose.

(And excited to see you next weekend in Chicago!)

jeremyscahill31 karma

I was devastated by the loss of Michael. He was an epic shit disturber who was the perfect antidote to the caviar correspondents who populate the White House press corp. He never--never--bowed before the throne of the powerful. He was part Hunter S Thompson, part IF Stone mixed with a great war correspondent. He will be sorely missed.

AnotherMasterMind22 karma

Which U.S. member of congress comes closest to representing your political views?

jeremyscahill28 karma

There isn't any one member of Congress that speaks for me. On certain issues, I agree with certain members. But I am not a Democrat or Republican.

PhilPerspective17 karma

I haven't read the book yet, or seen the movie(it's opening here later this week), so I was wondering how you got into Pakistan, Somalia and the other countries you visited in making "Dirty Wars." Did any of the governments, such as they are, give you major problems?

jeremyscahill26 karma

I was banned from Pakistan, so I wasn't able to travel there for the film or book. My understanding was that my reporting on Blackwater was not popular with the government in Islamabad. As for Somalia, we spent months preparing for that trip, working out the logistics and security. I give great credit to my Somali colleagues for their incredible planning. In every country you travel to for this kind of work, you need to study the situation before you go. Sometimes it makes sense to travel with a bunch of armed guys. In others, it is better to try to roll light and not draw attention. Everything is a negotiation.

NSlayton16 karma

What's your process for working on a big investigative story? Do you have a series of steps you take? Any good tips for journalists just starting out?

jeremyscahill31 karma

I think it is really important to do a tremendous amount of research before going to any country to report. I often will write the equivalent of a thesis-type document about what I know before going somewhere new. You also need to review security issues and talk to as many reporters who cover the area as possible before going. As for advice, I think internships are fine, but my advice would be to get any job you can, save up money for several months or a year--enough to live on for 3 months in whatever country you are interested in covering--and then take yourself seriously as a journalist even if you don't have an assignment. Give yourself an assignment and develop a discipline of filing stories--even if it is just to your friends and family at first. Nothing can replace hands-on experience in the field. Many of the best journos I know never took a J-school class. They decided to do it.

Sagnew15 karma

Did Robert Gibbs ever apologize / clarify or recant the "he should have had a better father" comment in regards to the assassination of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki

jeremyscahill22 karma

not that I am aware of. He should be ashamed of himself for what he said.

luckymojo14 karma

First of all I would just love to say: Dirty Wars was a phenomenal and moving film. Thank you for bringing something like that to the public arena (props to anyone involved with the film, but especially you and Rick Rowley).

Second, I'm curious as to your genuine thoughts/reactions on the recent admission by the US Gov't that Awlaki (Father and Son) as well as two others were victims of drone strikes, but "not specifically targeted".

Thanks for doing an AMA, this is probably one of the few that I've looked forward to as much as I have, and it's amazing and empowering to know that people, and journalists, like you still exist for the common, greater good. Keep doing what you do!

jeremyscahill16 karma

Thanks. I think the phrase "not specifically targeted" is so Orwellian. What does that mean? Was it a signature strike? Were they "collateral damage" (a term I detest)? We don't know. I bet the CIA focus-grouped the hell out of that statement. In general, I think the Obama admin wants to have it both ways: offer up the illusion of change and accountability and a more responsible kill program (yikes!), while simultaneously implementing policies that will guarantee that assassination remains a central component of US "national security" policy for many years to come. I think the administration should provide a clear answer as to why 16 year old Abdulrahman Awlaki was killed and not rely on Orwellian legalese.

arbolesdefantasia13 karma

Who were your mentors and who did you admire growing up, and also who today? And why

jeremyscahill28 karma

Amy Goodman was the person who taught me journalism. I will always consider her my mentor.

tpotpot13 karma

What did you think of Obama's national security speech last month?

jeremyscahill30 karma

I think that President Obama was trying to have it both ways. He tried to sound like he is bringing the kill program under control and said that he feels bad about the killing of civilians. But, at the end of the day, his speech was a forceful defense of American exceptionalism and a rather bold declaration that the US will take military action--wherever, whenever--if it is deemed to be in the US interest. His administration is currently building the infrastructure for the kill program to continue in perpetuity. And liberals are going to be on really shaky ground next time a Republican is in office when they try to criticize the same policies. There's no such thing as Republican or Democratic cruise missiles.

rootwinterguard13 karma

I've often seen apologists for the current approach to military/foreign policy say "If we don't use the drones to eliminate our enemies, what would you replace it with? More soldiers in harms way or manned planes that can be shot down?"

More simply: How do you respond to the "There Is No Alternative" argument to our current use of drone warfare?

jeremyscahill22 karma

My alternative is to stop engaging in actions that create more new enemies. It's an idiotic false choice between ground troops and drones.

REP20613 karma

What did you find most surprising about Anwar al-Awlaki's family after spending so much time with them and getting to know them personally?

jeremyscahill18 karma

Awlaki's family is not Anwar Awlaki. I found them to be incredibly generous of spirit and unbelievably hospitable. We spent Ramadan with them and they invited us to break fast with them every night. We got to know them as people and, in the process, were able to tell a more complete story--especially in the book--about what happened to their family as a result of having a relative on the kill list.

desperado2813 karma

Given your work, do you get hassled coming back into the US, as some other filmmakers such as Laura Poitras have, or does US customs mainly leave you alone?

jeremyscahill24 karma

I get detained pretty regularly at airports when I come back home. And it always sickens me because I am often released from a room where I was the only white person detained, leaving behind other people who have been pulled aside. And I have seen many frightened looking people from the Middle East and Africa--at times with their families--waiting and not knowing what will happen to them.

ryancurry1613 karma

Huge fan of Bill Maher and his show, I thought you made an excellent guest the two times I saw you on Real Time.

What is he like behind the scenes?

jeremyscahill29 karma

Bill is actually a really nice guy in person. One little nugget: the Real Time set is also the set of The Price is Right. So, I've played some Plinko after hours...

puredemo11 karma

How much has changed with Blackwater / Xe operationally since Obama's election? Is the company substantially different now, or are things still pretty much as they were during the Bush years?

jeremyscahill19 karma

Blackwater is now called Academi. The company still works with the US military, State Dept and CIA under Obama, as do many other private security firms. Erik Prince has been living in the UAE for a few years and remains involved in the mercenary business in Africa and elsewhere.

Marylandman10111 karma

who is your favorite/least favorite politicians?

jeremyscahill21 karma

I'm not a fan of many politicians. I think some have taken courageous stances at various times. Barbara Lee when she voted against the AUMF in Sept. 2001. Russ Feingold who voted against PATRIOT Act. Kucinich many many times over his career taking principled positions. But until we get massive corporate cash out of our electoral process, nothing real will ever change.

ryancurry1611 karma

Do you think we could have avoided all of this if Gore had won in 2000?

jeremyscahill21 karma

No. I think it is pretty clear that Democrats and Republicans played a huge role in the post 9-11 policies that led us to where we are.

icameforthecookies11 karma

Is it a conspiracy that there is a lag while doing an AMA with someone involved with national security?

jeremyscahill20 karma

haha. Yes. The lizard people are responsible!

roscar10 karma

Would you share a memory of Michael Hastings? And maybe your own suggestions for young journalists?

jeremyscahill14 karma

I watched the Mayweather fight with Michael recently. He was a man who loved life, laughter and his friends. He was incredibly generous.

NahNotOnReddit10 karma

Hi Jeremy, Long time fan of all your work. How much of a priority do you think apprehending Edward Snowden is for the United States? I have a tough time wrapping my head around the fact that Snowden has done two interviews with a English paper since he fled, and the most advanced intelligence agency in the history of the world can not find him. Is it possible that the United States doesn't see Snowden as any sort of real threat to national security, and that may be why they haven't apprehended him yet? Or is he just Jason Bourne?

jeremyscahill17 karma

I believe the US government will aggressively pursue him. I think it is a serious priority to capture him.

TheElegantDiplomat10 karma

Hi Jeremy, great to see you here. On a lot of people's minds today is the death of Michael Hastings. Reports say he died when his car crashed into a tree at high speed. At the same time, there are some who treat that story with suspicion, especially given videos of the event, which appear to show his car turning into a fireball and then exploding a second time. (30-second video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQqtlekUPYI) While understanding that evidence is very preliminary, and while sympathizing with a public person like yourself's well-founded hesitation to be seen endorsing or giving credence to conspiracy theories, would you be inclined to say that some measure of suspicion seems warranted, or not, given the available information at this point? Hastings did certainly upset some powerful people in the military. Thanks.

jeremyscahill14 karma

Right now, my thoughts are with Michael's family. I believe that this crash and his death should be investigated thoroughly. I don't want to comment further on this until we get more information.

csdandridge9 karma


jeremyscahill12 karma

We are living in a hyper-secret, radically-outsourced society. Some 70% of the US intel budget is spent on private contractors. There were more contractors than soldiers in Iraq during the war. The state's monopoly on the use of mass, organized violence is now spread across for-profit corporations. i think we will increasingly see corporations with access to their own armed units to defend their interests.

keito9 karma

What are your views on the recent PRISM scandal? Do you take measures to secure your privacy/anonymity online?

With the ongoing war on journalism (whistleblowers, drugs, terror, <insert some other bullshit here>) by the US administration, do you see a positive way forward for democracy (a real Change we can believe in, not the bullshit Obama-kind), or is the system so entrenched with corruption that nothing short of a revolution would fix it?

jeremyscahill21 karma

After my computer was breached a few years ago, I radically changed my online behavior. Obviously, I use encryption and OTR. A lot of sources now want batteries removed from cell phones when we meet and some won't engage in any electronic communications at all anymore--about sensitive issues. It is almost like we have to be Luddites to have something resembling private comms.

namesmontreal8 karma

Hey Jeremy! Thanks a trillion-billion for doing this AMA!

Let's get to the point: Do you think your work will in any way influence the mechanisms of government secrecy? That is, beyond the objective of, say, Dirty Wars, which is to publicly expose these secrets.

jeremyscahill16 karma

Thanks. I wouldn't do this work if I didn't believe we could make a difference. But I think we all need to take a humility pill and realize we are at ground zero in confronting the national security state. I have far more faith in the people than I do in the jackals on Capitol Hill. But, it will require millions of people in this country making it their business to actually care about issues of war and peace and civil liberties.

mygodspot8 karma

I'm more partial to Blackwater because it had the most amazing fact-checker of the mid to late 2000s.

What made you want to do the documentary when you were researching the book? Does it add another dimension to what you were trying to get across to your readers?

Also, what's your high score on Buck Hunter?

jeremyscahill8 karma

Garrett Ordower was indeed an amazing fact-checker. Is this his sister? ;)

struggleandwin7 karma

Everyone should certainly be in awe of your research and your ability to bring to light such harrowing aspects of living in the world today - especially under the shadow of the US empire.

Recognizing that, what do you think your role is as far as mobilizing resistance to these injustices? Being a highly visible and respected figure - heralded across partisan lines - do you feel that you have a responsibility to agitate for a movement against these crimes? Thanks!

jeremyscahill9 karma

I think all of us have an obligation to stand up whenever crimes are committed in our name or with our tax dollars. That's part of why I do what I do.

notaboomer7 karma

do you believe that the navy seals actually killed obl in abbotabad, etc? if so, why? does it bother that you that the public never saw a body or any photos and the story is a dumping at sea? wasn't the timing of it all too perfect for obama to get re-elected?

jeremyscahill15 karma

Yes, I believe that the SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. To me, the issue is whether there was ever a capture order.

bilbobagshot7 karma

Which is the best Buck Hunter machine on the LES?

jeremyscahill10 karma

hmm. Tough one. 7B isn't bad. But, the best I have ever shot on is at "South" in south slope, brooklyn. ;)

saintmorning106 karma


jeremyscahill12 karma

I don't know if it is the most interesting, but eating camel meat in Somalia was pretty surreal.

boydanaaa6 karma

Hey Jeremy,

I'm a huge proponent of your work and highly recommend Blackwater or Dirty Wars to any citizen looking to fully understand the complexity of the modern military arm of the U.S. government.

I look forward to seeing the documentary once it opens in Milwaukee.

That said, I'm also an independent author and know that you worked your way from the ground up in the field as well. Aside from self-publishing via Amazon Kindle, self-promotion online, sending inquiry letters to literary agents, or poking a voodoo doll, what do you recommend Millennial writers/journalists/authors do to try and get some traction in such a ruthless economy and over saturated market?

jeremyscahill11 karma

This is a great question. And I am not sure I have the answer. I would recommend looking up the novelist Barry Eisler--a former CIA guy and a friend of mine. he has written essays on this issue and has basically stopped working with big publishers. Hope that helps.

puredemo5 karma

In your opinion, what are some under-reported conflicts occurring right now that might turn into something larger?

jeremyscahill14 karma

I think the situation in Mali is one that deserves much more attention. As does the so-called war on drugs in Colombia and Mexico.

dnough4 karma

so sorry to hear about hastings, it sucks to lose people close to you. are you still planning on visiting minneapolis saturday or has your schedule, understandably, been changed?

jeremyscahill9 karma

I'll be there. And thanks for your words about Michael. He was an amazing guy.

Marylandman1012 karma

I often see your critiques of drones, but what would you suggest we do instead?

jeremyscahill16 karma

My critique is not of "drones" per say. Drones are a weapon. I believe that our "national security" policy is making us less safe and is creating more new enemies than it is killing actual terrorists. I believe that we should confront terrorism as a crime and treat it as such. This war on the world/world is the battlefield crap is propaganda. Nations have a right to self defense, but what we are engaged in is pre-crime. And it will come back around and hit us. So, I believe we need to have an actual debate in this country about what a real security policy would look like and stop asserting our right to bomb any country we please.

B00GI32 karma

Can you describe how you feel the state of journalism is today and the impacts that social media have had on it?

Sometimes it feels as though many reporters and publications are in a rat race to publish a story quickly without getting the facts right. Then when you finally do get that first published draft, it's almost like a regurgitated press release that everyone's running.

jeremyscahill6 karma

I think the rise of social media has been a mixed bag. There is a part of it that is exhilarating and crowd sourcing can be an amazing thing. Also the real time fact-checking is great. But, you are right, there is this race to be first and not necessarily right. That's not good. It's like some weird crack addiction type stuff. Ultimately, I think we need a hybrid model of journalism that borrows from the energy and innovation of new media folks and combines it with old school muckraking, fact checking and peer review.