Saturday, November 28, 2009

The NS Interview: Seymour Hersh

This article is from The New Statesman magazine.

Mehdi Hasan

Published 26 November 2009

A longer version of this week's NS interview

Portrait by Mark Mahaney

Is it always a journalist's duty to report the truth, even if it may damage innocents?
I'm a total First Amendment Jeffersonian. It's their job to keep it secret and my job to find it out and make it public. But once one gets some information, one doesn't run pell-mell into it. You spend some time making sure just what the downside is. At the New York Times in particular, I had the experience of telling the intelligence community: "I'm going to do this, and if you have people in harm's way, we're going to do this in a few days -- get them out." But most of the time it's not that dramatic.

You know, maybe six or seven times in 40 years I've had a story and I've communicated to the government what I'm doing, which we always do, and the president or the secretary of defence has called up my editor or publisher and said: "If you write this story, American national security will be damaged." And in every case except one where we delayed briefly, we wrote the story and, son-of-a-bitch, the Russians didn't launch paratroopers into the foothills of San Francisco the next day. At a certain point this claim about national security becomes something more. It's always political security.

Are there times when you have a scoop, or a piece of information, but let it go?
You're constantly not publishing everything you know. That's part of the game. You leverage what you know and sometimes you'll have a phrase that will indicate to someone on the inside that you really know more than you're writing. It's a self-protection measure. Sometimes if I'm into a sensitive story . . . it's hard to talk about this stuff -- but sometimes I'll indicate I know more.

For example, some kinds of intelligence are useless to us. Suppose one were to determine where the American attack submarines with nuclear arms are at any given time. How useless is that to a newspaperman? Some of the most secret secrets in the government are not very useful. But sometimes it is useful to tell people more than you actually write, to negotiate language with the other side -- that is, the government. Sometimes we don't do that. I'll add that this administration is actually more pleasant to deal with, because, unlike the Reagan-Bush years, they are not either taunting you or threatening you. The people I have dealt with here at a high level are almost rational. There's nothing quite as arrogant as somebody who thinks he's seen all the secrets.

Look, let's say you're a major player in a law firm billing $1m-$2m a year and you come down to $160,000 a year to work inside. What's it all about? It's all about: "My God, I really know what's going on. I've seen the top-secret stuff from the intercepts and the CIA. And then some punk reporter comes in and knows something he shouldn't know and I'm a person raged, not only because he knows it, but because that's what I'm in this job for -- I wanna know." I actually had people say to me during the Vietnam war when I was getting very critical -- I was just then working for a wire service (AP) -- I had people say to me: "If you only knew what I know, you would know how wrong you are." It's a cliché to say it, but it's true: they really do get it into their heads that they know more than you.

Do you ever worry that your phone is bugged?
Some people I only talk to in their home or their office, but I arrange the calls here. Even in the Nixon/Bush years, I could say this: there are certain people I would call on a Sunday morning at their home from my home. We'd have very good talks, and it's a very good time to work for me. I can't call people at their office. And as long as they were talking to me from their home on a Sunday morning about stuff, I would feel comfortable. If somebody suddenly stopped talking to me on a home phone . . . To bug me legally they'd have to get a warrant. Bush and Cheney did so many illegal things, but once you have something illegally you can't use it very much. If the 9/11 attacks taught us one thing, it's that the agencies collect lots of wonderful stuff they don't share with anybody.

You rely a lot on unnamed sources. Is that a dangerous technique, or an invaluable one?
Look at the serious press in the UK, France, America: every single day there are unnamed sources. I love the notion that somehow investigative reporters are held to a higher standard with unnamed sources.

My view is that I'm glad we don't have the British standard. In America we have this wonderful notion that you have to prove malicious intent. In England it is more difficult: you have to be just wrong -- it doesn't matter what your intent is. But I believe people in my profession should be held to an extremely high standard. I welcome the fact that people can sue me and go after me. I know American reporters who have described an unnamed senior CIA official and I knew . . . the name of the person they were not naming -- and the reason they didn't name him is that he had a certain bias which would have mitigated the story.

That happens all the time. It happened when I worked at the New York Times and I'm sure it happens elsewhere - people will have a source, but if they named him denouncing, let's say, the Bush administration, if you said who he was, he would be devalued. And by saying "a higher-level former senior intelligence official" you can cover that. I hate that. Therefore, the way in my own mind that I cope with that anomaly, that disgrace, if you will, is that I say I welcome people suing me.

I've been in a lot of litigation. I welcome that on the grounds that it is an appropriate measure. I think I've been in seven. We were in court once and the critical issue was that the judge was going to make me reveal my sources. I was going to have to say that we conceded the point and be found guilty of libel. The judge was a Reagan appointee in Chicago a couple of decades ago, and the Reagan appointee ruled that I didn't have to name sources. I went on camera and we went to the judge, and we gave an account of six people and gave a description of them, and the judge accepted that they were real -- that I was serious and I had sources. But if he hadn't, I think I would have had to concede the case.

How bad are British libel laws?
I had one case involving [Robert] Maxwell, a famous case in 1981 in England, after I wrote a book called The Samson Option. Basically, the British press had me accusing the former publisher of being an Israeli agent. I didn't quite say that -- he was an asset, he wasn't a spy; he just did what they asked him in one case. And we were sued to death and won a huge settlement. So my one experience with the law was fine.

Do you find the libel laws in the UK chilling?
There's no question -- D-notices are chilling. You guys have a very tough system. Every time someone goes up against it in England they end up in jail.

Isn't there a risk that some high-level sources might be "playing" you?
Of course, that's a categorical risk. I'm doing something sensitive this morning, and there's no question some may have . . . But I consider myself a full-service agency. You can come to me with a secret and I take it to other people and learn things about what you know . . . You have something that they call "compartmented intelligence", above top-secret. You come to me with a secret, and then I write a story that includes things you didn't know. So when the government assesses what I wrote to see who could have leaked it, you're not ever considered to be someone who could have, because they know that you (because of you and your compartment) could not have known what was published by the other compartment. You can come to me with compartmented information and I can go to other people with compartmented information and make it very hard for them to come to a conclusion about who could have been leaking. It's foolproof.

How have you managed to remain an outsider for so long when, for example, Bob Woodward, another great journalist of your generation, has gone mainstream?
There's no way they would deal with me. Bob Woodward, I disagree with his point of view. He starts at the top and goes down. But if he hadn't written, for example, that first Bush book, we wouldn't have known much about Bush's thinking. I think Bob's books sometimes tell a lot more than he may think they do. I'm not saying anything I haven't said to him -- I just wouldn't do it the way he does it. The Obama White House can't abide me. Within a month, they were going behind my back to my editor: "What's your man Hersh doing?"

What do you make of Barack Obama?
Don't get me going on Obama. If he decided to be a one-term president, he could be marvellous, but it's not clear he's decided that.

Did he deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?
Well, no, of course not. It was partly an embarrassment to him and it says more about the people in Sweden. Let me just say this to you quite seriously. There are people -- for example, one of the defences of [John F] Kennedy was that [Ted] Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger said publicly that he was for sure going to get out of Vietnam after the election in '64. He couldn't do it then because he was going to run against a Republican. They think that's wonderful. My analysis of that is that this was a president who said I'm more interested in my personal politics and the election than the lives of those that are going to die in the next year. And that's true if he really was going to get out -- he didn't have the courage to get out in '63. That's a political judgement. They're made all the time. Johnson kept on making it. He probably never liked that war but he kept on going.

So with Obama, the question is: will he stay in Afghanistan until he thinks it's the right time to get out politically? Or is he going to take a chance of not getting re-elected and find a way out quickly? It's not such a hard way out. There are people to talk to there. There's no evidence any of them are interested in bombing the World Trade Center.

Do you see shades of Vietnam in the current Afghan war?
No -- only in the sense that an American president is making political judgements about a war for his own personal re-election prospects. But it's a whole different scenario. Yes, in the sense that we could have gone to the North Vietnamese very early in that war. There was serious stuff going on, particularly very early stuff between the North and the Diem brothers, and we stopped that by getting them killed. Basically, there's so many ways it doesn't break down, so many ways it's a whole different culture.

On Iran, are we repeating the mistakes that were made on Iraq?
Some of the things are very disturbing. We are getting new leadership at the International Atomic Energy Agency. The next wave there is not going to be as rational. So the trend is going to get worse. There's no evidence yet that Iran has violated any of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty proceedings. By the way, your country is so deeply involved in all this crap. It's amazing to me, as someone who went to the Vietnam war and Iraq war, and now the Afghan war. There's simply no learning curve.

The great [writer] Harold Pinter gave a speech on 15 October 2002. He began by telling an old story about Cromwell. The citizens are all brought to the main square and he announces: "Right, kill all the women and rape all the men. His aide says to him, "Excuse me, general, isn't it the other way around?" And a voice in the crowd calls out: "Mr Cromwell knows what he's doing." And Pinter said, "The voice is the voice of Tony Blair: 'Mr Bush knows what he's doing.' " I keep on thinking that about Gordon Brown, too: it's the same voice. If we have to rape the men and kill the women, then by God we will!

Post-Bush, do you think there's still a risk of a military strike on Iran by Israel or the US?

Where do you place yourself on the political spectrum?
I'm your standard left liberal, but I vote for Republicans, I've given money to them. I'm not a pacifist. I would have been tough on Osama Bin Laden after 9/11, but I'd have done it legally. I would have done what the Indians did in Mumbai, what the Spanish did in Madrid after the train incident -- treated it as a crime.

Are you disappointed Obama didn't release those "torture pictures"?
I know a lot about this stuff. Let me just talk about hypocrisy for a second. I do believe Obama when he says there were more terrible things done by individuals than we know, and the record is more complete than we know. Obama's position is that, at a time when we have 130,000 Americans in Afghanistan, putting the pictures out would just inflame people to take action against them. The New York Times has been editorialising against him, but when it had a reporter captured, it thought it was perfectly appropriate not to talk about it publicly for seven months, on the grounds that the paper was trying to protect his life.

So I would say here's the president -- about whom I have many reservations, believe me - saying: "I'm gonna not put these out, because I'm going to save American lives." And he's being criticised quite vividly by the New York Times, which had done the same thing for its reporter. I don't like it. So I give him his due on that one. I have to know what it is. It's horrible, but so what? We know the basic story. And so this is one of the examples when I don't write anything I know. Are you kidding me?!

What would you like to forget?
My Lai.

How would you like people to remember you?
I couldn't care less. I don't believe in life after death.

Are we doomed?
The trouble is that hope sprang anew in America last November. And I think the dashing of that hope is going to be much more lethal than even the cynicism under Bush and Cheney. If that hope is dashed, we'll really be in trouble around the world.

091120_Seymour_Hirsh-02 1

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Removing songs with exclamation marks in your iTunes library.

This really works.

If you have iTunes on your PC, you may have tons of exclamation marks besides songs that are no longer in their original location, so iTunes can't find them.

You can't sort iTunes by exclamation marks, to easily remove them, but there is an easy way to find and delete them all at once.

Select all the songs in iTunes. Shift+End works for me.

Right-click any entry and select Get Info.

You can use any field that you don't normally use, but I used the BPM field and entered a value of "1." iTunes will enter this value in the properties of every song that it finds. If it can't find a song, it will leave the value empty. This process can take several minutes, if you have tons of songs.

When its finished, sort all the songs by BPM. Do it the same way you would sort songs by artist, album title, etc.

After the songs are sorted, all the ones with exclamation marks will be near the top. Just highlight them and delete them.


PS. This wasn't my own discovery. I googled around and found this suggestion.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Illegal downloaders spend most on music: study

This article is being discussed heavily on Maplepost (a mailing list for members of Folk Alliance Canada and the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals (OCFF))today...

Brits who illegally download music from the internet also spend more money on music than anyone else, according to a new study.

The survey, published today, found that those who admit illegally downloading music spent an average of 77 pounds ( NZ$176) a year on music –33 pounds more than those who claim that they never download music dishonestly.

The findings suggest that plans by the Secretary of State for Business, Peter Mandelson, to crack down on illegal downloaders by threatening to cut their internet connections with a "three strikes and you're out" rule could harm the music industry by punishing its core customers.

An estimated seven million UK users download files illegally every year. The record industry's trade association, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), believes this copyright infringement will cost the industry 200m pound this year.

The poll, which surveyed 1,000 16- to 50-year-olds with internet access, found that one in 10 people admit to downloading music illegally.

"The latest approach from the Government will not help prop up an ailing music industry. Politicians and music companies need to recognise that the nature of music consumption has changed, and consumers are demanding lower prices and easier access," said Peter Bradwell, from the think-tank Demos, which commissioned the new poll conducted by Ipsos Mori.

However, music industry figures insist the figures offer a skewed picture. The poll suggested the Government's plan to disconnect illegal downloaders if they ignore official warning letters could deter people from internet piracy, with 61 per cent of illegal downloaders surveyed admitting they would be put off downloading music illegally by the threat of having their internet service cut off for a month.

"The people who file-share are the ones who are interested in music," said Mark Mulligan of Forrester Research. "They use file-sharing as a discovery mechanism. We have a generation of young people who don't have any concept of music as a paid-for commodity," he continued. "You need to have it at a price point you won't notice."

The Digital Economy Bill, which will become law next April, sets out new measures to crack down on internet piracy. But these have generated criticism from internet service providers, who say they will be difficult to enforce.

Artists are also divided over the issue, with Lily Allen and James Blunt recently supporting the Government's stance, while the Latin pop star Shakira argues that illegal file sharing brings her closer to her fans.

This year Virgin Media and Universal Music plan to launch the first music subscription service allowing customers to download and keep unlimited tracks from Universal's catalogue for a fee of around 15 pounds.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Seymour Hersh article - Defending the Arsenal

In an unstable Pakistan, can nuclear warheads be kept safe? The New Yorker

by Seymour M. Hersh November 16, 2009

America’s dealings with Pakistan may be increasing the risk of radicalization.

America’s dealings with Pakistan may be increasing the risk of radicalization.

In the tumultuous days leading up to the Pakistan Army’s ground offensive in the tribal area of South Waziristan, which began on October 17th, the Pakistani Taliban attacked what should have been some of the country’s best-guarded targets. In the most brazen strike, ten gunmen penetrated the Army’s main headquarters, in Rawalpindi, instigating a twenty-two-hour standoff that left twenty-three dead and the military thoroughly embarrassed. The terrorists had been dressed in Army uniforms. There were also attacks on police installations in Peshawar and Lahore, and, once the offensive began, an Army general was shot dead by gunmen on motorcycles on the streets of Islamabad, the capital. The assassins clearly had advance knowledge of the general’s route, indicating that they had contacts and allies inside the security forces.

Pakistan has been a nuclear power for two decades, and has an estimated eighty to a hundred warheads, scattered in facilities around the country. The success of the latest attacks raised an obvious question: Are the bombs safe? Asked this question the day after the Rawalpindi raid, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We have confidence in the Pakistani government and the military’s control over nuclear weapons.” Clinton—whose own visit to Pakistan, two weeks later, would be disrupted by more terrorist bombs—added that, despite the attacks by the Taliban, “we see no evidence that they are going to take over the state.”

Clinton’s words sounded reassuring, and several current and former officials also said in interviews that the Pakistan Army was in full control of the nuclear arsenal. But the Taliban overrunning Islamabad is not the only, or even the greatest, concern. The principal fear is mutiny—that extremists inside the Pakistani military might stage a coup, take control of some nuclear assets, or even divert a warhead.

On April 29th, President Obama was asked at a news conference whether he could reassure the American people that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could be kept away from terrorists. Obama’s answer remains the clearest delineation of the Administration’s public posture. He was, he said, “gravely concerned” about the fragility of the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari. “Their biggest threat right now comes internally,” Obama said. “We have huge . . . national-security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don’t end up having a nuclear-armed militant state.” The United States, he said, could “make sure that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure—primarily, initially, because the Pakistan Army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons’ falling into the wrong hands.”

The questioner, Chuck Todd, of NBC, began asking whether the American military could, if necessary, move in and secure Pakistan’s bombs. Obama did not let Todd finish. “I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals of that sort,” he said. “I feel confident that the nuclear arsenal will remain out of militant hands. O.K.?”

Obama did not say so, but current and former officials said in interviews in Washington and Pakistan that his Administration has been negotiating highly sensitive understandings with the Pakistani military. These would allow specially trained American units to provide added security for the Pakistani arsenal in case of a crisis. At the same time, the Pakistani military would be given money to equip and train Pakistani soldiers and to improve their housing and facilities—goals that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of the Pakistan Army, has long desired. In June, Congress approved a four-hundred-million-dollar request for what the Administration called the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, providing immediate assistance to the Pakistan Army for equipment, training, and “renovation and construction.”

The secrecy surrounding the understandings was important because there is growing antipathy toward America in Pakistan, as well as a history of distrust. Many Pakistanis believe that America’s true goal is not to keep their weapons safe but to diminish or destroy the Pakistani nuclear complex. The arsenal is a source of great pride among Pakistanis, who view the weapons as symbols of their nation’s status and as an essential deterrent against an attack by India. (India’s first nuclear test took place in 1974, Pakistan’s in 1998.)

A senior Pakistani official who has close ties to Zardari exploded with anger during an interview when the subject turned to the American demands for more information about the arsenal. After the September 11th attacks, he said, there had been an understanding between the Bush Administration and then President Pervez Musharraf “over what Pakistan had and did not have.” Today, he said, “you’d like control of our day-to-day deployment. But why should we give it to you? Even if there was a military coup d’état in Pakistan, no one is going to give up total control of our nuclear weapons. Never. Why are you not afraid of India’s nuclear weapons?” the official asked. “Because India is your friend, and the longtime policies of America and India converge. Between you and the Indians, you will fuck us in every way. The truth is that our weapons are less of a problem for the Obama Administration than finding a respectable way out of Afghanistan.”

The ongoing consultation on nuclear security between Washington and Islamabad intensified after the announcement in March of President Obama’s so-called Af-Pak policy, which called upon the Pakistan Army to take more aggressive action against Taliban enclaves inside Pakistan. I was told that the understandings on nuclear coöperation benefitted from the increasingly close relationship between Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Kayani, his counterpart, although the C.I.A. and the Departments of Defense, State, and Energy have also been involved. (All three departments declined to comment for this article. The national-security council and the C.I.A. denied that there were any agreements in place.)

In response to a series of questions, Admiral Mullen acknowledged that he and Kayani were, in his spokesman’s words, “very close.” The spokesman said that Mullen is deeply involved in day-to-day Pakistani developments and “is almost an action officer for all things Pakistan.” But he denied that he and Kayani, or their staffs, had reached an understanding about the availability of American forces in case of mutiny or a terrorist threat to a nuclear facility. “To my knowledge, we have no military units, special forces or otherwise, involved in such an assignment,” Mullen said through his spokesman. The spokesman added that Mullen had not seen any evidence of growing fundamentalism inside the Pakistani military. In a news conference on May 4th, however, Mullen responded to a query about growing radicalism in Pakistan by saying that “what has clearly happened over the [past] twelve months is the continual decline, gradual decline, in security.” The Admiral also spoke openly about the increased coöperation on nuclear security between the United States and Pakistan: “I know what we’ve done over the last three years, specifically to both invest, assist, and I’ve watched them improve their security fairly dramatically. . . . I’ve looked at this, you know, as hard as I can, over a period of time.” Seventeen days later, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “We have invested a significant amount of resources through the Department of Energy in the last several years” to help Pakistan improve the controls on its arsenal. “They still have to improve them,” he said.

In interviews in Pakistan, I obtained confirmation that there were continuing conversations with the United States on nuclear-security plans—as well as evidence that the Pakistani leadership put much less weight on them than the Americans did. In some cases, Pakistani officials spoke of the talks principally as a means of placating anxious American politicians. “You needed it,” a senior Pakistani official, who said that he had been briefed on the nuclear issue, told me. His tone was caustic. “We have twenty thousand people working in the nuclear-weapons industry in Pakistan, and here is this American view that Pakistan is bound to fail.” The official added, “The Americans are saying, ‘We want to help protect your weapons.’ We say, ‘Fine. Tell us what you can do for us.’ It’s part of a quid pro quo. You say, also, ‘Come clean on the nuclear program and we’ll insure that India doesn’t put pressure on it.’ So we say, ‘O.K.’ ”

But, the Pakistani official said, “both sides are lying to each other.” The information that the Pakistanis handed over was not as complete as the Americans believed. “We haven’t told you anything that you don’t know,” he said. The Americans didn’t realize that Pakistan would never cede control of its arsenal: “If you try to take the weapons away, you will fail.”

High-level coöperation between Islamabad and Washington on the Pakistani nuclear arsenal began at least eight years ago. Former President Musharraf, when I interviewed him in London recently, acknowledged that his government had held extensive discussions with the Bush Administration after the September 11th attacks, and had given State Department nonproliferation experts insight into the command and control of the Pakistani arsenal and its on-site safety and security procedures. Musharraf also confirmed that Pakistan had constructed a huge tunnel system for the transport and storage of nuclear weaponry. “The tunnels are so deep that a nuclear attack will not touch them,” Musharraf told me, with obvious pride. The tunnels would make it impossible for the American intelligence community—“Big Uncle,” as a Pakistani nuclear-weapons expert called it—to monitor the movements of nuclear components by satellite.

Safeguards have been built into the system. Pakistani nuclear doctrine calls for the warheads (containing an enriched radioactive core) and their triggers (sophisticated devices containing highly explosive lenses, detonators, and krytrons) to be stored separately from each other and from their delivery devices (missiles or aircraft). The goal is to insure that no one can launch a warhead—in the heat of a showdown with India, for example—without pausing to put it together. Final authority to order a nuclear strike requires consensus within Pakistan’s ten-member National Command Authority, with the chairman—by statute, President Zardari—casting the deciding vote.

But the safeguards meant to keep a confrontation with India from escalating too quickly could make the arsenal more vulnerable to terrorists. Nuclear-security experts have war-gamed the process and concluded that the triggers and other elements are most exposed when they are being moved and reassembled—at those moments there would be fewer barriers between an outside group and the bomb. A consultant to the intelligence community said that in one war-gamed scenario disaffected members of the Pakistani military could instigate a terrorist attack inside India, and that the ensuing crisis would give them “a chance to pick up bombs and triggers—in the name of protecting the assets from extremists.”

The triggers are a key element in American contingency plans. An American former senior intelligence official said that a team that has trained for years to remove or dismantle parts of the Pakistani arsenal has now been augmented by a unit of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the élite counterterrorism group. He added that the unit, which had earlier focussed on the warheads’ cores, has begun to concentrate on evacuating the triggers, which have no radioactive material and are thus much easier to handle.

“The Pakistanis gave us a virtual look at the number of warheads, some of their locations, and their command-and-control system,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “We saw their target list and their mobilization plans. We got their security plans, so we could augment them in case of a breach of security,” he said. “We’re there to help the Pakistanis, but we’re also there to extend our own axis of security to their nuclear stockpile.” The detailed American planning even includes an estimate of how many nuclear triggers could be placed inside a C-17 cargo plane, the former official said, and where the triggers could be sequestered. Admiral Mullen, asked about increased American insight into the arsenal, said, through his spokesman, “I am not aware of our receipt of any such information.” (A senior military officer added that the information, if it had been conveyed, would most likely “have gone to another government agency.”)

A spokesman for the Pakistani military said, in an official denial, “Pakistan neither needs any American unit for enhancing the security for its arsenal nor would accept it.” The spokesman added that the Pakistani military “has been providing protection to U.S. troops in a situation of crisis”—a reference to Pakistan’s role in the war on terror—“and hence is quite capable to deal with any untoward situation.”

Early this summer, a consultant to the Department of Defense said, a highly classified military and civil-emergency response team was put on alert after receiving an urgent report from American intelligence officials indicating that a Pakistani nuclear component had gone astray. The team, which operates clandestinely and includes terrorism and nonproliferation experts from the intelligence community, the Pentagon, the F.B.I., and the D.O.E., is under standing orders to deploy from Andrews Air Force Base, in Maryland, within four hours of an alert. When the report turned out to be a false alarm, the mission was aborted, the consultant said. By the time the team got the message, it was already in Dubai.

In an actual crisis, would the Pakistanis give an American team direct access to their arsenal? An adviser to the Pentagon on counterinsurgency said that some analysts suspected that the Pakistani military had taken steps to move elements of the nuclear arsenal “out of the count”—to shift them to a storage facility known only to a very few—as a hedge against mutiny or an American or Indian effort to seize them. “If you thought your American ally was telling your enemy where the weapons were, you’d do the same thing,” the adviser said.

“Let me say this about our nuclear deterrent,” President Zardari told me, when asked about any recent understandings between Pakistan and the United States. “We give comfort to each other, and the comfort level is good, because everybody respects everybody’s integrity. We’re all big boys.”

Zardari and I met twice, first in his office, in the grand but isolated Presidential compound in Islamabad, and then, a few days later, alone over dinner in his personal quarters. Zardari, who became President after the assassination, in December, 2007, of his charismatic wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, spent nearly eleven years in jail on corruption charges. He is widely known in Pakistan as Mr. Ten Per Cent, a reference to the commissions he allegedly took on government contracts when Bhutto was in power, and is seen by many Pakistanis as little more than a crook who has grown too close to America; his approval ratings are in the teens. He is chatty but guarded, proud but defensive, and, like many Pakistanis, convinced that the United States will always favor India. Over dinner, he spoke of his suspicions regarding his wife’s death. He said that, despite rumors to the contrary, he would complete his five-year term.

Zardari spoke with derision about what he depicted as America’s obsession with the vulnerability of his nation’s nuclear arsenal. “In your country, you feel that you have to hold the fort for us,” he said. “The American people want a lot of answers for the errors of the past, and it’s very easy to spread fear. Our Army officers are not crazy, like the Taliban. They’re British-trained. Why would they slip up on nuclear security? A mutiny would never happen in Pakistan. It’s a fear being spread by the few who seek to scare the many.”

Zardari offered some advice to Barack Obama: instead of fretting about nuclear security in Pakistan, his Administration should deal with the military disparity between Pakistan and India, which has a much larger army. “You should help us get conventional weapons,” he said. “It’s a balance-of-power issue.”

In May, Zardari, at the urging of the United States, approved a major offensive against the Taliban, sending thirty thousand troops into the Swat Valley, which lies a hundred miles northwest of Islamabad. “The enemy that we were fighting in Swat was made up of twenty per cent thieves and thugs and eighty per cent with the same mind-set as the Taliban,” Zardari said. He depicted the operation as a complete success, but added that his government was not “ready” to kill all the Taliban. His long-term solution, Zardari said, was to provide new business opportunities in Swat and turn the Taliban into entrepreneurs. “Money is the best incentive,” he said. “They can be rented.”

Zardari’s view of the Swat offensive was striking, given that many Pakistanis had been angered by the excessive use of force and the ensuing refugee crisis. The lives of about two million people were torn apart, and, during a summer in which temperatures soared to a hundred and twenty degrees, hundreds of thousands of civilians were crowded into government-run tent cities. Idris Khattak, a former student radical who now works with Amnesty International, said in Peshawar that residents had described nights of heavy, indiscriminate bombing and shelling, followed in the morning by Army sweeps. The villagers, and not the Taliban, had been hit the hardest. “People told us that the bombing the night before was a signal for the Taliban to get out,” he said.

Zardari did not dispute that there were difficulties in the refugee camps—the heat, the lack of facilities. But he insisted that the fault lay with the civilians, who, he said, had been far too tolerant of the Taliban. The suffering could serve a useful purpose: after a summer in the tents, the citizens of Swat might have learned a lesson and would not “let the Taliban back into their cities.”

Rahimullah Yusufzai, an eminent Pakistani journalist, who has twice interviewed Osama bin Laden, had a different explanation for the conditions that led to the offensive. “The Taliban were initially trying to win public support in Swat by delivering justice and peace,” Yusufzai said. “But when they got into power they went crazy and became brutal. Many are from the lowest ranks of society, and they began killing and terrorizing their opponents. The people were afraid.”

The turmoil did not end with the Army’s invasion. “Most of the people who were in the refugee camps told us that the Army was equally bad. There was so much killing,” Yusufzai said. The government had placed limits on reporters who tried to enter the Swat Valley during the attack, but afterward Yusufzai and his colleagues were able to interview officers. “They told us they hated what they were doing—‘We were trained to fight Indians.’ ” But that changed when they sustained heavy losses, especially of junior officers. “They were killing everybody after their colleagues were killed—just like the Americans with their Predator missiles,” Yusufzai said. “What the Army did not understand, and what the Americans don’t understand, is that by demolishing the house of a suspected Taliban or their supporters you are making an enemy of the whole family.” What looked like a tactical victory could turn out to be a strategic failure.

The Obama Administration has had difficulty coming to terms with how unhappy many Pakistanis are with the United States. Secretary of State Clinton, during her three-day “good-will visit” to Pakistan, late last month, seemed taken aback by the angry and, at times, provocative criticism of American policies that dominated many of her public appearances, and responded defensively.

Last year, the Washington Times ran an article about the Pressler Amendment, a 1985 law cutting off most military aid to Pakistan as long as it continued its nuclear program. The measure didn’t stop Pakistan from getting the bomb, or from buying certain weapons, but it did reduce the number of Pakistani officers who were permitted to train with American units. The article quoted Major General John Custer as saying, “The older military leaders love us. They understand American culture and they know we are not the enemy.” The General’s assessment provoked a barrage of e-mail among American officers with experience in Pakistan, and a former member of a Special Forces unit provided me with copies. “The fact that a two-star would make a statement [like] that . . . is at best naïve and actually pure bullshit,” a senior Special Forces officer on duty in Pakistan wrote. He went on:

I have met and interacted with the entire military staff from General Kayani on down and all the general officers on their joint staff and in all the services, and I haven’t spoken to one that “loves us”—whatever that means. In fact, I have read most of the TS [top secret] assessments of all their General Officers and I haven’t read one that comes close to their “loving” us. They play us for everything they can get, and we trip over ourselves trying to give them everything they ask for, and cannot pay for.

Some military men who know Pakistan well believe that, whatever the officer corps’s personal views, the Pakistan Army remains reliable. “They cannot be described as pro-American, but this doesn’t mean they don’t know which side their bread is buttered on,” Brian Cloughley, who served six years as Australia’s defense attaché to Pakistan and is now a contributor to Janes Sentinel, told me. “The chance of mutiny is slim. Were this to happen, there would be the most severe reaction” by special security units in the Pakistani military, Cloughley said. “But worry feeds irrationality, and the international consequences could be dire.”

The recollections of Bush Administration officials who dealt with Pakistan in the first round of nuclear consultations after September 11th do not inspire confidence. The Americans’ main contact was Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai, the head of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, the agency that is responsible for nuclear strategy and operations and for the physical security of the weapons complex. At first, a former high-level Bush Administration official told me, Kidwai was reassuring; his professionalism increased their faith in the soundness of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine and its fail-safe procedures. The Army was controlled by Punjabis who, the Americans thought, “did not put up with Pashtuns,” as the former Bush Administration official put it. (The Taliban are mostly Pashtun.) But by the time the official left, at the beginning of George W. Bush’s second term, he had a much darker assessment: “They don’t trust us and they will not tell you the truth.”

No American, for example, was permitted access to A. Q. Khan, the metallurgist and so-called father of the Pakistani atomic bomb, who traded crucial nuclear-weapons components on the international black market. Musharraf placed him under house arrest in early 2004, claiming to have been shocked to learn of Khan’s dealings. At the time, it was widely understood that those activities had been sanctioned by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.). Khan was freed in February, although there are restrictions on his travel. (In an interview last year, Kidwai told David Sanger, for his book “The Inheritance,” that “our security systems are foolproof,” thanks to technical controls; Sanger noted that Bush Administration officials were “not as confident in private as they sound in public.”)

A former State Department official who worked on nuclear issues with Pakistan after September 11th said that he’d come to understand that the Pakistanis “believe that any information we get from them would be shared with others—perhaps even the Indians. To know the command-and-control processes of their nuclear weapons is one thing. To know where the weapons actually are is another thing.”

The former State Department official cited the large Pakistan Air Force base outside Sargodha, west of Lahore, where many of Pakistan’s nuclear-capable F-16s are thought to be stationed. “Is there a nuke ready to go at Sargodha?” the former official asked. “If there is, and Sargodha is the size of Andrews Air Force Base, would we know where to go? Are the warheads stored in Bunker X?” Ignorance could be dangerous. “If our people don’t know where to go and we suddenly show up at a base, there will be a lot of people shooting at them,” he said. “And even if the Pakistanis may have told us that the triggers will be at Bunker X, is it true?”

In the July/August issue of Arms Control Today, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who recently retired after three years as the Department of Energy’s director of intelligence and counter-intelligence, preceded by two decades at the C.I.A., wrote vividly about the “lethal proximity between terrorists, extremists, and nuclear weapons insiders” in Pakistan. “Insiders have facilitated terrorist attacks. Suicide bombings have occurred at air force bases that reportedly serve as nuclear weapons storage sites. It is difficult to ignore such trends,” Mowatt-Larssen wrote. “Purely in actuarial terms, there is a strong possibility that bad apples in the nuclear establishment are willing to cooperate with outsiders for personal gain or out of sympathy for their cause. Nowhere in the world is this threat greater than in Pakistan. . . . Anything that helps upgrade Pakistan’s nuclear security is an investment” in America’s security.

Leslie H. Gelb, a president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said, “I don’t think there’s any kind of an agreement we can count on. The Pakistanis have learned how to deal with us, and they understand that if they don’t tell us what we want to hear we’ll cut off their goodies.” Gelb added, “In all these years, the C.I.A. never built up assets, but it talks as if there were ‘access.’ I don’t know if Obama understands that the Agency doesn’t know what it’s talking about.”

The former high-level Bush Administration official was just as blunt. “If a Pakistani general is talking to you about nuclear issues, and his lips are moving, he’s lying,” he said. “The Pakistanis wouldn’t share their secrets with anybody, and certainly not with a country that, from their point of view, used them like a Dixie cup and then threw them away.”

Sultan Amir Tarar, known to many as Colonel Imam, is the archetype of the disillusioned Pakistani officer. Tarar spent eighteen years with the I.S.I. in Afghanistan, most of them as an undercover operative. In the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union, in the eighties, he worked closely with C.I.A. agents, and liked the experience. “They were honest and thoughtful and provided the finest equipment,” Tarar said during an interview in Rawalpindi. He spoke with pride of shaking hands with Robert Gates in Afghanistan in 1985. Gates, now the Secretary of Defense, was then a senior C.I.A. official. “I’ve heard all about you,” Gates said, according to Tarar. “Good or bad?” “Oh, my. All good,” Gates replied. Tarar’s view changed after the Russians withdrew and, in his opinion, “the Americans abandoned us.” When I asked if he’d seen “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the movie depicting that abandonment and a Texas congressman’s futile efforts to change the policy, Tarar laughed and said, “I’ve seen Charlie Wilson. I didn’t need to see the movie.”

Tarar, who retired in 1995 and has a son in the Army, believed—as did many Pakistani military men—that the American campaign to draw Pakistan deeper into the war against the Taliban would backfire. “The Americans are trying to rent out their war to us,” he said. If the Obama Administration persists, “there will be an uprising here, and this corrupt government will collapse. Every Pakistani will then be his own nuclear bomb—a suicide bomber,” Tarar said. “The longer the war goes on, the longer it will spill over in the tribal territories, and it will lead to a revolutionary stage. People there will flee to the big cities like Lahore and Islamabad.”

Tarar believed that the Obama Administration had to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban, even if that meant direct talks with Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. Tarar knew Mullah Omar well. “Omar trained as a young man in my camp in 1985,” he told me. “He was physically fit and mission-oriented—a very honest man who was a practicing Muslim. Nothing beyond that. He was a Talib—a student, and not a mullah. But people respected him. Today, among all the Afghan leaders, Omar has the biggest audience, and this is the right time for you to talk to him.”

Speaking to Tarar and other officers gave a glimpse of the acrimony at the top of the Pakistani government, which has complicated the nuclear equation. Tarar spoke bitterly about the position that General Kayani found himself in, carrying out the “corrupt” policies of the Americans and of Zardari, while Pakistan’s soldiers “were fighting gallantly in Swat against their own people.”

A $7.5-billion American aid package, approved by Congress in September, was, to the surprise of many in Washington, controversial in Pakistan, because it contained provisions seen as strengthening Zardari at the expense of the military. Shaheen Sehbai, a senior editor of the newspaper International, said that Zardari’s “problem is that he’s besieged domestically on all sides, and he thinks only the Americans can save him,” and, as a result, “he’ll open his pants for them.” Sehbai noted that Kayani’s term as Army chief ends in the fall of 2010. If Zardari tried to replace him before then, Kayani’s colleagues would not accept his choice, and there could be “a generals’ coup,” Sehbai said. “America should worry more about the structure and organization of the Army—and keep it intact.”

Lieutenant General Hamid Gul was the director general of the I.S.I. in the late eighties and worked with the C.I.A. in Afghanistan. Gul, who is retired, is a devout Muslim and had been accused by the Bush Administration of having ties to the Taliban and Al Qaeda—allegations he has denied. “What would happen if, in a crisis, you tried to get—or did not get—our nuclear triggers? What happens then?” Gul asked when we met. “You will have us as an enemy, with the Chinese and Russians behind us.”

If Pakistani officers had given any assurances about the nuclear arsenal, Gul said, “they are cheating you and they would be right to do so. We should not be aiding and abetting Americans.”

Persuading the Pakistan Army to concentrate on fighting the Taliban, and not India, is crucial to the Obama Administration’s plans for the region. There has been enmity between India and Pakistan since 1947, when Britain’s withdrawal led to the partition of the subcontinent. The state of Kashmir, which was three-quarters Muslim but acceded to Hindu-majority India, has been in dispute ever since, and India and Pakistan have twice gone to war over the territory. Through the years, the Pakistan Army and the I.S.I. have relied on Pakistan-based jihadist groups, most notably Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, to carry out a guerrilla war against the Indians in Kashmir. Many in the Pakistani military consider the groups to be an important strategic reserve.

A retired senior Pakistani intelligence officer, who worked with his C.I.A. counterparts to track down Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, said that he was deeply troubled by the prospect of Pakistan ceding any control over its nuclear deterrent. “Suppose the jihadis strike at India again—another attack on the parliament. India will tell the United States to stay out of it, and ‘We’ll sort it out on our own,’ ” he said. “Then there would be a ground attack into Pakistan. As we begin to react, the Americans will be interested in protecting our nuclear assets, and urge us not to go nuclear—‘Let the Indians attack and do not respond!’ They would urge us instead to find those responsible for the attack on India. Our nuclear arsenal was supposed to be our savior, but we would end up protecting it. It doesn’t protect us,” he said.

“My belief today is that it’s better to have the Americans as an enemy rather than as a friend, because you cannot be trusted,” the former officer concluded. “The only good thing the United States did for us was to look the other way about an atomic bomb when it suited the United States to do so.”

Pakistan’s fears about the United States coöperating with India are not irrational. Last year, Congress approved a controversial agreement that enabled India to purchase nuclear fuel and technology from the United States without joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty, making India the only non-signatory to the N.P.T. permitted to do so. Concern about the Pakistani arsenal has since led to greater coöperation between the United States and India in missile defense; the training of the Indian Air Force to use bunker-busting bombs; and “the collection of intelligence on the Pakistani nuclear arsenal,” according to the consultant to the intelligence community. (The Pentagon declined to comment.)

I flew to New Delhi after my stay in Pakistan and met with two senior officials from the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s national intelligence agency. (Of course, as in Pakistan, no allegation about the other side should be taken at face value.) “Our worries are about the nuclear weapons in Pakistan,” one of the officials said. “Not because we are worried about the mullahs taking over the country; we’re worried about those senior officers in the Pakistan Army who are Caliphates”—believers in a fundamentalist pan-Islamic state. “We know some of them and we have names,” he said. “We’ve been watching colonels who are now brigadiers. These are the guys who could blackmail the whole world”—that is, by seizing a nuclear weapon.

The Indian intelligence official went on, “Do we know if the Americans have that intelligence? This is not in the scheme of the way you Americans look at things—‘Kayani is a great guy! Let’s have a drink and smoke a cigar with him and his buddies.’ Some of the men we are watching have notions of leading an Islamic army.”

In an interview the next afternoon, an Indian official who has dealt diplomatically with Pakistan for years said, “Pakistan is in trouble, and it’s worrisome to us because an unstable Pakistan is the worst thing we can have.” But he wasn’t sure what America could do. “They like us better in Pakistan than you Americans,” he said. “I can tell you that in a public-opinion poll we, India, will beat you.”

India and Pakistan, he added, have had back-channel talks for years in an effort to resolve the dispute over Kashmir, but “Pakistan wants talks for the sake of talks, and it does not carry out the agreements already reached.” (In late October, Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, publicly renewed an offer of talks, but tied it to a request that Pakistan crack down on terrorism; Pakistan’s official response was to welcome the overture.)

The Indian official, like his counterparts in Pakistan, believed that Americans did not appreciate what his government had done for them. “Why did the Pakistanis remove two divisions from the border with us?” He was referring to the shifting of Pakistani forces, at the request of the United States, to better engage the Taliban. “It means they have confidence that we will not take advantage of the situation. We deserve a pat on the back for this.” Instead, the official said, with a shrug, “you are too concerned with your relationship with Pakistan.”

Pervez Musharraf lives in unpretentious exile with his wife in an apartment in London, near Hyde Park. Officials who had dealt with him cautioned that, along with his many faults, he had a disarmingly open manner. At the beginning of our talk, I asked him why, on a visit to Washington in late January, he had not met with any senior Obama Administration officials. “I did not ask for a meeting because I was afraid of being told no,” he said. At another point, Musharraf, dressed casually in slacks and a sports shirt, said that he had been troubled by the American-controlled Predator drone attacks on targets inside Pakistan, which began in 2005. “I said to the Americans, ‘Give us the Predators.’ It was refused. I told the Americans, ‘Then just say publicly that you’re giving them to us. You keep on firing them but put Pakistan Air Force markings on them.’ That, too, was denied.”

Musharraf, who was forced out of office in August, 2008, under threat of impeachment, did not spare his successor. “Asif Zardari is a criminal and a fraud,” Musharraf told me. “He’ll do anything to save himself. He’s not a patriot and he’s got no love for Pakistan. He’s a third-rater.”

Musharraf said that he and General Kayani, who had been his nominee for Chief of Army Staff, were still in telephone contact. Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999, and remained in uniform until near the end of his Presidency. He said that he didn’t think the Army was capable of mutiny—not the Army he knew. “There are people with fundamentalist ideas in the Army, but I don’t think there is any possibility of these people getting organized and doing an uprising. These ‘fundos’ were disliked and not popular.”

He added, “Muslims think highly of Obama, and he should use his acceptability—even with the Taliban—and try to deal with them politically.”

Musharraf spoke of two prior attempts to create a fundamentalist uprising in the Army. In both cases, he said, the officers involved were arrested and prosecuted. “I created the strategic force that controls all the strategic assets—eighteen to twenty thousand strong. They are monitored for character and for potential fundamentalism,” he said. He acknowledged, however, that things had changed since he’d left office. “People have become alarmed because of the Taliban and what they have done,” he said. “Everyone is now alarmed.”

The rise in militancy is a sensitive subject, and many inside Pakistan insist that American fears, and the implied threat to the nuclear arsenal, are overwrought. Amélie Blom, a political sociologist at Lahore University of Management Sciences, noted that the Army continues to support an unpopular President. “The survival of the coalition government shows that the present Army leadership has an interest in making it work,” she said in an e-mail.

Others are less sure. “Nuclear weapons are only as safe as the people who handle them,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, an eminent nuclear physicist in Pakistan, said in a talk last summer at a Nation and Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy forum in New York. For more than two decades, Hoodbhoy said, “the Pakistan Army has been recruiting on the basis of faithfulness to Islam. As a consequence, there is now a different character present among Army officers and ordinary soldiers. There are half a dozen scenarios that one can imagine.” There was no proof either that the most dire scenarios would be realized or that the arsenal was safe, he said.

The current offensive in South Waziristan marked a significant success for the Obama Administration, which had urged Zardari to take greater control of the tribal areas. There was a risk, too—that the fighting would further radicalize Pakistan. Last week, another Pakistan Army general was the victim of a drive-by assassination attempt, as he was leaving his home in Islamabad. Since the Waziristan operation was announced, more than three hundred people have been killed in a dozen terrorist attacks. “If we push too hard there, we could trigger a social revolution,” the Special Forces adviser said. “We are playing into Al Qaeda’s deep game here. If we blow it, Al Qaeda could come in and scoop up a nuke or two.” He added, “The Pakistani military knows that if there’s any kind of instability there will be a traffic jam to seize their nukes.” More escalation in Pakistan, he said, “will take us to the brink.”

During my stay in Pakistan—my first in five years—there were undeniable signs that militancy and the influence of fundamentalist Islam had grown. In the past, military officers, politicians, and journalists routinely served Johnnie Walker Black during our talks, and drank it themselves. This time, even the most senior retired Army generals offered only juice or tea, even in their own homes. Officials and journalists said that soldiers and middle-level officers were increasingly attracted to the preaching of Zaid Hamid, who joined the mujahideen and fought for nine years in Afghanistan. On CDs and on television, Hamid exhorts soldiers to think of themselves as Muslims first and Pakistanis second. He claims that terrorist attacks in Mumbai last year were staged by India and Western Zionists, aided by the Mossad. Another proselytizer, Dr. Israr Ahmed, writes a column in the Urdu press in which he depicts the Holocaust as “divine punishment,” and advocates the extermination of the Jews. He, too, is said to be popular with the officer corps.

A senior Obama Administration official brought up Hizb ut-Tahrir, a Sunni organization whose goal is to establish the Caliphate. “They’ve penetrated the Pakistani military and now have cells in the Army,” he said. (The Pakistan Army denies this.) In one case, according to the official, Hizb ut-Tahrir had recruited members of a junior officer group, from the most élite Pakistani military academy, who had been sent to England for additional training.

“Where do these guys get socialized and exposed to Islamic evangelism and the fundamentalism narrative?” the Obama Administration official asked. “In services every Friday for Army officers, and at corps and unit meetings where they are addressed by senior commanders and clerics.”

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

How Defying Gravity would have progressed, straight from the creator

I really enjoyed Defying Gravity, one of the new shows this year that was recently cancelled. Here's an article from in which the show's creator talks about how the show would have progressed and ended, after three seasons.

One of the things that kills me anytime a show I love doesn’t get picked up for additional seasons — or is flat-out canceled mid-season — is dangling storylines. Being that I’m into sci-fi shows, enduring long story arcs is pretty commonplace. So, when word came that Defying Gravity was not only not getting a second season, but it wouldn’t be airing the final handful of episodes in the U.S., it was par for the course. But dammit, I wanted to know what was going to happen next!

Via powerful, mystical, magical items that I won’t reveal here, for fear the secret will fall into the wrong hands, I was able to watch the final episodes of the first and only season of Defying Gravity. Ivey’s already written about them, the final episode having aired on Canada’s CTV and SPACE channels last weekend. Unlike another sci-fi show that was cut short soon — the U.S. version of Life on MarsDefying Gravity wasn’t allowed to wrap up its story. In fact, even if it had the time to prepare for it, there’s just no way it could wrap everything up in one season. The season only got better in the latter episodes, which makes the show being gone all the more disappointing.

Still, I had to know how the show was meant to end. If there was truly no hope that the show would get picked up somewhere else, I had to jump at a chance to find out what was going to happen next. So, I went straight to the source and contacted the show’s creator, James Parriott, to get a reading from the next book from the Defying Gravity bible. And, lordy, did he read.

First of all, let’s get the basics out of the way. Parriott confirmed to me that the actors have all been released and the sets have been destroyed, so the show is “pretty much dead” — no real hope now of seeing the show get the CPR it needs to continue on into another season or a wrap-up movie.

So, why did the show not do better in the first place, if it’s as good as I say? As Parriott explained, the show wasn’t officially picked up by ABC until a mere three weeks before the first episode aired, virtually giving them no time to market the show properly. By that time, all ad space they needed for the show to get the awareness it needed was spoken for.

Getting back to what I said about a show “bible,” Parriott said that in order to sell the show, he had to have the show worked out, and he does indeed have a bible for it. In fact, he has the first three years of the show all worked out, along with how it would ultimately end. Because Parriott has what he said is “a tremendous respect for science fiction and its fans,” he didn’t want to string viewers along too long without anything significant to reveal, which is why Beta was revealed in episode nine and not somewhere in season two; he wasn’t about to leave us with “a big hole in the ground” at the finale. Lost fans know what he’s talking about.

Speaking of Lost, here’s a fun bit he had to say about the show and how it relates to how he went into putting Defying Gravity together:

“I love the show [Lost], and Damon [Lindelof] and Carlton [Cuse]. I did a lot with Grey’s Anatomy during the first couple of years of Grey’s, and that first year of Grey’s was the first year of Lost, and I did a lot of dinners with ABC buyers with those two guys and Shonda Rhimes from Grey’s. Carlton is a really bright and funny guy, and he gets up, and the first question out of the foreign buyers’ mouths is ‘where’s it going to go? Do you know where it’s going to go?’, and he said ‘I haven’t a clue.’ And then he sits down across from me at the dinner table, and I remember saying ‘Damon, come on, that’s bullshit, right? I mean, you know where it’s going to go.’ And he says, ‘Jim, I haven’t a clue. I’m four episodes out; that’s all I know.’

“And I just thought to myself, y’know, that’s really dangerous. And then when I got into doing this show, I said I don’t want to do that; I don’t want to be in that position. First of all, I’d have ulcers if I did that, which would just be crazy, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. So I went in pretty much knowing where it was going to go.”

I’ve often said that having the “Grey’s Anatomy” tag on this show really hurt it. Sci-fi fans ran for the hills when they saw it was going to be Grey’s-in-space, so it never took off. So, I asked Parriott about that.

“First of all, ABC literally bought the show three weeks before it aired. ABC, I think, in their own way, were trying to kill it. They had been planning to buy the show all summer long, so they had us on a hook. But they wouldn’t commit, wouldn’t commit, wouldn’t commit. While they weren’t committing, they were cutting trailers and were preparing to launch, but they weren’t telling anybody. And then they finally committed three weeks before launch.”

Essentially, the only people who saw the promos were the 1.5 million viewers through ABC’s summer schedule.

“[Having the Grey's Anatomy tag] probably hurt the show ultimately. But in terms of trying to sell the show, as sort of a quick pitch … for the buyers, it had to be ‘look, it’s a show in space, but it’s not a space show. This is a space show that’s going to attract women.’ That seemed to be the easiest thing to do. In fact, I don’t think we ever really coined the phrase that it’s Grey’s in space; someone had just said that and we said ‘OK.’”

So why wasn’t the show pitched instead to Syfy? Couldn’t the show have shined there and gotten the attention it needed and deserved? “You know, it could have. But we were always trying to create a network show and not a cable show. So if you go out and just say “we’re sci-fi,” the networks sort of balk at that. They want to know it’s bigger and the potential audience is broader than a sci-fi audience. However, when it became clear that ABC wasn’t going to give us a big summer launch and not be promoted as well as we wanted, I was encouraging the studio not to sell it and go to Syfy. And in fact they did go to them, but they did it too late and after we already aired two episodes. I said, ‘would you guys buy this if we pulled it from ABC and give it to you for free on rerun and buy us into a second season?’ But then you’ve already aired and you’re taking the wind out of Syfy’s sails, because they can’t promote it as ‘their’ show. And Mark Stern [Syfy Exec VP of Original Content] was very interested in it, but once it aired on ABC you lose your caché. And you’re done. But we could have survived on Syfy and done many seasons.

If it had been an ABC developed show, believe me, we would have been promoted and been put into a better time slot.”

Now, let’s get into the answers to some of the unanswered questions from the show. First of all, Parriott won’t yet reveal to me the ending of the show, as he’s still holding onto hopes that something will come out of left field and cause it to be revived again, in one for or another. If, in six months, the show doesn’t see the light of day again, then we may get our answer.

Let’s go over the characters Parriott and I discussed:

Nadia — She had quite the odd hallucinations, didn’t she? Who was that man she kept seeing, and why did he look so much like Nadia? As Parriott revealed to me, some fans of the show got it right in their guess that she was, in fact, a hermaphrodite when she was born. The choice was made for her when she was 11, by her parents, which sex she’d ultimately become. So that man we’re seeing is actually what Nadia would have been, had they chosen to raise her — or him — as a man.

Now, here’s the wild kicker. All those DNA changes that are happening with the crew, caused by Beta and the other artifacts? Well, they would eventually wind up causing Nadia to gradually turn into a man.

Parrriott also said that it was planned for Nadia to really have a more significant presence in season two. “If you see the way we wrote her, she sort of had that male sexuality about her, that ‘fuck ‘em and forget ‘em’ mentality. So we wanted to write her sort of as a male character in a female body.”

Donner & Zoe – Probably already guessed or assumed by many, but Donner’s reversed vasectomy was part of the DNA change brought upon by Beta. Eventually, toward the very end of the series, the true reason for that happening would be revealed, when Zoe becomes pregnant again on the trip. So yes, even Zoe’s hysterectomy would be “reversed” in order for that to happen.

“They were all going to be tested. The idea was that they all had points in their lives that, if they could do them all again, then they would have chosen a different path. Beta — the ‘fractal objects’ — were going to put them up against those same situations and stand them up to themselves again, give them a chance to make another decision.”

Wass — I asked what the Wassenfelder character’s significance was going to turn out to be, since, for the most part, he only seemed to serve as the comic relief for the show. “Dylan [Taylor] sort of has that different gear that we had to exploit, which is sort of that funny gear. And he had a relationship with Paula Garcés the first time we put them together, and we just though that was a relationship we have to mine. That wasn’t the initial plan, but Wass was going to have something like Pervasive Developmental Disorder [similar to Autism] and have a great fear of people touching him and having contact with other people. He was going to become a weirder guy. One reason I didn’t have hallucinations for him was because I didn’t have any for him worked out yet!”

Arnel Poe — “Yeah, people guessed pretty early on that it’s Arnel’s leg loss that gets Zoe back into the program. At the beginning of the second season, she’s going to be at home, has a job teaching college, she’s going to have another romance, she’s going to have washed her hands of the whole thing. Donner’s going to be going nuts. They’re going to be doing the survival training for the mission and Arnel was going to lose a leg, and Zoe would be called back.”

Jen — Was she mistakenly put on the mission? Why can’t she see the fractal objects? “No, she was correctly put on the mission. And she can’t see [the objects] because, if you look back at when she was in the isolation tanks, she has a fear of abandonment. Jen seems to always need a man, and she’s very needy that way because she was abandoned as a child. And what the fractal objects were doing was she was going to become extraordinarily lonely in season two, and the bunny was going to fuck up the ship and she was going to have to kill that bunny. That’s her thing she was going to have to overcome, that incredible loneliness.”

Eve — “In season two and season three, and leading into Mars, Eve was going to discover that the flashback she has of Mars, where Ted is yelling ‘go go go’, she’s going to realize that on top of his helmet there it says ‘Antares’ — so she was actually seeing the future. And she’s going to realize she has to go to Mars.”

Rollie — “Rollie was going to be in jail for his [driving incident] and have to be pulled out and take Eve [to Mars]. And they were going to go up in one of the resupply vessels to Mars.”

Goss — “Goss would not be the bad guy in the end. Goss would find out that he’s been being duped a little bit, and that it’s bigger than all of them.”

Beta and the other “fractal objects” — “I was never going to define what they were. I think that’s one of the themes about the whole show, is the theology of it. Is it God? Is it not God? Is it alien? What is the Universe? I do believe in a greater being, a greater thing, and this fractal thing is really an amazing thing. I was reading in The New Yorker how stock market swings follow Pi, the fractal equation. And that’s sort of a scary thing, that it just moves. You can plot the right dips and curves [of the market] that it does indeed move fractally, and that just blows me away. There’s just tons of stuff we don’t know.”

Other reveals:

  • They would eventually get all of the fractal objects during the course of the show.
  • Arnel, Trevor, Ajay and Claire would have been behind the “true” mission being revealed to the world, eventually. The three would be forced to work with Trevor in a sort-of underground initiative and ally with him when they see that he’s right in that something larger is being hidden. We would find out that Goss is hiding a larger agenda, and then there’s an even larger agenda that even Goss is unaware of.
  • The state of the world — the planet Earth itself — would have been revealed. “We didn’t have the budget to do it the first season — it was struggle enough just to get the ship up and running and do the shows with the quality that we had. We were going to reveal the world at large and, y’know, it’s kinda a fucked up place.”
  • On that note, I mentioned the scene where Wass says he “could sleep through World War IV,” and Parriott had no idea what I was talking about. He said he’d been through the shows “eight million times” and never remembered seeing that. When I told him the episode and scene (episode 11, Wass at the isolation chambers), he said it must have been another case of Dylan Taylor ad-libbing again, and he totally missed it.
  • “There was horrific stuff we didn’t show that happened on Mars. Sharon and Walker had actually lived a couple of weeks in the habitat on the planet. Half of season three would probably have taken place on Mars or in orbit around Mars, but we hadn’t worked out fully what exactly they were going to find on Mars. But we did talk in the writers’ room about possibly having the two still alive when they arrived.”

Well, there you have it. As for the remaining episodes not shown yet in the U.S., Parriott tells me not to expect them on network television, though you will see them appear on Hulu and/or iTunes. The full set of episodes should arrive on Blu-ray next January.

I really want to thank Mr. Parriott for taking the time to talking to me and revealing so much of what many fans were wondering about this show. If only we’d get that sort of resolution with every other killed series. See me again next spring when I try to pry the show bible from Parriott’s hands to find out the rest of the details yet to be revealed.

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