In the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., and the serpentine bowels of the national security/intelligence complex, James Risen may be the most hated journalist in America. Risen’s latest book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, is a scathing indictment of the fearmongering and profiteering that keeps the War on Terror humming along a dozen years after 9/11. Risen describes his book as “a case study in how unintended consequences and the search for money and power have become the hallmarks of the war on terror.”
When fear is married to unlimited budgets and bipartisan political support, and grown-up oversight is chucked out the window in the name of homeland security and counterterrorism, bad decisions happen, fraud and waste happen, and sooner or later the line between right and wrong, moral and immoral, is blurred. Risen hammers home the point that the War on Terror has been a boon for the deregulated national security industry: “America’s richest discovered that the hottest way to make money was to get inside Washington’s national security apparatus.”
More than any other war in American history, Risen argues, the War on Terror has been waged along free-market principles. Staggering amounts of money are involved, and powerful, politically connected constituencies have a vested interest in keeping it flowing indefinitely. This means that new threats and new enemies must constantly be identified and new weapon systems developed and deployed. Financing an open-ended global war isn’t sustainable, even for one of the richest nations on the planet; domestic priorities like infrastructure projects, health care, education, and adaptations to climate change languish in the long shadow of national security.
The War on Terror and the emphasis on homeland security has altered the dynamics between the government and the press, between the government’s legitimate security interests and the people’s right to know what the government is doing in their name. Risen understands this only too well as the Obama administration has targeted him for prosecution for refusing to reveal his sources. This is the same administration that claims to be one of the most transparent in history. “Of all the abuses America has suffered at the hands of the government in its endless war on terror,” Risen writes, “possibly the worst has been the war on truth.”
In an age of fear and secrecy, a democratic society will deteriorate unless there are people brave enough to tell the truth regardless of the consequences.
James Risen is one of those people.