Larry C. Johnson
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|Larry C. Johnson|
Johnson testifying in Congress on July 22, 2005.
|Education||M.S. in Community Development; B.S. in Sociology|
|Occupation||international business consultant|
|Known for||terrorism expert; commentator on national security topics; former intelligence officer of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency|
|Title||CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC|
Larry C. Johnson is a former analyst at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who moved subsequently in 1989 to the U.S. Department of State, where he served four years as the deputy director for transportation security, antiterrorism assistance training, and special operations in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. He left government service in October 1993 and set up a consulting business. He currently is the co-owner and CEO of BERG Associates, LLC (Business Exposure Reduction Group) and is an expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, and crisis and risk management, and money laundering investigations. Johnson is the founder and main author of No Quarter, a weblog that addresses issues of terrorism and intelligence and politics. NoQuarterUSA was nominated as Best Political Blog of 2008. He has worked as a private consultant on issues of international terrorism and security for the U.S. Government and private companies. Johnson has appeared as a consultant and commentator in many major newspapers and news programs.
Larry Johnson moved to Washington, D.C. in 1979 to begin work on a Ph.D. at American University. Although he completed successfully all coursework and comprehensive exams, he did not write a dissertation. In 1978 and in 1983-85 he worked in Latin America on community development projects as a community organizer. Returning to the United States in 1985 he joined the Central Intelligence Agency, thanks in part to a letter of recommendation from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) that helped to "open doors" for him at the Agency. Johnson entered on duty at the CIA in September 1985 and was a classmate of Valerie Plame. Every member of that class was undercover. After a year in the Career Trainee program, which included a stint with the Afghan Task Force, Johnson was assigned as an analyst in the Middle America Caribbean Division in the Latin American Affairs Office of the Directorate of Intelligence. He received two Exceptional Performance awards and was promoted ultimately to Senior Regional Analyst for Central America.
Johnson remained undercover in the CIA until October 1989, when he resigned from the CIA and started a new job in the Office of Counter Terrorism at the Department of State. Johnson played an instrumental role in launching the Terrorism Rewards program international advertising campaign (working with Diplomatic Security officers Brad Smith and Michael Parks). Johnson also was involved in a variety of crisis management response operations, including the release of hostages from Lebanon and liaison with the Pan Am 103 families. He left government service in October 1993 and started his own business as a consultant.
After leaving government service, Johnson became a frequent guest on many major television news shows when a question of terrorism came up. He was first interviewed by CNN following the capture of Carlos the Jackal. Johnson subsequently appeared on CNN, ABC's Nightline, CBS, the BBC, MSNBC, the Jim Lehrer News Hour, NBC, and NPR. In December 1999, for example, Johnson was hired by NBC to serve as its terrorist expert for the Y2000 and was in Time Square with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric ("a lot of fun and the best way to see in the New Year"). Johnson also was hired in January 2002 as a Fox News Analyst and remained under contract until February 2003.
Since 1994 a significant focus of Johnson's consulting work has been with the U.S. military special operations forces in scripting and conducting military counter terrorism exercises. He traveled under orders from the U.S. military to Iraq in May 2006 to work on a short term project.
Johnson became a strong critic of the Bush administration in May 2003 for its conduct of the war in Iraq and, a few months later, for its role in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. He was also featured in the 2004 political documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. Since Robert Novak's controversial disclosure of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative in July 2003, Johnson has contributed to public discourse on intelligence matters, often sparking further controversy. He has been interviewed by both the mass media and the alternative media and published commentaries on a variety of issues, including the Plame affair, the controversy concerning Mary McCarthy, and the resignation of Porter Goss as Director of Central Intelligence.
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In 1996, Johnson noted that terrorism worldwide was on the decline. "Terrorist incidents [both internationally and in the US] have fallen to levels not seen since the 1970s. Whether measured by the number of incidents, the number of fatalities, or the number of groups, raw statistics demonstrate that the level of terrorist violence has declined since the mid-1980s. In fact, the evidence suggests terrorism was more widespread and deadly 10 years ago."
He also wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times suggesting that the newer and more deadly terrorist threat to the U.S. was embodied by "networks of terrorists, mostly foreign, working within its borders." Exemplifying this threat was Ramzi Yousef, one of the masterminds behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. In the article, Johnson suggests that enhanced cooperation between intelligence agencies, particularly the FBI and CIA, is mandatory to meet the growing threat of terror networks.
In 1998, Johnson argued that while overall terrorism was declining, the threat from bin Laden and al-Qaeda should be the focus of American counterterrorism policy:
The nature of the threat posed by Bin Ladin is highlighted by my final chart, number 7. Osama Bin Ladin and individuals associated with him have killed and wounded more Americans than any other group. This chart also illustrates that groups such as Hamas and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) prior to 1998 have killed more foreigners in the anti-US terrorist attacks. If we take into account the bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Osama's status as the most lethal terrorist is certain.
In addition, he told USA Today that bin Laden had participated in "virtually every major attack of terrorism against the United States" in the 1990s. Johnson underlined the threat posed by bin Laden, saying that he was possessed by "hatred and craziness." If left unanswered, "he would continue to terrorize Americans around the world. He has no compunction about killing women and children. He's a complete egalitarian in his murderous attitude."
In an interview with PBS's Frontline for its 1999 program, Hunting bin Laden, Johnson discussed Osama bin Laden. According to Johnson, Americans had "tended to make Osama bin Laden sort of a superman in Muslim garb." "Actually," he continues, "Osama bin Laden, in my view, represents more of a symptom of a problem, and the problem is this: the Saudi Arabian government, not just Osama bin Laden but many people in Saudi Arabia, have been sending money to radical Islamic groups for years." Johnson continued:
When you look at who's killed Americans in the last 10 years, the individuals he's supported and backed--I'm basing that upon the initial information that's been released in the indictments and conversations with others in the intelligence communities--Osama bin Laden has been the one killing Americans. No other terrorist group in the world has been out killing Americans except for Osama bin Laden.... Osama bin Laden remains out there as the one really targeting us. So, we recognize that he's the threat. He's serious about wanting to kill Americans, but as long as he's in Afghanistan, as long as he doesn't have access to a cell phone, as long as he can't just hop on a plane and travel wherever he wants without fear of being arrested, his ability to plan and conduct terrorist operations is extremely limited. We have to recognize [that] he would like to do a lot of damage. He would like to kill Americans, but wanting to is different from being able to, having the full capabilities in place.
In the interview, Johnson doubted the ability of members of bin Laden's organization to plan and put their lives on the line:
There's not another Ali or Mustafa out there at this point and Osama bin Laden in my view has not been a very effective organizer or leader. He talks a great game and puts out terrific threats as far as stirring the passions in the United States and maybe firing up the imaginations of some young Muslims throughout the world. But when push comes to shove, can he get a group of people who are together who will say: we are going to plan an operation, we're going to put our lives on the line, we're going to go out and try and kill people and we don't care what the consequence is? It hasn't happened.
[Is it] ... fair to say what you're saying is that the president of the United States, his national security advisor, his deputy national security advisor for counter-terrorism, are basically blowing smoke [about the danger posed by bin Laden] and his followers]?
They're grossly exaggerating the problem. They are hyping it. They shouldn't be talking about rising terrorism. Instead of saying "terrorism's rising," it's not. "Terrorism is spreading," it's not. "More people are dying from terrorism," not the case. But what they should be saying is, "There's one individual out there that really doesn't like us, and he's made it his mission in life to kill Americans, and we've gotta deal with him." But we need to have a voice of reason in that process instead of putting ourselves out crying wolf, because this is essentially what's taking place right now. They call it the administration that cries wolf.
Johnson co-authored an article in 2000 with Milt Bearden which focused on the threat posed by al-Qaeda specifically, rather than terrorism trends in general. Beardon and Johnson note that new information emerging about the bombings at Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 points to the threat posed by Imad Mughniyah and Osama Bin Laden will require "a coordinated policy that will employ a full range of covert, clandestine, diplomatic, and military operations," concluding:
The Clinton Administration has shot its bolt on the terrorist problem with small effect, and no last minute show of force will change the record. A new administration can start afresh with a more sharply defined set of terrorism goals – Mughniyeh and bin Laden and their protectors for starters – and bring the full, coordinated force of American diplomatic, military, and intelligence capabilities to bear on the problem.
After Johnson's testimony to the special forum at the U.S. Senate, Gary J. Schmitt, executive director and CEO of the Project for the New American Century, refers in the Daily Standard (blog) to an op-ed piece Johnson wrote two months prior to the 9/11 attacks, claiming that Johnson argued that the US had little to fear from terrorism.
In an editorial entitled "The Declining Terrorist Threat" published in the New York Times on 10 July 2001, Johnson says:
Judging from news reports and the portrayal of villains in our popular entertainment, Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal. They are likely to think that the United States is the most popular target of terrorists. And they almost certainly have the impression that extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism.... None of these beliefs are based in fact.... While terrorism is not vanquished, in a world where thousands of nuclear warheads are still aimed across the continents, terrorism is not the biggest security challenge confronting the United States, and it should not be portrayed that way.
Ten days after the 9/11 attacks, after quoting the above passage, Timothy Noah concludes a post in his "Chatterbox" feature at Slate: "Johnson's analysis, we now see, was bold, persuasive, and 100 percent wrong."
Johnson defended himself against such attacks:
The rightwing is resurrecting an op-ed I wrote in July 2001. I stand by the full article. It is still relevant today. I am accused, incorrectly, of ignoring the threat of terrorism. In fact, I correctly noted that the real threat emanated from Bin Laden and Islamic extremism. President Bush, for his part, ignored the CIA warning in August 2001 that Al Qaeda was posed to strike inside the United States.
After September 11, Johnson appeared several times on Fox News to address the question of military action against terrorism. On 14 November, he defended the FBI's proposal to interview 5,000 students in the U.S. suspected of having information relevant to the September 11 investigations:
I think they should talk to everyone that they feel they have a need to talk to. I mean, look, this is war. This is not a legal proceeding. This isn't the O.J. Simpson trial. The folks that attacked us -- they murdered Americans. And we've got to recognize that in wartime, we should do things differently.
2003 Iraq War activity
In January 2003, Johnson wrote an analysis of the relationship between the upcoming U.S. invasion of Iraq and the threat of transnational terrorism. According to Johnson, Bremer's response was to tell him that "it didn't matter what Saddam did or didn't do, we were going to war." The paper warned that an invasion would "do little to destroy the infrastructure of radical Islamic terrorism responsible for the 9-11 attacks." Noting that Saddam Hussein's regime has been a longtime supporter of regional terrorist organizations such as the PLO, Johnson examines contacts between Saddam Hussein and transnational terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda:
There is no doubt that Iraq is a state sponsor of terrorism—i.e., a country that provides financial support, safe haven, training, or weapons and explosives to groups or individuals that carry out terrorist attacks. . . . According to Central Intelligence Agency data, there is no credible evidence implicating Iraq in any mass casualty terrorist attacks since 1991. . . .
Johnson notes that the period immediately leading up to 2003 saw a rise of activity surrounding terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, suggesting that "Iraq is willing to help a movement that it would otherwise oppose on ideological grounds. Nonetheless," Johnson concludes, "it is important to understand that Iraqi entreaties to Al Qaeda, are most likely intended as a tactic to bolster Iraq’s ability to fight off a U.S. invasion rather than a deep-seated theological and ideological commitment to the terrorist agenda of Bin Laden.
In that analysis Johnson also warns that the U.S.-led invasion was likely to backfire:
In fact there is a serious risk that a U.S. led war against Iraq may crystallize the diffused anger in the Arab and Muslim world — a heretofore unattained goal of bin Laden and his followers — and persuade more Muslim youths to take up the terrorist banner against America and her citizens.... If we decide to invade Iraq we must be prepared for the contingency that our attack will inspire young Muslims to pursue jihad against the West in general and the United States in particular. Just as the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan rallied many Muslims, especially young adults to the cause of jihad, a U.S. attack may enable Islamic extremists to attract new followers.
Johnson also gave interviews on the topic of what to do with captured al-Qaeda leaders; while he did not condone torture, he suggested that a "sleep deprivation and reward system" might be useful for getting information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:
I don't see a constitutional right to have eight hours of sleep. You shouldn't subject someone to freezing but they don't get to wear mink coats, either.
In May 2003, Johnson joined members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in condemning the manipulation of intelligence for political purposes:
It is a misuse and abuse of intelligence. The president was being misled. He was ill served by the folks who are supposed to protect him on this. Whether this was witting or unwitting, I don't know, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
After Robert Novak wrote a column identifying the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson as a CIA officer, the media invited Johnson to comment on the ensuing scandal because he had been a member of the same Career Trainee class with Valerie Plame Wilson. For example, in October 2003, he appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the Plame affair. He told interviewer Amy Goodman that Valerie Wilson's cover should have been respected whether she was an "analyst" or a "cleaning lady": "if she's undercover she's undercover, period. If the media allows themselves to get distracted with those kinds of curve balls, they ignore the issue."
He told a Senate Democratic Policy Committee in October 2003, "My classmates and I have been betrayed. Together, we have kept the secrets of each other's identities a secret for 18 years. Each and every one of us have kept that secret, whether we were in the CIA, in other government service or in the private sector. But this issue is not just about a blown cover. It is about the destruction of the very essence, the core of human intelligence collection activities: plausible deniability, apparently, for partisan domestic political reasons."
Johnson testified at a special joint hearing of Congressional and Senate Democrats on 22 July 2005 about the consequences arising from the Plame affair.
2008: "Whitey" tape hoax
In 2008, Johnson emerged as a strong critic of Barack Obama. His blog, NoQuarterUSA, often criticized Obama's qualifications to be president. On May 16, 2008, Johnson posted an item entitled, "Will Barack Throw Mama From the Train?" which alleged that a tape existed of Michelle Obama "railing against 'whitey' at Jeremiah Wright's church." Johnson claimed that Republicans were in possession of the tape and it "is being held for the fall to drop at the appropriate time." In a subsequent post, Johnson claimed that Obama's appearance had occurred when she was on a panel with Louis Farrakhan. He also explained that he himself had not seen the tape, but had spoken with "five separate sources who have spoken directly with people who have seen the tape." The Obama campaign's "Fight the Smears" website denied the rumor, saying, "No such tape exists. Michelle Obama has not spoken from the pulpit at Trinity and has not used that word."
No tape was ever released, nor has any other evidence emerged of Obama using the word "whitey". On October 21, 2008, Johnson said that, according to one of his sources, the McCain campaign "intervened and requested the tape not be used."
2013 war crime accusation against John Kerry
In 2013, Johnson falsely accused John Kerry of war crimes in Vietnam, alleging that Kerry had "raped some poor Vietnamese woman." To support his claim, Johnson used a YouTube video that contained audio clips from a 1971 debate on The Dick Cavett Show between John Kerry and John O'Neill. The original interview audio was altered to piece together words that Kerry spoke at different times during the debate, falsely making it sound as if he said, "I personally raped for pleasure." When the falsehood was exposed by a reader of Johnson's blog, Johnson deleted the article without apology.
Founding member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Johnson is a founding member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. In September 2015, Johnson and 27 other members of VIPS steering group wrote a letter to the President challenging a recently published book, that claimed to rebut the report of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee on the Central Intelligence Agency's use of torture.
- Larry C. Johnson, "About Me," No Quarter (personal blog).
- "Former CIA Official Larry Johnson Delivers Democratic Radio Address," transcript posted on official Democratic National Committee's website for The Democratic Party, July 23, 2005, accessed November 21, 2006.
- "Ex-CIA official Blasts Bush on Leak of Operative's Name: Democrats' Radio Address Focuses on White House Aides' Role," CNN July 23, 2005, accessed November 21, 2006.
- Gail Russell Chaddock, "Why Terrorists Pick On the French," Christian Science Monitor (5 December 1996) p. 1.
- Larry Johnson, "Terrorists Among Us," New York Times (20 August 1996) p. A19.
- Terrorism Today
- Lee Michael Katz, "The Hunt for Bin Laden," USA Today (21 August 1998) p. 1A.
- See Transcript of original interview with Larry C. Johnson, as broadcast on Frontline in 1999. Cf. "Interview: Larry C. Johnson," for Hunting bin Laden, transcript of interview broadcast on Frontline subsequently on 13 April 2001. See also dedicated PBS webpages for media links: Iraq and the War on Terror, Frontline PBS, online featured programs, accessed 19 November 2006.
- frontline: hunting bin laden: interviews: larry c. johnson | PBS
- As posted in .
- Gary Schmitt, "Meet Larry Johnson: The CIA official Turned Democratic Spokesman Has a Pre-9/11 Mindset", Daily Standard (blog), July 25, 2005, accessed November 20, 2006.
- *Larry C. Johnson, "The Declining Terrorist Threat" The New York Times 10 July 2001: A19.
- Timothy Noah, "(Not Exactly a) Whopper of the Week: Larry C. Johnson," Chatterbox: Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics (blog), hosted by Slate September 21, 2001, accessed November 20, 2006. Note the full context of this quotation:
It is, to be sure, a little bit cheap (and slightly at odds with the usual parameters of this feature) to criticize someone for making an erroneous prediction, particularly after a tragedy. Chatterbox is especially reluctant to tag Johnson because Johnson's op-ed was argued forcefully, backed up meticulously with factual data, and bravely at odds with conventional wisdom at the time of its publication. Add in that Johnson now makes his living as a consultant to corporations about terrorism, and therefore had everything to gain by exaggerating the dangers terrorism poses, and the guy practically looks like a hero. Chatterbox, who two decades ago was an editor for the New York Times op-ed page, would have published Johnson's piece had he still been an editor there this past July. In his capacity at Slate, Chatterbox might well have written up Johnson's prediction, and perhaps even endorsed it.
But boy, is he glad he didn't! Johnson's analysis, we now see, was bold, persuasive, and 100 percent wrong. Sadly, a mistake this embarrassing cannot be ignored. As a fellow skeptic, Chatterbox in all sincerity wishes Johnson better luck next time.
- Larry C. Johnson, "Johnson vs. President Bush," re-posted and updated by SusanHu at DailyKos (blog) July 25, 2005.
- Fox News Interview with John Garrett (14 November 2001) Transcript #111405cb.260.
- Larry C. Johnson, "Setting the Record Straight on Iraqi Terrorism," posted in Booman Tribune: A Progressive Community (personal blog) 27 January 2003. accessed 19 November 2006.
- Qtd. in Toby Harnden, "CIA 'pressure' on al-Qa'eda chief," The Daily Telegraph 5 March 2003: 16.
- Qtd. in Nicolas D. Kristof, "Save Our Spooks", The New York Times 30 May 2003:A6.
- Democracy Now! (3 October 2003)
- U.S. Senate, Democratic Policy Committee Meeting on the CIA Operative Leak, (24 October 2003).
- Letter to the Senate.[Needs full source citation; see "References" section.]
- "Will Barack Throw Mama From the Train?"
- "John Kerry, Rapist and Liar", No Quarter
- Video containing doctored audio
- Transcript of 1971 debate between John O'Neill and John Kerry on The Dick Cavett Show
- Video of 1971 debate between John O'Neill and John Kerry on The Dick Cavett Show (part 1 of 6)
- "John Kerry, Rapist and Liar", No Quarter, now removed
- Andy Worthington (2015-09-15). "28 Veterans of US Intelligence Fight Back Against CIA Claims That the Bush Torture Program Was Useful and Necessary". Archived from the original on 2015-09-28.
- Bearden, Milt, and Larry Johnson. "A Glimpse at the Alliances of Terror." The New York Times 7 November 2000: 29.
- Iraq and the War on Terror. Frontline PBS. Online featured programs. Accessed 19 November 2006.
- Johnson, Larry C.. "The Declining Terrorist Threat." The New York Times 10 July 2001:A19.
- –––. "The Myth of Terrorism, Part Deux." No Quarter (personal blog) 2 July 2006, accessed 19 November 2006.
- –––. "Setting the Record Straight on Iraqi Terrorism," posted in Booman Tribune: A Progressive Community (personal blog) 27 January 2003. Accessed 19 November 2006.
- –––. "Stories by Larry C. Johnson." AlterNet. (Indexed archive with hyperlinks.) Accessed 20 November 2006.
- Olbermann, Keith. "'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for April 25: Read the transcript to the Tuesday show." Guests: Larry Johnson, Greg Mitchell, Rick Klein, Jerry Della Femina, Paul Mooney. Countdown with Keith Olbermann MSNBC 25 April 2006. Transcript posted on MSNBC on 26 April 2006. Accessed 19 November 2006.
- Schmitt, Gary. "Meet Larry Johnson: The CIA official Turned Democratic Spokesman Has a Pre-9/11 Mindset." Daily Standard (blog) 25 July 2005. Accessed November 20, 2006.
- York, Byron. "NR/Digital: The Media: Mr. Counterterrorism Guru: He Says He’s Not, But Others Say He Is." National Review Online 5 June 2006. Accessed 19 November 2006.