Ken Timmerman is author of a new book, “And the Rest Is History: Tales of Hostages, Arms Dealers, Dirty Tricks, and Spies.”
As a longtime investigative reporter and war correspondent, Timmerman has a unique take on the news media given his own journey from the political Left to the Right during his lifetime. We discuss his experiences in hostile places like the Middle East as well as newsrooms in America. He also offers his take on the current state of journalism.
Rob Bluey: You tell some incredible stories in this book, and I’m going to ask you about those in just a moment, but I’d first like you to begin by sharing more about your journey with our audience, from being a leftist to a born-again Christian, not something that we hear about all the time.
Ken Timmerman: That’s kind of why I wrote this book, because people have asked me for years how I went from this pot-smoking, philandering, anti-Israel, fellow traveler to a conservative born-again Christian Zionist.
And the story really begins in Lebanon. When I went as my first foray as a war correspondent in 1982 to cover that war, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, I went there thinking that the Palestinians were the victims and the Israelis were the oppressors.
And very quickly, within days, I was captured by the PLO, taken hostage by the Palestinians, and held in an underground cell for 24 days while we were getting bombed, literally day and night, sometimes three days straight.
And it was there, really, that I came back to my Christian faith, I understood the relationship that I had, the personal relationship with my savior, and he really kept me alive.
And I say this, too. People asked me how I got out of there because they thought I was an Israeli spy. That’s why they kidnapped me. They called me an Israeli spy. And I said, “It was literally by the grace of God.” There’s no explanation for it. It was complete accident.
All of a sudden at the end when we were being guarded by teenagers with Kalashnikovs—and I’ll tell you, there’s not much scarier than a teenage kid with a Kalashnikov in a war zone. All of a sudden, an adult came around asking if there were any French people in this dungeon.
And I flipped the coin in my head and said, “If they find the French guys who are here who they kidnapped because they were their enemies, actually placing land mines in the Palestinian positions, they’re going to kill us all. On the other hand, if they don’t understand who they are by now, maybe I’ll live, because here, if I stay on the ground, I’m going to die like a rat, either killed by these kids or in the rubble of the building.”
So I flipped a coin and got out. It was surely by the grace of God.
Bluey: What did that experience teach you, not only about being a war correspondent but in the years that followed, about the world in general and the dangers that you in that reporting role sometimes found yourself in?
Timmerman: First, on a very personal level … I understood how central God was to my life and as a moral grounding for all of us.
Sometimes you read novels or you watch some TV shows and you see there are things missing. In “Game of Thrones,” what is the thing that’s missing in “Game of Thrones”? Well, it’s the church, belief in God. There’s none of it there. And there’s an emptiness, there’s a hollowness in some of these stories. If God is not at the center of your life, I really think you’re living a hollow life.
As a war correspondent, it taught me a lot of things, but funny enough, it didn’t teach me to stay away from dangerous places, and so I’ve always been going back to dangerous places, and I tell some of those stories in the book.
I tell about being in Iraq, for example, on the front lines, on the border with Iran, and actually crossing into Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, across the desert with Iraqi troops, and how we got shelled and nearly got killed by Iranian artillery barrage. And other stories in Lebanon I tell about reporting, again, on the Palestinians.
So it didn’t keep me out of danger, but it did keep me alive and it gave me that knowledge that God had a plan for me.
Bluey: Do you feel that reporters these days have that same courage that you did in terms of going into places like this and telling the story that the American people or people across the globe really need to know? Because if it weren’t for the work that you were doing, we might otherwise not have that information.
Timmerman: There are two crops of war correspondents: the people who go out there really on the ground, and you’ve seen this one with some of the people at Newsmax and even Fox News, and then there’s the ones who stay in the hotels.
I remember in Beirut, I was so astonished once I was freed to go to the Alexander Hotel, which was on the Christian side, it was the safe side of Beirut then. And all of the TV correspondence from Washington or New York or Paris, wherever they were, they were all set up on a hotel, on the roof of the hotel, looking into West Beirut. They were not on the ground in West Beirut where they might have gotten bombed.
And I’ve seen that again and again and again in war zones all around the world. There are really very few people who go on the ground, and many of them lose their lives.
Bluey: Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who are in that situation, and we appreciate the work that they do. So you spend this time as a war correspondent, you come back, you actually work for a Democrat member of Congress, Tom Lantos. You then get a job at Time. Tell us about that experience of going to an organization, a storied institution like Time magazine.
Timmerman: First, let me just tell you briefly about Tom Lantos. This was right after Bill Clinton won the presidency, and Tom was now going to be in the majority with a subcommittee doing weapons of mass destruction, about which he knew nothing. So he hired me as the resident expert.
And very quickly, I found it odd how I thought I was still a Democrat at that point that I had just come back from Paris, and I found it odd. How was it all of my friends on the Hill were Republicans and not Democrats? There is something already playing in the back of my mind, if you wish.
So he fired me because I was going after U.S. exports to Communist China under Clinton, and that was a really, really big no-no. So I went to Time magazine as an investigative reporter, supposed to work on this new investigative unit they were setting up out of New York, and did, really, a lot of fun reporting.
Traveled around an awful lot. Did a cover story that took me from Paris to Istanbul to Vienna, all over Europe, really. And then I started working on China again. I got a tipoff from a U.S. customs guy in Columbus, Ohio, which is where the B-1 bomber plant was, Plant 85.
And they told me, he and the people in the trade union—the trade union were actually also very, very good sources. They told me that the Communist Chinese were coming in there after midnight looking at all this highly classified equipment and essentially making bids to McDonnell Douglas of pennies on the dollar.
And so I started to investigate that. I got the documents from customs and my editors at Time said, “This is a great story. Why don’t you go see if there are other plants like that?” So I found four of them that the Chinese were buying up with the blessing of the Clinton administration.
So we were helping Communist China in 1994 to build up their aerospace industry, especially their military aerospace industry. And again, with the blessing of the administration.
At the very last minute, the story was written, it was typeset, it was ready to go, and on a Friday afternoon, the editor calls me in, the bureau chief in D.C. calls me in, says, “Ken, you’re fired, and we’re pulling your story.” I said, “Well, what happened?” And he said, “Well, some people didn’t like the questions you were asking them.” I said, “Wait, I thought that was my job, to ask people in the administration questions that didn’t necessarily please them.” And he said, “No, no, not with our administration.”
And as I say in the book, that’s the day, if not before, but that is certainly the day that mainstream journalism died. When you become a surrogate for a sitting in administration, that’s the end of it. That’s when journalists have really given up on the job.
Bluey: And this, of course, happens in the 1990s, long before the term “fake news” gathered popularity among our culture. What’s going through your mind at this point when you face this situation where you’re doing what any journalist should be doing, as you said, asking those tough questions, pursuing the investigative report, and find yourself out of work? Where do you go next?
Timmerman: I was stunned. I could not believe that it was happening. … The Time magazine editors loved what I was doing and this just kind of came out of the blue. But I learned my lesson there.
Then I went to The American Spectator and started to do stories about Communist China for something like the next five years. Me, Bill Triplett, and a couple of others, and Bill Gertz—we were about the only reporters at that time on the China beat and warning about what the Clintons were doing.
And you just have to put on the news today and you can see the result of it. The only reason that Communist China today is a threat to us in the Taiwan Strait or in the South China Sea or anywhere is because of what Bill Clinton sold them in the 1990s.
Bluey: You were well ahead of your time in terms of identifying that. You must feel some vindication that, particularly during the Trump administration, the issue became front and center. The United States started to take a much stronger position and stance against China, recognizing that they weren’t a competitive ally, but actually an adversary.
Where do you see things going in the future with China? What questions do we need to be asking now as journalists? And what advice do you have for those of us who are in the media profession when it comes to covering China?
Timmerman: First of all, be scrupulously honest and don’t get shunted aside when you investigate the payoffs to the son of the president of the United States.
[Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] said recently that he wants to meet with [U.S. President Joe] Biden at the G-7 summit. Now, to tell the truth, that meeting was set up months ago. But the way Xi put it to the media and the way the U.S. media is reporting it, it sounds like President Xi is summoning Biden to a meeting so they can talk over issues of mutual interest.
I wonder whether Xi may be planning to remind Joe Biden of just how much money his family earned from Communist China.
Bluey: You’ve spent an incredible amount of time in the Middle East. You have so many stories to share. You’ve already done so with Lebanon. I want to move to Iraq for a moment. Tell us more about Saddam Hussein’s [weapons of mass destruction] programs, what information the American public still might not fully realize in the wake of some of the things that have happened in recent years as more information has come out.
Timmerman: Right. I get asked again and again, “Did Saddam have weapons of mass destruction?” And the answer is a resounding, “Yes, he did.” And the U.S. intelligence community knew it. It just wasn’t everything that Colin Powell talked about at the United Nations.
But I’ll give you just a couple of examples. In 2007, that is four years after the liberation of Iraq, four years after we went in, the new government of Iraq shipped 1,000 tons of uranium to Canada.
Now, this is uranium that, of course, the media wants us to believe they never had, that they never had weapons of mass destruction. But they had it there. They’d been keeping it. A thousand tons. That’s an enormous, enormous amount of uranium.
They also had chemical weapons plants that were still operating. They had stockpiles of these precursor chemicals used to make chemical weapons, and you keep them separate. They’re called binary weapons because they’re made of two chemicals that are relatively harmless when they’re separate. But when you combine them together, they make sarin gas, various forms of poison gas.
Well, we found those things. The Defense Intelligence Agency found those things in Iraq, and yet, the media never reported on it. It’s absolutely extraordinary.
I had the opportunity, and I tell this story in the book, of meeting the heads of Iraq’s WMD programs. I met the guy who was in charge of their uranium enrichment program. I met the guy who was in charge of their ballistic missile programs. And they spoke to me relatively effusively, not entirely openly.
But they revealed a lot of information in the late 1980s, because I was considered an expert on weapon systems and weapon program. I was a defense correspondent at the time, and nobody else paid attention. Nobody was listening, nobody was paying attention. And Saddam really took us by surprise in 1991.
The U.S. intelligence community thought, at that point, that Saddam Hussein had one nuclear weapons program and he was five years away. This is before the first Gulf War. Well, once the inspectors started to go in there, they found out that he had five nuclear weapons programs and he was about one year away.
So the amount of deception that went on was absolutely extraordinary, and I think we’re seeing exactly the same thing play out today with Iran, with Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and this absolutely outrageous stubbornness of this administration to go into a new Iran nuclear deal that everybody knows they’re going to cheat on.
Bluey: Do you feel that some of the recent headlines that have come out perhaps dissuade the administration from doing that? Or are they so determined to move forward under John Kerry’s direction and Joe Biden’s directive that this is inevitable?
Timmerman: It’s funny you asked that. I’ve got a piece at FrontPage Mag about this, and it is what I call geopolitical malpractice. They are determined, whatever the cost, to get into a new nuclear program with the mullahs’ Tehran because they believe the mullahs are their best friends, and they think that somebody like Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia is their worst enemy.
And yet, what they’re doing is driving the Saudis into the arms of the Chinese and the Russians, and the Iranians are going to keep on killing Americans and threatening Israel no matter what we do. And they just don’t seem to understand that.
Bluey: Let’s talk about journalism for a moment. What advice do you have for young people who want to enter the profession today? What tips, practices should they be employing as they look about doing their job to the best of their ability?
Timmerman: With the exception of programs like the Leadership Institute or the National Journalism Center in D.C., which is run by the Young America’s Foundation, I would say do not, do not go to a journalism school.
If you can’t write, you can probably learn how to put sentences together if you’ve got something to write about. And they’re not going to teach you how to write a story. They’re not going to teach you how to evaluate a source. They’re not going to teach you how to get to where you need to be on the ground to report something that’s important and that’s happening and it’s trying to be kept secret.
Second piece of advice is study something of substance, like history or economics or even law. I know people who actually stopped working as a journalist to go study law and then go back into journalism. So study something of substance. Don’t listen to the left-wing academics or wannabe journalists in the journalism schools.
Bluey: It certainly seems that there are so many more opportunities today, particularly with conservative media, than there were when I got my start, or certainly when you got yours. So what do you make of the current media landscape? Is it good to have so many choices? And how do people go about deciphering what sources of information they can trust, particularly in a crowded environment like we have today?
Timmerman: That’s a very difficult question to answer because what used to be called the mainstream media, we now call it either the legacy media, I call it the formerly mainstream media. You cannot trust them because they lie. They are fake news, as Donald Trump said. He was absolutely correct about that.
But who, then, is the moderator? Who are the authorities then that can help discern between truth and falsehood? And the problem is the legacy media and the kooks in the U.S. government would like them to be those arbiters of truth and instead they’re just feeding us lies.
So we as citizens have to do much more work today to find reliable sources. You have to read bylines. You have to know who is giving you the information. You have to know what their biases are.
I separate my writing into two overall categories, Rob, and you probably do, too. One is factual reporting and the other is opinion columns. When I write an opinion column, I let people know, “This is an opinion column.” It is my considered opinion, it is based on fact, but it is my opinion. If I tell you that Joe Biden is committing geopolitical malpractice, that is my personal opinion based on his track record.
But what you have now in The New York Times and The Washington Post and other places is opinion masquerading as fact, and that is extremely dangerous. You have articles being written to a narrative, which is really the death of journalism. They should start with the facts and follow them wherever they lead.
Bluey: That’s so true. And one of the things that we’ve done since we started The Daily Signal was make sure that we do label all of our content either news or commentaries so our readers can distinguish between the two. And I’m pleased to hear that you support that as well, Ken.
Ken, you’ve written so many books, but your last answer leads me to the next question because you also have another excellent book that you did previously, and we have just recently this year marked the 10-year anniversary of Benghazi.
Your other book is called “Dark Forces: The Truth About What Happened in Benghazi.” What is it that you continue to hear about today that Americans need to know about the situation on the ground there in Benghazi? And tell us about that book and how you helped answer some of those questions.
Timmerman: First, let me tell you in a couple of sentences the content. I found through debriefings of Iranian defectors, defectors from Iranian intelligence agencies that I’ve been working on for a number of years and on many different stories, I learned that there was an Iranian team on the ground in Benghazi.
They are the ones who formed, trained, paid, and organized that military group that actually attacked the U.S. consular facility and the CIA headquarters in Benghazi. Iranian mastermind of this was sitting in a building across the street watching the attack as it happened and reporting back.
I also was able to acquire, through one of these sources, banking documents showing payments flowing from Iran to an Iranian front company in London to front companies in Benghazi already a year before the attack. So we’re really at the peak of the Libyan revolution against [Muammar] Gaddafi.
We never go wrong in overestimating the reach of Iranian intelligence. They spend a huge amount of money on intelligence and covert action and violent covert action. They are everywhere. They’re in Venezuela, they’re on our southern border, they are in Europe, they’re in the United States.
Remember, the Iranians pledged and put a video up on the internet showing how they were going to assassinate President Trump at his golf club in West Palm Beach. And they are there. They are. This is not just a fantasy, this is a true report. It’s not opinion journalism. This is what they themselves were telling us about their intentions.
And the government has arrested a number of these cells, undercover Iranian cells, but so far, they have not found the people who they believe are trying to kill the former president or Mike Pompeo or other former government officials under the Trump administration.
Bluey: I’d be remiss if I didn’t also ask you about another book that you’ve written, a political thriller called “The Election Heist,” certainly timely and topical. It came out in 2020. Ken, it seems like these stories keep getting wilder and wilder. Tell our listeners about that work and what recent experiences have maybe come true that you put in this fiction work.
Timmerman: This book was released in August of 2020. I like to call it a fiction but not a fantasy. And really the spark of it was my own run as a congressional nominee, the Republican nominee in the 8th District of Maryland in 2012.
And we had noticed anomalies with the election machines. Afterward, we did an investigation. There were things that just weren’t correct, but we could not get the election board to seriously look into it.
So I began to do my own investigation and found that these machines could be hacked. There are hackers conventions where they boast of hacking them in under two minutes, breaking into an election electronic voting machine in less than two minutes and changing the result.
And I put all that together in a fictional narrative, hoping to get the attention of the people around Donald Trump, and I failed, and they did not take it seriously. And the result is what we saw on election night and for the weeks and months afterward.
Bluey: We can only hope, going forward, that so many more conservatives do pay close attention to this. This is one of our top priority issues at The Daily Signal. And Fred Lucas, a colleague of mine who shares the same publisher as you at Post Hill Press, has an outstanding book about the myths surrounding voter suppression and issues related to election integrity. So, Ken, thank you for calling attention to this and for continuing to put the spotlight on this very important issue.
Timmerman: Thanks very much, Rob. You can find “The Election Heist” and all my other books at kentimmerman.com, and you can also sign up for weekly emails. I don’t send you any more than that and I don’t sell my lists.
Bluey: That’s a great place to leave it. I was going to ask you how our listeners can follow your work. You contribute to a number of different places and you obviously have written a number of books here. Kentimmerman.com is the link. We’ll be sure to provide a link in our transcript for all the listeners of this podcast. But anything else? Any closing words you want to leave our audience with today?
Timmerman: Another big theme of this latest book, “And the Rest is History,” is the deep state. Now, we didn’t call it the deep state in the ’80s and the ’90s. We called it, perhaps, corrupt intelligence officials or hostage negotiators who were slipping ransom payments into their back pockets.
But I was investigating the deep state for decades, have been investigating for decades, and continued to do so. I believe this is Donald Trump’s biggest failure. Perhaps his only real failure as president was his failure to dismantle the deep state and keep them from running his government.
Bluey: Fair point. And hopefully something that a future Republican administration will take seriously and figure out a way to address. It’s a big effort on the part of The Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, putting in a plan and the personnel to really take on the administrative state and the deep state.
Timmerman: Thanks so much for having me, Rob. It’s a pleasure to be with you again.