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Interview With Writer Barry Eisler On Political Thriller, ‘Killer Collective,’ And More

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Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola welcome author Barry Eisler to the show. He spent three years in a covert position with the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, and he has written several best-selling espionage novels. His most recent book is The Killer Collective.

During the show, Eisler talks about developing the story for Killer Collective. He is an avid reader of independent news media and describes how news headlines and perspectives from these sources influence his work.

Eisler previously tweeted, “I could spend all day tweeting about Putin hysteria. It’s become that omnipresent. For many liberals, there are no other frameworks for understanding reality anymore. Putin the Puppet Master has eclipsed everything else.” He talks about this framework, as well as “information laundering,” which establishment news media outlets do constantly.

To listen to the interview, click on the above player or go here.

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Eisler shared, “I had a pretty conventional education, and I was patriotic in a fairly ordinary way in college and law school and spent three years, as you noted, in the CIA. I wouldn’t say that my worldview changed very much during the CIA.”

“A lot of people who know my politics now ask things like, oh, did something happen? Did you participate in one assassination or coup too many and you realized it was all bad? It’s nothing as nearly exotic as that,” Eisler added.

However, 12 years ago, Eisler started reading news and commentary from what was known as the “blogosphere.”

“I would say that’s probably what radicalized my politics by providing almost literally an answer or response to the establishment media of the day, which until then was where I was getting all my information,” Eisler said. “And not long before that, I [tried] my hand at writing novels and got published.

Eisler primarily writes political thrillers. Many of his plots are inspired by the actions of the United States government.

“If you’re writing political thrillers, you want to have the highest stakes possible, and since America is capable of doing much more damage to itself than anyone else—certainly any non-state adversary is capable of doing to us, if you want to show those stakes, you can find them easily in today’s headlines.”

For his most recent book, which has been loosely compared to “Avengers: Infinity War,” Eisler sought to combine several of his spy or assassin characters into one book.

“I have three series to date—my natural causes assassin, John Rain series, my Seattle sex crimes detective Livia Lone series, and my black ops soldier Ben Treven series.”

Eisler thought, as he does for all his books, what if?

“What if Livia, who was trafficked to America from Thailand as a teenager and so traumatized that she sublimates not just by putting rapists in prison but when she can by putting them in the ground—what if she came across something that was so big that the people she was uncovering tried to have her killed, like maybe a child pornography ring in say the Secret Service or something like that?”

He also wondered, “What if the people who wanted her killed wanted it done in a really low-profile manner so that they would reach out to the premier natural causes assassin of the world and that would be John Rain, who is living in Kamakura, Japan, and trying to retire? But Rain wouldn’t take the hit because he won’t kill women or children. What would Livia do then?”

From this thinking, Eisler uncovered a world of possibilities for a novel.

“All these characters have quite different worldviews, priorities, pasts, all of them have a lot of trust issues. So putting them together under extreme pressure to see if they could form, well, if not a team then at least a killer collective, was a lot of fun for me.”

“Because I am so interested in the politics of our day,” Eisler said, “it’s important to me to create realistic plots that reflect on things that are really going on in the world right now, and even to take it a step further by including in author notes at the end of each book all my sources so people can tell” what is fiction and what is fact.

Eisler pays quite a lot of attention to how the establishment news media works, and he is a fan of the term, “information laundering,” to capture how media organizations engage in stenography on behalf of the government. This kind of interplay between journalists and government officials has appeared in his books. A perfect example is when Vice President Dick Cheney (or his people) laundered false intelligence to the New York Times that Saddam Hussein was “acquiring dual use aluminum tubes in his weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

Commenting on President Donald Trump and the way Russiagate has become the framework by which most liberals confront politics, Eisler acknowledges the shock to large segments of America.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Eisler recalled. “And this is just my take on human nature, that in the face of some shocking event—an event that violates the laws of reality as we previously understood them—it’s natural for humans to reach for an external explanation.”

“If we lived in a more primitive time, and something that violated the laws of reality as we understand them happened, we would explain by reference to witchcraft or sorcery or astrology or something like that.But because we’re modern and sophisticated, we’d don’t believe in those things, but we do believe in Putin.”

While acknowledging the work of some journalists he respects, Eisler concluded, “I don’t see how anyone could reasonably claim that what we’re experiencing in American political discourse—specifically regarding Putin the mastermind, the all-powerful and omniscient—is a hysteria. It’s a modern hysteria. It’s a mania.”

“With regard to a nuclear-armed power, it’s extraordinarily to have an inaccurate framework for trying to manage a relationship and yet we do.”
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."