A Dive off the Deep End

I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over this post, and deciding when would be the right time to take a crack at it, only really deciding last night that now’s as good a time as any to get it over with, especially in light of what I wrote about on Sunday, but we’ll get to that. Now, stop me if you’ve heard this one: a United States Senator appeared on Meet the Press, talking about the NSA and the dangerous surveillance powers it’s been given. He said this:

“If government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know…I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

The Senator was Frank Church of Idaho, and the year was 1975, but his warning is more relevant than ever four decades on. The NSA hasn’t gotten any better, between the revelation of their massive collection of personal information on millions of Americans, or Director James Clapper’s lying about it under oath in front of Congress. Now, Clapper did see fit to retire after that minor oversight…this past November, more than three years after the fact. So yes, we still have intelligence agencies maintaining and even expanding surveillance activities, and far from operating within the law and under supervision, they’ve proven a willingness to break laws in order to dodge proper supervision by Congress. Of course, there’s hardly any arrests when this sort of misconduct does come to light. I wish I could tell you guys for sure why this never happens, but the best I can come up with is threefold: one, members of the intelligence community will retreat behind their walls of secrecy, and so long as they refuse to hand over incriminating evidence or testify against each other, securing convictions would be difficult. Second, members of Congress don’t want to be seen as impeding national security by hampering our intelligence gatherers. And lastly, we as a society just don’t expect any better. These sorts of shady activities have been in the public consciousness at least since the Church Committee and its related Congressional investigations over forty years ago, there weren’t any high-profile arrests then, either, and we’ve just accepted lawbreaking CIA spooks as a fact of life. It all goes back to faith, as I keep saying; we don’t have any faith that they can be punished, so we don’t care if they’re not.

Of course, the longstanding history of the deep state (the umbrella term for the CIA, FBI, NSA, and other military and intelligence outfits that make important policy decisions and actions without democratic oversight and accountability – and yes, I know that experts of Turkish and Egyptian government take issue with this term being used in democracies, but I don’t care, the difference between those countries and ours isn’t capacity, but abuse) and its treating the Fourth Amendment as a trifling inconvenience does raise another question. If the infrastructure for an American police state already exists, but it hasn’t been turned on an Administration’s domestic opposition in a flagrant or systemic way in all of this time, then what’s got me worried now? One thing: the various agencies that comprise the American deep state seem to be getting highly invested in domestic politics lately.

It’s only been a couple weeks since Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign for reasons that, depending on who you talk to, range from treasonous collusion with the Russian government before the election to being the fall guy in a shadow war between Trump and the CIA. Whatever else is true, it’s undeniable that Flynn had a bad relationship with the intelligence agency, and that the furor that led to his resignation began with an anonymous leak of his conversations with the Russian ambassador. It’s also easy to see a more widespread enmity between Trump’s Administration and the CIA, with high-profile former officials having endorsed Hillary Clinton during the campaign, part of the general trend of national security-oriented conservatives being the most skeptical of Trump. Apparently, the only Never Trumpers that ever mattered were in the deep state the whole time. Now, this isn’t to say that the deep state is a partisan monolith out to destroy Donald Trump. We all remember James Comey’s famous letter to Congress that, again, depending on who you talk to, was decisive in tipping the election against her. With the revelation that Trump was under FBI investigation himself at the time the letter was penned, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that yes, this double standard in disclosure was a deliberate attempt to influence the election, whether on Comey’s preferences or to appease those beneath him who may have preferred Trump. Regardless, we’re seeing a pattern whereby deep state agencies are taking advantage of the intelligence they gather and investigations they conduct, and selectively disclosing parts of these to the public in order to get what they want.

So, FBI=Republican, CIA=Democratic, then? No, I don’t think so. It’s not a good description of the CIA, and it’s probably oversimplifying the FBI, too. As for why the CIA really backed Hillary, what’s worrying when you dig into those CIA endorsements of her that I linked earlier is their conspiracy-mongering about Donald Trump and Russia, with former Acting Director Michael Morell calling him “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation”. Now, I’ll have something in the future on what I think about Russia and its influence in other countries’ politics, but hearing open Russophobia from the CIA kind of confirms my longstanding suspicions that they’ve never left the Cold War. This is a problem for any number of reasons, but what’s concerning here is that, well, the CIA went to some pretty extreme measures to combat Moscow during the Cold War, and didn’t show much respect for democracy at all along the way. To have an organization with that kind of track record decide it should pick winners and losers in American politics as well to me is just as unsettling as the alt-right. The difference between the two is that the CIA also has a successful track record of destroying the democracies it touches.

And that brings me to the reason I thought this post should follow the one from Sunday: the press. Trump has always been a ratings gold mine for the media, and the pressure to come up with more content, more stories about his troubled Administration makes them ideal patsies for deep state agencies looking to damage their rivals. Like I said on Sunday, the press is deeply dependent on government sources for access and corroboration of stories. The intelligence community is one part of government that’s not only able and willing to provide such access, but just the mere mention of “anonymous sources within the intelligence community” adds an imprimatur of additional gravitas to whatever half-baked assertion is coming next. That makes the leaks coming out of the Trump Administration dangerous – we can’t know what’s real and what’s politically motivated nonsense ourselves, since the Administration has already plumbed new depths of surrealism, and journalists are too credulous and desperate to do it themselves, so it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s false anymore. In this kind of environment, where uncertainty reigns, the deep state has all the reach, power, and outside credibility it needs to rule from the shadows.

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