Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
A major untold story of the Trump era has been the political comeback of the CIA, NSA, and FBI, who thanks to an ingenious marketing campaign now enjoy widespread support among young liberals
On The Young Turks the other night, during a segment called — this is not a joke — “RebelHQ,” commentator Ben Carollo extolled the virtues of the CIA. In one section, he described how intelligence officials responded to “Donald Trump trying to plan some ridiculous scheme to maintain himself as president”:
It’s not a conspiracy theory to say that these government officials wanted to listen to congress and cared about Democratic norms and respected the constitutional structure of the way the United States is today.
When I first heard Carollo talking about the desire of intelligence officials to “listen to congress,” I thought he was being literal.
Maybe, I thought, he meant that time in 2014, when the CIA spied on the the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into its torture program, wiring up Senate computers and reading staffers’ emails. Or perhaps he meant that time in 2015, when the Obama administration was using the NSA to listen to Israeli critics of his Iran deal, and ended up with “inadvertent” access to phone calls back and forth with political opponents in the U.S. congress, on both sides of the aisle.
Or, maybe Carollo also meant that time when the CIA intercepted communications between the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community and congressional staff, about pending whistleblower complaints. As the ICIG put it in one of its declassified notifications, “CIA security compiled a report that includes excerpts of these whistleblower-related communications, and this report was eventually shared with CIA management.” This way, the CIA bosses could know ahead of time who was going to congress with complaints about abuses! Good times.
Alas, Carollo didn’t mean intelligence officials are listening to congress in that sense. His video essay entitled, “Fact-checking Glenn Greenwald’s stunt on Fox News,” was designed to refute the apparently ridiculous notion that “there’s some sort of secret deep state working behind the scenes.” A central part of his argument is that unlike agencies like Homeland Security, formed under the Republican administration of George W. Bush and designed to be “far more shielded from congressional oversight,” the CIA reports to congress and basically does what it’s told.
The agencies with the real power to color outside the lines, Carollo tells us, are DHS-sub-operations, “specifically ICE, and Customs and Border Control,” which “have far less congressional oversight and far less structure in place for there to be those checks and balances.” Because of that, Carollo says, “Donald Trump was more than capable of enacting an extremely racist border policy.”
Even the Pentagon and the defense intelligence agencies are less of a concern, he said, because “when it comes to something like the military, there’s a long history of deep congressional oversight,” and “many checks and balances that are put into place.”
Carollo looks like he’s about six, and I say that fully conceding jealousy over his full head of hair. It’s relevant only because he’s representative of a generation of young, left-leaning intellectuals who grew up in the Trump years believing the CIA, FBI, NSA, and other such agencies to be trusted, straight-and-narrow defenders of democratic “norms.” These credulous kids with piercings and chin-beards who think the secret services are on their side are the fruits of one of the great P.R. campaigns of our time.
Six or seven years ago, “Deep State” was a term you would only see in left-leaning media. Bill Moyers explored the theme on his site from time to time, and when The Nation asked Edward Snowden about it, he said, “There’s definitely a deep state. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
The “deep state” was on the liberal left’s front burner then because a spate of horrendously ugly revelations put it there. We learned via Snowden that the NSA was collecting the communications of people all around the world in secret (Carollo might want to mark down that congress wasn’t informed) in a program the U.S. Court of Appeals just last year declared illegal.
We found out top intelligence officials like CIA chief John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to congress, among other things about the warrantless surveillance program, and got away without perjury charges despite a furious outcry from legislators (another useful factoid for Carollo, on the oversight front). We learned about the CIA’s systematic use of torture techniques, ranging from anal feeding to threatening to rape and murder relatives to induced hypothermia, another fun set of pastimes the agency decided not to burden congress with knowledge of.
Worst of all, we learned Barack Obama and his staff held regular “Terror Tuesdays” meetings to decide who they would and would not kill by secret drone assassination, a program which many Americans were surprised to learn was run not by the military but by the CIA. Obama — who would eventually be quoted joking that it “turns out I’m really good at killing people” and “I didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine” — widened the secret “kill list” to include Americans.
When Trump arrived, it almost immediately became obvious his historical destiny was to be the best thing that ever happened to the secret services. In the same way hydroxychloroquine became snake oil the instant Trump said he was taking it, the “Deep State” became a myth the moment Trump and his minions started saying they believed in it.
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