President Trump’s withdrawal of the nomination of U.S. Representative John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to be director of national intelligence on Friday is the latest of his acts of deference to an Intelligence Community that hindered his election and plays a key role in the ruling class’s subversion of his presidency.
The identical talking points of politicians and pundits who railed against the Ratcliffe selection spooked Trump, and reflect the increasingly important domestic political role that the CIA and the FBI (though not the National Security Agency, which is mostly military) play within America’s ruling class.
Presumably and inexplicably, the president will nominate yet another person to oversee that complex who will answer to itself and not to constitutional authority.
The echo chambers of the Democratic Party, the establishment Republicans, and the media alleged that Ratcliffe would have been Trump’s defender. But these are the very people who have been trying to to take Trump down. We do not know what was in Ratcliffe’s mind, or in Trump’s. We know that the issues involved are bigger than either man. The agencies and the ruling class of which they are part would oppose with equal vigor any outsider who might disrupt their prerogatives.
The following explains those prerogatives’ bases, and hence why challenging them should become a national priority.
More than other parts of the modern administrative state, (or the deep state, or whatever you prefer to call it) and by virtue of the secrecy in which they must operate, these agencies have been able more vigorously to assert the classic claim that their officials are entitled to special deference because they know more than ordinary Americans and their elected officials. But their claim to special expertise is largely counterfactual.
For all the wizards who have hidden behind the CIA’s and FBI’s curtains, this is old news. Nothing could be further from the truth than the assumption (prevalent even at Fox News) that 99 percent of their officers are competent patriots who keep us safe. No. In reality, they are standard-issue bureaucrats who count on the public’s credulity for their privileges. Given their proclivities, we should be grateful for their incompetence.
The CIA, from its very founding, has filled the chasm between the mountain of what it claims to know and the mole hill of what it does know, by pretending that its opinions are facts. Politicians, press, and public are supposed to take its statements, that typically start with “we believe . . . ” or “we have high confidence that . . . ” as if they were founded on reliable secret sources. In fact, the CIA’s human intelligence, based as it is on “official cover,” has always been as ignorant as it has been gullible. Modern encryption has much reduced traditional communications intelligence’s usefulness. But agency people parry inquiry into the basis of their opinions by jutting the chin and asserting that any clarification would put lives in danger.
Almost invariably, those of us who have had the power to push through this pretense have found it to be cover for politics, or for incompetence, or for garden-variety corruption. Or all of the above. Revelations in the course of the war on Trump about the networks of the agency’s friends of friends in cushy sinecures around the world are nothing new to congressional overseers who have kept track of these relationships.
The FBI used to be different. That began to change beginning in the late 1970s under William Webster. After 9/11, as the FBI took on more a more obvious political role under Robert Mueller, the differences between its culture and CIA’s narrowed considerably.
Concern for influence within and service to the ruling class became its leadership’s foremost concern, closely following the felt need to assert sufficiency in the face of circumstances that showed its insufficiency. Its inability to perform the anti-terrorist mission that had become primary—the failure to find out who bombed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, who mailed the 2001 anthrax letters, to notice the obvious warnings of the Boston Marathon bombing (to name but a few) led the bureau toward the same paths taken by the CIA of integration into the ruling class, of dishonesty, and whoring after political influence.
The Intelligence Community’s war on Trump is focusing national attention on the agencies’ incompetence and corruption. As the Justice Department’s investigations into the agencies’ interference in domestic politics unfold, the public should pay attention to how their conspiracies neglected basic competence, how they disregarded the need for even the mere appearance of truth—never mind truth itself—and how reliant they are on their own sense of entitlement.
Their coordination with the media was and remains impressive in its thoroughness and efficiency; as were the number of people feeding the same talking points to the media apparently independently and authoritatively. They planted stories, then used them as the bases for investigations, the very existence of which they used to foment yet more stories. But the transmutation of innocent events into causes celebres through mere addition of luridly presented pretend-detail are marks of low-grade agitprop. These people were playing with the political destiny of a great nation, and acted like the spoiled self indulgent little people they are.
These people, whose workaday products are of even lower quality, are the ones to whom we entrust—excluding the cost of military intelligence—some $50 billion, as well as the presumptive power of secrecy. These are the people who have claimed the right to decide with whom elected congressmen, senators, and presidents may discuss the nation’s secrets.
President Trump’s reticence and the delusions of Fox News notwithstanding, it is time for the American people to demand adult supervision for these sorcerers’ apprentices.
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Photo Credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call