Our intelligence apparatus is doing far more than stoking paranoia about the Russian bogeyman—it’s threatening democracy.
A couple of books come to mind amid the relentless leaks emanating from the spooks on either side of the Potomac and, not to be missed, their high approval ratings among our patriots of liberal persuasion.
One is The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, published two summers ago. This is David Talbot’s history of the infamous CIA director’s quite successful effort to turn Langley, Virginia, into a state within a state, perfectly capable of taking on the one whose leaders Americans elect. We now call this “the Deep State,” and Glenn Greenwald put the debate on this point to bed in 140 characters a few days ago: “To summarize journalistic orthodoxy: only fringe conspiracists think a Deep State exists, but all sane people know Kremlin controls US Govt.”
President Kennedy fired the Deep State’s godfather in 1961, after the Bay of Pigs calamity and Dulles’s never-acknowledged support for a failed coup against de Gaulle (believe it, the French president). Taking this to the ultimate, Talbot, who founded Salon 20-odd years ago, makes a persuasive case that Dulles retreated to Georgetown, gathered his loyalists, and probably architected JFK’s assassination two years later. Talbot’s book does not include this incident, but I have it from a former spook of great integrity, now noted for blowing whistles: A few years into Barack Obama’s presidency supporters asked at a fundraiser, “Where’s our progressive foreign policy, Mr. President?” Obama’s reply: “Do you want me to end up another JFK?”
The other book is I.F. Stone’s The Haunted Fifties, 1953–1963. The great Izzy’s commentary in I.F. Stone’s Weekly during those egregious years was among the few available sources of sanity in a nation of anti-Russian zombies. “To have kept his head in the hurricane of corrupted speech, ritualized patriotism, paranoid terror, and sudden conversions to acceptability,” Arthur Miller wrote in a foreword to the collection, “required something more than his wits and investigative talent and a gift for language.” It did—and does, so let us take a lesson. Stone endured, Miller observed, because he had faith that “a confident, tolerant America” would eventually come back to life.
I propose staying with this thought. But it is no good looking for help among the corrupted, the paranoid, and the suddenly converted.
One finds little confidence and less tolerance among Americans now. One finds instead, a president who has more bad ideas than you’ve had hot dinners—a man with an antidemocratic streak that appears to result from his failure to understand the principles of democratic government. There is only one thing worse than this president. I refer to the liberal reaction to his election. It had been bad but short of dangerous for some time after the night of last November 8. As of last week, I count it a disgrace: It is full of danger now.
I know it is a long time ago, but cast your mind back to those autumn days when mainstream Democrats considered “President Hillary Clinton” a shoo-in. There was going to be a big problem come November 8, they direly warned: All the Trumpets and Trumpettes will not accept the result. They will refuse Clinton her legitimacy. They will deny and resist and rampage. They will be in the streets. They will put our great republic’s political process, our very glory, at risk.
Striking it has been to watch liberals as they commit these very sins. One opinion-page inhabitant predicted “a perpetual fever swamp” after Clinton took the White House. Are we not sloshing through one now? Here is what these people utterly refuse to grasp, from what one can make out because it is too embarrassing: Donald Trump is a consequence. He is not the cause of anything.
To be clear: Given that the Supreme Court broke the democratic process decisively with its Citizens United decision seven years ago, the street is a perfectly logical place to be, in my view. But there is no point in being there unless one is for something and not merely contra. Having failed to think things through, the implicit argument among many of those taking it to the street these days is that things were copacetic before Trump came along and ruined them. Obama now goes down as the Mighty Quinn. The self-delusion is astonishing, and the historians will fix it, one hopes. But in the meantime, this error turns consequential: It lands us with the kind of problem that David Talbot suggests killed Kennedy in Dallas, if you care to entertain the thesis.
Read the histories. The Ivy League culture that still suffuses the CIA has from the first been far more liberal than conservative. The Democratic Party’s Clintonian era is perfectly exemplary on this point. As a smart friend said the other day, John Brennan, who served Bill Clinton and then Obama at the CIA and wanted to serve in an HRC administration, had a lot of trouble sorting out his role in Langley and his relations with the Democrats.
It is one thing to tar Donald Trump with a groundless campaign, Nixon-style, so as to insinuate without evidence that he entertains objectionable ties to Russia. That is mere politics. (And I like Reince Priebus’s term for this last Sunday on Fox News. Citing top officials in the IC, which stands for intelligence cabal, Priebus asserted, “They have made it very clear that the story is complete garbage.”)
It is another matter altogether when the descendants of Dulles (whom Priebus suggests are not united on this one) mount what looks awfully like a coup operation against the president of our republic. That is a strong phrase, but it belongs on the table far more than the “complete garbage” you can read in any day’s edition of The New York Times. There I will put it for now, awaiting a historically informed argument for taking it off.
Leaks have the wonderful advantage of requiring no substantiation. With Michael Flynn’s resignation as Trump’s national-security adviser, they have already claimed one prominent victim. Who or what is next? Priebus? Trump himself? Or maybe just crippling the Trump White House’s determination to forge a saner relationship with Moscow will do.
I have seen a few naked emperors in my day, but this one is positively obese (and wears a Speedo at the beach). This is a perception-management campaign quite similar to those mounted decades ago in Iran, Guatemala, and elsewhere. The media are thoroughly complicit, and the objective is perfectly plain but nowhere mentioned. We have an intelligence apparatus that has accreted autonomous power such that no president dares try to control it: This much lies beyond debate. Now we watch as it counters a president who proposes to scrub the single most important passage in the narrative of fear and animosity on which this apparatus depends.
You have two potential casualties here, readers. It is very dangerous to suffer either.
One, this looks like the most serious threat to (what remains of) American democracy since… since the Kennedy assassination, if you accept David Talbot’s case. It comes from the very people everyone from Pat Moynihan to Edward Snowden warned us about—those who abide in the culture of secrecy, the Deep State. Set aside all thought of “it can’t happen here.” At the very least you are watching the threat that it is going to happen.
You want to get Trump out of office? Good idea. Do the work. We all want to see your plan.
Two, if the spooks, the seething mainstream of the Democratic Party, and the neoconservative warmongers succeed in taking down Trump’s détente policy and who knows whom among its advocates, the already distorted role of intelligence agencies in the foreign-policy process will be further consolidated. More immediately, Americans will be condemned to live with Russophobic fear more or less indefinitely. I have only one question on this point, and maybe some (more) elderly fellow can answer it: Was the anti-Communist case that haunted the 1950s so impossibly flimsy as this? Hard to believe, given all the damage it did, but maybe we are about to learn something very awful.
Break Free From The Matrix
Get Our Free Daily Newsletter
Get access to exclusive news not available in the main stream Media
Another question, actually. How did it come to be that what we witness daily now is to be cheered? My own answer runs to an old confusion characteristic of Americans. Most of us are entirely taken up with means. This has been so for a long time. We say we have ideals, ends, but in truth these are museum curiosities now. Our only purpose is merely to sustain the present—which by definition is not an ideal. If it takes a CIA operation to get this done—in this case to kneecap Donald Trump—well, one is all for it.
“Bring on the special prosecutor” was the headline on an editorial in the Times a few days after Flynn resigned. All the banners of liberal outrage were aloft by then. At first Flynn’s sin was talking to Russian officials before Trump’s inauguration. When the idiocy of this position finally dawned, it was, as it is now, that Flynn had lied to Trump and Vice President Pence. Unless Flynn broke a law, and he did not by any untainted judgment, this is a matter strictly between Trump and Pence and Flynn, if I am not mistaken. It is the latest peg for the anti-Trump people to hang their hats on, but as grounds for a special prosecutor, it is ridiculous. The proposal is less for a special investigation than for a fishing expedition, and given how the non-evidence of a mail hack was conjured into the “highest confidence” of Russian meddling, it is impossible to say what “evidence” or “conclusions” would be drawn from it.
One cannot figure, in the case of the Times, what the object of the exercise might be. On the one hand, it is a brimming chalice of liberal anger, and so an expression of the Democratic Party’s elites. Recall, the Times confessed on page one last summer that it had abandoned all efforts to report about Trump objectively. On the other, it is full tilt these days finding Russians under every bed: Having subverted our democracy, they are subverting elections in France. They are subverting elections in Holland. They are subverting something or other in Kosovo, I cannot make out quite what. This is typical CIA stuff. Does the Times carry the agency’s ball, then?
Maybe both. Or, as earlier suggested, between the Democrats and Langley, maybe there is only one ball: It is the same for the two of them.
Long, long ago, Tom Wicker, the much-noted Times reporter and later columnist, called the CIA “a Frankenstein monster no one can fully control.” That was in the edition of April 27, 1966, when the Times published the third in a running series of influential exposés of the CIA’s limitlessly crazy doings. People were outraged, as I suppose it is necessary to explain. This was five years after Arthur Hays Sulzberger stepped down as publisher. Sulzberger served the CIA and had signed a secrecy agreement with the agency, so Wicker could not know of this connection, and it was not in his piece.
To conclude where I began, think for a moment about I.F. Stone during his haunted 1950s. While he was well-regarded by a lot of rank-and-file reporters, few would say so openly. He was PNG among people such as Sulzberger—an outcast. (Among my favorites of Stone’s many good lines: “It’s always fun reading the Washington Post because you never know where you’ll find a page one story.”) Now think of all the good Stone did. “I know that in the fifties,” Arthur Miller wrote in recollection, “to find his Weekly in the mail was to feel a breath of hope for mankind.”
Now think about now.
A few reporters and commentators advise us that the name of the game these days is to sink the single most constructive policy the Trump administration has announced. The rest is subterfuge, rubbish. This is prima facie the case, though you can read it nowhere in the Times or any of the other corporate media. A few have asserted that we may now be witnessing a coup operation against the Trump White House. This is a possibility, in my view. We cannot flick it off the table. With the utmost purpose, I post here one of these pieces. “A Win for the Deep State” came out just after Flynn was forced from office. It is by a writer named Justin Raimondo and appeared in a wholly out-of-bounds web publication called Antiwar.com. I know nothing about either, but it is a thought-provoking piece.
My point here is simple. You have studied the Enlightenment? Good: You know what I mean when I say we are headed into the Endarkenment. The lights upon us are dimming. We have been more or less abandoned by a press that proves incapable of informing us in anything approaching a disinterested fashion. As suggested, either the media are Clintonian liberals before they are newspapers and broadcasters, or they are servants of power before they serve us.
This is the media’s disgrace, but our problem. It imposes a couple of new burdens. We, readers and viewers, must discriminate among all that is put before us so as to make the best judgments we can and, not least, protect our minds. The other side of the coin, what we customarily call “alternative media,” assumes an important responsibility. They must get done, as best they can, what better-endowed media now shirk. To put this simply and briefly, they and we must learn that they are not “alternative” to anything. In the end there is no such thing as “alternative media,” as I often argue. There are only media, and most of ours have turned irretrievably bad.
And now they are doing much to land us in very grave trouble.
Patrick Lawrence is a longtime columnist, essayist, critic, and lecturer, whose most recent books are Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World and Time No Longer: America After the American Century. His website is patricklawrence.us.