The intervention of anonymous spies into domestic politics has led to accusations of a silent coup, courtesy of the so-called "deep state." It’s a charge that resonates with those who suspect hidden forces of being the true drivers of American policy. But while the term might have conspiratorial connotations, what it refers to is very real.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield. As we've heard, the intervention of anonymous spies into domestic politics has led to accusations of a sort of silent coup.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: We’re seeing a deep state revolt against Mike Flynn.
MALE CORRESPONDANT: Is the deep state trying to reach into the White House?
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The uncomfortable chasm between the deep state and the new administration has been exposed, and General Michael Flynn may be the appetizer in an unhappy meal that has several courses to go.
BOB GARFIELD: Beware the “deep state.” It's a charge that resonates with those who suspect some sinister “they” pulling the strings of a nominal democracy in which elected officials are merely impotent stooges. But who are “they”?
MICHAEL J. GLENNON: Well, I don't use the term “they” as referring to a deep state. I don't much like the term “deep state.” Deep state implies a conspiracy, and I don't believe there's been a conspiracy here.
BOB GARFIELD: Michael J. Glennon is Professor of International Law at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and author of National Security and Double Government.
MICHAEL J. GLENNON: The public believes that the president and the Congress and the courts effectively define and manage national security, but over the last 40 or 50 years that's less and less true, with the national security bureaucracy that was established, really first by President Truman, has come to dominate the management of and definition of national security in the United States. I call it a double government.
BOB GARFIELD: Not shadowy, not conspiratorial, not even secret but, nonetheless, a force to be reckoned with.
MICHAEL J. GLENNON: Yes, it's hidden in plain view. It's no secret that these organizations exist. I think the extent of their dominance is not widely realized. The extent to which the courts defer to them, the extent to which congressional oversight is largely a sham and even the extent to which presidents are largely presiders, rather than deciders, when it comes to national security policymaking. The national security bureaucracy has become more and more unaccountable and less and less subject to democratic control.
BOB GARFIELD: Give me some examples of where you believe that the double government has prevailed over elected leaders.
MICHAEL J. GLENNON: Well, you can look at almost every president. President Kennedy and his experience with the CIA in the Bay of Pigs is one example in which the security managers really prevailed upon the executive to carry out their recommendations and seriously misrepresented the consequences of their plan. Kennedy really complained that he had been lured into backing this invasion by the CIA managers of it. And Kennedy said afterwards that he wished that he could break the CIA up into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the wind.
BOB GARFIELD: Then there's the Obama administration. We have often seen it as kind of a paradox, that the transparency president was also such a secret intelligence hawk but not necessarily because it was his call?
MICHAEL J. GLENNON: You know, when Angela Merkel's phone was tapped, John Kerry, with some embarrassment, explained to the public that this was all really on automatic pilot. That's really double government at its finest. And then it turns out that lots of these programs, like drone strikes, are pretty much on automatic pilot. Obama told his staff in the situation room, the CIA gets what it wants. So yes, in a nominal sense, the president, of course, is responsible constitutionally, but he, in many cases, doesn't know what's going on, and the programs have developed a life of their own because the personnel who run the programs are, in many cases, very much the same from one administration to the next.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, so it’s not Turkey and presumably the military is not going to roll into Washington and suspend the Constitution, but it ain’t good. Tell me what the dangers are.
MICHAEL J. GLENNON: The danger is that people who are fearful of Trump embarking on draconian policies will turn to the national security bureaucracy as a check on Trump. As anyone knows who is familiar with recent American history, the intelligence and law enforcement and military departments and agencies of our country are the last ones that should be entrusted with the protection of American civil and political liberty. Look at the report of the Church Committee. Look at what happened in the 1960s and the 1970s, with the blackmailing of Martin Luther King and civil rights leaders by the FBI, Army spying on civilians, the NSA conducting mass surveillance and compiling a watch list, CIA engaged in domestic activities in the United States. These departments and agencies of the intelligence community have a long record of abuse of authority, and they have become a real threat to American civil and political freedom, if they are not checked by the rule of law.
If you steal up the CIA to make it a legitimate check on the elected president of the American people, where is the country going to turn once those intelligence forces are in the seat of power and an enlightened president comes along and tries to challenge that? We’ll have a very different form of government. I don't know what you’d call it but it certainly won't be a democracy.
BOB GARFIELD: How would you characterize the cackling glee [LAUGHS] with which Democrats’ voices on the left, even the press, has greeted these leaks from the intelligence apparatus?
MICHAEL J. GLENNON: Well, first of all, I can understand their joy at seeing these leaks occur. And, by my lights, the American people have a right to know whether the president and his staff colluded with intelligence operatives of a foreign power, namely Russia, to help that president get elected and the leaks, while President Trump is correct, they are, of course, illegal, so was the leak of the Pentagon Papers. Some leaks are justified.
That is a separate question, however, from the larger issue, whether it is appropriate for unelected, unaccountable intelligence law enforcement, military, bureaucrats to check the elected representatives of the people. To think for a minute that that is consistent with democratic accountability is mind- bogglingly myopic because it will lead to a kind of bureaucratic dictatorship. And I can understand, again, why some of them prefer that over President Trump, but they should be very careful what they wish for.
BOB GARFIELD: Michael, thank you very much.
MICHAEL J. GLENNON: Bob, thank you. It's been a privilege.
BOB GARFIELD: Michael J. Glennon is Professor of International Law at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.