On September 15, I participated in a panel on "Exposing the Deep State," hosted by Judicial Watch. Former Trump White House official Sebastian Gorka, the Washington Examiner's Todd Shepherd, JW's James Peterson, and I all delivered approximately 7-minute statements after which JW's lead investigator, Chris Farrell, moderated a discussion. My written statement is here.
Not sure how much "Deep State" we were able to expose in one hour, although one thing that opened up was a bright shaft of daylight between my own and Sebastian Gorka's approaches to the whole concept. To wit, Sebastian began his discussion seemingly negating the effort, "Exposing the Deep State," by warning against "belief" in "conspiracy theories," which "undermines clear-sighted analysis" -- something he might like to pass along, for example, to those who prosecute organized crime on RICO conspiracy charges.
Here's how he began:
Let me start with a caveat, if I may.
I love conspiracy theories, but I love them as entertainment.
I have a bookshelf of conspiracy theories at home. But there's a very important part to that phrase, and it's the second word, which is "theories." They're not facts. So, conspiracy theories and the belief in them, undermines clear-sighted analysis. So I'm not here to talk about the outre accusations that have been made against those who are not in favor of the current administration. I want to talk about what actually happened so far ... the first seven months of how the bureacracy responded to the administration of Donald J. Trump.
Let me start by saying I actually prefer the phrase "permanent state" to "deep state." Because it's not necessarily a function of something that's hidden or deep. It was in our faces. It was arrogant. It was right there in the suraface of out policy discussion at the highest level of the White House. So it's not hidden, it can be. But in many cases it's overt. And it's been there for a long time ... this has been brewing for decades, truly decades.
His markers of this "permanent state" included:
(1) national security leaks -- by his count, 125 in the first 126 days
(2) bureaucratic infighting to a point of intransigence. He used the example of his own experience with "unnamed sister agency" of the White House (sic) that refused his request "as a Deputy Assistant to the President, that [three] people be detailed over to me at the White House to work on key projects of import to Steve [Bannon] and the President ... because the seventh floor of that agency, to quote a senior individual, looks at the White House as the enemy."
Why would that be? Sebastian went on to talk about a lack of discipline when it comes to federal employees working for the new CEO/POTUS in town. He talked about NSA officials and others who ignore the president's agenda and speeches, again identifying the main problems as something akin to insubordination, as well as the safety net of federal job security. His concluding words: "Today, we have a very large number of people in the US Government, not just SES but GS individuals, who think, `I've been here for 15 years, I'll be here when the president leaves, I know better.' That's not democracy, and that's not the American Way."
My talk, linked here, proceeded quite differently, and not only because Chris Farrell cued it up by invoking my lengthy explication of mid-century Communist-"occupied" Washington in American Betrayal.
Nevertheless, I, too, wrestle with the term, "Deep State." Having described what I think of when I hear it as "unconstitutional powers exercised by strange illegitimate branchlets of the government that are in no way restrained by the `balance of powers,' " I went on to note ideological links between the "Deep State" (also American culture more generally), and communist/Marxist objectives for America laid out over 80 years ago in Toward Soviet America, a 1932 tract by Communist Party USA Chairman William Z. Foster.
The core of Candidate Trump's "America First" program -- a program Americans were never, ever supposed to have an opportunity to vote on again -- posed an existential threat to this communistic agenda. That's why, I submit, the "Deep State," surely including out-of-control intelligence agencies, became desperate to defeat Trump, and thus exposed itself in ways we are still trying to assess and understand. Candidate Trump was that dangerous to the Deep State's very existence. "Russian influence" hysteria, then, seems to me to have been created as a giant act of dirtying deflection, a survival mechanism for various levels of the "Deep State."
Admittedly, this is a lot to try to get across in seven minutes, and, to be sure, it's a work in progress. It is clear, however, that Sebastian and I are thinking along divergent lines.
This became even more clear in the Q & A.
During a discussion of the overwhelming Democratic loyalty of the federal workforce, which we can almost quantify in Election Day tallies for Hillary Clinton in Washington and environs approaching Saddam-Hussein-levels, I raised what is to me the most perplexing question of the Trump presidency: why President Trump did not hire more pro-Trump personnel to begin with. After I quoted the bombshell from Steve Bannon's "60 MInutes" interview -- within 48 hours of Election Day, Team Trump had decided to "embrace the establishment" (surely, as Bannon posited, "the original sin of the Trump administration") -- Sebastian replied.
In big issues, there is never a [single] answer. So whatever Steve said, and I worked for Steve, that's not "the" answer to all of these things. It's a combination of issues.
My personal experience is, I was on the transition team, so before the election I was brought in to work in a federal building with people who were expected to shape the potential administration's transition. And I met some great people. I mean, I worked in a building -- I was on the NSC transition team, but we had everything in the building, DHS, State, CIA, and then, as the last week before the Inauguration approaches, and there're expectations that if I'm the DHS transition team then I'm going to go to the DHS or what have you; and I start filling out my paperwork to go into the White House; and I asked people, so I'll see you in there, right? And I kept meeting people who'd been stalwart supporters of this transition, who'd worked outrageous hours, for free often, as volunteers, as experts, and say, "Oh, no, no, I'm not coming in." And, why not? "Because I now know what it costs to go in."
After my eight months in the administration, after having not only myself attacked -- that's fine, I mean, that's what I expect -- but having my dead mother, my wife, my teenaged son attacked by the media, you have to be insane to go into government or a Crusader.
So, so, Number One, it's not -- you don't flick a switch and then hordes of people volunteer to come in, okay?
ME: I know hordes of people.
Sebastian: You may know hordes of people, but just because they were, you know, putting in yard signs in Arlington doesn't necessarily mean they can run an intelligence community ...
ME: No, I know people who can do that, yes, who were shut out.
Sebastian: Another thing is, another thing is, we have to understand what happened on November 8th [pauses]. On November the 8th -- It's like the movie Red Dawn. A scrappy band, bunch of insurgents won a campaign. The rank outsider, who wasn't taken seriously by anybody, wiped the floor with 16 members of "the" establishment and beat a woman who'd spent 700 milllion dollars for a position she thought was owed to her. So we didn't come in with the schlepp of the GOP, this wan't Bush Mark 3 coming in. It was me, Steve, and 20 other guys and gals who came in.
I know a lot of people who should have [been] brought in and who weren't but the fact is you have to bring them through a policy personnel process, and who often runs those? (Looks at Chris.)
CHRIS: The Leftists?
So the Establishment's running a wicket for your own personnel. Let me tell you something, I'll give an inside baseball, and I hope the good guys are listening, ok [pauses]? If you ever want to take control of the US government, as a good guy, the secret is very simple. make sure your people, are the sherpas.
Ok, the Sherpa is the technical term for the individual in transtion who guides the incoming cabinet member into their new agency. I watched sherpas who had nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with the presidential campaign, nothing to do with his paltform and who were in some cases Never-Trumpers, guide this incoming cabinet member into their position and then roll in to be their chief of staff, and basically become the secretary. So, guys (addressing camera), next generation of good guys out there? Make sure your sherpas are in place after the election.
With nary a pause, Sebastian had ended up 180 degress from where he started.
Our final exchange was maybe more surprising still. I was wrapping up some elliptical but related thoughts on the "Uniparty" and what appears to be its very own security apparatus, the FBI, which, the story goes, seems to have paid a British expert for "opposition research" on Candidate Trump during the presidential campaign -- which is sputteringly beyond outrageous. Regarding this (and new examples every day of intelligence agency surveillance and harassment of American citizens, most of which would not have come to light had Hillary Clinton won the presidency as expected), I concluded with my hunch that the Russian influence story was an act of deflection "from all of the terrible things a Trump administration might have found in the Stasi-like security state we are now living under."
When Sebastian received a final question from Chris several minutes later, he prefaced his answer with this reply to me:
First things first. I need to push back on what my friend Diana said. You cannot use the adjective "Stasi" for America today, ok? So, as, as the child of people who suffered under Communism, with a father who was tortured, people aren't getting shot and put in unmarked graves in America, so let's pause for a second and let's take a deep breath, let's map the problems with our political system but remember it's still America, and this isn't, you know, the Soviet Union, and this isn't East Germany.
Regardless of why my using the adjective "Stasi-like" to describe the American surveillance state was what we might call a "trigger" for Sebastian, the suffering of Sebastian's family in Communist Hungary (not East Germany, where Stasi operated) has nothing whatsoever to do with the legitimacy of the comparison, which is hardly original to me. Veteran expert commentators, from NSA whistleblower William Binney to former CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, quite rationally invoke "Stasi" as a historical model for the far more massive and Fourth-Amendment-destroying surveillance capabilities of the modern-day NSA. From Donald Trump and members of his team, to as many 20 million Americans, according to a law suit filed by former intelligence contractor Dennis Montgomery, have been identified and monitored and exposed unlawfully by the US government.
If that isn't "Stasi-like," what is?
It is America's tragedy today that we must study, not avoid, totalitarian models to better understand what is happening to us in these post-Constitutional days.