Mike Lofgren, a congressional staff member for 28 years, joins Bill Moyers to talk about what he calls Washington’s “Deep State,” in which elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests. “It is how we had deregulation, financialization of the economy, the Wall Street bust, the erosion or our civil liberties and perpetual war,” Lofgren tells Moyers.
this week on Moyers & Company longtime insider Mike Lofgren what he calls the big story of our times the deep state it is I would save the red thread that runs through the history of the last three decades it’s how we had deregulation financialization of the economy The Wall Street bust the erosion of our civil liberties and perpetual war funding is provided by and gumowitz encouraging the renewal of democracy Carnegie Corporation of New York celebrating 100 years of philanthropy and committed to doing real and permanent good in the world the Ford Foundation working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide the Herb Alpert foundation supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation committed to building a more just verdant and peaceful world more information at macfound.org Park foundation dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues the Kohlberg foundation barbra jean– Fleischman and by our sole corporate sponsor mutual of America designing customized individual and group retirement products that’s why we’re your retirement company welcome if you’ve read the Espionage novels of john lecarre a you know that no other writer today has so brilliantly evoked the subterranean workings of government perhaps because he himself was once a British spy liquor a has a name for that invisible labyrinth of power he calls it the deep state and now an American you’re about to meet in this broadcast has seized on that concept to describe the forces he says are controlling our government no matter the party in power but Mike Lofgren ZnO intelligence agent although he had a top-secret security clearance he’s a numbers man a congressional staff member for 28 years with the powerful House and Senate budget committees over the years as he crunched those numbers he realized they didn’t add up in said they led him to America’s own deep state where elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests Mike Lofgren was so disgusted he not only left Capitol Hill he left the Republican Party and wrote this book the party is over how Republicans went crazy Democrats became useless and the middle class got shafted now at our request and exclusively for billmoyers.com he is written anatomy of the deep state you’ll want to read it as soon as we finish this conversation Mike Lofgren welcome good to be here again but this is a difficult subject to talk about it would be easier if it were a conspiracy you’re describing but that’s not the case is it no I’m not a conspiracy theorist of this is not some cabal that was hatched in the dark of night this is something that hides in plain sight it’s something we know about but we can’t connect the dots or most people don’t connect the dots it’s kind of a natural evolution when so much money and political control is at stake in the most powerful country in the world this has evolved over time and you call it the real power in the country correct it is a hybrid of corporate America and the national security state everyone knows what the military-industrial complex is since Eisenhower talked about it in his farewell address we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence whether sought or unsought by the military-industrial complex the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist we must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes everyone knows Wall Street and its depredations everyone knows how corporate America acts they’re both about the same thing they’re both about money sucking as much money out of the country as they can and they’re about control corporate control and political control you said this in your judgment is the big story of our time it is the big story of our time it is I would say the red thread that runs through the history of the last three decades it’s how we had deregulation financialization of the economy the Wall Street bust the erosion of our civil liberties and perpetual war you write that the secret and unaccountable deep state floats freely above the gridlock between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is the paradox of American government in the 21st century well that’s just the thing the common narrative in the last five years and on a superficial level it’s right is that government is broken it’s dysfunctional its gridlocked well that’s true and that is the visible government the constitutional government we learn about in civics 101 and it is gridlocked but somehow Obama can go into Libya he can assassinate US citizens he can collect all our phone records without a by-your-leave from anyone um he can even bring down a jet carrying a president of a sovereign country without asking anyone’s permission and no one seems to connect the two the failure of our visible constitutional state and this other government that operates according to no constitutional rules or any constraint by the governed you go on to say though that it’s not just the executive branch that is the heart of this that is just one of the several constituencies that make up what you called the deep state well it’s all the national security functions of the government it’s the Pentagon its homeland security it’s the State Department it’s also Treasury because they have a kind of symbiotic relationship with Wall Street but one thing they control the flow of money absolutely and that’s why there’s such a flow not only of money but of personnel between Wall Street and the Treasury Department there’s other aspects of government there’s a portion of the judiciary a small portion of the judiciary the so called Foreign Intelligence Surveillance courts most of Congress doesn’t even know how they operate talk a little bit more about the Nexus the connection between the national security state and Wall Street because this is a theme that runs through your essay do you know that about 30 blocks north of here there is a restaurant that will sell you a truffle for ninety five thousand dollars also in new york christie’s sold at auction a painting by francis bacon for a hundred and forty two million now a parallel situation with the national security state the NSA spent 1.7 billion dollars to build a facility in Utah that will collect one yottabyte of information that’s as much information as has ever been written in the history of the world it costs four hundred dollars by the time the Pentagon finishes paying contractors to haul one gallon of gasoline into Afghanistan that’s a real extravagant amount of money in both cases of the national security state and the corporate state they are sucking money out of the economy as our infrastructure collapses we have a tinkertoy power grid that goes out every time there’s inclement weather tens of millions of people are on food stamps we incarcerate more people than China an authoritarian state with four times our popular elation does anyone see the disparity between this extravagance for the deep state and the penury that is being forced on the rest of the country that isn’t a natural evolution something made it happen we’re having a situation where the deep state is essentially out of control it’s unconstrained since 9/11 we have built the equivalent of three Pentagon’s around the DC metropolitan area holding defense contractors intelligence contractors and government civilians involved in the military-industrial complex there are over 400,000 contractors private citizens who have top-secret security clearances and they are heart and soul of the of the deep state as you describe it absolutely it being privatized which means the power shifts from accountable officials to unaccountable in contractors about 70% of the intelligence budget goes to contracts how new is this I mean back in 2010 the Washington Post published a stunning investigation of what the editors called top secret America I mean we have known about this have we not yes we know about this but the intelligence functions of the government are too important to outsource in the manner we have it’s something where absolute discretion is needed and absolute trust that they are not violating civil liberties and to put this kind of a burden if you will on private contract employees is I think become a great disservice you say that that you came to question this it took you a while it was a gradual enlightenment that took place you were dealing with big numbers and particular details in the budgets that all of these agencies were sending to you when you on Capitol Hill right you were seeing the number solution you what works what was happening to the numbers at the end of 2001 is we appropriated a lot of money and it didn’t seem to be going to Afghanistan the proximate source of the 911 attacks it seemed to be going to the Persian Gulf region and I said what’s going on here Saddam Hussein didn’t bring down the Twin Towers so the little light went on and I began to sort of disenchant myself from the normal group think that tends to take over in any organization group think at some point in your essay you talk about how group think drives the deep state it absolutely does just as it tends to drive any bureaucratic organization what do you mean by groupthink well the psychologist Irving Janis called it groupthink it’s a kind of assimilation of the views of your superiors and your peers it’s becoming a yes-man and in many respects it’s an unconscious thing I remember what Upton Sinclair once said it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when this salary depends on him not understanding it that is certainly a part of it you described Washington as clearly and obviously the headquarters of a deep state but talk about some of some of the others who are in the game Wall Street is perhaps the ultimate backstop to the whole operation because they generates so much money that they can provide second careers for a lot of the government operatives they’re going to make more money than they ever dreamed they would on Wall Street and I think a good example of that is the most celebrated soldier of the last decade David Petraeus what did he do when he retired he went to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts a Wall Street buyout firm with 90 billion in assets under management you described him as a kind of avatar of the deep state he is in a way because he now represents both ends of it we see now our present-day Cincinnatus did not pick up the plow when he lay down the sword Cincinnatus was the roman who left his farm to become a general in the war when the war was over he went back to be a farmer that doesn’t happen today no it doesn’t the vast majority of generals seem to end up on the boards of defense contractors talk a little bit about what you call this strange relationship between Silicon Valley and the government and how it fits into the deep state well the National Security Agency could not do what it does the CIA could not do what it does without Silicon Valley now Silicon Valley unlike the defense contractors mostly sells to private individuals and to companies it’s not a big government vendor however its services are necessary and de facto they have become a part of the NSA’s operations I’m sure the CEOs of some of these companies try to obscure the fact that this has mostly been voluntary for many years Ameena surveillance the surveillance the gathering of information about unknowing citizens absolute or commercial purposes though precisely they’ve done it themselves and they’ve assisted the NSA through a FISA Court order for an intelligence or an Intelligence Surveillance Act so this has been going on for quite a while yet now like inspector Reno they are shocked shocked to find out but I think their main shock is that they’re now starting to lose market share in foreign countries these these moguls as you call them pass themselves off as libertarians who they make a big pretence about being libertarians and believing in the rugged individualism and so forth but they’ve been every bit as intrusive as the NSA has been in terms of collecting your data for commercial purposes rather than so-called national security purposes but they’re in it just as heavily as the NSA is and they somehow managed to get the intellectual property laws rigged so that you are theoretically subject to a fine up to five hundred thousand dollars for jailbreaking your phone to me which means if you don’t like the carrier on your phone that the manufacturer dictates you shall have and you change it without authorization you don’t have the right to something you bought could this symbiotic and actual relationship between Silicon Valley and the government reflecting the deep state explain the indulgence Washington has shown Silicon Valley Oh matters of intellectual property absolutely people no longer necessarily own their property that they buy if they’re buying it from Silicon Valley they simply have a kind of lease on it if as you write the ideologies of the deep state is not democrat or republican not left or right what is it it’s an ideology I just don’t think we’ve named it it’s a kind of corporatism now the actors in this drama tend to steer clear of social issues they pretend to be merrily neutral servants of the state giving the best advice possible on national security or financial matters but they hold it very deep ideology of the Washington Consensus at home which is deregulation outsourcing deindustrialization and financialization and they believe in American exceptionalism abroad which is boots on the ground everywhere it’s our right to meddle everywhere in the world and the result of that is perpetual war you see it is shadowy and more ill-defined more ill-defined than what it’s more ill-defined than simply saying Wall Street or saying the military-industrial complex or saying Silicon Valley or the corporations it’s a symbiosis of all of the above here’s your summing up quote as long as appropriations bills get passed on time promotion lists get confirmed black or secret budgets get rubber-stamped special tax subsidies for certain corporations are approved without controversy as long as too many awkward questions are not asked the gears of the hybrid state will mesh noiselessly is that the ideology that is a government within a government that operates off the visible government and operates off the taxpayers but it doesn’t seem to be constrained in a constitutional sense by the government is there a solution to the way the system works in I think we’re starting to see some discord in the ideology of the factions that make up the deep state we’re seeing Silicon Valley jumps ship they are starting protests against the NSA we’re seeing the Tea Party bailing out against the deep state they may be wrong on many economic issues but I don’t think they’re necessarily wrong on this one so the public could be doing wise I think they are there’s a much more vivid debate going on in the country about surveillance ever since the revelations by Edward Snowden Mike Lofgren thank you very much for being with me thanks to the journalist Lee Fang we have another revelation into how the deep state enterprise works writing for the Republic report a nonpartisan nonprofit that investigates money in politics he takes up that controversial trade deal called the trans-pacific partnership that President Obama is trying to push through Congress with minimum debate and no amendments controversial because some of its provisions reportedly enable corporate power to trump representative government even go around domestic courts and local laws one is said to prevent governments from enacting safeguards against another bank crisis another to empower corporations to sue governments for compensation if save environmental protections or regulations on tobacco and drugs interfered with future profits because of the secrecy we don’t know everything that’s in the draft agreement senator Elizabeth Warren calls it a chance for these banks to get something done quietly out of sight that they could not accomplish in a public place with the cameras rolling and the lights on which brings us to two officials chosen by President Obama to lead those trade negotiations leafing reports that they received multi-million dollar bonuses as they left giant financial firms to join the government Bank of America gave this man Stephan Selig more than nine million dollars in bonus pay as he was nominated to become the Undersecretary of Commerce for international trade and this man Michael Froman got over four million dollars when he left Citigroup to become the current US Trade Representative now both are no doubt honorable men they are all honorable men but when push comes to shove and the financial interest of huge corporations are on the table we can only hope they will act as independent men not faithful servants of the deep state but given the secrecy we may never know according to Lee Fang many large corporations with a strong incentive to influence public policy give executives bonuses and other incentive pay they take jobs within the government among them Goldman Sachs Morgan Stanley JP Morgan Chase the Blackstone Group Fannie Mae Northern Trust Citigroup even provides an executive contract that Awards additional retirement pay upon leaving to take a full-time high-level position with the US government or regulatory body I’m not making this up you get a bigger incentive if you leave Wall Street to go regulate Wall Street so it is the Fox is groomed for the chicken coop and the deep state grows coming up on Moyers & Company a powerful new book breaks the code of dog-whistle politics dog-whistle politics doesn’t come out of animus at all it doesn’t come out of some desire to hurt minorities it comes out of a desire to win votes and in that sense I want to start using the term strategic racism it’s racism as a strategy it’s cold it’s calculating it’s considered it’s the decision to achieve one’s own ends here winning votes by stirring racial animosity and and here’s a hard difficult truth most racists are good people they’re not sick they’re not ruled by anger or raw emotion or hatred they are complicated people reared in complicated societies they’re fully capable of generosity of empathy of real kindness but because of the idea systems in which they are reared they’re also capable of dehumanizing others and occasionally of brutal violence at our website billmoyers.com remember to read the complete text of my Clough goons essay anatomy of the deep state and then tell us what you think I’ll see you don’t wait a week to get more moyers visit billmoyers.com for exclusive blogs funding is provided by and gumowitz encouraging the renewal of democracy Carnegie Corporation of New York celebrating 100 years of philanthropy and committed to doing real and permanent good in the world the Ford Foundation working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide the Herb Alpert foundation supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation committed to building a more just verdant and peaceful world more information at macfound.org Park foundation dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues the Kohlberg foundation barbra jean– Fleischman and by our sole corporate sponsor mutual of America designing customized individual and group retirement products that’s why
A surge of public activism by former CIA personnel is one of the most unexpected developments of the Trump era
Two former CIA officers — both Democrats, both women, both liberal — were elected to Congress on November 6. Abigail Spanberger, former operations officer, was elected in Virginia’s 7th District. Elissa Slotkin, former analyst, won in Michigan’s 8th District. Both Spanberger and Slotkin incorporated their intelligence experience into their center-left platforms. Their victories tripled the number of CIA “formers” in Congress.
At the halfway point in Trump’s first term, these formers see themselves as a bulwark of an endangered democracy. The president and his supporters see a cabal of “deep state” radicals out to overturn the will of the people. With the appointment of Matthew Whitaker, an unqualified political operative, as Attorney General, Brennan said a “constitutional crisis” is fast approaching. The clash between a willfully ignorant commander in chief and a politicized intelligence community seems sure to deepen.
..I think the blatant disregard for the threat of foreign influence in our election and the demonization of the Intelligence Community was a turning point for a lot of us,” former branch chief Cindy Otis told me in an email. “. . . Critics can call me ‘The Deep State,’ but I joined the CIA under George W. Bush and the vast majority of people at CIA lean conservative on foreign policy/natsec [national security] issues.”
.. in the 1980s, former director Bush and a host of senior agency operatives joined the Iran-Contra conspiracy. They sought to subvert the Democratic majority in Congress that had banned covert intervention in Central America. The agency’s rank and file did not object. Indeed, many applauded when President Bush pardoned four CIA officials who had been indicted in the scandal.
..After the 9/11 attacks, the consensus in Langley that torture was a permissible, effective and necessary counterterrorism technique no doubt struck many intelligence officers as apolitical common sense. But, of course, adopting “extreme interrogation tactics” was a deeply political decision that President Bush embraced, and President Obama repudiated. The agency deferred to both commanders in chief... The problem with Trump in the eyes of these CIA formers is almost pre-political. The president’s policy decisions matter less than his contempt for intelligence and the system that collects it... When we see things that are blatantly wrong, and the president is responsible, it is fair to speak out,” Bakos said in an interview. “If you’re silent, you’re part of the problem.”
.. Former personnel know better than anyone that the CIA has a license to kill. The agency can spy, capture, bomb and assassinate. It can overthrow governments, foster (or smash) political movements, even re-organize entire societies, according to the inclinations of the president and his advisers.CIA operatives could trust both neoconservative George W. Bush and internationalist Barack Obama with that arsenal because they believed, whatever their politics, both presidents were rational actors. With Trump, they can have no such confidence.
Trump’s contempt for the intelligence profession, weaponized in his “deep state” conspiracy theories, has agency personnel feeling professionally vulnerable, perhaps for the first time. An irrational chief executive has shattered their apolitical pretensions and forced them to re-examine what their core beliefs require.
.. Larry Pfeiffer, former chief of staff to Hayden, told me, “Until now I’ve been mostly a Republican voter at the national level because Republicans shared my views on national security. For a lot of people inside the national security community, that is not necessarily the case anymore. The Republican Party under Trump has abandoned people like us.”
.. When Pfeiffer told me, “Who knows? I might have to vote for Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders in 2020,” he sounded amazed by the possibility but not averse to it. Two years of Trump can do that to a former spy.
The point is not that the CIA is getting more liberal, says John Prados, author of “The Ghosts of Langley,” a history of the agency. Rather, the election results show that the voting bloc that supports the president now skews even more to the hard right. “The migration of [the] political spectrum to the right makes the agency look more liberal than it is,” he said in an interview.
.. “I find it sad — and maybe a few other adjectives — that Brennan now gets a pass for some of [the] things he did as director, just because he’s combatting Trump,” Prados said.
.. “If Trump is going to carry out a secret war against Iran as he seems to want to do, who is our ally?” Prados asked. “Mossad [the Israeli intelligence service]? Who can work with Mossad? The CIA. If that is Trump’s Middle East agenda, the interests of current CIA people and the formers may diverge.”
.. “Trump is not only relying on lies and falsehoods in his public statements, but I have to believe he is pushing back on the realities that are brought to him. Imagine Gina Haspel goes to the White House with a briefer to talk about the latest intel on — fill in the blank:
- North Korea’s missile program.
- What China is doing to supplant America in Asia.
- Where Europe wants to go with NATO.
Does the president listen or care? Or even understand? We’re not in crisis on any one issue, but can we really say the government is functioning?”
.. Harrington expects the mistrust between the president and the intelligence community to grow in the next two years.
“No director of any federal agency can turn away the inquiries of the Democratic House,” Harrington said. “CIA people have to deal head on with the consequences of a president who is fundamentally not dealing with reality.”
If there’s one thing to be learned from talking to former CIA personnel, it’s the sense that the CIA system — powerful, stealthy, and dangerous — is blinking red about the latest news of an authoritarian leader in an unstable nation.
“The Deep State,” on the other hand, is a description of the millions of bureaucrats immune from the political ebbs and flows. The term is meant to suggest that these men and women are pursuing agendas that run contrary to the preferences of the president, the peole who voted for him, or the nation at large.
.. We can debate whether and how much the Deep State is actually countering Trump’s agenda. But one thing that is not debatable is that the anonymous author is not part of such a group. Anonymous is, rather, a “senior administration official” who, based on what his op-ed reveals, serves at the pleasure of the president. Trump could get rid of him, if he knew who he was.
.. Instead of rebuking Anonymous with the same complaints many conservatives have lobbed at the career officials at the Department of Justice, we could instead see his op-ed as an illustration of the inherent principal–agent problem that every president must confront. And the essay strongly suggests that Trump is struggling with this problem.
.. Simply stated, the principal–agent problem arises whenever any principal deputizes an agent to do his bidding. How can the principal make sure that the agent is actually doing what he has been tasked to do? Well, it requires monitoring and sanctions — both of which are costly to the principal.
.. Indeed, the differences between presidential success and failure often come down to how the president handles the monitoring of his staff. Jimmy Carter, for instance, was an unsuccessful president in no small part because he was a micromanager.
.. Dwight Eisenhower, on the other hand, imported organization structures from the military to great success. More recently, in Confidence Men, Ron Suskind reported that Barack Obama instructed U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to draw up a plan to dissolve Citigroup; however, Suskind claimed, Geithner ignored the order, and Obama never followed up. That is the principal–agent problem in action.
.. These are all symptoms of an executive branch that is suffering from a lack of sufficient management.
.. If Trump does not have a good handle on what his agents are up to, then his power necessarily is going to decline, as the principal–agent problem grows. We can bemoan the fact that his political appointees are undermining democratic accountability by ignoring or circumventing Trump’s dictates, but that misses the point. The principal–agent problem exists just about everywhere. It is a consequence of human nature, whereby people are prone to put their own judgments and interests first. That’s why principals must monitor their agents.
I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations... The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations... To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous... But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making... Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives:
- free minds,
- free markets and
- free people.At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright... In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.
There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture:
- effective deregulation,
- historic tax reform, a
- more robust military and more.
But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is
- petty and
From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.
.. Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.
“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.
The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.
The result is a two-track presidency.
Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.
Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.
.. On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.
.. This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.
Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.
.. The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.
.. Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.
.. We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.
.. There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.
The 2017 document, titled “The Echo Chamber,” accused former Obama officials of undermining the incoming Administration.
In early 2017, some of Donald Trump’s advisers concluded that they faced a sophisticated threat responsible for “coordinated attacks” on the new Administration. They circulated a memo, titled “The Echo Chamber,” which read like a U.S. military-intelligence officer’s analysis of a foreign-insurgent network. Instead of being about enemies in a distant war zone, however, the network described in the memo consisted of former aides to President Barack Obama.
The memo claimed that the “communications infrastructure” that the Obama White House used to “sell Obamacare and the Iran Deal to the public” had been moved to the private sector, now that the former aides were out of government. It called the network the Echo Chamber and accused its members of mounting a coördinated effort “to undermine President Trump’s foreign policy” through organized attacks in the press against Trump and his advisers. “These are the Obama loyalists who are probably among those coordinating the daily/weekly battle rhythm,” the memo said, adding that they likely operated a “virtual war room.” The memo lists Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national-security adviser to President Obama, as “likely the brain behind this operation” and Colin Kahl, Vice-President Joe Biden’s former national-security adviser, as its “likely ops chief.”
.. officials said that it was circulated within the National Security Council and other parts of the Trump White House in early 2017.
.. Some of the same conspiracy theories expressed in the memo appear in internal documents from an Israeli private-intelligence firm that mounted a covert effort to collect damaging information about aides to President Obama who had advocated for the Iran deal.
.. In May, 2017, that firm, Black Cube, provided its operatives with instructions and other briefing materials that included the same ideas and names discussed in the memo
.. A source familiar with the operation has maintained that the investigation of Rhodes and Kahl was part of Black Cube’s work for a private-sector client in the shipping industry, pursuing commercial interests.
.. Conspiracy theories of this kind appear to have thrived in the Trump White House, which was divided into factions that often used media leaks to undermine their rivals and compete for influence with the President.
.. In private meetings, Bannon’s allies in the power struggle, some of whom had military backgrounds, said they were eager to fight back.
.. The firm compiled a list of nine reporters and commentators it claimed were part of the Echo Chamber, including
- The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg,
- the New York Times’ Max Fisher, and
- NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell.
.. Both the memo and Black Cube documents reference attacks in the press on Sebastian Gorka
.. In a section titled “Gorka Allegations,” the Black Cube documents reference allegations that he was anti-Semitic and affiliated with Nazi groups, which Rhodes mentioned in a tweet on one occasion.
.. Jake Sullivan, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, is identified as one of the leaders of the Echo Chamber. The former Obama Administration officials Tommy Vietor, Ned Price, Jon Favreau, Jon Finer, and Dan Pfeiffer are all listed as “likely operations officers.”
the absence of any meaningful pushback from Congressional Republicans. Indeed, not only are they acquiescing in Trump’s corruption, his incitements to violence, and his abuse of power, up to and including using the power of office to punish critics, they’re increasingly vocal in cheering him on.
.. if Republicans hold both houses of Congress this November, Trump will go full authoritarian, abusing institutions like the I.R.S., trying to jail opponents and journalists on, er, trumped-up charges, and more — and he’ll do it with full support from his party.
But why? Is Trumpocracy what Republicans always wanted?
Well, it’s probably what some of them always wanted. And some of them are making a coldblooded calculation that the demise of democracy is worth it if it means lower taxes on the rich and freedom to pollute.
.. They’re not really ideologues so much as careerists, whose instinct is always to go along with the party line. And this instinct has drawn them ever deeper into complicity.
.. once you’ve made excuses for and come to the aid of a bad leader, it gets ever harder to say no to the next outrage.
.. Republicans who defended Trump over the Muslim ban, his early attacks on the press, the initial evidence of collusion with Russia, have in effect burned their bridges. It would be deeply embarrassing to admit that the elitist liberals they mocked were right when they were wrong
.. the path of least resistance is always to sign on for the next stage of degradation.
“No evidence of collusion” becomes “collusion is no big deal” becomes “collusion is awesome — and let’s send John Brennan to jail.”
.. The party has long been in the habit of rejecting awkward facts and attributing them to conspiracies: it’s not a big jump from claiming that climate change is a giant hoax perpetrated by the entire scientific community to asserting that Trump is the blameless target of a vast deep state conspiracy... as long as they toed the line they can count on “wing nut welfare” — commentator slots on Fox News, appointments at think tanks, and so on... Even now, I don’t think most political commentators have grasped how deep the rot goes... We’re seeing, in real time, what the GOP is really made of.
How a conspiracy theory that Trump and Robert Mueller are secretly working together got from Reddit to Trump rallies.
Conspiracy theories create order out of chaos, attempting to make sense of events that don’t make sense. And researchers have found that fact-based arguments against them only serve to reinforce them in the minds of believers. That’s what makes QAnon or Sandy Hook trutherism or any other conspiracy theory so difficult to combat: Because conspiracy theories aren’t based on facts, conspiracy theorists aren’t receptive to them either.
.. Everything is fine. As a popular saying among Q adherents proclaims, believers must only “trust the plan.”
.. Obviously, none of this happened. There were no public riots or mass arrests or the use of emergency broadcasts. (In fact, the Emergency Broadcast System went out of service in 1997, replaced by the Emergency Alert System.)
The overwhelming majority of Q’s assertions are hilariously untrue: that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was placed in power by the CIA, that Seth Rich was murdered by MS13 under orders from former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, that many prominent Democrats are currently wearing ankle monitors because they are secretly under arrest... The fact is that QAnon’s base assertion — that Trump really is in control of everything — is an inherently strange one to make when the Trump administration does, actually, control the entire federal government... Conspiracy theorists and members of the alt-right and far right were among the first to jump on the QAnon bandwagon (though some have decided Q has been “compromised”)... the QAnon hashtag has been used so many times on Twitter it’s now virtually untrackable... Curt Schilling shared a video on Twitter in June that alleges that QAnon isn’t just about Trump. It claims every US president before Trump was engaged in a criminal conspiracy with pedophile rings and the “deep state” and pharmaceutical companies, all to enslave the American people.
.. As Slate’s Christina Cauterucci wrote in July, accusations of pedophilia are the easiest and most effective way to tarnish someone’s reputation with no proof necessary, as pedophilia is universally considered a horrific and horrendous affront... QAnon isn’t about protecting Trump, in their view. It’s about saving children from rape and murder — and who could oppose that?.. But the open source nature of QAnon, where Q posts something for thousands of other people to interpret as they see fit, means other conspiracy theories fit neatly within QAnon — like ones about false flag shootings, Jewish bankers controlling the world, or the Illuminati. As the Daily Beast’s Will Sommer wrote in July:
While the Storm is at the center of the QAnon narrative, it’s also flexible enough to fold in just anything that makes the news. Q is fond of hinting that each mass shooting is a false-flag attack organized by the cabal, and he used a blurry webcam picture of a flash of light near the Puget Sound to claim that the deep state had tried to shoot down Trump’s plane.
Conspiracy theories are hard to fight because they’re about what we want to believe
.. Trying to disprove a conspiracy theory thus usually only serves to reinforce it.
.. Conspiracy theories aren’t created by evidence, but by belief, or by the desire to believe, that there must be something more to the events that shape our lives, culture, and politics than accident or happenstance.
.. Where there is confusion, or even pain and tragedy, QAnon, or shootings termed “false flags,” or 9/11 trutherism brings some semblance of order and security. The 9/11 attacks were so horrific that they can’t possibly have happened without President George W. Bush being behind it somehow, orchestrating things behind the scenes. A mass shooting at an elementary school that killed so many small children is so terrible that it can’t possibly have really happened.
.. Conspiracy theories often serve an ironic function of providing a sense of order in chaos. People would rather believe that there are evil masterminds out there that pull strings on cataclysmic events than accept the occurrence of random events.
Conspiracy theories also serve to elevate events to be less banal: For example, it is easier to conceive of Princess Diana having been killed by some elaborate evil conspiracy than being the victim of a rather banal drunk-driving accident.