Trump and the Deep State
Thomas Drake tells Paul Jay the deep state would’ve been more comfortable with Clinton; and while they’ll do what they’re told, many will be concerned that Pence is the new Cheney
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. Donald Trump’s choices so far for his cabinet tell us something about the direction his administration will be going. Flynn at National Security Advisor, Pompeo at the CIA, Sessions for Attorney General. All of these — and, of course, I should back up, maybe most importantly, Pence at Vice President, who says he will model his vice-presidency after Dick Cheney, and many think he will have power similar to Dick Cheney’s — all of this tells us that this could be an administration which is Act II of the Cheney-Bush Administration, and how does that affect the intelligence community? How might people react to that, especially people that might consider themselves to be whistle-blowers? And now joining us is a whistle-blower, Thomas Drake. Thomas is a former senior official of the US National Security Agency, the NSA, decorated United States Air Force, and United States Navy veteran, computer software expert, linguist, management and leadership specialist. As I said, a whistle-blower. Thanks for joining us, Thomas.
THOMAS DRAKE: Thanks for having me again.
PAUL JAY: So, how do you think, or what do you hear, the intelligence community will respond to all of this? We’re told it may be that there will be a freer hand on various things that have been described as torture. Pompeo and others, Flynn, seem to be very pro-mass surveillance. What’s the intelligence community…? Are they happy about all this?
THOMAS DRAKE: It probably depends on how you want to look at it. I mean, there’s a lot of jockeying going on, a lot of information that’s being anonymously released to certain outlets, what I call sort of the shaping and forming of opinion. I can remind all of your listeners that at NSA there was the old joke that “directors come and go; we’re still here,” and this is with respect to sort of the intelligence community establishment. Presidents come and go; we’re still here. So, it’s important to note that despite elections and despite agency heads coming in and out — and they’re given terms of two, three, four, five, sometimes longer — there is an establishment, and it largely… it sits as deep as a deep state, you know, the double government, the shadow government. But obviously, they’re not unaffected by an election, particularly an election that we just had, and we’re in this rather special period in terms of the US Constitution. We have a President-Elect, but you still have the sitting President, who has all the power of the presidency and the full power of the new president doesn’t happen until inauguration. So, we’re in the beginning stages of the transition. You mentioned a few names. But how would the intelligence community…? I think, personally, just as a broad stroke answer to you, is that they actually were expecting or anticipating, and had even a preference, for a Hillary Clinton Administration. Hillary, and why? Is because she was really status quo. She’s more a Republican in that respect than Trump, and I think it would have… it would have been easier for the intelligence community to adjust. Having said that, based on the choices that Trump is evidencing so far — and remember this is early on — I think you could easily argue that it’s a return to more secrecy, it’s a return to a Bush-Cheney II, it’s law and order, it’s back to certain times of executive actions that have been sort of finessed by Obama, but also put on the special presidential secrecy plate, that platter that he is handing off, those special presidential powers he’s handing off to Trump. And I have to say, you know, I look back on these past eight years, and, if anything, Obama, with a couple of minor exceptions, has institutionalized what many people thought was an eight years’ worth of anomalies after sort of the overreach and the overreaction post-9/11, and has essentially provided the country, and most of it is still secret, interestingly enough, even though a lot’s come out, what he has referred to as the legal framework — and I believe that’s his legacy. He would have preferred Hillary himself. He made that crystal clear.
PAUL JAY: The legal framework for what?
THOMAS DRAKE: The legal framework for all the expansion of powers, the full legalization of much of those things that were actually patently illegal and unlawful and unconstitutional under Bush and Cheney, all accelerated at the very end of the Bush Administration with certain legislative acts that were signed into law and further expanded by Obama.
PAUL JAY: For example, the NDAA Amendment that allowed the armed forces to arrest people.
THOMAS DRAKE: Well, the 1021, 1022 — the 1021, in particular, extremely concerning. The National Defense Authorization Act is largely an executive-driven act. They have a tremendous influence over it. Yes, that’s one example.
PAUL JAY: And that’s a particularly important example because now that power, essentially, if I understand that Amendment correctly, it allows the armed forces to arrest anyone who they can accuse of being connected with the Taliban, al-Qaeda or terrorist activity, and that is a pretty broad stroke, and that power is now in the hands of what will be the new Commander-in-Chief.
THOMAS DRAKE: Right. And, see, this is part of what I consider the dystopian reality post-9/11 that so much of this space has become increasingly militarized. And that means it’s more beholden to Article II powers under the Commander-in-Chief than not. And the more the Executive has in terms of that kind of running room, in terms of its ability to execute, the harder it is for Congress and others to rein it in. Now, that’s not to say… sort of the irony here is if Trump decides to push those boundaries in a more pro-Bush, pro-Cheney mode, you might find certain parts of the political establishment, particularly Independents and Democrats and even Independent Republicans, waking up. This was always the great fear. I mean, this is something that I have said for many, many years, you might accept that Obama was more — and I will actually argue against it — but more restrained in the use of Executive power. The real concern — this was voiced early on as it became evident that he was not going to roll back the Bush-Cheney era — what would happen if someone like a Bush-Cheney became president? And people were thinking, oh, that’s off in the future. Well, it’s very possible that it’s now arrived.
PAUL JAY:Yeah. I always thought the distinction between Clinton and Trump and the teams that are around them is that Obama… I think Clinton on the whole, while they agree with the neocons and the Trump types and the people around him — they all agree on the importance of “Make America Great Again” which means defend the Empire and make sure it’s as strong as possible. But I always thought Obama and Clinton listened to the professionals on how to do it more. Whereas, Cheney and Bush, and his gang of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and those guys, The Project for New American Century people — and for anyone that doesn’t know that document, look it up and the whole game plan is in that document — they weren’t all that interested in what the professionals had to say. They thought that, quoting a Bush official, they make their own reality, which starts with a regime change in Iraq and then goes to Syria and then goes to Iran, and I’m not sure which one comes next. But Trump and the people around Trump look Cheney-esque. They don’t look like they would listen to the professionals, and that’s why I wonder how the professionals might think about that.
PAUL JAY: Now, from what I understand from various sources including John Kiriakou, another whistle-blower who was at the CIA, said there were these morning meetings of, I guess, it’s the undersecretaries and Number Twos in all the agencies, would have a morning phone call and Cheney would chair this phone call in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, and if you didn’t want to go to war in Iraq you could quit or resign, and Cheney was very clear about that. And Kiriakou said almost, if not all, the agencies represented in those phone calls were against the war in Iraq, saying that it was going to turn into a disaster, you couldn’t control the outcome, you would probably strengthen Iran, and Cheney overrode that. And when you talk about the deep state, does it have any agenda that’s different than the agenda that’s more apparent from the heads of these agencies and such, and for example on Iraq, and would the deep state have any different agenda on Iran than perhaps the people that are more professionally known as the administrators and people running these organizations?
THOMAS DRAKE: Well, to me, they’re sort of overarching. They’re sort of the supra — supra in terms of the deep side of the state because they’re in place. I mean… you have a paradox here of power, and information is power. And those people want access to it. They don’t want to lose it. If they lose it temporarily, they want back in. It’s incredibly seductive. And they’re the Establishment — you want to call it the Deep State Establishment — is well-positioned to influence and shape those who are in in those political positions, appointee positions, or equivalent, the heads of agencies, and they prefer that they have the protection and kind of “leave us alone.” Now, you just mentioned a situation in which Cheney overrode them, but how many people resigned their office? How many people actually went public? How many people decided to contend with that? No. They, quote-unquote, as I’ve found out myself, were far more willing to just look the other way because someone else made the decision, and, you know, “I’ll follow orders.”
PAUL JAY: Yeah, there were a handful of people that quit, but it was literally a handful.
THOMAS DRAKE: Well, a handful. I’m not… but not enough to actually affect anything significant. There was no… and that’s part of the risk here. Right? It really is part of the risk. But I’m saying under Obama when those who directly contended with him, people… remember even the original… well, when the early parts of the Obama Administration, even the former DNI, before Clapper came along in 2010, was found to be quote-unquote “not in favor any longer.” There’s ways in which it becomes… well, I’d say, you have to sacrifice somebody, right?
PAUL JAY: When you were talking about deep state, are you talking about the bureaucrats who have long-term jobs who don’t change because of an administration change?
THOMAS DRAKE: Yes.
PAUL JAY: Or are you talking about…
THOMAS DRAKE: That.
PAUL JAY: …something more secret than that?
THOMAS DRAKE: No. I’m saying that it’s combined with those who come in and out of office, but have significant positions of influence and power, whether… It’s the formal positions. But most of the people I’m talking about you will never see, or with rare exception, on the front pages of any newspaper or media outlet.
PAUL JAY: And in the case of the CIA, I guess, it’s illegal to do that.
THOMAS DRAKE: Well… depending on their position, or their previous positions. Remember, the principle group, some you made reference to sort of the seconds and the other senior officials. Yeah, that’s a very powerful group in terms of sort of holding sway. On the other hand, there’s lots of rivalries. I would not want any of your listeners to think that the deep state is some kind of monolithic power that exerts, you know, unfettered ability to do anything it wants to. It certainly became easier with a Cheney.
PAUL JAY: And, in terms of what you know about Pence, he says he wants Cheney to be his role model…
THOMAS DRAKE: I shudder. I shudder when I hear that.
PAUL JAY: Mmm. All right. We’re gonna–
THOMAS DRAKE: Cheney was one of the last… law in terms of Constitution? No. I mean, that’s not Cheney. Cheney was about might. He really was. And about exercising that power. Remember? I may have said this to you in a previous interview: Cheney always thought Nixon got a raw deal. If he ever got a chance, he would restore the Imperial Presidency.
PAUL JAY: And that’s Pence’s model.
THOMAS DRAKE: Yes.
PAUL JAY: Thanks very much for joining us again, Thomas. We’ll pick up this discussion soon.
THOMAS DRAKE: Sure. I look forward to that, and thanks for having me on your show.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.