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 twenty-first century.
Mike Lofgren, Anatomy of the Deep State, 2014
In the last two posts (‘Truth and History’, and ‘The Truth Deficit’) I’ve tried to show that while our nation’s history teaches us to feel good about our membership of it, conspiracy theories perversely do the opposite. Yet even as we recoil from them they are assaulting our received historical narrative as never before. They are, in fact, challenging us to reappraise our relationship to the very authorities and opinion makers we trust, and the mass media through whom they shape our collective beliefs.
These shared opinions and beliefs, shaped as they are by what we receive from our authorities (whomever we may determine them to be) define our membership of our community. Evidence that challenges them thus creates acute cognitive dissonance. Our cultural immune system will reject or ignore more fundamental truths – such as proofs of logical inconsistency, or even the laws of physics – in order to preserve the loyalties on which we have come to depend as a community. Recall that the members of the Inquisition refused to look up Galileo’s telescope, for fear of the damage it would do to their beliefs. A movie which challenges the man-made global warming paradigm will have the same effect today.
Reality, I have said, is not ‘out there’. We make sense of the world, that is, of the myriad sensory inputs that constitute the continuity of our experience. What we continually therefore seek from our fellow men is confirmation that our experience tallies with theirs. If it does, we have community, if it doesn’t, we have strife. Education is very largely the effort to get all members of a given community on the same page. One community’s education is another’s propaganda. Truth, therefore, isn’t something ‘out there’, it’s an agreement. Trust is the cement in this creative endeavor. Without trust the whole edifice collapses. (‘Trust’ and ‘truth’ come from the same Indo-European root dru, from which we also get the word ‘durable’. What is true is that which endures.) Since we can only trust that which is true, blind loyalty seems to me a dangerous option in our present situation.
So I need to hammer a bit more on the evidence that says we are being duped, big time. That evidence unfortunately can’t come from the sources we wish to investigate, but then other sources are not our authorities. This provides a credibility gap that our cultural immune system will waste no time exploiting to justify doing nothing. However, there are a few authorities who come pretty close to bridging that gap, and in this post I want to focus on one of them.
In The Secret Government - a gripping, ‘personal essay’ researched and narrated thirty years ago by the incomparable Bill Moyers - the then-current preoccupation of an America in the throes of the Iran-Contra scandal was the unwarranted power that had accumulated in the hands of President Ronald Reagan and his advisors. Then Senator Daniel Inouye described the so-called ‘Enterprise’ which channelled money from operations in Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, as
a shadowy government with its own air force, its own navy, its own fund raising mechanism, and the ability to pursue its own ideas of the national interest free from all checks and balances and free from the law itself.
Moyers exposed a culture of profits-before-patriotism, and the evolution of conflict into a money making business of perpetual war. The Constitution, he concluded, was being ‘shredded’, and We the People must be somehow alerted to set things right again. I provide a link below to the broadcast, from which here are a few more quotations (Moyers is the speaker, unless otherwise attributed):
“Secrecy is the freedom zealots dream of. No watchman to check the door. No accountant to check the books. No judge to check the law. The Secret Government has no Constitution. The rules it follows are the rules it makes up. So [CIA Director] William Casey could dream that the Enterprise would take on a life of its own; permanent, and unaccountable.”
“… the only people fooled are the American people. But consent is the very heart of our Constitutional System. How can people judge what they do not know, or what they are told falsely?”
And, chillingly, in view of what we know now
“Just imagine that William Casey’s dream came true. Suppose the Enterprise grew into a super-secret, self-financing, self-perpetuating organisation.”
“We’ve turned the war powers of the United States over to, well, we’re never really sure who, or what they’re doing, or what it costs, or who is paying for it. The one thing we are sure of is - this largely secret global war, carried on with less and less accountability to democratic institutions, has become a way of life. And now we’re faced with a question, brand new in our history: can we have the permanent warfare state, and democracy too?”
“The secret government had been given the license to reach all the way to every mailbox, every college campus, every telephone and every home.” [And this was back in 1987!]
We start out breaking foreign rules, since every country has laws against secretly overthrowing their governments, and then you end up breaking the law at home and coming to feel a contempt for the law, for your colleagues and associates, for the Congress and the public, and for the Constitution… Precisely because they cannot get their way in public debate they are driven to seek to subvert the democratic process.
Morton Halperin, then Director of the Washington Office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Moyers: Do you think that what we’ve seen of the secret sale of arms to Iran and the private war in Nicaragua is on a par with what we saw at Watergate?
Prof. Edwin Firmage, Univ. of Utah: Oh, the substance of it is far above Watergate. You have the sale of armaments to terrorist groups, which can only foment more kidnapping and more terror, and finance it. You have the doing of this by the armed forces; a very scary thing. You have the government a part in this, doing things that Congress has forbidden: direct illegality. You have constitutional abuses that are enormous… The whole fight is over means, not ends. Every president, with every good intention, and every tyrant… has used precisely the same argument, that is “Don’t constrain me by means and I will get you there safely and well.” And I think any time we accept a reason-of-state argument to justify means that are totally incongruent with the values of state we are on the highroad to tyranny. And we deserve to be there.
“The ‘national security’ argument [i.e. invoking the National Security Act of 1947] now interferes with every American’s right to understand its government. That’s what secrecy’s all about these days.”
Scott Armstrong, Director of the National Security Archive.
And towards the end we hear a small-community activist –
We have a hymn that the words go to something like ‘I wish that my eyes had never been opened, because if they’d been opened I’d have to do something about it’, and I think that’s a problem with a lot of people in this country. They don’t want their eyes to be opened, because they’re very comfortable, very secure, and if their eyes are opened they’re going to have to do something.
Thirty years on all this sounds sickeningly familiar. Fourteen years after this broadcast, on the eve of 9/11, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced to a stunned Congress that the Pentagon had lost track of $2.3 trillion. Another 14 years after that the amount is estimated to be more than $8 trillion.
In 2014 Bill Moyers broadcast The Deep State. By now it’s clear that a much more diverse group of actors is involved. Still broadly arrayed under the rubric of ‘national security’ – and still very much protected by the smothering blanket of the National Security Act of 1947 – we now have Homeland Security, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts, the Treasury Department, and, bizarrely, Wall Street, in addition to the more than 3000 secretive government-funded organisations mentioned in my last post.
Moyers: If, as you write, the ideology of the Deep State is not democrat or Republican, not Left or Right, what is it?
Lofgren: It’s an ideology; I just don’t think we’ve named it. It’s a kind of corporatism… 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 a very deep ideology of the Washington consensus at home, which is deregulation, outsourcing, deindustrialisation and financialisation, 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… A government within the government that operates off the visible government and operates off the taxpayers, but doesn’t seem to be constrained in the Constitutional sense by the government.