Trump vs. the Intelligence Community

I have long been concerned about Trump's war on the intelligence community and where it would lead. On Friday, I detailed my emerging concern that it has led to what is effectively dueling coups between the Trump administration and the national security bureaucrats:
The intelligence community has its own reasons for wanting to consolidate its own power, which has frequently been abused. There is no history which suggests that the IC, given increased power through any means, is inclined to subsequently relinquish it.

(As an aside, if you want a good picture of what governance seized by intelligence can become, look no further than Russia: Putin is former KGB.)

The way this power struggle is currently shaping up, there are no good outcomes. Just less awful ones.

At the end of this, unless something fundamentally changes from a battle between the White House and the intelligence community (started long ago by Trump), I don't believe any result is going to be a net positive for democracy.
On Friday night, I did a little media analysis tweeting (thread begins here), during which I made this observation, with regard to many of the Big Scoops that are centered around leaks from eager leakers:

Over the weekend, with a hat tip to Shaker SKM, I read this important piece at Harper's by Michael J. Glennon, a professor of international law at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a former counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The piece starts with a history of the origins and elevation of the national security bureaucracy in the United States, before Glennon provides the context for the concerns I have expressed (emphases mine):
Clearly the public has a right to know whether a president is telling the truth if he claims that his predecessor ordered that he be illegally wiretapped. The public also has a right to know whether the president's staff illegally coordinated with a foreign government during the election campaign or lied to the FBI about foreign contacts. But consider the price of victory if the security directorate were somehow to establish itself as a check on those presidential policies—or officials—that it happened to dislike. To formally charge the bureaucracy with providing a check on the president, Congress, or the courts would represent an entirely new form of government, a system in which institutionalized bureaucratic autocracy displaces democratic accountability. What standing would Trump's critics have to object to bureaucratic supremacy should an enlightened president come along, in some brighter time, and seek to free them from the "polar night of icy darkness" that Max Weber warned is bureaucracy's inevitable end point? Where then would they turn, having consecrated the security directorate as their final guardian?

As a creature of the people's elected institutions, the bureaucracy was never intended to be a coequal of Congress, the courts, and the president. Bureaucracy doesn't even appear in the constitutional design that emerged from Philadelphia in 1787. Under the Constitution, power is delegated to the intelligence bureaucracy, not by it. Like other departments and agencies, an intelligence organization can exercise only those powers given to it by its constitutionally established creators. Those who would counter the illiberalism of Trump with the illiberalism of unfettered bureaucrats would do well to contemplate the precedent their victory would set. This perilous precedent would be the least of it, however, should the bureaucracy emerge triumphant. American history is not silent about the proclivities of unchecked security forces, a short list of which includes the Palmer Raids, the FBI's blackmailing of civil rights leaders, Army surveillance of the antiwar movement, the NSA's watch lists, and the CIA's waterboarding. No one passingly familiar with this record of abuse and misconduct could seriously contemplate entrusting these agencies with responsibility for preserving the nation's civil and political liberty. Without constitutional accountability, what reason is there to believe that they would not quickly revert to their old ways, particularly should a national emergency provide plausible justification? Who would trust the authors of past episodes of repression as a reliable safeguard against future repression?

…Some of Trump's antagonists blithely assume that the security bureaucracy will fight him to the death, but it has never faced the raw hostility of an all-out frontal assault from the White House. If the president maintains his attack, splintered and demoralized factions within the bureaucracy could actually support—not oppose—many potential Trump initiatives, such as stepped up drone strikes, cyberattacks, covert action, immigration bans, and mass surveillance. Security managers tend to back policies they see as ratcheting up levels of protection; that's why such programs are more easily expanded than scaled back.
Glennon outlines a scenario in which Trump emerges victorious in this battle, and "a revamped security directorate could emerge more menacing than ever, with him its devoted new ally."

Essentially, if what we are seeing is not an attempt to stop Trump, but a fight by a bureaucracy marginalized by Trump's hostility merely to restore their own influence, this could culminate in a detente in which the intelligence community rewards Trump's deescalation—signaled by a willingness to attend briefings, for example—by signing off on his worst authoritarian instincts and attendant policies.

The question, to which we don't have a definitive answer, is whether the national security bureaucracy is fighting for us (and the preservation of the nation's democratic institutions) or for themselves.

Are they really patriots, or just another entity wrestling for power?

Naturally, individual people within that apparatus have different motivations. But the overwhelming agenda does not appear, to me, to be the heroic patriotism that many regard it to be.

That is most evident, perhaps, in imagining what may happen if Trump is indeed ousted, aided by his own legitimate corruption and abuses of power. Should Mike Pence ascend to the presidency, I don't imagine that this war would continue. I imagine instead that Pence, who has been diligently attending the intelligence briefings that his boss disdains, would find an immediate ally in the intelligence community.

And we would be left wondering where all those imagined patriots had gone.

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