Blogs: Paul Pillar

Anti-Semitism in the U.S.: Its Foundations and Recent Surge

Kim Jong-Donald

Deep-Six the Notion of a "Deep State"

Paul Pillar

Accusations about leaking have been a customary part of rhetoric about a deep state, and such accusations lose sight of two relevant realities.  One is that the leaker is not necessarily to be found in whatever department or agency originated the document or information that was leaked.  Intelligence products are distributed widely throughout the government; a leak of intelligence or an intelligence judgment did not necessarily come out of an intelligence agency.  The other is that employees of intelligence agencies have more to fear for their jobs and careers, and thus more of a deterrent against any temptation to leak, than do most other government employees, given the special security scrutiny, including periodic polygraph examinations, to which they are subjected regarding their handling of classified information.

A traditional purveyor of the deep state notion for years has been a body of opinion, concentrated mainly on the political left, that holds that the national security bureaucracy and the intelligence community in particular distorts its judgments and hypes threats in order to sustain or increase their budgets.  Most recently, this idea has been applied to the intelligence judgments regarding the Russian interference in the U.S. election, with the specific idea being that this is a hyping of a Russian threat for budget-sustaining reasons.  Besides all of the reasons given above that this idea is invalid, the accusation also does not square with historical experience.  The intelligence community did not seem to be hyping, for example, any Russian (then Soviet) threat in the 1970s, when the main challenge to its judgments about Soviet strategic forces came from those who thought intelligence community estimates on that subject were not alarmist enough and got President Ford to establish a “Team B” to come up with a different estimate.  More generally, the ebb and flow of national security spending has had far less to do with the tone or details of intelligence community judgments than with other forces or events, such as what a terrorist group does (leading to the U.S. intervention in the Afghanistan War) or what intelligence community-hating neoconservatives do (leading to the Iraq War).  Besides, there is no clear and direct connection that should exist, any more than it does exist, between an intelligence judgment about any specific threat and the overall need for spending on intelligence.  It is less the level of threat from Moscow or any other place than it is the uncertainty of threats that implies a need for intelligence.  With threats that are clear enough for us to understand based on other sources of information, we don’t need intelligence.

Now the idea of a deep state is being promoted from an additional direction: President Trump and defenders.  Here we are seeing another application of Trump’s technique, which he learned at the feet of Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s sidekick, always to strike back at any source of embarrassing information and never to admit or apologize for anything.  Amid the battering the president and the administration have taken over the multifaceted issue of relations with the Russians, attacking the intelligence community as the core of a supposed deep state is just one more application of this technique.

Looking at both these applications of the notion of a deep state exposes one of the contradictions in the notion itself.  The intelligence community budget tends to rise or fall with the overall defense budget.  Trump has proposed an increase in defense spending even while slashing most of the rest of the federal budget.  If those supposed deep staters really were most concerned about their budget, they would be supporting Trump and would have no reason to undermine him.  So much for the idea that intelligence estimates about things like Russian behavior are shaped by the estimators’ budget concerns.  And so much for the idea that the intelligence community has a selfish and narrow motivation to undermine Trump.  The intelligence community does not have a problem with the budget, and Trump does not have a genuine problem with the intelligence community; he has a problem with the truth.

Image: Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the South Point Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Flickr / Gage Skidmore

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Why Trump Likes the Military

Paul Pillar

Accusations about leaking have been a customary part of rhetoric about a deep state, and such accusations lose sight of two relevant realities.  One is that the leaker is not necessarily to be found in whatever department or agency originated the document or information that was leaked.  Intelligence products are distributed widely throughout the government; a leak of intelligence or an intelligence judgment did not necessarily come out of an intelligence agency.  The other is that employees of intelligence agencies have more to fear for their jobs and careers, and thus more of a deterrent against any temptation to leak, than do most other government employees, given the special security scrutiny, including periodic polygraph examinations, to which they are subjected regarding their handling of classified information.

A traditional purveyor of the deep state notion for years has been a body of opinion, concentrated mainly on the political left, that holds that the national security bureaucracy and the intelligence community in particular distorts its judgments and hypes threats in order to sustain or increase their budgets.  Most recently, this idea has been applied to the intelligence judgments regarding the Russian interference in the U.S. election, with the specific idea being that this is a hyping of a Russian threat for budget-sustaining reasons.  Besides all of the reasons given above that this idea is invalid, the accusation also does not square with historical experience.  The intelligence community did not seem to be hyping, for example, any Russian (then Soviet) threat in the 1970s, when the main challenge to its judgments about Soviet strategic forces came from those who thought intelligence community estimates on that subject were not alarmist enough and got President Ford to establish a “Team B” to come up with a different estimate.  More generally, the ebb and flow of national security spending has had far less to do with the tone or details of intelligence community judgments than with other forces or events, such as what a terrorist group does (leading to the U.S. intervention in the Afghanistan War) or what intelligence community-hating neoconservatives do (leading to the Iraq War).  Besides, there is no clear and direct connection that should exist, any more than it does exist, between an intelligence judgment about any specific threat and the overall need for spending on intelligence.  It is less the level of threat from Moscow or any other place than it is the uncertainty of threats that implies a need for intelligence.  With threats that are clear enough for us to understand based on other sources of information, we don’t need intelligence.

Now the idea of a deep state is being promoted from an additional direction: President Trump and defenders.  Here we are seeing another application of Trump’s technique, which he learned at the feet of Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s sidekick, always to strike back at any source of embarrassing information and never to admit or apologize for anything.  Amid the battering the president and the administration have taken over the multifaceted issue of relations with the Russians, attacking the intelligence community as the core of a supposed deep state is just one more application of this technique.

Looking at both these applications of the notion of a deep state exposes one of the contradictions in the notion itself.  The intelligence community budget tends to rise or fall with the overall defense budget.  Trump has proposed an increase in defense spending even while slashing most of the rest of the federal budget.  If those supposed deep staters really were most concerned about their budget, they would be supporting Trump and would have no reason to undermine him.  So much for the idea that intelligence estimates about things like Russian behavior are shaped by the estimators’ budget concerns.  And so much for the idea that the intelligence community has a selfish and narrow motivation to undermine Trump.  The intelligence community does not have a problem with the budget, and Trump does not have a genuine problem with the intelligence community; he has a problem with the truth.

Image: Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the South Point Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Flickr / Gage Skidmore

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Leak-Shopping and the Politicization of Intelligence

Paul Pillar

Accusations about leaking have been a customary part of rhetoric about a deep state, and such accusations lose sight of two relevant realities.  One is that the leaker is not necessarily to be found in whatever department or agency originated the document or information that was leaked.  Intelligence products are distributed widely throughout the government; a leak of intelligence or an intelligence judgment did not necessarily come out of an intelligence agency.  The other is that employees of intelligence agencies have more to fear for their jobs and careers, and thus more of a deterrent against any temptation to leak, than do most other government employees, given the special security scrutiny, including periodic polygraph examinations, to which they are subjected regarding their handling of classified information.

A traditional purveyor of the deep state notion for years has been a body of opinion, concentrated mainly on the political left, that holds that the national security bureaucracy and the intelligence community in particular distorts its judgments and hypes threats in order to sustain or increase their budgets.  Most recently, this idea has been applied to the intelligence judgments regarding the Russian interference in the U.S. election, with the specific idea being that this is a hyping of a Russian threat for budget-sustaining reasons.  Besides all of the reasons given above that this idea is invalid, the accusation also does not square with historical experience.  The intelligence community did not seem to be hyping, for example, any Russian (then Soviet) threat in the 1970s, when the main challenge to its judgments about Soviet strategic forces came from those who thought intelligence community estimates on that subject were not alarmist enough and got President Ford to establish a “Team B” to come up with a different estimate.  More generally, the ebb and flow of national security spending has had far less to do with the tone or details of intelligence community judgments than with other forces or events, such as what a terrorist group does (leading to the U.S. intervention in the Afghanistan War) or what intelligence community-hating neoconservatives do (leading to the Iraq War).  Besides, there is no clear and direct connection that should exist, any more than it does exist, between an intelligence judgment about any specific threat and the overall need for spending on intelligence.  It is less the level of threat from Moscow or any other place than it is the uncertainty of threats that implies a need for intelligence.  With threats that are clear enough for us to understand based on other sources of information, we don’t need intelligence.

Now the idea of a deep state is being promoted from an additional direction: President Trump and defenders.  Here we are seeing another application of Trump’s technique, which he learned at the feet of Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s sidekick, always to strike back at any source of embarrassing information and never to admit or apologize for anything.  Amid the battering the president and the administration have taken over the multifaceted issue of relations with the Russians, attacking the intelligence community as the core of a supposed deep state is just one more application of this technique.

Looking at both these applications of the notion of a deep state exposes one of the contradictions in the notion itself.  The intelligence community budget tends to rise or fall with the overall defense budget.  Trump has proposed an increase in defense spending even while slashing most of the rest of the federal budget.  If those supposed deep staters really were most concerned about their budget, they would be supporting Trump and would have no reason to undermine him.  So much for the idea that intelligence estimates about things like Russian behavior are shaped by the estimators’ budget concerns.  And so much for the idea that the intelligence community has a selfish and narrow motivation to undermine Trump.  The intelligence community does not have a problem with the budget, and Trump does not have a genuine problem with the intelligence community; he has a problem with the truth.

Image: Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the South Point Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Flickr / Gage Skidmore

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