by Adam Hill
“Oppressors,” James Madison once wrote, “can tyrannize only when they achieve a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace.” Our forefathers feared a large but idle military interfering with domestic politics or even taking power. Within our own hemisphere, a Latin American government is more likely to be toppled by its own army than by a foreign invader.
For example, last week, the standing army in Bolivia requested and received the resignation of their elected president. The Bolivian president resigned and fled to Mexico because the nation’s army has that kind of power over its elected leaders.
In contrast, the people of Costa Rica decided that their own army would be a greater threat to their government than the armies of their neighbors. So, 71 years ago, Costa Ricans simply eliminated their army. Since then, Costa Rica has enjoyed relative peace and stability when compared to its neighbors under the “protection” of their politically inclined militaries.
Although the U.S. military is large and robust, we’ve mostly been blessed by the fact that it has a disinclination to involve itself in domestic politics. But the same thing cannot be said of our Intelligence Community (including the FBI).
The Forbidden Fruit
Our elected leaders fear the U.S. Intelligence Community. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) famously warned the newly inaugurated President Trump not to tangle with America’s intelligence agencies, quipping, “Let me tell you: You take on the Intelligence Community—they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”
The CIA, for example, is not supposed to be involved in domestic politics. “By direction of the president in Executive Order 12333 of 1981, and in accordance with procedures approved by the Attorney General,” the agency’s own FAQ notes, “the CIA is restricted in the collection of intelligence information directed against U.S. citizens.” Although hard numbers are not easily obtainable, a significant portion of the CIA’s personnel is based in and around the Metro D.C. area, where they should not be operating or spying on anything.
D.C.-based CIA officials nevertheless find their attention drawn to the forbidden fruit of domestic matters in which they are not supposed to involve themselves. CIA hacked U.S. Senate computers to interfere with constitutional oversight of suspected CIA torture. The Justice Department, which also acts as part of the Intelligence Community, framed Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to successfully flip a Senate seat in an election year that coincided with the prosecution.
In March 2016, Time magazine referred to Hillary Clinton’s “Comey Primary,” to describe the power the FBI potentially wielded to pick the next president. We can also recall the text exchanges between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page in which they can be read clearly discussing how to use their official powers to guide Americans to the “correct” choice of president. We now know that the Intelligence Community used Stefan Halper to spy on and perhaps frame members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
More Mischief in 2020?
We’re seeing signs that the Intelligence Community is gearing up again, this time to interfere in the 2020 electoral process. The House Intelligence Committee under the leadership of U.S. Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), instead of addressing the two recent blockbuster reports on FBI spying on Americans (here and here), is acting as the IC’s shill to pursue its greatest political enemy, Donald Trump.
Now we have another CIA employee working with the House Intelligence Committee to overthrow the 2016 election in the highly partisan impeachment proceeding. This acolyte of the uber-political former CIA Director John Brennan kept tabs on the White House through his official position until seizing upon the Ukraine phone call as the means by which the agency could hamper the president’s reelection efforts.
The CIA should not be sponsoring the impeachment of a duly-elected president. The House Intelligence Committee chairman should not be coordinating political operations with the agency he’s supposed to be overseeing.
The Justice Department also has key operatives in place to interfere in the 2020 election. The architect of the disastrous and politically-driven Flynn prosecution, Branden Van Grack, is now in charge of the shadowy Justice Department unit that enforces the highly-abused Foreign Agent Registration Act law, which criminalizes certain contacts with foreigners. Van Grack is also an alumnus of the Mueller investigation.
Who Serves Whom?
These examples – and a great many more I haven’t listed – make the undeniable point: In America, we have a “standing army” problem with our Intelligence Community.
It is difficult to recall reading a single recent story about the CIA that did not involve meddling in our domestic American politics. In 2018, the director of national intelligence received a total appropriation of $81.5 billion for the combined intelligence budget of the various spy agencies. That figure is larger than all the taxes paid by the bottom 50 percent of taxpayers in the country. Every waitress, school teacher, and cop in American pays 100 percent of their taxes so the Intelligence Community can have its $81 billion per year.
But even that is not enough to satiate its rapacious appetite. Compare that to 2016, when the Russian collusion hoax began. Then, the budget was a mere $70.7 billion. What justified such a massive increase in just a few years?
The Intelligence Community openly admits to withholding sensitive information from the elected president. It effectively granted itself the power to check – even to defy – the power of the elected president. If it doesn’t agree with the president’s foreign policy, it simply “rebukes” the president in the public press without any fear of consequence.
In the wake of the Russian collusion hoax, America finds itself increasingly sliding towards a shadow tyranny in which unelected spy chiefs hold real power over those elected to what appear now to amount to mere ceremonial positions. Budgets keep getting bigger and power grabs become more brazen. And, as Madison warned, the mainstream press appears totally in thrall to their “sources” in the intelligence agencies.
It brings to mind the reports in the late 1970s of the CIA subverting journalists with bribes. The Intelligence Community seems more interested in amassing power within America than in challenging enemies abroad.
America’s intelligence agencies, arguably, are the greatest current threat to our Constitution. The situation is becoming dire. It’s worth at least contemplating a Costa Rican-style solution to the problem of this standing “army.” Americans need protection from their own Intelligence Community before an American Putin seizes control.
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Adam Mill is a pen name. He works in Kansas City, Missouri as an attorney specializing in labor and employment and public administration law.