Is the intelligence community running America?

Is the upper echelon of the American intelligence community running the country? I know that’s an explosive idea, and easily dismissed as being so far out of the mainstream that it’s got no stream at all.

But if you’re willing to ask the question, and then consider it along with what we know so far, it may not be too off the mark.

Obviously I don’t know the answer (though I do have a guess). Everything we know, however, says that this could be true if the generals in charge of the NSA want it to be true. After all, J. Edgar Hoover got quite far down that road with far fewer tools. It’s not like it can’t be done.

NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander (Image from Flickr photostream of Georgia Tech)

NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander (Image from Flickr photostream of Georgia Tech)

As an aid to your reflection, consider the extent of the spying as described in the following interview with Russell Tice, the original NSA whistle-blower.

Tice offers first-hand knowledge of eavesdropping on the phone calls, for example, of people like Barack Obama and Samuel Alito, plus their families and friends, prior to 2006, as well as on generals, media figures and a number of well-placed others, including at the State Dept.

In a separate interview, Tice adds that “they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the–and judicial [committees].”

He says he personally had papers ordering these surveillances in his hand.

Who is Russell Tice? In 2005, information from Tice formed the basis of the first big reporting on the NSA. Wikipedia (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):

Russell D. Tice (born 1961) is a former intelligence analyst for the U.S. Air Force, Office of Naval Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and National Security Agency (NSA). During his nearly 20 year career with various United States government agencies, he conducted intelligence missions related to the Kosovo War, Afghanistan, the USS Cole bombing in Yemen, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In December, 2005, Tice helped spark a national controversy over claims that the NSA and the DIA were engaged in unlawful and unconstitutional wiretaps on American citizens. He later admitted that he was one of the sources that were used in The New York Times reporting on the wiretap activity in December 2005.

After speaking publicly about the need for legislation to protect whistleblowers, Tice received national attention as the first NSA-whistleblower in May 2005 before William Binney, Thomas Andrews Drake, Mark Klein, Thomas Tamm and Edward Snowden came forward.

As Tice says in the interview below, the only difference between himself and Edward Snowden is that Snowden has the “tangible evidence,” the “proof of what I’ve said in the past.”

The language of my first sentence is Tice’s; I added nothing. And while he doesn’t offer proof of the suggested conclusion, he does offer educated guesses and labels them as such.

Keep in mind also that Tice is career military, a self-identified conservative, and a lifelong Republican — and as you’ll hear below, he’s both intelligent and careful in his wording. Again, just listen and consider.

The interview

Is the upper echelon of the intelligence community running the show? They’re in position to be doing it if they want to, according to Russell Tice.

I’ll let the interview speak for itself, with just a few notes below it. The interviewer is Abby Martin. Tice has given a number of interviews like this, by the way; just is just one of them. Please listen if the NSA story interests you; it’s not that long:

A few notes:

▪ At 1:42 and following he details the scale of the effort:

[NSA was] targetting news organizations … U.S. companies doing international business … financial companies … but they were also going after the State Department … high-ranking military generals … law firms and lawyers … [members of] the Supreme Court [including] Justice Alito … wannabe Senator Barack Obama.

▪ At 4:54 he’s asked, “Who is administering the [Bush-era] surveillance?” His answer:

… I don’t know … it looked like it was being done in the evenings … on the sly. … A high-level person at NSA told me it was being done from the Vice President’s office [Cheney]. I don’t know that for sure, but I was told that by a very senior person at NSA.

▪ At 5:30 and following, Martin and Tice discuss the reason for all the data-gathering on political figures, media figures and the like. Their speculative answer — and mine — is blackmail:

[Martin:] Why was it being done? The first thing that comes to my mind is blackmail.

[Tice:] I don’t know the answer to that … [but] I think you hit the word. … That would be a means of control … if you were to listen in on everyone’s conversations for years on end …

▪ And the kicker, the headline speculation, comes at 6:24. Martin and Tice consider who’s actually running “the show,” meaning the country:

[Tice:] … Is there some kind of leverage that’s being placed on our three branches of government to make sure the intelligence community gets what they want? In other words, is the intelligence community running this country, not our [elected] government?

[Martin:] Is there some sort of shadow government at play? … Who’s running the show here?

[Tice:] I don’t know for sure … but if I had to guess, I would say that it’s the upper echelon of the intelligence community running the show.

Remember, the NSA, according to this same interview, is spying on generals and admirals, starting at about three stars and above, including Gen. Patreus, who is named in the interview. That may well be why Tice says the “upper echelon of the intelligence community” and not the “upper echelon of the Pentagon” are running things. The intelligence community is run by a fairly small group.

▪ Finally, I want to point to this, about what’s so wrong with this spying. At 7:30, when Martin asks, “Politicians have been spying on each other for decades, so how is this different now?” Tice answers:

What’s different about this is … the Orwellian scale. This is the “everything scale” … everybody and everything. Content, not just the metadata. And when the’re say (the spying is) not that far, they are lying.

What’s different is “Orwellian scale, the everything scale.” All Data, in other words. There’s also a megalomaniac scale, which leads to this man.

Who is the “upper echelon of the intelligence community”?

The top dog of “intelligence community” is clearly this man — Gen. Keith Alexander. His picture is at the start of this piece, in case you pass him on the street.

And here’s what digby says about him, in a piece entitled “Dinner with Alexander the Great“:

Everything I read about this guy [Keith Alexander] makes me think he’s a megalomaniac and dramatically unsuited to the role he’s in. He’s in love with his technology and himself. And there is no limit to the amount of power he thinks he needs to “do his job” — which in his mind, is to save the world.

There are others in this upper echelon — confessed liar-before-Congress James Clapper is another — but I suspect Alexander’s in charge if anyone is. The group would have to be small, 10 to 15 people perhaps, but with wide support within the military (all that spying on generals and admirals probably doesn’t hurt).

The project looks doable to me — especially if they kept their fingers out of every pie that didn’t concern them; if they let the political process, in other words, look like the whole process. So far, though, it’s still speculation.

My own best guess

The “deep state” is the part that can’t be touched by the political process. Does Gen. Alexander help run it? If I had to give my own best guess, I’d say — add the “upper echelon billionaires”  to the intel guys, and you’ve probably listed everyone who counts as someone with a say in what happens when.

Do we go into Syria? That’s probably a fairly open conversation, with lots of voices, including Obama’s, having a say (though none of those voices are yours). Do we send every cop in an Occupy city to join the spook state in a national one-day takedown? With a Yes from every full-blown billionaire and each junior-mint Keith Alexander, Obama couldn’t stop it if he wanted to.

Could you therefore describe modern America as a joint operation between the billionaires and the intelligence community (national spook apparatus), with the political operation serving either or both? Occam’s switchblade has a very sharp edge; yes, you could.

That’s it for now; I’ll come back to Tice’s theory as more develops. Proof of blackmail by the intel folks may well emerge, lending credence to Tice’s speculation.

Of course, proof may not emerge; after all, no one wants to be the next stain on the pavement, do they. Some of these folks may have a taste for vengeance that would wipe that smile off anyone’s face.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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27 Responses to “Is the intelligence community running America?”

  1. Angela Monger says:

    Good point.

  2. Angela Monger says:

    It’s not all that far fetched to imagine that Alexander calls the shots. I mean hell the NSA does stuff the U.S. President knows nothing about. Same with the CIA. They are allowed to operate in so much secrecy that they decide what they will and will not tell people. One thing I do know for sure is that the President does not run the country and has not for a very long time. He gets his marching orders from someone else.

  3. Bruce says:

    NO intelligence there, but YES; and the TREASONOUS top “echelon’s” name is Poppy Bush, who has been in the pinnacle EXECUTION SUITE since November, 1963!

  4. JCDavis says:

    Tice is correct, without a doubt. But it’s not the NSA generals running the country, it’s people like Cheney and Mike Hayden. The people who first turn on a blackmail machine will only allow their own people to run it once they are gone. Because once you have this power, you’re not going to let it fall into the hands of your opponents. It’s operation is mostly invisible, as it destroys democracy from within while leaving a shell behind. But you can see it working if you look at Obama’s illogical polices and the odd spectacle of neocons flocking to his side. You can see Cheney’s face behind it all.

  5. MichaelHorn says:

    For an insight look at the realities of the situation please see:

    …and do note that the source of this information has an impeccable record of accuracy, more of which can be perused here:

  6. mary782 says:

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  7. Charles Robinson says:

    It takes only a gentle reminder that the last President who thought he could significantly change how things were run was JFK, and look what happened to him.

  8. Indigo says:

    I’d like to agree with your optimistic assessment but I’m not persuaded that anyone “powerful” is not also profiting from the incompetence and waste

  9. Nathanael says:

    It is worth noting that Teddy Roosevelt would not have been even slightly intimidated by threats of assassination, given this:
    We seem to have a lot of cowards in politics, by comparison.

  10. Nathanael says:

    “When any country puts billions or trillions into a large military,
    some use is always found for it, usually involving some kind of

    Yes: but it is important to remember that the US has lost every war since the end of the Korean War. A bloated military which *keeps losing* is very Louis XIV.

  11. Nathanael says:

    It’ll blow up before that. There’s too much insanity and uselessness in the unintelligence agencies and the insecurity agencies. Someone powerful will get frustrated by the sheer incompetence and waste.

  12. Nathanael says:

    Any President with the guts of Teddy Roosevelt could shut every last one of these criminal “unintelligence” agencies down.

    Teddy R. – level fearlessness seems rare, sadly.

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    Well this cooled my morning coffee quickly. Absolutely scary, not surprising, what a lot of us think, but still bone chilling.

  14. lynchie says:

    Hey I’m from East Bumfuck and our fife and drum corps are the shit

  15. nicho says:

    It has been running the country since it’s inception. The very beginnings of the intelligence communities were members of the corporatocracy. And nothing has changed.

  16. nicho says:

    Long before that. I watched the first inauguration. For some reason, I left the TV on while doing other things. At the tail end of the parade, when the fife and drum corps from East Bumfuck, Wyoming was going by, most of the people had left the reviewing stand to go change into their duds for the evening festivities. Obama was still in his box, all alone except for a handful of military brass. I had no idea what they were talking about, but the body language was so strange — like a bunch of guys at the Elks Club talking about next week’s poker game — not at all like military brass meeting the new CIC for the first time.

  17. PAULinDC says:

    Please … Your Betters + All Data + Global Security State = this, if there is any doubt:

    I particularly like the “balanced” juxtaposition of Karp and Thiel … the libertarian. Libertarians – in today’s vernacular – are just Your Betters [or wannabee proxies] who don’t want THEMSELVES to be encumbered by accountability or transparency, under the guise of “also being against the ‘man’ “.

  18. caphillprof says:

    There’s also that question of what happened to Barack Obama after the first vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.

  19. cole3244 says:

    anti democratic forces have been running america for far longer than we realize or want to know if you go by the public’s interest and attention span.
    it sounds like we have a hoover like personality in charge at nsa, scary stuff to be sure.

  20. Indigo says:

    It’s the madness of Caligula and doesn’t quite come to an open confrontation until one or the other of the top dogs announces that he’s God. Then the fun begins.

  21. Indigo says:

    Yes, no, maybe. The capability and the hubris are in place and a global-nationalist take over is possible but from where I sit, it’s the corporatists who run the intelligence operatives, inflate student loans and university costs, subvert local transparency, insinuate their financial nihilism into the media, including text books, and conspire with archaic religionists to establish neo-feudalism as the social norm. The intelligence aka spy community are mere operatives in a larger scheme for global hegemony.

  22. Bill_Perdue says:

    “Is the intelligence community running America?”

    No, like the political prostitutes who administer the country for the rich,the military who aggressively attack other nations to steal their land and resources, ‘intelligence’ agencies like NSA, the FBI, CIA, are in reality repressive agencies organized to protect the rich from the growing layers of domestic radicalized workers and youth and from the same groups in countries attacked or threatened by the empire builders.

  23. Bcre8ve says:

    I’ve been saying for years, during the Bush admin. as well, that the only thing that could explain the actions of certain legislators, and judges, was blackmail. Everybody said I was wrong. Couldn’t be done.

    I take no pleasure in now saying, “Ha!”

  24. rudolf schnaubelt says:

    the deep state proceeds silently and largely unseen. a hidden leviathan. first it protects & perpetuates the deep state.

  25. lynchie says:

    the billions and trillions spent with little oversight and zero transparency to the public leads to abuse at many different levels. Better to keep our mind off things with a hub bub over Miley’s twerking or the latest Kardashian story. I also find it extremely depressing that on the date celebrating MLK’s speech we are again contemplating blowing the shit out of people on the other side of the world. As a country we reacted with outrage at the 9/11 attacks, yet we saw nothing wrong with killing 100’s of thousands in Iraq, Afghanistan etc. As long as the killing happens to someone else we are good with it.

  26. BeccaM says:

    Our government and its leaders are constantly saying they need “tools” to protect us from terrorism and every other scary thing in the world.

    When any country puts billions or trillions into a large military, some use is always found for it, usually involving some kind of aggression.

    We’ve allowed this new thing to happen, where in the name of fighting ‘terrorism’, we’ve granted sweeping powers to organizations full of fallible, corruptible men and women. Power to spy on everyone, at any time, for reasons that need never be revealed to anyone. Unaccountable power with no meaningful oversight.

    This kind of situation never ends well.

  27. lynchie says:

    Well this cooled my morning coffee quickly. Absolutely scary, not surprising, what a lot of us think, but still bone chilling.

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