Bureaucracy – the Fifth Estate

One of the deepest impressions I took away from Afghanistan 2009-10 was an appreciation *for bureaucracy. 
#Bureaucracy in the United States carries a lot of baggage, and negative connotations, and yet, what struck me in Afghanistan was the challenge of sustaining a democracy amidst rampant corruption, when the country had a ~92% illiteracy rate. 

A competent bureaucracy was precisely what was needed, because how do you fight corrupt practices and run an accountable government when the vast majority of the people cannot read or write? We had one out of twenty Afghan National Police on our outpost who was literate – i.e., only one person could document witness statements, keep records, etc. – sometimes tedious things to ensure shit wasn’t just made up out – and that there was a Process for things.

You leave a place like Afghanistan with its history of tribalism and Warlords, in an externally imposed and nascent attempt at a centralized democracy, and you just think, if only they had a Bureaucracy- a functioning and professional Civil Service working in institutions free of all the cronyism, nepotism, parochial influences that manifests itself in the corruption.

Well, maybe this is the last line in the United Stated for those who fear Executive overreach – that those who make the Bureacracy is up to snuff, and having spent more than a spot-Political Appointee term at one thing or another, know what lines they will not cross. 

What Trump has said about the CIA and the military has “put us in a difficult position, but the flip side is there is an institutional ability to survive,” said a second senior U.S. official. 

“Bureaucracies chug along and take lumps and have conflicts. If you ask about rank and file, for a long time there has been a sense that [presidents and administrations] come and go, but we’re still here. You’ve got to assume that the Foreign Service at State, generals at the Department of Defense, have that belief. There’s an institutional stability built into the system that can withstand spasms.”


How Mark Felt Became DEEP THROAT
“When I mentioned the graduate work to Felt, he perked up immediately, saying he had gone to night law school at GW in the 1930s before joining — and this is the first time he mentioned it — the FBI. While in law school, he said, he had worked full time for a senator — his home-state senator from Idaho. I said that I had been doing some volunteer work at the office of my congressman, John Erlenborn, a Republican from the district in Wheaton, Ill., where I had been raised.

“So we had two connections — graduate work at GW and work with elected representatives from our home states.
“Felt and I were like two passengers sitting next to each other on a long airline flight with nowhere to go and nothing really to do but resign ourselves to the dead time. 

“Felt seemed sympathetic to the lost-soul quality of my questions. He said that after he had his law degree his first job had been with the Federal Trade Commission. His first assignment was to determine whether toilet paper with the brand name Red Cross was at an unfair competitive advantage because people thought it was endorsed or approved by the American Red Cross. The FTC was a classic federal bureaucracy — slow and leaden — and he hated it. Within a year he had applied to the FBI and been accepted. Law school opened the most doors, he seemed to be saying, but don’t get caught in your own equivalent of a toilet-paper investigation…

“Somewhat to my astonishment, Felt was an admirer of J. Edgar Hoover. He appreciated his orderliness and the way he ran the bureau with rigid procedures and an iron fist. Felt said he appreciated that Hoover arrived at the office at 6:30 each morning and everyone knew what was expected. The Nixon White House was another matter, Felt said. The political pressures were immense, he said without being specific. I believe he called it “corrupt” and sinister. Hoover, Felt and the old guard were the wall that protected the FBI, he said.

In his own memoir, “The FBI Pyramid: From the Inside,” which received almost no attention when it was published in 1979, five years after President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation, Felt angrily called this a “White House-Justice Department cabal.”

At the time, pre-Watergate, there was little or no public knowledge of the vast pushing, shoving and outright acrimony between the Nixon White House and Hoover’s FBI. The Watergate investigations later revealed that in 1970 a young White House aide named Tom Charles Huston had come up with a plan to authorize the CIA, the FBI and military intelligence units to intensify electronic surveillance of “domestic security threats,” authorize illegal opening of mail, and lift the restrictions on surreptitious entries or break-ins to gather intelligence. 

Felt, a much more learned man than most realized, later wrote that he considered Huston “a kind of White House gauleiter over the intelligence community.” The word “gauleiter” is not in most dictionaries, but in the four-inch-thick Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language it is defined as “the leader or chief official of a political district under Nazi control.”

There is little doubt Felt thought the Nixon team were Nazis. During this period, he had to stop efforts by others in the bureau to “identify every member of every hippie commune” in the Los Angeles area, for example, or to open a file on every member of Students for a Democratic Society.

None of this surfaced directly in our discussions, but clearly he was a man under pressure, and the threat to the integrity and independence of the bureau was real and seemed uppermost in his mind.

He had nothing but contempt for the Nixon White House and their efforts to manipulate the bureau for political reasons. The young eager-beaver patrol of White House underlings, best exemplified by John W. Dean III, was odious to him.



“First and most importantly, the bureaucracy is the front line of defense against executive abuses. So yes, in my opinion, my correspondent and others like him have—as he puts it—some “ethical and civic responsibility to stay here to do [their] small part to try to keep things in check.” The amount of damage that an abusive chief executive can effectuate is dramatically lessened if he has professional staff that will only behave legally and ethically. If Justice Department prosecutors will not target individuals because they have displeased the president or because he has declared that “everyone knows she’s guilty,” a Trump presidency will be far less abusive than if they will do these things. That means that people acculturated to modern ethical and legal norms of behavior among government lawyers should remain in place, at least at the outset. The same is true of FBI agents and CIA officers. It’s important, very important, that the government be staffed at the career level by people who know the lines they will not cross.


Why you might want to: to get rid of lazy assholes who don’t do shit.

Why you wouldn’t: to prevent our agencies from becoming staffed with partisan loyalists and become tools of a regime, rather than existing in service of the state. (What happens in authoritarian regimes)



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