Shadow Wars and the Administrative State

Shadow Wars and the Administrative State

When conservatives complain about the “deep state,” they are usually dismissed as kooks, fanatics, or Trump cultists.  There is no “deep state” in America, the media and the rest of the ruling class insist.  That’s a conspiracy theory and, worse yet, one appropriated from Turkey, the perpetually twisted and paranoid “sick man of Europe.”  Belief in the deep state automatically disqualifies one from serious discussions between serious people.

For our part, we tend to disagree with most of this, but we’re not insistent about it.  Fear of the Deep State doesn’t keep us up at night, checking the closet or under our beds obsessively.  And in any case, we will, for the purpose of today’s discussion, stipulate that the Deep State does not exist.  For argument’s sake, we concede that there is no such thing.  It is a figment of Donald Trump’s distorted and overactive imagination.

Good.  Now that that’s out of the way, we can move on to this (emphasis added):

Now entering the third year of a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, the intelligence partnership between Washington and Kyiv is a linchpin of Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. The C.I.A. and other American intelligence agencies provide intelligence for targeted missile strikes, track Russian troop movements and help support spy networks.

But the partnership is no wartime creation, nor is Ukraine the only beneficiary.

It took root a decade ago, coming together in fits and starts under three very different U.S. presidents, pushed forward by key individuals who often took daring risks….

The listening post in the Ukrainian forest is part of a C.I.A.-supported network of spy bases constructed in the past eight years that includes 12 secret locations along the Russian border….

Around 2016, the C.I.A. began training an elite Ukrainian commando force — known as Unit 2245 — which captured Russian drones and communications gear so that C.I.A. technicians could reverse-engineer them and crack Moscow’s encryption systems. (One officer in the unit was Kyrylo Budanov, now the general leading Ukraine’s military intelligence.)

And the C.I.A. also helped train a new generation of Ukrainian spies who operated inside Russia, across Europe, and in Cuba and other places where the Russians have a large presence.

The relationship is so ingrained that C.I.A. officers remained at a remote location in western Ukraine when the Biden administration evacuated U.S. personnel in the weeks before Russia invaded in February 2022….

In January 2016, General Kondratiuk flew to Washington for meetings at Scattergood, an estate on the C.I.A. campus in Virginia where the agency often fetes visiting dignitaries. The agency agreed to help the HUR modernize, and to improve its ability to intercept Russian military communications. In exchange, General Kondratiuk agreed to share all of the raw intelligence with the Americans.

Now the partnership was real….

The C.I.A. began sending equipment in 2016, after the pivotal meeting at Scattergood, General Dvoretskiy said, providing encrypted radios and devices for intercepting secret enemy communications.

Beyond the base, the C.I.A. also oversaw a training program, carried out in two European cities, to teach Ukrainian intelligence officers how to convincingly assume fake personas and steal secrets in Russia and other countries that are adept at rooting out spies. The program was called Operation Goldfish….

The Operation Goldfish officers were soon deployed to 12 newly-built, forward operating bases constructed along the Russian border. From each base, General Kondratiuk said, the Ukrainian officers ran networks of agents who gathered intelligence inside Russia.

C.I.A. officers installed equipment at the bases to help gather intelligence and also identified some of the most skilled Ukrainian graduates of the Operation Goldfish program, working with them to approach potential Russian sources….

The election of Mr. Trump in November 2016 put the Ukrainians and their C.I.A. partners on edge….

But whatever Mr. Trump said and did, his administration often went in the other direction. This is because Mr. Trump had put Russia hawks in key positions, including Mike Pompeo as C.I.A. director and John Bolton as national security adviser. They visited Kyiv to underline their full support for the secret partnership, which expanded to include more specialized training programs and the building of additional secret bases.

The base in the forest grew to include a new command center and barracks, and swelled from 80 to 800 Ukrainian intelligence officers.

Under normal circumstances, we’d tell you to “read the whole thing.”  But this is just … too … depressing.  Do you remember how, just before the war started, Biden Administration officials were warning of an imminent invasion and began withdrawing personnel from Ukraine, even as Zelensky and Ukrainian officials insisted that all was well and that they didn’t know what the Americans were prattling on about?  As it turns out, the reason the Americans knew of the impending invasion while the Ukrainians did not was that the CIA has been waging a shadow war against Russia from Ukraine for the last decade.  The Biden administration CIA knew what was going on in Ukraine better than the Zelensky administration did.  Because of course it did.

Putin is a vicious, murderous authoritarian and war criminal.  And now that his forces have invaded Ukraine, he and they must be stopped.  Still, one might be forgiven for wondering how and why this all came to be in the first place.

If we abide by the stipulation made above, that the Deep State doesn’t exist, then what are we make of the CIA’s shadow war and the apparently open admission that the duly elected 45th President of the United States was kept in the dark about the whole thing?  How do we reconcile the fact that the CIA was, at the very least, playing with fire for a whole decade without any of “the people” knowing about it, much less agreeing to it?

Sadly, we don’t need the Deep State to explain any of this.  All we need is the Administrative State.  Just as the Department of Transportation, for example, or the Environmental Protection Agency operates in near total seclusion from the will of the people, with unelected and unaccountable officials doing as they see fit, irrespective of the voters’ wishes, so does the CIA.  The only difference between the EPA and the CIA is that the latter, by dint of its mission, is empowered to keep more of its actions clandestine and free from the scrutiny of oversight by Congress.  That additional secretiveness may give the impression of subterfuge and treachery, but that is largely an illusion.  What we have here is not a problem of conspiracy, but a problem of bureaucracy.

We have argued in these pages many times that one of the chief problems with bureaucratic theory as it is usually understood and practiced is that it presumes a value-neutral impartiality that is not in evidence.  Max Weber was flat wrong when he asserted that the bureaucracy, being without value preferences of its own, would follow the directives of the elected officials to whom it is theoretically subordinate.  Nearly a century of experience has shown that neither bureaucracies in the aggregate nor individual bureaucrats behave that way.  Rather, they do have their own value preferences and they do integrate those into their day-to-day operations, as well as their long-term construction of agency fiefdoms.

The simple fact of the matter is that the CIA is out of control – literally.  No one outside of the agency is controlling it.  But that’s largely the story of the federal bureaucracy as a whole.  It too is out of control, which is an enormous problem for a government that professes to be of, by, and for the people.

What’s interesting about all of this is that the reason we are reading about the shadow war now and the reason that no one will be punished for engineering and perpetuating this clandestine effort is that it fits the regime’s narrative.  The CIA and/or its allies in the White House leaked all of this to the New York Times because they wanted the story told, because they believe that this portrays them in a positive light, because they believe themselves to be the good guys and the Republicans holding up aid to Ukraine to be the bad guys.  The irony here is that the people who spend half their lives shrieking about how they are out on the front lines trying to save Our Democracy ™ are the same people who spend the other half of their lives enabling and encouraging a war waged under a veil of secrecy by unelected officials who are not accountable to voters.

There’s no Deep State, you weirdos.  There’s only “government as usual.”

Of course, that’s the problem.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
[email protected]

Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.