For those of us who have been reading Glenn Greenwald for the past decade, Glennon provides an alternative theory to explain the continuity of the state surveillance and security policies; policies that are largely independent of which party happens to be in power. Glennon makes a distinction between the “Madisonian” institutions that are the public face of our government - the executive, legislative, and judicial branches - and the “Trumanite” institutions - the network of surveillance and security departments. He makes the case that the public, Madisonian, government has little effective control over the operation of the Trumanite network; that it would be nearly impossible for a President to simply give an order that would cause that network to change course; that congress members do not have the time or the expertise (or the desire) to effectively oversee that network; and that members of the judiciary are pre-vetted as adherents of the aims and autonomy of the Trumanite network. He says that the Madisonian institutions occasionally are able to rein in on rare occasions - just often enough to maintain the appearance that they are in control, without actually being so.

The Trumanite network, consisting of the military, CIA, National Security Council, NSA, and dozens of other surveillance and security organizations, operate with secret budgets, secret missions, secret interpretations of the law, and secret, captive and separate judiciary. The heads of those organizations are basically above the law, and treat their would-be overseers with contempt and derision. The network is technocratic, bureaucratic, and tactical. Advancement within the network is predicated on agreeing with, and never challenging, the decisions of its leaders past or present. Thus even failed policies, such as the nearly permanent wars of aggression in the middle east, are continued and even enhanced over time - there is simply no incentive within the Trumanite network to admit failure, and strong motivation not to.

You might think that since Glennon has found a plausible and somewhat testable theory of operation of the “double government”, that he would be able to offer a remedy. But he really has none. He sees no prospect that the Madisonian institutions will be able to reassert control. In part he blames this on the lack of “civil virtue” of the populace at large: the widespread ignorance and indifference of the citizenry. He points to articles in the Federalist papers that acknowledge that the finely-tuned balance of powers relies for its effectiveness on a citizenry that is informed and engaged. Our population is neither. But he also acknowledges that the situation has developed to a condition in which it is literally impossible to be informed: virtually everything done by the Trumanite network is classified, and there are “only a handful of investigative reporters” still working in the United States; and because of the high wall of secrecy, even they are unable to shed much light.

So this is a book that is both enlightening and depressing. It leaves me hoping that there are a hundred more Edward Snowdens willing to throw open the doors of secrecy and reveal the workings of the security apparatus - perhaps that would, finally, rouse the masses from their slumber.



Book cover

Metadata Info

  • Title: National Security and Double Government
  • Author: Michael J. Glennon
  • Published: 2014
  • ISBN: 0190206446
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 5.0 stars