Black ops

Kate Brannen at Foreign Policy says it’s become clear that it’s Bannon who’s running the show.

Even before he was given a formal seat on the National Security Council’s “principals committee” this weekend by President Donald Trump, Bannon was calling the shots and doing so with little to no input from the National Security Council staff, according to an intelligence official who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution.

That seems healthy. A week in, and people are afraid of retribution, and the guy calling the shots is a guy who built a new career on racism.

“He is running a cabal, almost like a shadow NSC,” the official said. He described a work environment where there is little appetite for dissenting opinions, shockingly no paper trail of what’s being discussed and agreed upon at meetings, and no guidance or encouragement so far from above about how the National Security Council staff should be organized.

The intelligence official, who said he was willing to give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt when it took office, is now deeply troubled by how things are being run.

They’re doing all these executive orders without the normal consultation and discussion.

Under previous administrations, if someone thought another person or directorate had a stake in the issue at hand or expertise in a subject area, he or she was free to share the papers as long as the recipient had proper clearance.

With that standard in mind, when some officials saw Trump’s draft executive orders, they felt they had broad impact and shared them more widely for staffing and comments.

That did not sit well with Bannon or his staff, according to the official. More stringent guidelines for handling and routing were then instituted, and the National Security Council staff was largely cut out of the process.

By the end of the week, they weren’t the only ones left in the dark. Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, was being briefed on the executive order, which called for immediately shutting the borders to nationals from seven largely Muslim countries and all refugees, while Trump was in the midst of signing the measure, the New York Times reported.

That’s not surprising, at this point, but it is terrifying.

The lack of a paper trail documenting the decision-making process is also troubling, the intelligence official said. For example, under previous administrations, after a principals or deputies meeting of the National Security Council, the discussion, the final agreement, and the recommendations would be written up in what’s called a “summary of conclusions” — or SOC in government-speak.

They’re important. They make it possible to go on discussing the decision.

During the first week of the Trump administration, there were no SOCs, the intelligence official said. In fact, according to him, there is surprisingly very little paper being generated, and whatever paper there is, the NSC staff is not privy to it. He sees this as a deterioration of transparency and accountability.

“It would worry me if written records of these meeting were eliminated, because they contribute to good governance,” Waxman said.

That’s putting it incredibly mildly. Transparency and accountability are crucial, and these dictators are preventing them.

It is equally important that NSC staff be the ones drafting the issue papers going into meetings, too, said Schulman. “The idea is to share with everyone a fair and balanced take on the issue, with the range of viewpoints captured in that document,” she said.

If those papers are now being generated by political staff, she added, it corrupts the whole process.

It could also contribute to Bannon’s centralization of power.

“He who has the pen has the authority to shape outcomes,” the intelligence official said.

Now Bannon’s role in the shadows is being formalized thanks to an executive order signed Saturday by Trump that formally gives Bannon a seat on the National Security Council’s principals committee. The same executive order removed from that group the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the director of national intelligence, and the secretary of energy. Their new diminished role is not unprecedented, but some still find it a troubling piece of this larger picture.

It’s not unlike a coup.

I don’t want to be governed by a Breitbart troll who has seized power in secret. I really don’t.

Meanwhile, Bannon’s new role is unprecedented. Under Obama, it wasn’t unheard of for his chief political advisors, John Podesta and David Axelrod, to attend NSC meetings, but they were never guaranteed a seat at the table. Under Bush, the line between national security and domestic political considerations was even clearer. Top aides have said they never saw Karl Rove or “anyone from his shop” in NSC meetings, and that’s because Bush told him explicitly not to attend.

The signal Bush “especially wanted to send to the military is that, ‘The decisions I’m making that involve life and death for the people in uniform will not be tainted by any political decisions,’” former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said last September.

That’s actually rather impressive. Well done Bush.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Bannon’s appointment to the council as a permanent member a “radical departure” from how the decision-making body was organized in the past, adding that he found the change “concerning.”

Inside and outside of government, there are also deep reservations about Bannon’s alignment with the far right and white nationalism, thanks to his previous leadership of Breitbart.

Well quite. He doesn’t belong there. None of this is ok.

Trump’s management style is known to be highly unstructured, if not chaotic. The Post reported in May that he was running his presidential campaign like he ran his business — “fond of promoting rivalries among subordinates, wary of delegating major decisions, scornful of convention and fiercely insistent on a culture of loyalty around him.”

“While this may have worked for his company, it is certainly not a way to run a country,” the official said.

No, it’s not. It’s a nightmare.

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