Our 4th Branch of Government

Everyone knows our government has 3 branches; the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. That’s basic high school civics. But, it’s no longer true. The US government now seems to have a 4th branch: The national security apparatus, which has unfathomable power and reach.

From Tom Engelhard: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

New efforts at “reforms” will, at best, only modestly impede the powers of this [security] state within a state. Generally speaking, its powers and prerogatives remain beyond constraint by our judicial branch of government. It is deferred to with remarkable frequency by the executive branch and, with the rarest of exceptions, it has been supported handsomely with much obeisance and few doubts by Congress.

The national security apparatus is unelected. After last week’s mea culpa by Mr. Obama, apparently it has also moved beyond our Constitutional rules of checks and balances. You may recall that a report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) on the CIA’s Rendition/Detention/Interrogation (RDI) program, was held up by the CIA. Along the way, we learned that the CIA was improperly spying on the SSCI.

In March, CIA Director John Brennan said spying on the Senate was outside the realm of possibility, claiming:

As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s — that’s just beyond the — you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.

Now we learn they did exactly that. The CIA Inspector General has found that:

CIA employees improperly accessed computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a report on the agency’s now defunct detention and interrogation program,

On August 1st, the administration defended the CIA and Brennan’s actions. But Brennan DID obstruct the investigation, he leveled false charges at the Senate Intelligence Committee staff, filed those charges with Department of Justice, and then oversaw the process of redacting the damning CIA report.

From the Booman Tribune:

By any normal standard, John Brennan would be prosecuted for his actions. But he is being protected by the administration. I don’t think this is best explained by the idea that Brennan is doing a good job in other respects. He’s a major embarrassment to the administration and protecting him makes them look extremely bad. From the very beginning of his administration, I think President Obama has simply been afraid to take on the Intelligence Community.

And remember Mr. Obama’s rationale:

…we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened…there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And, you know, it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots…

He has clearly taken a side and it’s not that of transparency, or the Constitution. Or, do we live in a country where the President works at the direction of the head of the CIA?

Alternative Obama: If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a dozen times, look forward, because if you look backward you’re going to learn from history and then how are we ever going to continue weakening your Constitution?

Alternative Alternative Obama: John Brennan has a gun to my head. Keeps reminding me of how much my Presidency looks like that of JFK. Worries about my safety…

That might explain his lack of political courage, but, political courage is exactly what is required if we are to get off the self-destructive path this country is walking. Sadly, we aren’t seeing that. Too many are scared that they might lose their jobs if the boss saw their political action. Too many are flummoxed by how easily Congress can be co-opted by money. Too many in our media are giving right-wing politicians a pass because it’s clear that they won’t change.

There’s no excuse for the people who tortured or, who lied to Congress, even if they were under ‘enormous pressure’. They knew the difference between right and wrong. And the fact that John Kiriakou is in prison for revealing that the US tortured, while Cofer Black, David Addington, John Yoo, John Brennan and Jose Rodriquez, all of whom played a role in the torture program roam free, shows that our political elite’s ethics are upside-down.

Holding individuals, particularly direct actors (like torturers) and advisers who engineered the torture program accountable before the law would not destroy the effectiveness of the CIA or the security state. Those who violated the law should be prosecuted. But those who did not violate the law should be free to conduct operations on behalf of the US. They shouldn’t be made to feel that they are weakened or wronged.

In response to the related question that often arises: “What? Do you want the CIA to be looking over its shoulder or consulting a lawyer every time it needs to get something done? The answer is: “Of course”.

We should expect nothing less than that from every elected official from the President down to local mayors, police chiefs and commissioners. Particularly from those who have the statutory authority to harm others.

It is difficult to imagine today that what sounded like poetry at the first Obama inauguration is now mockery. Sadly, it’s not about unfulfilled expectations of more hopeful things; we understand the political dynamic at work in Washington. It is that among his “achievements” has been the further weakening of our constitutional rights through his compliant treatment of the emergent 4th branch of government.


Terry McKenna

Gary Wills wrote about the security state in Bomb Power or something similar. I think the president is trapped. And if he challenges the CIA, their lackeys will make such a stink that it will cause democrats to lose even bigger in November. Defense and security remain every democrats Achilles heal. (Or have you miss Dick Cheney on Fox – that this war criminal still has a platform say a lot).


Agree that Dems need to continually prove they are strong on national security, and that firing Brennan or others could hurt them in a close November election. But it would also re-litigate Iraq, which could help @ the polls.

However, the best we can hope for from Obama on this is the Shinseki model: “full confidence” expressed, until right after the mid-terms, when he goes. Even THAT is unlikely IMO.

Terry McKenna

Still am not over the matter of John Kiriakou. Ironic is not strong enough to characterize this, and tragic does not express the betrayal of American ideals.

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