The Heian period of Japanese history saw the slow shriveling of imperial rule. Overshadowed by powerful court families and hostage to palace intrigues and a generally effete highbrow culture (princes in those days cried a lot, and weren’t ashamed to write girly poems about their feelings), the Heian capital lost interest in, and then control of, the hinterlands.
The source of the trouble was a military detachment that Emperor Kanmu, who founded the Heian capital in 794, had sent to the Far North, which thereafter lingered on as a weaponized brigade. One suspects that Kanmu had played up the “Far North” bit and sent the toughs as far away from the center as possible just to keep them from meddling in government affairs.
In any event, what began as an emperor-centered polity in Heian-kyō devolved into ruder rule by spear and bicep. As the imperial center waned, the semi-unemployed platoons whose forebears had once laid waste to the Northern barbarians began to tax the surrounding provinces for their own benefit. Because, honestly, why ride a thousand miles for conquest when there are fat, unarmed suckers right next door? It was becoming martial law without civilian control.
Over time, local strongmen, at first hired to guard farms and estates from these half-deputized, half-freelancing, quasi-ministerial marauders, got an idea.
“We have a lot of weapons,” the strongmen bethought themselves. “So why are we carrying on with the fiction of answering to the roving bands, who themselves have pretty much dropped the charade of answering to the schmucks in the capital in the flowing silk robes?”
Thus was born the samurai, the men who realized they were the real government. Flip that switch, dear reader, and it’s lights out. Power sorts itself out, and there is really no confusion, among those in the know, about who calls the shots.
The episode above unfolded between roughly the time of Charlamagne and the Third Crusade. But the same thing, mutatis mutandis, has played out in our own time. Only it’s not the military that runs the show any longer. It’s the spooks.
It used to be that the gods were the keystones of rule. Then it was the generals. But as statecraft has become more and more the business of controlling and manipulating information—a process that has moved along slowly, at different paces and by different steps in different places—it has been, increasingly, the spies and secret police who have come to call the shots. A long time ago, court historians faked history to support sovereigns. Now, court historians write history in advance. It’s called a “daily intelligence briefing.” It’s a map of how the spymasters will the future to unfold.
Understanding this, getting smart on intelligence and how it is the real power behind what we euphemistically call our democratic republic, is indispensable for the modern American. Fail to know how our government really works, and we will forever be led around by the nose, from one bloody debacle and canceled civil liberty to the next.
The end of the American Heian period came when we started conquering Apaches and Filipinos instead of minding our business at home. American intelligence grew out of the United States’s shift from being an agrarian democratic republic to an urbanizing, progressive empire feeding on deficit spending for war.
A good book on the consequences of this intelligence capture of American government is James Bamford’s 1983 Puzzle Palace. The book’s “Prelude” section tells the story of Herbert Osborne Yardley (1889-1958), the Indiana man who helped set the United States government onto the fateful course of, as Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson would later call it, the ungentlemanly practice of reading other people’s mail. During the First World War, Yardley and his MI-8 (“MI” standing for “Military Intelligence”) group helped Washington win the information battle both abroad and at home. The Bill of Rights was the real casualty of that useless conflict. Washington used its chokehold on information to maintain the most important monopoly that any government can and must hold: not that on violence, pace Weber, but on violence’s legitimator, information.
After that war, Washington kept on reading other people’s mail, especially that of the Japanese, imperial rivals with whom the D.C.-types would tangle in earnest in 1941. The same Henry Stimson who had chided Yardley for peeping on the enemy became a convert to the cause of espionage. As America went deeper and deeper into its century-long (and counting) imperial-war quagmire, intelligence burrowed deeper and deeper into the American governmental soul. After World War II the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) gave way to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This was, in essence, the final coup of the intelligence clan. The military, and Washington in general, was now in the thrall of black ops.
The Cold War, Vietnam as an outpost within it, and all the wars since (can you say “slam dunk on WMD”?) have been the creatures of intelligence. Budgets and budgetary oversight are punchlines in that world. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Nobody, my friends. The money is inexhaustible when you are writing your own checks. The logic is bureaucratic to its core.
History is a motley art and the words “always” and “never” are pretty much off limits. But perhaps I can be permitted a sweeping generalization just this once: There are no great men in a bureaucracy. The career bureaucrat is a parasite, always, and never acts but for his own next paycheck, which is a compelling interest inseparable from the ever-expanding income of his department. This is the American intelligence “community” (in the same sense that pirates are “entrepreneurs”) in full monty. It is mercenary pencil-pushing, installing and assassinating tinhorn dictators until one makes retirement and can buy a Winnebago.
Once you know the secret, then secret service takes on a whole different cast. Those who have seen a James Bond movie will know that our hero works on “Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” But does he? Or does the queen do his bidding in the end? Bond’s interests and Buckingham Palace’s very nicely align, to be sure. But which is the tail and which is the dog? As with the samurai, perhaps it also occurred to Mr. Bond at some point that having a license to kill was a very convenient thing when killing was how one made a living anyway. Her Royal Highness is safe in her bed, protected by James Bond on his unpleasant errands abroad. So surely he must be servant, and she master.
Switch cultural registers a bit and wade around in the cesspool to test this theory. In 2016, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, exonerated, on no authority save his own ego, the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary R. Clinton, of wrongdoing in the to-do about her secret servers and the e-mails she deleted from when she was running guns and uranium as a side business while secretary of State. Well, many said (including me), it seems the FBI is in the tank for the Clintons. But then, in a wild October surprise, Comey reopened the investigation into Hillary’s crooked schemes after it came to light that a Hillary aide’s pervert husband had a mammoth trove of Hillary e-mails on his laptop. Ouch, that smarts. Hillary lost.
So, did Comey throw the election to Trump? Or did he play it straight and just follow the evidence without fear or favor? The answer is neither. The answer is that it doesn’t matter, when you’re a spy, who wins or loses. You own them all. We now know that Comey’s FBI was already thick in its plans to run a coup against Trump should he get in the White House. That was their “insurance policy.” In fact, when Trump did get in, that is precisely what Comey’s FBI did.
But in October of 2016, Comey still unconsciously believed Hillary would win. Here’s Comey’s spin on that moment and those e-mails on the pervert’s laptop: “[Hillary is] going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she’ll be illegitimate the moment she’s elected, the moment this comes out.” Here’s the translation: “If Hillary gets in, I own her. And if she doesn’t, then in four years I’ll own her still.”
Comey had nothing to worry about with Trump. He owned him already. Hillary had been feeding the FBI fake news about Trump in Russia with delegates from the Prostitutes for Putin club. Or something. But so brazen is the game that the FBI doesn’t even try to hide its corruption any longer. Prostitutes for Putin? Whether we believed that nonsense or not made no difference. The FBI owns us, too. Comey’s deputy’s wife had taken pallets of cash from Hillary’s top bundler, but nobody with political horse sense was going to say anything about it. Because the spooks run the show.
The one thing Comey didn’t factor in was anybody’s fighting back. Trump did, firing Comey in May of 2017. Trump fought hard. He tried to make Washington an American town again. But the latter-day samurai won in the end. The eavesdroppers rule the world. It was all too easy. One of the men who used to do Comey’s job parachuted in, issuing a “report” after conducting an “investigation” on the whole tawdry business, and then doddering off into the sunset while the Bureau waited for the Washington machinery to finish chewing up the first president in modern history who bucked the intelligence regime.
All the loose ends have now been tied up from that little escapade, too. Just last week, a Democrat judge rigged a “trial” so that a D.C. jury would have no choice but to exonerate the bottom-feeding Democrat lawyer who fed the FBI the completely false fairy tales about Trump. The FBI has no need to drag this all out any further. The point was proven long ago. And, besides, after more than 40 years of FISA courts’ rubber-stamping intelligence ops against Americans, why would a bought-and-paid-for judge feel the need to demonstrate independence of thought? Who gives up a pension for a fool’s errand?
As Minamoto no Yoritomo might have said were he Christopher Wray, “Get smart. No matter what it looks like, the fact is I don’t work for the folks in the long black robes. The folks in the long black robes work for me.”
This is “intelligence” in the USA. The spooks own Washington. It has been a cliché since the days of J. Edgar Hoover that the people reading the mail are the ones who rule the world. Want to keep a useful idiot on the throne? “Hunter Biden’s laptop is Russian disinformation,” say the leading lights of the “intelligence community.” Want to make sure troublemakers stay out of power? January 6.
On Friday, June 3, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the one that ran the coup against President Trump based on fake oppo research from Hillary Clinton, arrested Peter Navarro, an actual American patriot. What set the G-Men in motion? Why, they were “acting on a referral from the Democrat-run House that held [Navarro] in contempt for refusing to testify at the partisan January 6 Committee.”
Remember when James Clapper lied to Congress? But Clapper was the DNI, so arresting him would be like accusing the manorial lord of stealing his own silverware. But Navarro is guileless. Guileless, and frank. Therefore, he is a sitting duck. Guess what happened just one day before the arrest? “Navarro,” Breitbart reported, “appeared on left-wing MSNBC to promise that he would lead efforts to promote the impeachment of President Joe Biden if Republicans take Congress in the midterm elections, which they are expected to do.”
Funny how that works. Hunter Biden’s laptop is Russian disinformation. Now, Peter Navarro is facing jail. Freedom and democracy. Long live the republic. Get smart on intelligence, my fellow Americans. Until we end the spooks’ stranglehold on our government, we will all be like the medieval Japanese emperors, praying that we don’t offend the people who really run the show.
Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.