The combined security/Intelligence communities held a high-powered public conference at the University of Texas in Austin last week. This has become a regular event blessed by Chancellor (Admiral) William McRaven who previously commanded headed JSOM. (“I'm not a political guy.”) The line-up of heavy hitters was impressive: Clapper, McLaughlin, Hadley, Breedlove. Zelikow, Negroponte, Eliot Cohen, General Norton Schwartz (former Chief of staff, Air Force), Joshua Bolten (Bush Chief of Staff), John Helgerson (CIA Inspector General), Kurt Campbell. Its purpose, though, remains obscure. Outreach to the American public is one standard explanation for this type of shindig. Communication in this instance, though, was one-way. The panels included only true believers in a hard-line, aggressive approach to a very long security agenda. The speakers roster was similarly stacked. Token participants from outside the “community’ who had figured in previous meetings were nowhere in sight. So what the public gets is instruction rather than exchange or communication.
The choice of Texas is particularly odd since there are very few locals who need conversion. At last year's event, John Brennan's litany of grievances against all those who, like the Senate Intelligence Committee, who were trying to rein in the CIA, NSA, et al elicited a standing ovation from the entire audience (minus one). The level of enthusiasm was what one might expect had he announced the decimation of the last Comanche band or the State Supreme Court's decision to void all land grants to Mexicans from the King of Spain. In 2015, the Islamic State, Russia, China and - not least- domestic enemies provided the amphetamine-like rush. Same this year.
This effusive welcome is not surprising. After all, Texas is where the Governor (Abbott) called out the State Guard to defend the citizenry from the threat of abuse by U.S. army units engaged in a training exercise one county North of Austin. He voiced sympathy for their claimed fears about possible rapine, robbery and wreckage. So did almost all other elected officials.
In other words, the event had elements of an Evangelical rally - even though the crowd leaned toward the elderly albeit with a considerable sprinkling of the college aged and Generation ‘Xs.’ Still, it was illuminating to hear the Word straight from the apostles. Understandably, in those congenial conditions restraint or ellipse are dispensed with in outbursts of self-satisfied candor.
Perhaps a better metaphor is a gathering of senior prelates in Rome sometime in the early 17th Century. For America’s foreign policy Establishment has a “near enemy” and a “far enemy.” The former includes those forces who would curb the robust exertion of power at home and abroad – either through misguided legal constraints or a scaling back of its audacious goals. The aroused opposition to draconian surveillance and associated illegalities had been a threat to the Establishment’s authority and legitimacy.