September 13, 2022 - 5:35pm


On Day 3 of the National Conservatism conference, Michael Anton, a former deputy on Trump’s National Security Council and the author of the infamous “The Flight 93 Election” essay, offered some explosive suggestions on how to reform America’s embattled national security state: purge the FBI, abolish the CIA, and increase political control over the major remaining agencies. 

First, Anton apologised to libertarians who warned about the expansion of the US surveillance apparatus: 

Right after 9/11, the libertarians said, don’t [pass the Patriot Act], it will be used against you. This is a terrible power to give to the government and we shouldn’t do it. And a lot of conservatives said, ‘No we need this, it’s only going to be used against foreign enemies, don’t be soft.’ Libertarians were completely correct and we all owe them an apology. 
- Michael Anton

He complained that the agencies are accountable only to themselves:

We need more adult supervision of the national security state. There are too few political appointees over these agencies, and they don’t have enough power. When I started in the Bush administration in 2001, the top six people in the CIA were presidentially appointed. That’s too few. But today it’s two. There are 28,000 people in that agency, only two are presidentially appointed, and everyone else is a bureaucrat who’s loyal to the agency above all. 
- Michael Anton

After calling for the abolition of FISA — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was abused during the Russiagate investigation — Anton trained his fire on the FBI: 

Something has to be done about the FBI. First of all, I think we have to have a serious national debate: do we need a federal law enforcement agency? It’s not clear to me that we do. State law enforcement agencies can do most of the legitimate functions of the FBI. If we conclude that we do need an FBI, then it has to be purged. I don’t know any other way to put it. And the people who are responsible for so much of the nastiness of the last five years have got to be punished. 
- Michael Anton

The Central Intelligence Agency fared little better:

Break up the CIA. The whole thought behind the creation of the CIA in 1947 was, ‘Well, why did we have Pearl Harbor?’ Nobody connected the dots. If we put it all in one place, that will never happen again. Instead we get 9/11 and a million other intelligence failures. So it doesn’t work as advertised. Break it up. Its core functions should be sent to the State Department, the Department of Defense, Treasury. Its covert action capabilities, which have done no good for the United States ever except embarrassing the hell out of us every half a generation, just get rid of it. 
- Michael Anton

However, the ”biggest problem” with the national security state, according to Anton, is the “groupthink”: 

We do need multiple perspectives. The people sitting around that big table in the White House situation room, when they’re talking about Ukraine, instead of having all 13 people saying ‘Putin is terrible, arm the Ukrainians’, we need at least one person at that table — dream big, let’s say six — saying ‘Wait a minute, have you thought about this?’ And we don’t have that. 
- Michael Anton

The only way to solve the problem, Anton concluded, in a clear reference to his former boss, is to “elect people who are going to shake up the system.”

“But doing that is hard,” Anton said, “because the deep state has significant influence on whom you can elect.”

Park MacDougald is Deputy Literary Editor for Tablet