The ‘deep state’ in the Reagan administration

When George H.W. Bush served as Vice President to Ronald Reagan, I was one of those who thought of him as merely a product of the upper crust who was always trying to seem like an average joe, and never quite succeeding.

But, as Seymour Hersh wrote in a recent article in the London Review of Books—

There was another view of Bush: the one held by the military men and civilian professionals who worked for him on national security issues.  Unlike the president, he knew what was going on and how to get things done. For them, Reagan was ‘a dimwit’ who didn’t get it, or even try to get it.  [snip]

George H.W. Bush (AP)

Bush was different: he got it.  At his direction, a team of military operatives was set up that bypassed the national security establishment – including the CIA – and wasn’t answerable to congressional oversight.  It was led by Vice-Admiral Arthur Moreau, a brilliant navy officer who would be known to those on the inside as ‘M’.  [snip]

In May 1983 he was promoted to assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Vessey, and over the next couple of years he oversaw a secret team – operating in part out of the office of Daniel Murphy, Bush’s chief of staff – which quietly conducted at least 35 covert operations against drug trafficking, terrorism and, most important, perceived Soviet expansionism in more than twenty countries, including Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Libya, Senegal, Chad, Algeria, Tunisia, the Congo, Kenya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Vietnam.

Source: London Review of Books

The “Star Wars” missile defense plan was a disinformation campaign, designed to make the Soviet rulers think the United States actually could defend against a nuclear attack.  Nobody on the Joint Chiefs of Staff actually believed it would work, according to Hersh’s informants.

Bush’s team sent out special Marine and Delta Force teams to kill drug lords, Soviet agents and terrorists, based names provided by the  CIA from the files of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Justice Department and National Security Agency—just as the Joint Special Operations Command does today.

President Reagan knew nothing of this.  Neither did CIA Director William Casey, who the team regarded as reckless, uninformed and overly read to talk to the press.  The press itself never caught on.  The only member of Congress who was told was Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyoming.

One of the team’s efforts was an abortive plot to assassinate Libya’ Muammar Qaddafi.  Another was support of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, which was forbidden by Congress.

This is what is meant by a “deep state”—a decision-making center within government that is hidden from the public, not accountable to the public, but greatly affects the public welfare for good ill.

In October, 1985, Admiral William Crowe replaced General Vessey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He found out about the operation, broke up the team and reassigned its members to Navy duty.  Admiral Moreau became commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe and NATO forces in southern Europe.

Moreau’s team blew the whistle on Lt. Oliver North’s efforts to raise money for the Contras through private donations and sale of weapons to Iran, because they thought it would cause their own operation to be exposed.

Officers who told Hersh about Bush and Moreau thought that their operation was a brilliant success, and that it was a shame it was closed down—which is presumably why they were willing to talk.

I am sure the intelligence professionals in government now have even more contempt for President Trump than their predecessors had for President Reagan.  I imagine some of them are just as willing to operate on their own in the dark as their predecessors 35 years ago.  What may be going on now that we the people don’t know about?

Here’s how Lambert Strether, who blogs for Naked Capitalism, put it—

My framing: The intelligence community and Vice President Bush in essence staged a soft coup, bypassing Reagan. Fast forward to 2016.  Given that the intelligence community has the operational capability to stage a soft coup, is there reason to think that factions within that community would not do so again?  Or perhaps have already done so?  Perhaps this time all on their own, without Bush to provide institutional cover?  I don’t mean to sound foily, but if you look at the institutional detail in in Hersh’s story, it’s pretty scary.

Source: naked capitalism


The Vice President’s Men by Seymour Hersh for the London Review of Books.

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One Response to “The ‘deep state’ in the Reagan administration”

  1. Vice President George H. W. Bush’s Deep State | Marmalade Says:

    […] The ‘deep state’ in the Reagan administration by Phil Ebersole […]


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