When the Process Is Ignored We Get Chaos

I’ve written here several times that the US government is all about process. We have a process for doing everything. One of those things is called the Interagency Process. The Interagency Process can be defined as:

The National Security Council is responsible for the integration of domestic, foreign, and military interests around the globe, and it is the overseer of the interagency process. It is the president’s principal forum for considering and coordinating national security and foreign policy matters among various government agencies.

It is supposed to be overseen and administered by the National Security Council. What John Harwood is reporting in those tweets, and what former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem is referring to here in response to Josh Barro:

What we have here is either a complete breakdown of the Interagency Process or a complete ignoring of it. My guess is its the latter leading to the former. It has been reported that the Executive Orders are being written by Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller. Neither of them have any experience with the Interagency Process. Moreover, it has been reported that the National Security Council staff is itself not fully staffed in terms of the political appointees and the people that have been brought on board have little to no experience with the Interagency Process. While LTG (ret) Flynn does, as the former DIA Director, it is unclear from his biography if his Chief of Staff LTG (ret) Kellogg does. Additionally, we have no Secretary of State and we have temporary beachhead teams running things at State, as well as at DHS where we at least have a Secretary, and at other related agencies and departments.

The process has either been ignored, purposely or through sheer ignorance, or its been willfully broken. When that happens you get this type of chaos where US personnel that have to carry out orders aren’t even sure what the orders are. Remember, the Customs agents at the airports and the Border Patrol and Immigration agents at entry points – airports, seaports, and along both the US-Canadian and US-Mexican borders, are not lawyers. And while there are lawyers working for these agencies and departments, if they can’t get answers and clear guidance from higher, they can’t effectively interpret for the personnel on the ground that have to do the actual job. The reason we have a process is to prevent this type of mess. To ensure that every agency or department effected by an Executive Order, change in legislation, regulation, and/or policy has a chance to consider it, weigh in on it, and so that once the change happens everyone has clear guidance and can move out sharply. Aside from the damage to the US’s reputation, the fact that ISIL is already using this as a recruiting tool, this breakdown doesn’t inspire confidence in how the new Administration will respond when there’s a real crisis (that they haven’t created themselves). Finally, there draft that is circulating about how the Trump Administration will actually organize the Interagency is less than reassuring. A decision seems to have been made, and I suspect it was made by LTG (ret) Flynn, that neither the Director of National Intelligence nor the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are to be members of the Principals Committee on the National Security Council. This is a recipe for disaster.

87 replies
  1. 1
    MomSense says:

    Wow. Authoritatians move fast and I suspect they’ve been think tanking this chaos up for years.

  2. 2
    Renie says:

    anyone think timing of ban was also to distract attention away from putting bannon on NSC

  3. 3
    lollipopguild says:

    Trump=Captain Chaos. A president of the country who intentionally screws with people because he can and because it gives him a thrill.

  4. 4

    So we’ve got Goebbels and Gen. Ripper running the place. Great.

  5. 5
    Brachiator says:

    Trump knows nothing about the law, so it is natural that he thinks that he can rule by decree.

    He’s the Big Boss, running the government like a business. He’s the CEO and all of the government are his employees.

    So far, the Republican leadership is going along with this expression of the Divine Right of Trump.

  6. 6
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    Makes Caligula look rational.

  7. 7
    lollipopguild says:

    @Renie: Yes but i do not think that any of these idiots are thinking clearly enough to plan it that way. Stupid small children on a power/sugar/red bull rush.

  8. 8
    Comrade Scrutinizer says:

    I think that this is by design. Bannon, Kushner, and Flynn on the NSC, and DNI and CJCS on the outside. No one to counter Flynn, and Bannon to work behind the curtain. I hope the military is reviewing what constitutes a lawful order, and remembering the oath. That may be important sooner rather than later.

  9. 9
    Robin G says:

    God, I was preparing for an immediate dystopian nightmare, but this is fast even by my cynical expectations.

  10. 10
    Yarrow says:

    @Renie: Yes. Of course.

    I hope this is true. I also hope they don’t blow up the country before they go.

    Flynn+Bannon are running the WH. Both are abrasive d-bags. They'll alienate everyone not in their gang in no time.https://t.co/XfhwS6WCQt— John Schindler (@20committee) January 29, 2017

  11. 11
    lollipopguild says:

    @Brachiator: He not only thinks that he owns the govt. he thinks that he owns the entire country. He sees all of us as employees.

  12. 12
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Timothy Snyder argues in Black Earth that the destruction of the mechanisms of the state (i.e. of government) was a necessary condition for what took place in Europe in the late 1930’s. I’m going to sit and re-read the beginning of that book tonight, as it is unfortunately relevant. I am starting to believe that Bannon is, in snyder’s term, a “racial anarchist,” just as the individual who should not be named.

  13. 13
    Comrade Scrutinizer says:

    @lollipopguild: You hope not. But assuming incompetence, while comforting, isn’t the best way to fight these guys.

  14. 14
    Yarrow says:

    @Robin G: Seems like experts on authoritarianism say we won’t even recognize the country by the end of the year. I hope that’s wrong.

  15. 15
    MomSense says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    Yes exactly.

  16. 16
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @MomSense: @Renie: I don’t think they’ve been thinking this up for years. This is amateur hour stuff. This is what happens when you’ve surrounded yourself with people that do not know how this stuff works and can’t be bothered to learn. In the case of Bannon on the NSC as a Principal, that’s, I’m sure, a Bannon idea and will allow him to try to push his national-populist or populist-nationalist ideology into the process. As for removing the DNI and CJCS as principals, that’s all Flynn – its an attempt to limit the number of those that outrank him and to settle an institutional score with ODNI and the IC.

  17. 17
    Comrade Scrutinizer says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Bannon is at least as evil as *.

  18. 18
    lollipopguild says:

    @Comrade Scrutinizer: It seems to be a mix of “bubble think” “I do not care what others think” and pure stupidity.

  19. 19
    NotMax says:

    As just said downstairs, radical presidential terrorism.

  20. 20
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Chaos is a ladder. Bannon knows this…. any good Leninist would.

  21. 21
    Brachiator says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    ..As for removing the DNI and CJCS as principals, that’s all Flynn – its an attempt to limit the number of those that outrank him and to settle an institutional score with ODNI and the IC.

    This makes a lot of sense. A very astute analysis. And very worrisome.

  22. 22
    JWR says:

    Just as Bush had his Cheney, so Trump has his Bannon. Except this pairing strikes me as worse. How screwed up do things have to become before this Dynamic Duo starts a major war simply to distract from the mess they’ve made of everything else?

  23. 23
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Gin & Tonic: He’s an admitted Leninist. That much we know for certain.

  24. 24
    BBA says:

    @Brachiator: Trump knows about zoning ordinances, which (in NYC at least) are more of a bargaining position than a strict rule. You can always go to the planning board to negotiate a variance.

    Somehow he never learned that the other laws aren’t like that.

  25. 25
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    seems to have been made, and I suspect it was made by LTG (ret) Flynn, that neither the Director of National Intelligence nor the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are to be members of the Principals Committee on the National Security Council. This is a recipe for disaster.

    That is scary, and I’m surprised Mattis and Kelly are going along with it.

  26. 26
    sigaba says:

    @MomSense: This does not strike me as something that’s been think-tanked up for years.

  27. 27
    Baud says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist: They probably hadn’t heard about it.

  28. 28
    MomSense says:


    I read earlier today that most of these EOs were prepared for Rmoney. Apparently the healthcare EO was modified to not be a straight repeal.

  29. 29
    chris says:

    While we’re all freaking out there is a new EO on ethics in the executive branch. IKR And two new memos, one of which is about defeating ISIS before Easter. Gish gallop!
    time to rest, good night all

  30. 30


    How screwed up do things have to become before this Dynamic Duo starts a major war simply to distract from the mess they’ve made of everything else?

    I dunno, give it two more weeks.

  31. 31
    Feebog says:

    Well, we have been saying Trump is in over his head, guess this if proof positive. I wonder if there is going to be a learning curve, or if we are in for months or even years of bullshit EOs followed by massive demonstrations and resistance.

  32. 32
    NotMax says:

    Every Sunday pundit needs to ask the same question of their guests:

    How does this “make America great again?”

  33. 33
    Timurid says:

    I was drafting a script for phone calls to my legislators this coming week.
    I’ve removed all the language about not voting for sketchy cabinet picks like Sessions or thinking twice about messing with the ACA. A week in and we’re past all that. Instead I’m going to ask them to help prepare and implement a case for impeachment without delay. It’s clear this can’t wait for 2020 or even 2018.

  34. 34
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Yarrow: Yes and no. What we’re getting is a crash course in attempted authoritarianism. But as we’re seeing today with the initial Court order staying the EO, we have to remember what we’re observing. Of all the EOs issued so far most don’t actually do anything – they’re really signaling documents. They either do not initiate action or inaction, require Congressional action that may or may not be forthcoming, and/or they may, as in the case with this immigration and refugee EO be illegal. This is why everyone needs to pace themselves. Right now people are responding accordingly. There are people showing up to demonstrate and offer support at almost all the major airports. Democratic leaders – Senators, Representatives, and Governors – are standing up. The civil society and civil rights organizations are doing their thing. This is not how things went down in Germany in the 1930s, nor in Russia in 1917.

  35. 35
    JWR says:

    @Major Major Major Major:

    I dunno, give it two more weeks.

    I dunno either. Jeebus, at the rate they’re going, who can really tell?

  36. 36
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: when the power of the state is directed to intimidate, including through the use of force and violence, against the citizenry/population, it is called state terror. Terrorism is done by non-state actors.

  37. 37
    zhena gogolia says:


    Yes, I was thinking along the same lines.

  38. 38
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Brachiator: And provides some hope. Angry people make mistakes. They’re sloppy. And if LTG Flynn thinks he’s going to keep the CJCS in a box, he’s nuts. I would expect that when this circulates through DOD, it will be changed.

  39. 39
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @JWR: China has already said that the US is pushing to war in Asia-Pacific. So not long.

  40. 40
    NotMax says:

    @Adam L. Silverman

    Terrorism is done by non-state actors.

    Not any more it ain’t. For all intents and purposes there’s a supra-state cabal at work.

  41. 41
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist: Its a draft being circulated. All of the agencies will make comments and suggest revisions. However, at the end of the day it is the President’s decision on how to organize the NSC and the Interagency Process.

  42. 42
    debbie says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Even worse, the GOP knows this is wrong, but will do nothing. They’re racing to get their agenda through Congress before all hell breaks loose.

  43. 43
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    I wonder if the draconian enforcement of the EO was intentional. “Look, here is how horribly thing can be interpreted. Do something for fuck’s sake!”

  44. 44
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: Do not be messing with the sacred definitions. You will make the Deities of War across all pantheons very, very angry…

  45. 45
    JWR says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Good, Lord! Somethin’, I don’t know what, must occur to stop these loons. We shall see. Ugh!

  46. 46
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @debbie: Yep.

  47. 47
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: A cry for help?

  48. 48
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: There’s no shortage of people for whom watching other people not like them suffer is a form of entertainment.

  49. 49
    J R in WV says:

    Defeating ISIS by Easter. The very formulation is religiously biased, by a specific Christian religious holiday we are to have defeated another religious activist hate group we have been fighting for some years now. Not to defend ISIS, that can’t be done, but speaking of ISIS and fighting them in terms of a Christian holiday is just wrong.

    And writing the Executive Orders without an experienced lawyer’s advice, or the Customs and Border Patrol Handbook at hand to see how to revise it…

    Removing the Chaiman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the National Security Council Principals Committee – a recipe for an un-winnable war started without military advice, perhaps the land war in Asia Douglas McArthur was so anxious to fight.

    Hope the generals remember their oath isn’t to the President, it’s to the constitution, which the President doesn’t seem to have ever read.

    Maybe Ivanka could make it his bedtime reading, she could read it to him, clause by clause, they could talk about what each clause means. Maybe that would keep him from sleeping soundly, as there are powers in the Constitution not delegated to the President. That would be a shame!

  50. 50
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Basically. A statement that the process blew up. By going to the the extreme edge, they provoked a quick response by the courts. They will get usable guidance soon.

  51. 51
    Another Scott says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Too lazy to check now, but wasn’t the rhetoric very, very similar when W came into office? They were very belligerent when one of their fighters smashed into one of our prop planes and it was forced to land in China.

    I have no doubt that they’re pissed off at Trump, but it’s hard to know how much of their public statements is putting rhetorical markers down to try to get in the head of new-president Donnie and his people like they’ve done in the past.


  52. 52
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: But as you well know, the Courts are not supposed to have to/be providing guidance for this stuff.

  53. 53
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Another Scott: I think this is in response to the Tillerson statements about a naval blockage in the South China Sea.

  54. 54
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Courts don’t provide advisory opinions. They do give guidance as to what is and is not legal. What happened today will elicit that guidance.

  55. 55
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: True.

  56. 56
    Chris says:


    We’re going to have Bannon and Flynn as the Cheney/Rumsfeld duo-from-hell of this administration, with Bannon and Sessions being the domestic version.

  57. 57
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Chris: Trump picked them. He owns what his admin does.

  58. 58
    Chris says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Sure, as did Bush. I’m just saying that’s who’s going to be running things, again as with Bush.

  59. 59
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Chris: Okay. I just want to make sure that no one diverts blame from the Asshole-in-Chief.

  60. 60
    Jeffro says:

    @Another Scott: @Adam L Silverman:

    What’s remarkable is that the Chinese government is supposedly good at subtlety – they aim for that, they appreciate it in return. However, they appear to have a pretty good grasp that the US “president” and his advisers are hell-bent on confrontation, and so are responding as early as they can, in a multitude of ways, to head off a shooting war.

    I’m not saying we should let China have their way on anything, much less everything. But faced with a madman at the helm here in the US, they will slap stupidity down quite strongly and brace themselves against the losses. Here’s hoping that there are lower levels talks going on amongst counterparts in the IC on both sides (not to mention the occasional conversation between PRC diplomats and higher-up GOP folks)

  61. 61
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    Tommy Vietor ‏@ TVietor08 2h2 hours ago
    Bob Gates flipped out when Axelrod and Gibbs attended a couple of NSC meetings. Now political hack Steve Bannon has a standing invite.

  62. 62
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Jeffro: I think the leadership of the PRC recognize that subtlety won’t work with this crowd. So they’re going with non subtle in hopes of getting their point across and actually averting a war.

  63. 63
    Alternative Fax, a hip hop artist from Idaho says:

    Adam told us that the attempts to impose authoritarianism would be noisy and sloppy and full of tells. Flynn is clearly trying for payback and Bannon wants some serious power with which to burn it all down. The EO telegraphs that, while distracting many from that detail with the draconian un-American and clearly unconstitutional Muslim ban (except from countries where PCP has businesses, including the country where the vast majority of 9/11 terrorists and OBL originated; clearly a coincidence of country selection). It also serves to distract from the continuing investigation of Russia ties to PCP which may focus on a round up – including at least 1 murder to date – of suspected US moles in Russia. Which coincidentally happened shortly after Flynn (and Kushner?) were read in on security info.

  64. 64
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @efgoldman: If their paperwork is in, they should have interim. But… I do not know exactly how the process works for political appointees. Ordinarily to be read on to what they would be read on to, they would have to have their Top Secret (TS) clearance in scope as the result of a single scope background investigation and to be read onto the Sensitive Compartment Information (SCI) would require the successful completion of a lifestyle polygraph.

  65. 65
    Shalimar says:

    @Adam L Silverman: He may admit to being a Leninist, but that doesn’t mean he has any clue what Leninism was. The destruction of Russian institutions was a means to an end for Lenin. He was trying to institute a theretofore untried form of government (one which is most likely impossible to implement, based on all of the total failures of the last century, but Lenin didn’t know that).

    Bannon wants to burn everything down. I have never read anything that suggests he has any vision for what happens after the fun stuff.

  66. 66
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Shalimar: I do not disagree. I see him more as a nihilist than anything else.

  67. 67
    Chris says:


    Burning it all down IS an ends, in that ideology. It’s supposed to lead to libertarian nirvana.

  68. 68
    Another Scott says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I’m no China expert, but another thing that we probably need to keep in mind is there are tensions between the Chinese military (who supposedly take a maximalist view in any sort of challenge to China) and the PRC and the government (who supposedly have more nuanced views about international relations). This statement came from the Chinese military.

    Just to be clear, my view is the statement about “preventing China from using the island via a blockade” or however it was phrased at the confirmation hearing, was bone-headed and stupid and dangerous. Riling up Chinese nationalism about islands they (illegally) built isn’t the way to get them to change their behavior in the international waters of the South China Sea.

    My $0.02.


  69. 69
    cbear says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    ….the successful completion of a lifestyle polygraph.

    Question: Are you a cretinous asshole with designs to destroy the values, norms and customs of the USA?
    Answer: You betcha!
    Response: Great! You’re in. Pick up your password on your way out of the office and head down the hallway to the right. President Trump is awaiting your advice—third door down on your left.

  70. 70
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Shalimar: @Adam L Silverman: This is Bannon. Just a reminder. It is fantastic as art. It is horrible as policy.

  71. 71
  72. 72
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: In Bannon’s case its not even fantastic as art. Did you see the pics from him today during the Putin call. Unshaven, blazer over an unbuttoned shirt, no tie, olive green carpenter pants, and those hideous slip on moc type shoes. Its the Oval Office – shave, put on a tie, a real pair of dress trousers, and, if the Boss says its okay, then you can take your coat off. He must have been the most ate up O3 in the Navy.

  73. 73
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Vhh: It is not a coup.

  74. 74
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I will not comment on the Navy.

  75. 75
    seaboogie says:

    @Adam L Silverman: This is what I was checking in to see – where you are on EO’s after today. Thank you. And the spontaneous activism is very encouraging.

  76. 76
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Good to know.

  77. 77
  78. 78
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @seaboogie: As Bella Q indicated in a comment above: I have said these folks are going to telegraph their actions. Their loud, their sloppy, and they can’t help themselves. And this includes both the folks in the administration and the GOP majority in Congress. That the responses are what we’re seeing is a good sign. Is it definitive that they will be stopped and soon? No. Is it a positive sign that our civil society, our Grey Zone, is healthier than we thought? Yes.

  79. 79
    Kristine says:

    @Adam L Silverman: His face is so puffy, and he’s bleary-eyed. I think he’s a drunk, but I could be biased.

  80. 80
    Bill Arnold says:

    @Davis X. Machina:
    (And Adam and Shalimar)

    Chaos is a ladder. Bannon knows this…. any good Leninist would.

    Steve Bannon, Trump’s Top Guy, Told Me He Was ‘A Leninist’ Who Wants To ‘Destroy the State’ (2016/08/22)
    In this view, bluntly, Trump is a behaving like a five year old unquestioningly taking directions from someone who wants to destroy the U.S. (To make it better in some unknown/unplanned way in some weird and non-normative value system, to be fair.)
    Bannon says “Fling poo at the Statue of Liberty!”; Trump says “hah hah, if you say so, fun idea”.
    Am I wrong and/or being hyperbolic? Dunno, tired and it’s after midnight, maybe. Or not. Desperately seeking a charitable interpretation (it’s my style to trust/forgive) but not finding one.

  81. 81
    Gretchen says:

    @Kristine: no, you’re not. The only accessory he needs is an empty whiskey bottle

  82. 82
    Mjaum says:

    What I wonder about is, given that the DHS has not received this through proper channels, and seem to be acting, both as a group and indvidually, on what they’ve read in the media… aren’t these potentially illegal orders, as defined by Nuremberg? So that every DHS employee acting under the order is potentially individually responsible for breaking actual US law?

  83. 83
    Applejinx says:

    @Kristine: Russians can relate with drunken strongmen. Him being a drunk won’t look bad in the Kremlin. It’s ‘tough’, plus it’s also a potential point of weakness if he can’t handle his excessive liquor, so that’s a twofer.

  84. 84
    Jack the Cold Warrior says:

    @Comrade Scrutinizer: @Comrade Scrutinizer: Adam, hope you read this one and my comment. Definitely the military detail in charge of the football should get a several new members – military doctors, after enough observation, SecDef Mattis should go to the VP and Congressional leadership and recommend activation of the 25 Amendment. The President should be able to pass the nuclear surety tests that Trident SLBM Captains and Minuteman Lauch officers have to pass.

  85. 85
    Jack the Cold Warrior says:

    That’s Tests, not teats.. Although, he….never mind…

  86. 86
    Anonymous At Work says:

    Question: Can the passive-aggressive tactic of “I’m going to ask my immediate supervisor what to do?” work, given that the necessary political appointees in the chains between those enacting and those enforcing are known to be missing? I.e. can entry-level supervisors say that they need to call official positions that they know are empty as a method of frustrating poorly-designed EOs?

  87. 87
    Kristine says:

    @Applejinx: actually my hope is that ill health takes him out sooner rather than later.

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