There’s no organized deep state in Washington today, but I can understand why Americans might worry about what unelected officials do when left to their own devices. The history of the NSC is a classic demonstration of how a few serving in government can amass enormous power in the name of national security when the public can’t see what they’re up to. Since previous attempts to curtail the NSC’s purview have done the opposite, one would be forgiven for wondering if any limit is even possible.
Unsurprisingly, Americans have taken again to thinking that those in government are off again on their own wild ride. A poll last year found that three-quarters of Americans believed that unelected government and military officials secretly control policy decisions in Washington. That finding should alarm those working on the NSC. Despite their immense power, staffers operate outside the public eye. They are not subject to Senate confirmation. They do not testify before Congress. They speak to the press and public only when it is in their—and the president’s—interests. To the outside world, they are all but anonymous—a failure of democratic oversight that Congress is long overdue to fix.