Strauss Center News

Updates from the Strauss Center and our affiliated distinguished scholars and fellows


Slick Discusses Trust and Distrust in the American Political System

Professor Stephen B. Slick, Director of the Intelligence Studies Project, recently participated in a Council on Foreign Relations panel discussion on the theory of a “deep state” and the erosion of public trust in the U.S. government. Professor Slick began by affirming that there is, in fact, no “deep state,” and then moved to discuss the special interest in this issue for the intelligence community (IC). The IC, he noted, depends on popular support for democratic legitimacy just like any government institution—a fact which is complicated by the requisite secrecy surrounding the IC’s work. Slick also fielded a question regarding the 2016 Russian election interference—an incident which he called a “disappointing performance” on the part of the U.S. government, particularly given the failure to inform the American public about Russia’s involvement in the election. Slick then delineated some programmatic reforms which the IC should undertake in the coming years, regardless of who wins the 2020 presidential election. Namely, the IC will need to develop a different kind of relationship with the president and his inner circle of policymakers, the congressional intelligence committees should be reconstituted to root out partisanship, the powers and responsibilities of inspectors general should be reviewed and likely bolstered, and the IC needs to “open up” and break its addiction to over-classification which inhibits its ability to build public trust.

Slick then moved to highlight an optimistic development for intelligence leaders. The Intelligence Studies Project, in collaboration with the Chicago Council of World Affairs, recently published the third annual survey of public attitudes on U.S. intelligence. This report, Slick noted, affirmed that the majority of Americans still believe that the work of the IC is effective and vital to ensuring the safety of the U.S. public. The panel then moved to a Q & A session, during which Slick weighed in on several topics including the work of the senate select committee on intelligence, the controversy surrounding mail-in ballots, and the future of government efforts to root on digital disinformation. Listen to the full conversation here.